Top postcards for 2015

It’s the first day of 2016 which means that it’s time to announce the top 10 postcards for 2015. (If you are interested, here are links to the top 10 postcards for 2014 and 2013.)

There are quite a lot of old favorites in the 2015 Top 10. Sanguine is still the most popular man in Skyrim, once again holding his position at the top of the list. The other popular men are Sinding the werewolf, Jarl Balgruuf the Greater and Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak. On the female side of the house, Ysolda is still in the top 3 while Aela the Huntress is back after her absence from the 2014 Top 10 list.

The 10 most viewed postcards in 2015 are:

Daedric Prince of revelry and debauchery, Sanguine

455 views

Creating a character in ESO

220 views

Ysolda

187 views

Aela the Huntress

126 views

Sinding the werewolf

117 views

Whiterun

105 views

Jarl Balgruuf the Greater

101 views

Jorrvaskr

99 views

Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak

82 views

Entrance to Potemas Catacombs

77 views

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Greetings and an update

Hello everyone, I hope you had a good time this holiday season! How did you spend your holidays?

For me, things are a bit slower now as the year winds down and 2016 is round the corner. STEP came out with a new version (2.2.9.2 in November 2015) which I’ve been wanting to try out. So I made use of the free time to update/install mods for Skyrim, making it a total of 132 mods that I am currently using. One of the new mods I really like is Book Covers Skyrim which adds unique book covers to every readable material in the game. Below is a screenshot of some books with the mod installed. Don’t they look great?

Book Covers Skyrim

I’ve also bought the rest of the DLCs (Dawnguard and Hearthfire), so now I have the Legendary Edition. The main reason is that some of the mods I want to use only offer mods for the Legendary Edition. Since this is something that I foresee will be happening more and more often in the future, I decided to save me the headache and complete the DLCs, especially now that Steam is having a Winter Sale.

I spent about 3 days to read up, download and install the mods. Some of the mods, especially the retexture ones, are pretty big. To speed up downloads, I signed up for a 1 month subscription at Nexus Mods which lets me use their premium servers. It’s GBP 2.99 (about USD 4.45) for a month. This means I can download at speeds of about 2-3 Mbps instead of 300-400 Kbps. It makes a huge difference when you are talking about files which are over 1 GB in size. Obviously your download speed will be different from mine.

Installing new mods is always exciting. After setting everything up nicely, it is with great anticipation that I launched the game. I watched the game load up and stared at the familiar Skyrim logo for a few seconds.

Then the game crashed and I’m back to staring at my desktop. Bummer.

After a brief moment of panic, I’m back to looking at the list of installed mods. I quickly found out that there was a problematic mod which caused the game to crash. That particular mod is missing some masters in other mods which I had neglected to install. To confirm my theory, I deactivated that mod and quickly jumped into the game again to see whether it will work now.

And it does! Skyrim launched successfully and I was able to load an old save (which isn’t recommended by STEP so any problems that I encounter are my fault for not listening to instructions). My joy was short-lived as the game loaded to show me the horror below.

Surreal Skyrim

After some testing, it turned out to be a problem with the ENB, or maybe it was a combination of the mods and ENB, I’m not clever enough to figure it out. Reinstalling the ENB seemed to solve the problem. The modder had updated Phinix Natural ENB and the update also solved the problem I’ve been having with the game being too dark. You can see the comparison below (click on them to view the original screenshot). This is unexpected but very welcomed.

Skyrim PN1 Updated PNENB

Here’s to more gaming in 2016! And as always, may the roads lead you to warm sands.

Phinix Natural ENB

Skyrim V1

If you have been following this blog for a while, you would know that in the past I’ve tried using ENBs but eventually I’ve stopped using them.

First, I can’t find an ENB that will fit all environments and lighting situations. There are times when the ENB makes everything looks deliciously gorgeous and there are times when I’m better off with vanilla. I’ve tried calibrating my monitor but it didn’t solve the problem.

