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An Illusionist in Skyrim
November 25, 2013 10:52 PM   Subscribe

This is the diary of me attempting to play Skyrim using only Illusion magic: I'm not allowed any weapons, armour, or magical items, and I can't attack anyone directly.
The first entry is here, or you can see all entries to date here.
posted by cthuljew (81 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Call me when he ascends as a vegetarian tourist.
posted by outlaw of averages at 11:20 PM on November 25, 2013 [27 favorites]


I love the fact that she robbed her benefactor blind in order to buy a spell she already knew right from the get-go.

This is going to be a fun read.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:19 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Return his axe, and tell him to expect visitors. There will be a great deal of excitement in Whiterun soon."

Oh you are kidding me. This whole conversation is not only going to consist entirely of me taking axes back and forth, it's going to be the same axe? Your conversation is literally just:

"Thing."
"Same thing."

Didn't you kill a guy with a shout once? Talk with shouts! Kill with axes! You people need to take a long hard look at either your traditions or your dictionary.

posted by NMcCoy at 12:59 AM on November 26, 2013


Tricks are something a dovahkiin does for money.
posted by logicpunk at 1:27 AM on November 26, 2013 [23 favorites]


This is featured on the No Wrong Way to Play website which also features the Spelunky solo eggplant run that we talked about a couple weeks ago and my favorite, the Mario 64 Mushroom Challenge in which you find one of those 1up mushrooms that comes straight to Mario and then try to get all 8 red coins in the level without letting the 1up mushroom catch you (those who enjoyed the antics of "Mew Mew" in the finale of Thor: The Dark World might particularly appreciate the tactics in this video).
posted by straight at 1:30 AM on November 26, 2013 [10 favorites]


Back in dear, departed City of Heroes, I had an Illusion Controller. Her primary gimmicks were being able to turn invisible, and being able to summon a Phantom Army of up to three guys. The guys were fairly unique as far as summable creatures went: they were intended to be distractions, but they actually did some damage, and they were invulnerable -- they were instead limited in how much time they could stick around. I maxed out recharge, so I could summon a new set as soon as the old one disappeared, and damage, so they could actually do decent (though not great) harm.

I would attempt to solo instances by calling in the phantoms and letting them take care of things, while adding my own feeble efforts with attacks. I tended to run out of stamina fast what with keeping the invisibility up and calling in the Army most of the time, but once I encountered a mission that I could just ghost through -- go in, cloak, get the stuff, leave, leaving all the enemies standing stupidly right where they were, or in their patrol cycles. Her travel power was flight, which meant she got hover, and in cases where I couldn't just walk by someone I'd go over their heads. It was rather fun.

I love it when games are open to these kinds of alternate approaches. It's like how there's a dozen or so possible conducts in Nethack. And it feels a lot more interesting to play in a way like this than in the typical MMORPG grind play style.
posted by JHarris at 1:36 AM on November 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


(I also did some of the enemies hacking each other trick the guy mentions in this article, in CoH. But it has limits when you're facing solo guys.)
posted by JHarris at 1:39 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Doing things the "wrong" way is such fun!
posted by hat_eater at 1:55 AM on November 26, 2013


From No Wrong To Play (thanks, straight!):
Illusion magic in Skyrim is the equivalent of the Swimming skill in Deus Ex — it’s hypothetically useful, but practically worthless.
This is so true and probably applies to most RPGs out there. I wonder what game devs who spend hours and hours implementing and balancing skills that a fraction of their players use think about this. Why do devs implement filler skills like these? Is it because modeling the world simulation is just too difficult ("this skill could potentially be useful in our open ended world, but we can't really say exactly how or to which degree") or because they fell they are needed to have an authentic world experience ("the character must swim and swimming skills differ from person to person so...).

Now that I think about it, Deus Ex actually has one map - the amazing HONG KONG - where better swimming skills allows you to do some secret exploration and finding nice loot. Maybe that's the thing with filler skills, i.e. if you really insist on having them they should at least allowed you to explore the world in a meaningful and fun way which simply isn't possible without that skill?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:55 AM on November 26, 2013


Oh wow. No Wrong Way To Play is one of the people from Hey Ash Watcha Playin'?
posted by tychotesla at 2:23 AM on November 26, 2013


What's sort of remarkable about Skyrim is how close to useless magic is, in the vanilla game. Even Destruction magic, which is the most straightforward "deal direct damage" school, is so quickly outpaced in terms of how much damage it allows you to do compared to, like, extra-sharp weapons and so forth that by the time you're level 10 or 20, you're pretty much screwed when you get in a fight with even the most generic bandit-type baddie. Illusion gives you a few strategic-type maneuvers, but at high levels you're essentially fucked — every rank of Illusion spell you learn lets you affect higher-level opponents, but the strongest spells in the game still can't affect enemies of high levels, and most enemies in the game scale in level along with you. I tried becoming an illusionist with a high-level character and it was effectively impossible: none of my spells worked for shit.

