Thursday, March 30, 2006

Good Info Site

Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages

Contains quest walkthrough and much, much more....

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Voice Actors

Patrick Stewart - Emperor Uriel Septim VII
Sean Bean - Martin Septim
Terence Stamp - Mankar Camaron
Lynda Carter - Nord Females
Ralph Cosham - Breton Males
Wes Johnson - Imperial Males, Lucien Lachance, Demons
Michael Mack - Redguard Males
Craig Sechler - Dark Elf Males
Jonathan Bryce - Various
Catherine Flye - Various
Gayle Jessup - Various
Elisabeth Noone - Various

Hardware and Levels 1 to 4

James and I have been having a few issues with Oblivion. It looks like there is some issues with the NVidia drivers released specifically for the game.
In-game movies are unwatchable due to jerkiness, which is a shame, as when I loaded up on my Sony Laptop the intro video played pretty well (GeForce 6200 Go drivers haven’t been updated since last May!) although the game needs to be cranked right back to Low Detail settings to be playable.
Once there is a definitive fix for these issues I’ll post a link, but in the meantime a suggested fix can be found here.
On my main PC the game is beautiful and runs like a dream. My specs of Athlon 64 3200, GeForce 6800 XT (256 MB) and 2 GB RAM seem to be plenty for 1280x1024 and high detail (although AA is turned off).
Looking at other peoples' setups I reckon the RAM is a big saver on lag as it allows to the game to buffer better. I noticed this in X3 as well which is prone to combat lag even with 1 GB of RAM.

OK, so you have finished the tutorial and are staring at a lake, a dock and some hills with towers in the distance…. What now?
First time through I decided to explore, wandered into a dungeon and had a great time. This is probably a bad idea. Why? Phat Lewt! After the tutorial I was stuffed to the gills with stuff to sell, so that last thing I wanted was a dungeon crawl with even more treasure.
I suggest you head straight to the Imperial City. If it is daytime (8 am to 8 pm – look on your Map for the current time) then head to the Marketplace to sell up. If it is night time then visit each of the city sectors and run around to reveal the minimap so that all the doors are revealed for future use.
You can also try Speechcraft on the Guards as it is worth putting in a bit of practice on the minigame before you hit the shops. The minigame for Speechcraft is not rocket science and is all down to practice. I’ll let you learn the details yourself (read the manual!) but each round (after the 1st) is a question of recognising that you either have a good starting position or lousy one! Good starting positions will give you a massive boost in NPC Disposition if you play them right and Lousy ones just need to be sacrificed to make certain that the Disposition loss is minimal.
I mentioned “after the 1st” round just there… The 1st round is generally a write off as you need to spend a few seconds extra working out which of the 4 options are positives and which are negatives. This costs you about 5-10 points of wasted disposition (which ticks down every second that you think) and so damage limitation is your main exercise here.
Initially both Serena and I struggled with this minigame but after a few practice sessions on Guards it is pretty straightforward and should be used on all characters to maximise their Disposition to you before you take any other options. (A Quicksave before you start is also a good idea!)
OK, so you are ready to sell. Different merchants buy different stuff and some have more money than others. Their money determines the most expensive item or stack of items they will buy, so a merchant with 100 Gold will not buy a 200 gold sword or a stack of 15, 10 gold potions. In the latter case he will buy the potions 10 at a time though. A merchant’s gold does not decrease as you sell stuff to them, nor does it increase as you buy stuff.
The price you receive when selling or are charged when buying an item is dependant upon the level of haggling that you have set. If you leave it alone and never change it you will get poor deals and your Mercantile skill will go up slowly.
Clicking the Haggle button brings up a slider that shows the merchant’s disposition to you, the merchant’s Mercantile skill title and your skill level. Dragging the slider to the right (haggling harder) means you get a better deal, but are more likely to get refused on a deal. Every time you get refused on a deal the merchant’s disposition to you drops by a point.
Your success at haggling is dependant on the difference between your Mercantile skills and the merchant’s disposition to you. If you can find a merchant with an Apprentice skill level and 80+ disposition then you can push the haggling over half way and get really good deals! Generally you can expect to get fleeced early on! Just tweak the haggling up a point on each sale until you start to get refused. Then drop back down two points to get the best deal and the highest likelihood of skill-ups.
Whilst exploring and selling I gained enough skill-ups to level (I have Speechcraft as a Major Skill). If you sleep for an hour or longer you will level up. This raises your Health, Fatigue and Magicka scores and allows you to pick three attributes to raise by a point. Depending on what skill-ups you have done (Major and Minor skills) some of the attributes will have multipliers, so in my case Personality had a ×3 next to it, which means that spending a point there will raise that attribute by 3 rather than 1. By carefully planning your skill-ups you can usually get three attributes with ×3 or better next to them each time you level. I think ×5 is the maximum, but I haven’t managed that yet, (and possibly only ×3 bonus from Minor skill-ups) so I can’t get any deeper into the mechanics at this time.

