Saturday, August 21, 2010

Oblivion Mod Review - The Halls of Fortitude

Mod Review - The Halls of Fortitude
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Overall:Interesting sights to see. Layout designed to waste your time. Use a teleport-spell mod like SN Mark Recall.

Why You Would Download This: Curious sights here and there give interestingness to an otherwise tedious dungeon. Adventure design elements can be interesting if you are in the mood for the challenges that it provides, otherwise just tedious and you are best to skip it.

The mod starts in the classic way some adventures do in order to provide a challenge for high-level adventurers -- You take away their gear. In a game like Oblivion, you really need to be in the mood for it (or happen to be the right build for it) for this to work. For example, if you are a proficient mage, you can possibly breeze through it because your resources are innate rather than inventory-based.
If you can get past this stage -- That is, you are in the mood for this sort of stunt -- You will find a dungeon that actually has a wealth of resources once you get past the first few monsters.

Depending on the mods you use, the Halls of Fortitude may actually present little or no challenge. You can also stealth it if you can sustain enough invisibility magic to get you through hotspots and the sheer amount of running around this mod will require. This is quite rare as mods go, as typically bosses will hold the necessary keys, making combat inevitable.

There are many good points in this mod. First, there are curious things to see to keep your experience fresh (at least on your first time through each location). The overall structure is, if think about it, pretty boring: Monsters amid Ayleid style architecture and you go around killing things. What lends the locations "interestingness" is the assorted random things you will see, such as giant carrots or a sudden fungus garden.

Another good point is that the resources are varied (for a change, a modder has put in repair hammers and soul gems aplenty, plus Welkynds to support Atronachs) so it's viable for the extended expedition it's supposed to be. At the same time, it doesn't necessarily change the innate challenge in this mod, which is that you start with basic resources, and the core enemies have outright immunities to certain types of attack.

(TIP: Although the mod suggests there are four main types of attack -- weapon, fire, frost, shock -- There are more. You can get around having to think by using mind-affecting spells from Illusion, poison, and "pure magic" spells like Drain Health or Damage Health.)

In fact, you will more than likely come out of this mod with a haul of magic staves, Welkynd Stones, and Varla Stones. If you're not paying attention (or if you already amassed a lot of resources) you may think the whole dungeon crawl to be a thankless one.

As dungeon crawl, Halls of Fortitude does very nicely except for its layout.
Before I get into this, I should explain my point of view on these things. If you don't agree with my direction of thought at this point, you may not necessarily agree with my assessment of the mod's dungeon layout.

A lot of people don't like the concept of Fast Travel because it lets you skip all travelling in between. I feel this is very flawed thinking. While I rarely use it because I do want to do some harvesting for alchemical ingredients and exploration to find locations, the concept of Fast Travel is really to get you to the action and skip the boring bits.
If you look at the history of entertainment, the best of them don't waste your time. If they show you anything, it is because there is a reason for it, usually a plot-related or character-development reason. If there is neither, you won't see it.

In keeping with this paradigm, you will notice that most of the vanilla dungeons in Oblivion have a handy short-cut to the exit (prominent examples being Vilverin and Fort Blueblood) once you have gone the length of the dungeon.

With Halls of Fortitude, none of the doors are marked except to say you are entering the Halls of Fortitude. You'll need to take notes about which one you've gone through. After that, you will probably notice that there are a lot of dead ends. Some of them have a useful resource like a mortar and pestle. Others seem completely useless except for you to haul in more Welkynds.
The problem isn't that you don't do anything except collect loot. The problem is that there is a tedious amount of backtracking to try another exit, sometimes through multiple areas. Assuming you've completely cleared the path and no new enemies spawn, you could still be wasting several minutes going back and forth until you find an area you haven't gone through. It's even worse if you didn't kill everything and are choosing to stealth it -- So much so that killing your way through will probably save you time in the long run.

My problem with this is that it wastes time. Real-life time. Instead of time spent actually progressing through Oblivion doing interesting or exciting things, this mod took much longer than it really should have, much of it filled with a lot of nothing.

You might argue that the mod thrusts you into a nightmarish place constructed by Vaermina and the aimless running around is part of it.
But that is very risky mod design. Would you go to a movie where they spend a third of it rewinding the film and showing it to you again and again? Oblivion is a GAME. It is meant to be entertainment. Wasting my time isn't entertainment.

One quick fix might be to have a door at the end of various routes leading back to your gravestone, and making that location a hub from which to explore outward until you find the exit.

At the very end, you get all your gear back plus some loot, if all the Welkynds and Varla Stones and Soul Gems you're hauling around isn't enough reward already. You also get a somewhat disappointing glowing green orb as a trophy.

I personally thought a small 0-weight Vaermina statue (e.g., from the Black Cat collection) discretely tucked in among the rest of the adventurer's gear, might have been a better choice. That way, they'll probably pick it up without even knowing it (with the "Take All" button) and find this "pleasant surprise" later. It could be scripted so that Vaermina spanks the player if they drop it, or gives a brief blessing if they pray to it (activate it).

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