Secondly, and this is the main problem, using ENB slows the game down to a crawl. My computer then was a few years old and it could not meet the demands of more processing power that an ENB required. So for a while I played with the ENB off and turned it on only when I need to take screenshots. Eventually I decided to remove it altogether.

Skyrim PN1

Now I have a new computer so I decided to try out ENB again. I’ve just reinstalled Phinix Natural ENB (PN ENB) and will be using it as I play the game. Right away, there is a noticeable difference. PN ENB is darker and cooler. I quite like that as it made dungeons more atmospheric and made Skyrim looked more like the cold Nordic land that it was supposed to be. However I find that even though I had set the brightness level in the game setting according to what the mod author advised, it was still much too dark.

Skyrim A1

After constantly tripping over items lying on the ground because it is too dark to see them, I decided that something had to be done. Sure, I could always use a torch but I find it too cumbersome. Besides, J’Zhirr is a Khajiit, and they shouldn’t have any problems seeing in the dark. So I looked into the ENB settings and adjusted any label with “brightness” in its name, which I am sure is not the best way to go about it. I increased the brightness just a little (from 1.00 to 1.20) to keep the dark atmosphere and already it looks better. But is it bright enough? Will J’Zhirr continue to trip over objects on the ground? Only time will tell.

Below is another set of comparison screenshots of an outdoor environment.

Skyrim V2

Skyrim PN2

Skyrim A2

Top postcards for 2014

Dear Mother,

WordPress tells J’Zhirr that he had written 105 postcards to Mother in 2014.

It seems that Sanguine, the Daedric Prince of Revelry and Debauchery, is the people’s favorite in 2014. J’Zhirr still remembers when Sanguine led this one on a merry chase through Skyrim for the sake of fun. Daedric humor is hard for mortals to understand.

Apart from Sanguine, who has moved up in popularity, there are also other changes from the top 10 postcards in 2013.

The 10 most viewed postcards in 2014 are:

Daedric Prince of revelry and debauchery, Sanguine

605 views

Creating a character in ESO

300 views

Ysolda

290 views

Jarl Balgruuf the Greater

169 views

Whiterun

139 views

Jorrvaskr

114 views

Savior's Hide

108 views

Mjoll and Aerin

101 views

J'Zhirr at Dusk

98 views

Sinding the werewolf

94 views

Lore videos

I recently discovered a series of well produced YouTube videos by ShoddyCast. They take the lore found in games like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Dragon Age and The Witcher, and present them in a compact, easy to understand form. If you are interested in the lore from any of the games, then I recommend you to take a look.

So anyway, I just watched the first video on The Elder Scrolls lore and I almost fall out of my seat when I noticed that two of the images used in the video look really familiar.

Take a look at the 8:52 mark, I swear that those are J’Zhirr’s hands.

Savior's Hide

The 19:17 mark also shows another familiar image, although it’s not as obvious as the one above.

Daedric Prince of revelry and debauchery, Sanguine

I wasn’t contacted by anybody from ShoddyCast about the use of these two images. But to honest, I’m not really bothered by that. I am just very, very tickled.

Impression of ESO beta from a Skyrim player

I’ve participated in two The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) beta sessions which was held over two weekends. I’ve created three characters, a Khajiit, Orc and Bosmer. Although I have three characters, I’ve only managed to try out two of them extensively. I ended up liking the Orc the most but more on the reason why later.

Before I start giving my opinions about ESO, I thought I should talk a bit about where I am coming from.

I am a solo gamer, preferring to play alone and offline. The multiplayer options in games seldom appeal to me. I’ve only played two MMOs so far and each of them lasted a few months of play. I eventually stopped playing them as I am unable to invest the time in playing them often. As you can tell, I am probably not going to like ESO. But I am a fan of TES series, having played two The Elder Scrolls (TES) games – Oblivion and Skyrim, and thought that I should give ESO a try to see whether it can change my mind about MMOs.