So do we do the main mission delivery quest or not? I have chosen not to, have explored the City and done a quest for the Merchants to bring one of their wayward fold back into line. I have also visited both city spell shops and bought some low cost spells for training the spell skills. I visited the Mage’s Guild only to be sent to my “local recruiter”, but no-one can tell me who that is! I assume that I have to do the first part of the main quest to unlock that.
James and I have both explored outside the city as well and have picked up quests such as Kill the Necromancer and Investigate the Missing Villagers, although I haven’t started them yet. The world is teeming with wandering monsters and dungeons / ruins / caves for you to investigate further.
If you are a Morrowind veteran you will be glad to know that I haven’t found a Cliff Racer anywhere yet!
So what next?
Well I really want to join the Mage’s Guild to get access to the Altar of Spellmaking, so I think I am going to do my core quest delivery and see what happens then. After that I reckon there is a Necromancer who is waiting to be slain and Villagers to be rescued!
To be continued…

Monday, March 27, 2006

I rest my case

Even Tim Buckley agrees with me in his comic!

The Tutorial and Character Creation

At the start of the game you just pick your race and appearance.
There is a huge amount of tweaking that can be done, but to be honest you will probably be playing the game in 1st person and will hardly ever look at your own face, so what is the point!
I created my elfin looking Breton and was promptly thrown in prison for reasons unknown (I seem to remember starting the first Elder Scrolls game in prison as well - must be a character flaw!).
Both your appearance and race can be changed at the end of the tutorial if you change your mind, so need to fret.

All you skills start out with a score of 5/100 for now.

Anyway, I don't want to spoil the plot but let’s just say you end up crawling around under the prison.

Up first are some handy rooms where you gather some basic equipment and get taught how to use it - bows, swords, lock picks, torches, armour and shields etc.
Then it is basic combat training against the old RPG faithful (rats).
Next comes magic training (also against rats).

Soon you hit the "You are encumbered" message and are unable to move - no crawling around at nanospeed here - you go from full speed to stop just by picking a mushroom! Time to go into your inventory and drop all the crap you picked up. My advice is that if you are not wielding a weapon or wearing some armour - ditch it. Too heavy! Keep the interesting and valuable stuff. That Two-handed warhammer may be worth 60 Gold (on average), but it takes up 20% of your carrying space and by the time you hit a merchant your mercantile skill is so low you will be lucky to get 20 gold for it! Keep stuff you can use along with Gems, Potions and high quality loot (Goblin Witch's Staff etc).

Whilst you are running through the tutorial you will start to get a feel for the controls, which aren't bad - I switched jump and activate round, as they didn't feel logical at their default settings. I'll probably remap Block and Cast round for my Mage as well, as shields don't form part of my fighting style. Expect to whack a few chests or boxes instead of opening them though... They are indestructible so don't fret. Just try not to do that when attempting to initiate chat with NPCs! Note to self - look up the Yield Key again!

Wading into combat for my Mage involved a puny fire based missile spell. Targeting is a bit tricky when you and your target are moving, but I reckon that you will get the hang of it pretty quickly. Defensive spells will be the order of the day as you progress though, as being backed into a corner was a regular occurrence for me. Casting heal spells during combat is hard - Pre-combat Regen spells and Instant Heal potions on a hot key are another essential for the future.