Alteration essentially boosts your armor stat, without a whole lot of other perks besides; that's great except spellcasters don't suffer penalties from casting in armor, and armor can be enchanted with the exact same spellcasting buffs that, say, wizards' robes can. So that's pretty pointless. Conjuration is nice in that it allows you to create a proxy ally that gets hit in your place, and of all the spellcasting schools it was the only one that felt especially powerful — especially when you use it to gain conjured weapons, but at that point it's just an excuse to play as a melee character, so hmm.

Playing with a couple of obsessively-detailed mods — Skyrim Extended and the Apocalypse Spell Package — makes magic feel more like it's supposed to. That is, at lower levels you're dealing with basically parlor tricks, and it's up to you to work them all into strategies that'll help keep you alive, but then at higher levels you're ripping the universe somewhat to bits, and the mods provide you with enough customization options that you can really create a play style that suits you somewhat. Destruction spells are still underpowered (albeit with a lot more flexibility/strategic spells), but you can invest in perks that gradually make them more powerful, add secondary effects to your spells (like paralyzing/knocking back enemies on occasional hit), and even lower magic resistance in your opponents so you can, like, kill dragons and shit without worrying too much about it. Alteration gets pretty insane, especially when you get the spell that allows you to extend any other Alteration spell's duration to a solid 30 minutes. I've been combining that with a 5-second "run faster and knock back enemies" spell to turn my character into a hyperfast bull that literally rips dungeons apart; combined with a far-reaching cloak of bees that damages everybody even remotely close to me, I'm suddenly a destructive cyclone. And Illusion gets entire new branches of spells that have nothing to do with "make a guy angry or happy or scared". You can make illusory clones of yourself, then trigger spells to activate when enemies try to attack them. Or you can swap places with them, keeping yourself out of enemy reach even while you're actively in combat with a whole bunch of people.

Of course, this still tends to fall apart at higher levels, because Skyrim clearly wasn't designed as a strategic RPG: it's got a flat, shallow world with enough richness that at lower levels you can work out a number of paths to your goal without ever feeling stymied by artificial requirements, but once you're powerful enough to outsmart/ignore the AI the game is pretty much over. Leveling is so relatively basic, compared to a pen-and-paper game like D&D or even to games like Dark Souls, that there's no particular satisfaction to climbing level after level, even as each one makes you progressively more invulnerable of a character. There's no consulting with demons in order to obtain spells, no storytelling sacrifices you have to make where the powers you gain always come at a cost. The couple of quests that do require some sort of sacrifice out of you are so easy to game that it doesn't feel all that difficult anyway. And only a couple of enemies are created with the intention of seeming as cunning or ruthless as the PC is, so once you kill them all there isn't even the pretense of anything standing in your way. (Miraak from Dragonborn is the only thing that really comes close, I feel, and he's such a pushover once you actually meet him that the build-up feels a lot like a let-down.)

In general, Skyrim is great as a series of overlapping systems, a bunch of rules for how a game might be made, but it is fairly terrible as a game itself. Before I started messing with mods, I resented pretty much everything about it, from its stories which prevent you from having any real choice as a character (you can't goddamn rid the one city of the thieves guild) to its ridiculously broken skill paths (Alchemy, Smithing, Sneak, I'm looking at you). With mods, the game becomes an amalgam of different genres, based on what you're able to make work for you, but it never really coheres into a wholly rich world. I wish there were some really ingenious modders who had the time to construct higher-level systems and mechanics on top of the base game, but nobody's really up to that kind of task, so you just get slight variations on what already exists. It feels like a prettier, less intelligent Dungeon Crawl, which is enough to be plenty immersive for a very long time, but which ultimately doesn't lead to an endgame that's at all satisfying. The longer you play, the worse it gets, which is the opposite of what I like in my video games.