An Orc named Cruuush

I will call him Cruuush because he crushes things and is not good at spelling.

In a nutshell

If you like MMOs, then you will probably like ESO. There are many features available for the MMO player. You can form guilds, participate in multiplayer dungeons or fight for your alliance.

However, if you are like me, then you may find that as fascinating and fun as the game may be, there is really nothing new that will make you sign up for a monthly subscription.

Impressions from a Skyrim player

Still reading? Good. I will talk in more details about what I like or don’t like about the game. Sometimes I will talk about it in comparison to Skyrim. I play Skyrim a lot so that is the TES game that I am most familiar with. To avoid confusion, I will be using TES to represent the series in general and ESO to specifically mean the online game.

Creating a character in ESO

This is a random Khajiit decked out in Nightblade novice gear. I would show you the veteran gear except that it covers his lovely face.

You have more options to customize the appearance of your character than in Skyrim. There are a few race-specific limitations. Each race can choose from a palette of colors allowed for that particular race. I also cannot find any way to change the colors of the tattoos, which are mostly black color. So dreary.

There are three alliances in the game –  Daggerfall Covenant, Ebonheart Pact and Aldmeri Dominion. Each alliance includes the members of three races. So depending on which race you choose, you will end up in either one of the alliance (unless you pre-purchase). Now I know what some of you are thinking, three alliances and three races each equals nine races but TES has ten playable races! You’re right. Give yourself a pat for doing really good mental sums.

There’s only nine races in the alliances because the tenth race, the Imperial race, is special. It is only available if you buy the Imperial edition and an Imperial character can join any alliance they wish.

New in ESO is the class system. There are four classes – Dragonknight, Sorcerer, Nightblade and Templar. Each class offers unique skills so you do have to pick the class carefully as there is no way to change them after you created your character.

Molag Bal

The biggest baddie in the game makes a guest appearance in the tutorial.

As in all TES games, the player start off as a prisoner. This time, you are a prisoner in Molag Bal’s realm called Coldharbour. Under the guidance of an old man known only the Prophet, you break out of your cell, pick up your first weapon, rescue him and escape back to Nirn. In my first beta, there are racks of different weapons for the player to choose from but in the second beta, only a sword is available.

This portion is the tutorial so things are pretty easy, there are little enemies and they are not difficult to fight, although you can still die here. In fact, my first death was in this area by jumping off a very tall cliff. So don’t jump off tall cliffs, it’s bad for you. I did it so now you know.

You will also get your first boss fight before you return to Tamriel. Even if you get hit, there is nothing to worry about the boss fight as the Prophet will heal you if you take damage. This is the tutorial area after all. In the my first beta, the boss was a Naga-like creature but it has been changed it to a Child of Bones which looked more intimidating and is tougher to beat.

Daggerfall city

Daggerfall city in Glenumbra. Time to get some new clothes.

After the tutorial, new players in the latest beta ends up at a major city in their alliance, rather than having to go through a string of starter islands. And guess where you will end up if you choose to be a Nord?

Gameplay

TES or MMO players will find the controls easy to grasp. Leveling up is similar to TES games, especially in Skyrim, where gaining XP will let you improve either magicka, health or stamina. While the class will determine what skills you can gain, there are so many skills available that you will have no lack of choices. In addition to class skills, there are racial skills, weapon skills, armor skill and guild skills, just to name a few.

Sheogorath

Nobody bests the Mad God.

Quests are a bit different in ESO. Most quests form part of a bigger quest line so you have to complete Quest A which will then activate Quest B and you complete that to activate Quest C and so on. Although the quest lines can be long, the quests are fairly short and I manage to complete a few quests during one sitting. There are also some fairly short quest lines, involving one to three quests. I find the quests and the stories they tell interesting and they are pretty fun to play through. Some of the characters you encounter in quests are memorable. I must confess that I am so affected by the sad fates of the Silvenar and the Green Lady that I have to stop playing for a while. Because each quest does not take long to complete, it always feel like my character is making progress.

