Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Oblivion mod review - Return of Shadows part I v1.05 - v1.07

Mod Review - Return of Shadows Part I
( http://tesnexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=29087 )

Overall: Needs a lot of debugging. Don't waste your time.

Why You Would Download This: You like a lot of running around, killing things, and getting poisoned excessively.

Warnings: It makes a pervasive change to the levelled lists for poisons that is incredibly stupid.

First, the warning: Once you install this mod, you may start to see poisons like the following on any creature that carries poisons. So, if you are a new character just emerged from the Tutorial sewers, in your first bandit or goblin encounter you may be hit by one or more of the following poisons.

  • Hemlock
    • Paralyze 1 second
    • Damage Fatigue 300 points for 4 seconds
      • In Oblivion, having a negative Fatigue is more or less like being Paralyzed; and Fatigue is recovered at a flat rate of 10 per second, not modified by any attributes
    • Drain Fatigue 20 points for 15 seconds
    • Frost Damage 2 points for 300 seconds
  • Hellebore
    • Drain Blade 30 points for 30 seconds
    • Damage Strength 3 points for 40 seconds
    • Weakness to Normal Weapons 30% for 30 seconds
    • Damage Endurance 10 points for 100 seconds
    • Drain Blunt 30 points for 30 seconds
    • Shock Damage 1 point for 400 seconds
  • Deadly Nightshade
    • Drain Acrobatics 100 points for 60 seconds
    • Damage Health 15 points for 60 seconds
      • It normally takes Master-level Alchemy and Shiverings Isles ingredients to make a three-damage-type poison that can do ~900 damage.
    • Weakness to Normal Weapons 20% for 20 seconds
    • Damage Luck 3 points for 60 seconds
    • Burden 40 points for 20 seconds
  • Daedra's Essence
    • Damage Magicka 45 points for 3 seconds
    • Damage Endurance 60 points for 1 second
      • Especially if you use a levelling mod that calculates your maximum Health on the fly and base it on Endurance, this can instant-kill your character.
    • Drain Health 40 points for 1 second
  • Burn Blood
    • Fire Damage 1 point for 20 seconds
    • Disintegrate Weapon 100 points for 2 seconds
      • This results in a bug where you have a Disintegrate Weapon effect permanently on your character, but which does nothing.
    • Burning Blood for 20 seconds
Not all the poisons are of the same immediacy and lethality, but all the new poisons are grossly more powerful than what is typical in Oblivion. Whether you feel the pre-defined poisons in Oblivion are underpowered or not, it still remains that the rest of the game world and probably all other mods are counting on those poisons to be at that level. The introduction of these poisons into the levelled lists can throw off intended results everywhere else.

For example, as the poisons can show on the commonly occurring goblins and bandits, it fundamentally changes very common encounters in a very skewed way, imposing a certain style of gameplay just to survive. If you're not an Argonian or regularly carry Resist Poison and Cure Poison potions (spellcasting is probably too slow for many of these special potions), then most encounters have the potential to be life-or-death, or sudden-death (since archers controlled by the AI more or less never miss as the AI can calculate and account for arching shots or moving targets).

Further factor in the possibility that you might be using a very popular mod such as Martigen's Monster Mod, which can double or triple (or more) monster spawns. Normally not a big deal, but with these over-the-top poisons, suddenly a lot of common encounters become irritating for over-equipped characters, and stupidly impossible for more moderate ones.

The mod authors stand by their decision to put in the poison based on the logic in this mod, but stubbornly refuse to recognize the wider impact it has on the world of Oblivion. It would have been a simple matter to not insert these poisons into the levelled lists, or possibly level them properly, but because they didn't, we recommend that this mod be deleted after play -- if you choose to put up with this change and play it in the first place.

An alternative is to open up the mod with the Construction Set (you need to open the Construction Set with OBSE injected) and edit the script that inserts them into the levelled lists. We tried this and it was enough to simply delete the lines that add it to NPCs.

This mod needs a lot more debugging
There are some mods that receive a lot of positive endorsements at Tesnexus that are wholly undeserved, such as Tears of the Fiend, where the author admits to making some entirely unfathomable and ludicrous choices, such as requiring you to click quickly through dialogue without reading it.

This mod is yet another on Tesnexus which convinces me that the endorsement system is really utterly rubbish and unreliable.

From as far back as v1.05, this mod has had mod-stopping bugs, and yet continues to get good reviews. Some people chance on workarounds and manage to continue, but why certain things weren't reported and fixed until 1.05 makes the whole endorsement system highly suspicious.