It's telling, I think, that all these various creative Skyrim playthroughs seem geared towards keeping the player character at low levels for a long time. The Elder Strolls worked the same way. The game works while your character's smaller than the world around them; the disappointing thing about Skyrim is how quickly you dwarf your surroundings. By the time you get around to doing anything epic, you're usually so overpowered that it all feels contrived anyway. Mods help, but even the best mods can't help that for very long.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:10 AM on November 26, 2013 [25 favorites]


Also, can somebody explain this writer's Anne Hathaway joke? Is Anne Hathaway known as the Pale Lady by anybody, or is this just one of those things where a not-funny person attempts to make one of those culture jokes they've seen Family Guy do before?
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:46 AM on November 26, 2013


Is there actually a video game that does a good job of letting you play a sorceror/wizard/magician? I feel like all of them end up feeling like that Wheel of Time FPS where your spells were all basically different sorts of guns.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:58 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was told to race here to warn them of the dragon attack right at the start of the game, but I decided to have a long and weird military career first. After a brief argument the guards let me in to see the Jarl.

This is pure gold and makes me want to write something similar.
posted by NoraReed at 4:05 AM on November 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


I liked this. I also really liked Rory's comment.

It made me want to play the MMO they're planning. What's the word on that?
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:06 AM on November 26, 2013


Is Anne Hathaway known as the Pale Lady by anybody

1) She certainly is pale, by Hollywood standards
2) She played the White Queen

I don't think it's especially funny, but it's not completely from out of nowhere.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:08 AM on November 26, 2013


Also, I really liked Skyrim at first, but then I got bored with it. It has this vast, detailed world, but then you just slash your way through it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:09 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there actually a video game that does a good job of letting you play a sorceror/wizard/magician?

I'm currently playing Skyrim's precedessor, Oblivion, as a battlemage who specialises in conjuration and alteration. It's surprisingly effective to be able to spend a fight cowering behind the knees of a frost atronach. My battlemage carries a shortsword for use as a last resort if she gets cornered (and a stock of invisibility potions for the same purpose), but that happens so infrequently that she's still a novice at blade after gaining 12 or so levels.

Furthermore, the mages guild questline is substantial enough that it feels there is a genuine purpose to being a mage which differs from the paths available to someone who hasn't specialised in magic.
posted by talitha_kumi at 4:10 AM on November 26, 2013


I could never really get into the melee combat (KLONK KLONK back up KLONK BASH), and magic is underpowered; that leaves the bow and the crossbow. I enjoy the game best as a fantasy archery FPS, with the various other systems as contingencies to choose between when the geography won't permit you to keep enemies at a distance. Illusion comes into its own then.
posted by Iridic at 4:27 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


It feels like a prettier, less intelligent Dungeon Crawl

That's exactly how I felt about Oblivion and Morrowwind too, really. Pretty, but so empty. A thousand characters and I struggled to care about a single one. It was like the anti-Baldur's Gate.
posted by smoke at 4:32 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Man, JHarris, you reminded me of how much I enjoyed playing my Illusion Controllers in CoH. I had an Illusion/Empathy controller, Halloweve, that was the perfect support character; it was certainly possible to solo with her (although she wasn't as well balanced for solo/group play as the rad/rad defender), but she really shone in groups: mobs were blinded, mobs were terrified, mobs could be tricked into attacking their friends, and the Phantom Army would jump in and bust heads, while I was buffing the group all the while. (I stayed away from the single-target heal, and if anyone complained they got the I Am Not Your Fucking Healbot rant.) And when we got Time Manipulation, Illusion/Time was even better.

Man, I miss that game. Has it really only been a year?
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:59 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Furthermore, the mages guild questline is substantial enough that it feels there is a genuine purpose to being a mage which differs from the paths available to someone who hasn't specialised in magic.

Yes, these were the two saving graces of Oblivion for me. The Oblivion gates that changed the environment and seemed to present a credible threat that was interesting at first before repetition turned them into a grind, and the climax of the Mage's Guild questline, which felt like it mattered and had narrative impact... until you saw not a lot had changed in terms of the game world. I think that's what annoys me most with TES. Sure I'd love interesting dialogue, but TES is all about the world. So it rankles twice as much when your actions don't really impact the world even though the narrative is trying to convince you you have completed massive undertakings. There is a sense of place (especially in uninhabited areas) in Skyrim, but I hope someone at Bethesda takes a long hard look at why Morrowind worked besides eye candy. Apparently Fallout 4 is next in line; let's see.
posted by ersatz at 5:00 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oops, posted too early.