Dungeons, on the other hand, are short. The dungeons in Skyrim feels much bigger and I can spend around an hour in each dungeon. However the dungeons in ESO feels small as they only consist of a few rooms. I am done with them in less than half the time I took in Skyrim. NPCs can tell you about a place so treacherous that few made it out alive but later on, you find that it actually is just a short walk in a not very long corridor. Definitely disappointing. Do these people have very poor survival skills or what?

Child of Bones

The boss for the tutorial area. Despite the intimidating appearance, it is only level 2.

Fighting is quite fun but it depends on your preferred combat style. I play a sneaky Khajiit in Skyrim so I created a similar character in ESO. But I quickly find that there is little point and benefit in playing a stealthy character. When I tried to sneak in dungeons, other players just keep running past me, which just spoils the tense atmosphere. It also makes me feel a somewhat stupid. If everybody is running through dungeons, what’s the point of slowly sneaking around? I take longer to complete quests. And it’s not as if I can do my beloved backstab and instant kill.

Some quests lets my character wear a disguise but there is little point in that too. There is always a group of enemy in the area which can see through my disguise. I find it hard to gauge their detection range and their reaction time is pretty quick. Fighting destroys the disguise so I have to find another one to use. I quickly find that it is easier to just fight my way through area.

So after a while, I abandoned the Khajiit and went with the Orc which is more fun to play. I just rush at enemies and pummel them to death. More straight forward this way.

Most weapons work about the same in ESO as it did in Skyrim. However, I think it is no longer possible to have a fighter and magic combi as the classes pretty much limits who can play with magic. One of my favorite weapon in Skyrim is the bow but in ESO, archery sucks. While each bow now has infinite arrows, archery on a whole feels restrictive and limiting. In ESO, you have to get rather close to the target to be able hit it. Too far, and the arrow just disappears. I miss the feeling of excitement I get in Skyrim when I managed hit a target only a few pixels tall from across the gorge. In ESO, I have difficulty even hitting a target from across the pond.

I have yet to do a one hit kill in ESO so I’m not sure if it is possible. After I successfully fire an arrow at an enemy, he immediately rushes towards me, which makes using a ranged weapon useless after the first hit. It’s not easy to quickly switch weapons (until you are level 15) as the enemies will still be able to attack you even when you are in the menus. While I can back away when the enemy runs towards me, there is only a limit to how far I can go. If I back too far away, the enemy goes back to his default position and his hp resets to full.

Doing a quest with a bunch other players running around trying to complete the same quest as you can be both helpful and frustrating. There are times when I am glad for the help other players give me in fighting off enemies. Not that I can’t deal with them on my own but having more people hitting the same enemies makes them die faster. But there are also times when everybody is trying to find the same limited resource or task, so I have to be patient and wait for it to spawn again.

Crafting in ESO is more complicated than in Skyrim. When you first access the crafting menu via the crafting table, windows will pop up with long explanations of how crafting works. It feels a bit daunting to have to read so many words when you just want to get on with some crafting. I wish that there is a brief tutorial to teach the basics of crafting instead of having to read lengthy instructions. But once you get the hang of crafting, it becomes more interesting. I feel that crafting is one aspect which ESO did better than Skyrim. I like is that weapons and armor can take on the appearance of each race’s style. I know, I know, this is mainly a cosmetic difference and there are no differences in the specs of the equipment. But helps to make each piece of weapon or armor you’ve forge feels unique. And I get a kick each time I see “Created by Cruuush” in the equipment’s info panel.

Enchanting works differently from Skyrim. You create glyphs at the enchanting table which you then attach to an item. You don’t have to attach the glyph at the enchanting table, just right-click on the item and select “Enchant”. Pretty convenient.

Both crafting and enchanting requires raw materials which you can collect in the wild. They seem to appear randomly but frequently. There are so many raw materials to collect, from wood to metal to alchemy to food ingredients, that I frequently run out of empty inventory slots to store them all.