For example, the very first thing that happens is Da'Cryon Mesho runs up to you, engages you in meaningless dialogue, then tries to kill you. This starts the mod. The author off-hand dismisses comments and reports by asking players to install OBSE, which is all the more arrogant and irritating because the player already has that installed.
In v1.05, which is quite late as patches and updates go especially for an event that starts a mod, Da'Cryon can show up in the Tutorial sewer and help you kill goblins before trying to kill you -- or he can simply not show up at all. He can appear when you wake up from sleeping and try to kill you without dialogue -- only he can't be killed to further activate the mod, because he is still set to Essential and therefore not-killable. Or, he can be sidetracked into attacking guards in the Imperial City, who can't kill him because he is still Essential, and you can't talk to him because as soon as he wakes up, he either charges a guard or a guard charges him. Or, he can suddenly disengage and go chat with locals.

Finally it appeared these problems were fixed in 1.06, but then the very next quest continued to be bugged.
You are tasked to kill Strongwolf. How it is "supposed" to work is that your attacks cause Strongwolf to cast a spell on you that sends you to a private arena. You start very high up and are dropped (safely) down into the arena. Cinematic and interesting, except once you got teleported, you didn't drop down. Very few people noticed this and reported it (myself included), even though it broke the mod and forced you to reload your game unless you were inclined to use the Console to move yourself down into the arena.
Yet somehow, even prior to 1.06, the mod had gotten a lot of endorsements. How? Why?
The workaround was to kill him before he could complete the spell, and that still works up to v1.07.

Silly delays like this meant we didn't progress past Strongwolf until 1.07, and very serious bugs or oversights continued.

One minor quest available is to find the "Cave of Wonders" for Ethin. Very quickly you realize it is a wild goose chase, but the quest can't be closed. I've had my character go all the way to and beyond the north-western border and return to report, but he keeps saying the same thing. I notice he isn't set to Essential, so I kill him (since I'm surrounded by psychotic idiots anyway). Still no quest update. Typically killing the quest-giver closes the quest, but not so here.
Further, everyone talks about how there should be no killing in the base lest your life is forfeit. Well, no one batted an eye when I killed him in sight of witnesses.

The next main quest after Strongwolf is to find Creal. Once you get the lead to go to Skingrad (after interminable running around trying to find everyone in the convoluted base, or trying to find a squire to help you find them), you end up in a room and can pick up a note for the next stage.
Here, the script is incredibly buggy and I had to reload about 5 times before I could get unstuck.

Once you pick up the note, your character is frozen and a winged person named Ryuk blathers what sounds like nonsense to you. Some dancing lights with about 9000 Health (yes, 9000 Health) also appear, and trigger combat with you. Ryuk runs off to cast spells at them while they wander around generally being punching bags.
Meanwhile, you are still frozen. And a Dragon Knight (a new type of guardsman introduced by this mod to all the cities) appears and starts attacking you. You can access your inventory to change gear, drink potions, etcetera, but you are otherwise frozen and cannot block, cast spells, attack, or even turn around (but you can switch between first and third person views).
If you don't have Damage Reflection and healing potions, you're dead -- and the probability of you having enough Damage Reflection and healing potions to outlast a guard attack is unlikely unless you normally carry around an excess of gear. If you do survive and the Dragon Knight kills herself, there's still a good chance you will need to reload because you are not unfrozen.

After several reloads, my character is unfrozen after the Dragon Knight kills herself from my Damage Reflection. Ryuk is still floating about trying to kill the dancing lights so I help him (with a perfectly legit weapon that has a combination of magic damage and Weakness to Magic; otherwise, this would take forever).

When they are all dead puddles on the ground, Ryuk talks to me and mentions Mirage and wanting apples.
I pull out some apples and talk to him. No, he doesn't take them.

I sneak out of Skingrad to avoid guards (I somehow got a 1000 bounty even though the Dragon Knight attacked me unprovoked), pay off my bounty with Armand Christophe, and go back to Mirage to ask her about Ryuk.
There is no dialogue about him. Instead, there is a chain of dialogue that starts with her being upset that I am talking to her without having completed my task, but concludes with her happy that I have completed my task.
I check my journal -- No quest update.