I wonder what game devs who spend hours and hours implementing and balancing skills that a fraction of their players use think about this.

These skills aren't used exactly because they aren't balanced in terms of the environment and the challenges you can tackle. A lot of rpgs have skills that are functionally equivalent to the Toaster Repair skill in Wasteland: you get to use them once or twice in the whole game, but if you hoped to roleplay a toaster repairman in the wastes, sucks to be you.

There are two aspects to this, I think: You have to provide enough opportunities to use a skill so as to make it a viable choice, but first you have to translate a skill into game systems. For instance, I find the Bard archetype quite attractive in pen & paper rpgs, but it doesn't translate well to CRPGs, as the skills of a bard tend to be social rather than the usual +2 song of bravery that they end up saddled with.
posted by ersatz at 5:14 AM on November 26, 2013


I've been combining that with a 5-second "run faster and knock back enemies" spell to turn my character into a hyperfast bull that literally rips dungeons apart; combined with a far-reaching cloak of bees that damages everybody even remotely close to me, I'm suddenly a destructive cyclone.

Jeez, I think I need this mod.

I too have been wondering about the TES MMO. On the one hand, its scale is attractive. My very fondest memory of Skyrim was my first character wandering its paths, completely unaware of what was around the next bend. Apply that to ALL OF TAMRIEL? Shit yeah.

On the other hand, it's an MMO, which means the emptiness complaints mentioned (aptly) by Rory are bound to be even more in effect.
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 5:18 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Poor Stump.
posted by Flunkie at 6:02 AM on November 26, 2013


Oh wow. No Wrong Way To Play is one of the people from Hey Ash Watcha Playin'?

It gets better! The article is by Tom Francis, who made the fabulous indie game Gunpoint and who has a blog here. (Gunpoint is why he no longer writes for PCGamer; it did well, as it turns out).

Mr. Francis is also very, very good at Spelunky.

So he created a website for the Spelunky Explorer's Club, where every day people play the 'daily' (a map that is the same for everyone; usually, maps are procedurally generated and no one ever plays the same map as someone else).

Guess who regularly tries to beat Mr. Francis at the daily? Anthony Burch, from HAWP!

Burch's Spelunky-dominant Youtube channel is here.

(the shit you learn from running a blog that posts good videogame articles daily)
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:13 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Iridic: I could never really get into the melee combat (KLONK KLONK back up KLONK BASH), and magic is underpowered; that leaves the bow and the crossbow. I enjoy the game best as a fantasy archery FPS...

Endemic to the developer/engine, I think - I played Skyrim that way, and also played Fallout 3 and FO:NV as a sniper/non-melee/long-range damage character.
posted by hanov3r at 6:17 AM on November 26, 2013


For instance, I find the Bard archetype quite attractive in pen & paper rpgs, but it doesn't translate well to CRPGs, as the skills of a bard tend to be social rather than the usual +2 song of bravery that they end up saddled with.
Considering some Ex-DAOC staff seem to be involved with the Elder Scrolls MMO you may very well get to play a bard.

Or at least have one following you on another account, amirite.
posted by fullerine at 6:17 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now that I think about it, Deus Ex actually has one map - the amazing HONG KONG - where better swimming skills allows you to do some secret exploration and finding nice loot.

Submarine base and the Airport also have some loot if you have a decent swimming skill. Or a few rebreathers.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:25 AM on November 26, 2013


The woman kills him, then comes for me. I realise this plan had no phase two.

This makes me happy
posted by ook at 6:56 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The most disappointing thing about Skyrim is the voice actors, all four of them.
posted by General Tonic at 7:30 AM on November 26, 2013 [16 favorites]


Is there actually a video game that does a good job of letting you play a sorceror/wizard/magician?

It's more of an action/tactics game than an RPG, but I think Magicka is one of the best at making me actually feel like a spellcaster. You have to create combinations on the fly of eight different elemental magics which, in practice, means memorizing difficult, nonsensical, hard-to-pronounce words ("QFASSA!") and typing them quickly in the heat of battle, with all kinds of terrible consequences if you get the spell wrong or screw up your tactics (getting caught by your own mine explosions, accidentally casting a lightning spell when your character is wet). There are also various possible indirect environmental combos (e.g. summon a rainstorm, cast a dry spell on yourself, cast a lightning spell causing double damage to wet enemies) or things like creating a shield and then planting a row of mines just outside the shield -- with the possibility of disasters like getting enemies trapped on the wrong side of the shield with you.