Lock Picking has its own mini-game. Feel free to indulge in this all you like, but apart from "Very Easy" locks, you will soon find yourself hitting the "Auto Attempt" button. Why? At low skill levels the mini-game is too hard for Average and upwards locks and so hitting the Auto button may burn a few lockpicks, but you will eventually succeed.

There is another mini-game for Speechcraft, but that is out with my tutorial ramblings and I will come to it another time.

Eventually you get a bit more of the plot and get asked to pick a star sign (again you can change it later if you want). The Thief and The Mage seem good choices for a starter, with the others being more specialised.

Again the plot moves on a bit further and I accidentally nuke one of the "good" guards in a royal rumble. After the fight he walks over and tells me that it is a good job he likes me, but don't do it again! Nice touch I thought, but it was his fault for running into my line of fire!

Soon, the plot gets serious and only one good guy remains standing (apart from you). He nicks the best sword you have found so far (bastard!) and then suggests what class your playing style indicates. This is when you completely ignore the recommendation and click "Custom". Select your 7 major skills, your bonus stats and your focus type (magic, combat or stealth). You name your combo (or pick "adventurer") and then off you go. More on this in a sec.

Soon you reach a grate to the outside world. Time to do a hard save before exiting the tutorial. Why? This is the point at which you can completely respec your character, so being able to reload after deciding that you don't like your character after all is a major bonus. Otherwise you have to play the tutorial all over again.

To round this off, here are some pointers on skills.

The "obvious" thing to do would be as follows. OK - I want to be a thief. I shall pick the 7 stealth skills as my major skills (+20 starting point bonus), pick a focus in stealth (+10 point bonus) and pick a race like Khajit (+45 in assorted stealth skill bonuses).
Congratulations - you now have a really skilled level 1 Thief, but have just put a level cap on yourself of Level 42 (Max level is 53) and all your other skills stink!

How does that work? Ignoring a few skill ups obtained during the tutorial your skills start as follows:
7 Major skills at 25 and 14 Minor skills at 5.
You then apply Focus bonuses of +10 to all of one type of skill (Magic, Stealth or Combat).
You then apply racial bonuses of +45 across various skills.

You start at level 1 and for every 10 skill points you gain in your major skills, then you gain a level.
Your skills are all capped at 100.
Assuming that your Focus and Racial Bonuses are all in your Major skills, then you Max level is calculated as follows:
Starting Major Skill Total = (25 x 7) + (10 x 7) + 45 = 290.
Maximum Major Skill Total = (100 x 7) = 700.
Difference = 700 - 290 = 410.
Max no of Levels you can gain = 410 / 10 = 41.
Therefore max level = 42 (You start at level 1).

However if you start with your focus and racial bonuses all in Minor skills then the calc is as follows:
Starting Major Skill Total = 25 x 7 = 175.
Difference = 700 - 175 = 525.
Max no of Levels you can gain = 525 / 10 = 52 (rounding down).
Therefore max level = 53.

So there is a balance to be struck between being well skilled at Level 1 and not reaching Level 50+.
Every time you level up you get a bonus to your Health, Magicka and Fatigue scores and can increase three of your stats (just like in Morrowind).
The monsters in dungeons and the loot you get from chests is based on your level, so it is only at the high end that a power gamer might see a drop off in their abilities. Your Average Joe gamer won't ever notice the subtle differences.

So what did I do?

I am playing a Breton Mage/Thief (Spellblade).
My Major skills are all Stealth related apart from Destruction swapped for Acrobatics.
My Focus Bonus is in Magic.
My Racial Bonuses are mainly Magical.
The combo gives me lots of starting skills (All Major and some Minor) with scores of 20 or 25 (Destruction being 30) and allows me to progress my level (or not) by using non-combat skills like Speechcraft and Sneak, rather than being forced up levels by being hit or hitting things in combat. My Max level is still 53 as my difference score is 520.
I can progress my magic skills using training spells without it forcing up my level and hence can increase my survivability.
This was not me powergaming but was a pure fluke as I wanted a more balanced character at level one. Just lucky!
Well I will let you digest that and write more about Levels 1 to 3 later.

PS The game is great!

PPS Typos and Apostrophes corrected (thanks Serena)

Back in Business

OK, time to put this blog to some practical use.

I will be tracking my progress through and thoughts on The Elder Scrolls IV - Oblivion for PC.