Was something bugged somewhere during the sequence where I had to reload a half dozen times? I don't know, and I don't care anymore.
Honestly, I have given this mod way more chances than any other mod seeing as it had (as of September 21/2010) 160 endorsements, but enough is enough. A mod this buggy is utter rubbish and needs a lot more work before anyone can properly enjoy whatever story there is -- assuming the story is actually worthwhile playing through, which is hard to tell at this point.

As for Tesnexus, take all endorsement counts with a large dose of salt, since they are likely to be rubbish as well. Read the comments and ignore anything that does not have a specific reason for endorsement or criticism.

Side Note: If you are getting sudden blackscreens from seeing Mirage, try removing her Greaves via console (find the ID using RefScope and then use the removeitem command) or just editing it out in the Construction Set.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Oblivion Mod Review - Realistic Leveling v1.13

Mod Review - Realistic Leveling (v1.13)
( http://tesnexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=13879
Requires Oblivion Script Extender.

Overall:Takes over skill and attribute leveling in an intuitive way. Many options for customizing. Uses in-game resources (Global Settings that already exist in vanilla Oblivion) to control many aspects, resulting in very little scripting load.

Why You Would Download This: To stop worrying about levelling efficiently and just get on with playing the game.

This review is separated into four parts: Introduction, Warnings, Features, and Static Oblivion Experience.


In many ways, Realistic Leveling is one of the most intuitive and least complicated levelling mods. The core of it is very simple: Skills control attribute gains. When all skills related to an attribute are at 100, that attribute reaches a cap that you decide (typically 100).
This is essentially the only author-controlled aspect that you need to worry about, and it replaces how attributes are gained in Oblivion. If you don't like how this part works, and you can't tweak it with the settings in the INI file, then this mod isn't for you.


Because Global Settings are changed, and changes to Global Settings are not permanent within any savegame, Realistic Levelling must re-set them every time a game is loaded. There are consequences to this which we will detail as we examine various features, but for the moment, probably the most important things you need to know are:
  • Do not save while your character is in motion. Athletics and Sneak increase when you are moving, and Acrobatics can increase when you jump and land. If you gain experience in these skills before Realistic Levelling changes the necessary Global Settings, you may gain more experience than you mean to, and abruptly gain skill levels.
  • Do not immediately take any action when you load a savegame. You should wait about 1-2 seconds if possible to let background scripts -- including Realistic Leveling -- finish running, for the same reason as above.
EDIT (July 14/2011): Per mod author's notes in the Comments -- "Thanks for the very informative and flattering review of my mod :-) Note that the warning about unexpected skill advances from actions on loading savegames only applies if you have changed skill advancement game settings. The default RL settings if you install with OBMM do not change any skill advancement settings, and will thus not have this problem. Only if you edit the settings manually and change the advanced skill experience settings as you describe that you risk experiencing this problem. Also, this problem will probably affect any mod that changes skill advancement settings from a *.ini config file, including progress."

You can probably use Realistic Levelling straight out of the box, but there are some features you may wish to consider:

Maximum Level
The recommendations for a character who has brought all 21 skills to 100 is a level of 65 and attributes of 100. The maximum possible level under vanilla Oblivion is closer to between 45 and 53, and mods like Martigens Monster Mod claims to have challenging monsters for characters level 40+.

Something you can do here is deliberately increase this amount to x2 or even x5 of the calculated amount. The concept of "level" in Oblivion is actually a very vague one, as a character with major skills in Security and Persuasion may have inadvertantly reached a high level (and triggered correspondingly high combat challenges in the world around them) without having increased their odds of combat survival. The use of Fast Travel will avoid unnecessary fights, but there will still be quests that require quite a lot of combat.

Conversely, once you start using Realistic Leveling and are no longer concerned with which skills level at what time, you may find that a combat-intensive style of play causes you to increase in combat ability a lot faster than the levelled creatures around you.
What you can then do is artificially increase the levelMax setting in the INI file by a factor of x2 to x5 or even more. You might have a calculated level of 10 but the resources of a level 50 character (through efficient magic or inventory cheats). Now you can also have the increased challenge by artificially assigning your character a level of 50.

With RealisticLeveling, unless you use leveling mode 4 (Sleep levelup) or 0 (don't change anything), you cannot simply use the console command "setlevel" since this mod will periodically recalculate your stats and reset your level.

If you do increase this, remember to slow your Health down to your "actual" level by the inverse factor. So, if you used approximately a x4 factor and set levelMax to about 200, you will want to consider changing fStatsHealthLevelMult from the default of 0.1 to 0.025.