It's still kind of mechanical rather than mysterious, but at least it feels tricky, dangerous, and perversely prone to blowing up in your face.
posted by straight at 7:36 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


If Magicka wasn't so twitchy, random, and have so many game-breaking spells, I would love it to death.
posted by cthuljew at 7:38 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh my god, straight, you beat me to it by a minute. Magicks is great in part because once you understand all the things you can do, you'll understand that it all fits together fairly intuitively.

Magicka is best played with three other players- partially because blowing each other up like lunatics is fun, and also because one playing blasting themselves and their nearest friend to bits isn't the end of the level that way.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:38 AM on November 26, 2013


It made me want to play the MMO they're planning. What's the word on that?

It's... going to be an MMO, which means you and half a million others ought to check your expectations at the door but it might still be fun just not in the way you're hoping
posted by trunk muffins at 7:47 AM on November 26, 2013


Are we talking about Elder Scrolls Online? It's a subscription-based WoW clone whose selling point is that it's set in Tamriel. Also it is 2013 and publishers apparently never learn. If you're patient you'll be able to play it free by 2015.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:57 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shameless question: my crew couldn't get Magika multiplayer to work, so we missed out on a 3 or 4 person romp. This was recently, not early in their history or anything.... Any idea what we may have been doing wrong?
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:35 AM on November 26, 2013


My chief contention with Skrim (in addition to what Rory said above, can't favorite that enough) was that no doors ever closed in there. Outside of killing NPCs which ended quest lines, there were no consequences to the decisions you made. Wait, you mean to tell me I can be a werewolf AND a vampire? A thief AND the head of the mages guild? I can cast the highest level magic while wearing this really cool platemail armor and then use this bow and arrow, all at the same time?

I mean, you could literally roll one character and complete EVERY quest in the game. Which meant there was no reason for me to go in and roll another character... ever. Not even the aforementioned "just use x type of magic/weapon/whatever" self-imposed restrictions. Why would I want to if I know both how the quest ends AND that I could just level up infinitely to get me to the point where I can just overpower the quest.

It's still one of the best games I've ever played, but those facts means it's just a really boring game.
posted by Blue_Villain at 8:41 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Speaking of Magicka, the magic system reminds me of Revenant. It was an rpg published by Eidos where you had to earn access to magic orbs and then you could combine them to create new spells. That game also had an ambitious combat system that was closer to a fighter rather than your standard-issue rpg. It even came with the level editor that was used to make the game. Unfortunately, John Romero's Daikatana was such a disaster that caused major cuts at Eidos and Revenant was released prematurely with the second half of the game almost bereft of a storyline and most of the quests of the first half left unimplemented. The fact that most of you have no idea what I'm talking about is proof enough. Fun if flawed game.

Considering some Ex-DAOC staff seem to be involved with the Elder Scrolls MMO you may very well get to play a bard.

Or at least have one following you on another account, amirite.

My fantasies of wandering minstrels performing all over the land apart, I try to avoid MMOs as at least I put down single player games when I've exhausted them.
posted by ersatz at 8:46 AM on November 26, 2013


Is there actually a video game that does a good job of letting you play a sorceror/wizard/magician?

In addition to Magicka's 'form spells by quickly queuing keys', there's Arkane Studio's Arx Fatalis (2002), where magic is cast by drawing sequences of runes on-screen with the mouse.* Difference sequences of runes make different spells in the same way that Magicka's spells are built up out of different sequences of key-presses.

*With the caveat that you can memorize a limited spells after drawing the runes and then cast them at the click of a button, but it's still an improvement over the average.
posted by cjelli at 9:06 AM on November 26, 2013


flibbertigibbet: "Mr. Francis is also very, very good at Spelunky. "
That was unexpectedly interesting and pleasant to watch. Nice commentary.
posted by brokkr at 9:16 AM on November 26, 2013


I thought Neverwinter Nights was satisfying to play as a mage. It's been so long that I can't remember the details, but I remember feeling terrified and underpowered and focused on buffing minions and not getting killed for a long time, and then i was suddenly god-like
posted by Kwine at 9:16 AM on November 26, 2013


Mr. Francis is also very, very good at Spelunky.