Night fishing

Cruuush, the inventor of backward night fishing.

You can also do some fishing in ESO at specific fishing spots. Fishing is pretty simple. First you select a bait, then you cast the line and wait for the float to disappear below the water surface to reel it in. There isn’t much use for the fish caught except to sell them for some gold.

Graphics

I am a visual person so how good a game looks matters to me. Of course pretty graphics do not make a game good but TES have always looked beautiful so gotta maintain a certain standard right? ESO manages to fulfill that with detailed textures and some nice animations and effects.

Lens flare

Lens flare in the morning. Or maybe it was the evening.

My favorite time of the day is in the mornings or evenings when there are special effects like sun rays streaming through the trees and lens flare. It does not happen all the time so don’t worry if you don’t like it. Of course at other times, the world looks good too. I love how they animate the water, especially those along the beach. The water look so clear and inviting, like what you see in a travel advertisement.

Cheesemonger's Hollow

Cheesemonger’s Hollow, a place in the domain of the Mad God Sheogorath. You will visit this during a quest.

Locations in ESO are beautiful to look. ZeniMax really put a lot of effort into creating detailed environments. There’s the mighty stone fortress of Daggerfall city, the tropical island of Khenarthi’s Roost or the sandy deserts of Stros M’kai. And of course the strange places in the Oblivion planes.

Elves in ESO

The elven sisters: Bosmer on the left and Altmer on the right.

Characters look good too. I just want to point out that elves look very different in ESO as compared to Skyrim. In the beginning, I didn’t quite like the change even though I’ve always thought that the elves in Skyrim look rather ugly. The elves in ESO are like the popular view of what a elf looks like. I understand why ZeniMax decides to go with this look. After all, nobody wants to play an ugly character. But I feel that they look too generic, as if they have the same faces, just different colors. Although towards the end, the ESO version is starting to grow on me.

Just a thought. Since ESO takes place hundreds of years before the events in Skyrim, and the ESO elves are prettier than the Skyrim elves, does it mean that the elves evolved into uglier beings?

Another thing I’ve noticed is that some characters looked like they have their clothes painted on them. But this is really me nitpicking and at higher graphic quality, this is not so obvious.

Sounds

Cooking a dish

Tasting my cooking. Yummy yum.

I’m more of a visual person so the audio part does not matter as much to me. But I want to say that the voice acting for the characters are good. Every NPC in the game is voiced which makes it a joy to talk to them. There are also a lot of sound effects in the game which makes the world feels more alive. I am quite tickled that depending on what dishes I’ve cooked, the accompanying sound is different. For example, if I am making a soup, there is a sound like water pouring into a bowl.

Social features

I didn’t get to try out any of the social features during my beta sessions. I do know that there are multiplayer dungeons meant for groups of 2-4 players. Once you reach level 10, you can also participate in the alliance campaign and fight against other players.

Bugs

Because this is a beta, there are a lot of bugs. Some are pretty funny like sometimes my Orc would fish with an invisible fishing pole or enemies would remain standing long after they have died.

Bugged quest

When is a quest bugged? When you see a bunch of players milling around waiting for something to happen.

But there are also game breaking bugs which prevent me from completing the quest and continuing with the quest line. During the last beta session, I found five quests which are badly bugged. Judging from the game chat, I’m not the only one to encounter them. Let’s hope ZeniMax will be able to iron out most of the bugs before the game officially launches.

Would I sign up for it?

No.

I’m sorry, but this isn’t the game for me. It could be for you though!

The game is fun and I enjoyed myself during the beta despite all the bugs. There are so many things to do and some people will sink many hours in the world of ESO. But fun as the game is, I cannot see myself putting down the money to pay for a monthly subscription. I just cannot commit the time to playing it. Because I don’t have much time for gaming, I know I will not be able to play this frequently, not once a week and maybe not even once a month. So the subscription model isn’t worth it for me. Now if there is an offline TES game that does not need subscription, I would buy it.