Calculated Health
Realistic Leveling uses the average of your base Endurance and your current Endurance (increased by skill level gains) to calculate your Health. Try a default factor of 0.125 to simulate using current Endurance.

Skill Experience Gain

Some mods like Francesco's directly change the per-use experience. Realistic Leveling does not change individual skills, but instead makes global changes to all skills by using different Global Settings. This means it will stack as long as those mods don't change the same settings.

The easy way to slow down skill progression is to change fSkillUseFactor, as suggested in the INI. Basically, this means you learn less per skill use.

The other way under "Advanced Settings" may actually be a more intuitive way to do it. By increasing fSkillUseExp (normally 1.5), you make increasing skills harder as you get better. Vanilla Oblivion already does this, but you can magnify the effects.
The advantage of changing this setting is that it won't take forever to get to Apprentice level when your skill starts at 5 even if you do slow down your skill gains.
By increasing this setting from 1.5 to 2.0, It takes an additional 145% skill experience to move from skill 5 to 6, but +900% experience to move from 99 to 100. Overall, to get a skill from 5 to 100 will take +736% experience.
The slowdown factors (considering moving a skill from 5 to 100) are:

XP multiplefSkillUseExp

If you remember the earlier warning about not saving the game doing anything that might get you skill experience, or starting a loaded game using a skill, here's the reason: If you have changed the skill experience rate, Realistic Levelling needs to change the Global Setting first and the game needs to refresh that data. Before it gets a chance to do that, a skill might be sitting at over 100% experience necessary to gain a level, and any skill gain will trigger a skill level up. Once that happens, Realistic Leveling no longer has the necessary information to de-level your skill.

Example: You have slowed your skill gain by a factor of 5 by using fSkillUseFactor, and at the time you saved your game, your Athletics skill was 50% to the next skill level.
When you load your game, if you look at your skills before Realistic Levelling has updated the Global Settings, it will show 250% to the next skill level. But the way Oblivion works, you will not immediately get a skill up -- the game only checks for that when you gain skill experience. Any gain in Athletics skill will cause you to get a level.
You need to wait a bit for Realistic Levelling to update your character. Once it has done that, you will see the correct reduced amount at 50% to the next skill level.

Static Oblivion Experience - Minimum Level

There is the possibility of setting your minimum possible level with the levelMin setting. This essentially works like a flat level offset, and there is an interesting possibility here for a Static Oblivion Experience.

Various mods like Sagerbliv's, Francesco's, and Martigen's use tweaked levelled lists so that weaker or less-well-equipped NPCs are not dropped from encounters when the player advances past a certain level.
Other mods like Quest Award Leveller make sure you are not penalized for doing quests too early by swapping out lower-levelled rewards for higher-level versions once you are of an appropriate level.

These are examples of trying to get a more static Oblivion experience -- That is, the world simply exists, and doesn't magically become a more dangerous or more rewarding place simply because you became more proficient. Goods of a better quality do not simply magically appear.

Also consider that by the time you are around level 10-15, depending on your resources and fighting skill, you may find you have reached a certain plateau where even NPCs that are levelled to be 10 or 20 levels higher than you do not present a significantly harder challenge unless they are given more gear (e.g., healing potions) or specific irritating abilities (e.g., spell reflection), or they happen to exploit a particular weakness you haven't covered (e.g., altmer or Apprentice birthsign Weakness to Magic).

In order to do this, you will want to set levelMin and levelMax to the same value, and at least 30 -- the minimum level that will get you the best Levelled Quest Rewards.
If you set it to about 50, you will also see the full array of creatures available in Martigen's Monster Mod.
If you do set the level to 50 or 60, change fStatsHealthLevelMult to 0.05 so that you are for practical purposes no more than level 25 or 30.

You will also probably want to use Francesco's or Martigens because they tweak the levelled lists so that you will not always encounter the strongest foes decked out in the best gear. Not every Marauder will be level 50 and in Daedric Armour, for example.
There will still be an excess of good gear, but for practical purposes limited by your ability to haul it.

You can do this at any time, but it is best if you start a new game for the initial challenge and grow into it. If you do start a new game, set levelMin to 1 until you are past the character generation stage, then exit and tweak the .ini file.

If you do this in the early game, you will probably need to amass resources doing non-violent quests first, and use Fast Travel to skip past unnecessary combat on the roads, which will be deadly to a character not properly equipped. Your Health (even at fStatsHealthLevelMult 0.05) should be adequate that you won't die from one hit by anything.
Potions and poisons will probably figure prominently in early survival until magical gear catches up.