Mr. Francis is also very, very good at explaining what's so great about Spelunky.
posted by straight at 9:37 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Path of Exile has a very fun magic system, though it's an A(ction)RPG (think Diablo) rather than a more conventional Elder Scrolls type game.
posted by Strass at 9:41 AM on November 26, 2013


I mean, you could literally roll one character and complete EVERY quest in the game. Which meant there was no reason for me to go in and roll another character... ever.

I think that makes sense more than the other way though. Unless the game is heavily designed around multiple play-throughs (which normally means being a short randomized game rather than an epic sprawling modern RPG), it's just going to be annoying to have to play 90% of the same game again just to get to 10% new content. One thing modern RPGs do better than old ones is getting away from a lot of the "realism" aspects that don't actually make the game more fun. Skyrim is more or less a sandbox game with a fantasy setting and sandbox games tend to fare better if players can experience a lot of different things and experiment with different play styles. It makes way more sense to build a world that has an option for the character to become a thief for a while than it does to make being a thief a choice at character build time that is mutually exclusive with a lot of other fun choices.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:48 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


[...] its ridiculously broken skill paths (Alchemy, Smithing, Sneak, I'm looking at you).

Basically the only reason I play it anymore is to mess around with the overpowered Sneak + Archery combo. It's really ridiculous when you also have the 5-second recharge Throw Voice to lead the idiot AI around on a leash. But yeah, completely broken: I kind of stopped with the story when I realized that I could just march through any dungeon one-hitting everything except the bosses, who just become a Sneak>Shoot>Run for cover>Crouch to recover sneak>Throw Voice to lead them to the opposite side of the room>Repeat affair, and you don't even have to do that half the time when you can just repeatedly stagger them with arrows before they even get a hit in. All but the highest-level draugr bosses tend to only cross about half the room towards you at best before they're done. And I haven't met a Dragon Priest yet that I couldn't just whittle down with arrows and recovering sneak from rough terrain the AI can't enter, and the higher-level dragons themselves are about the only challenge and even then it's just a matter of standing your ground and firing, sometimes chugging a few of the hundreds of health potions that you picked up and never had to use.

I still have a lot of fun with the game now that I've just accepted that I'm basically just playing Hawkeye, but the initial "must. play. more!" thing wore off at about the time I'd maxed out Sneak and got about half of the Archery skills.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:05 AM on November 26, 2013


Fortify Destruction 100% is the brokest I've broke Skyrim.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 10:45 AM on November 26, 2013


Yes, you can break Skyrim fairly easily but, with self-imposed limits you can make it somewhat more challenging. For example, I'm currently playing a stealth archer type but she's a vampire, meaning outdoors during daytime is usually ok but one mistake, or a caster using fire spells, could mean certain doom. She uses bound (conjured) weapons, thanks to a mod which makes them viable, but no other form of magic. And the weapons only last for around 3 minutes before they have to be re-conjured, and conjuring weapons makes noise, and so the stealth character has to take that into account when making an assault.

She's still completely overpowered but it's nice to have at least small flaws. In addition, I used the Alternate Start - Live Another Life mod so no one thinks she's the one promised by prophecy, dragonborn, etc. To the NPC's, she's just another useless adventuring asshole, unless they actually need an adventuring asshole to clear out their basement of zombie skeevers. It's somewhat refreshing having a fantasy world where you really are nothing special and not many will mourn you when you're gone. And no shouts at all, which completely removes several very powerful abilities from the character.

Illusion + Conjuration + Apocalypse Spell Mod was a fun, if broken, way to play the game. Use Fury to start a brawl in the pack of bandits, use one of the raise dead spells to pick up a fallen bandit and send him back into the fray, toss a spirit cat or a dremora into the mix in case it looks like the fight will end soon or if there's not enough chaos. If the bad guy is alone, use Evil Twin repeatedly so you can see what it would be like for the boss have to fight a short-lived clone of himself. Basically the magical version of "You're hitting yourself! You're hitting yourself!"

Illusion + Conjuration was great. I liked being a Lich Queen who could manipulate others effortlessly. And then I realized I was just making the game play itself, and then not so fun.

Will try a Level 1 playthrough next, and possibly a Frostfall survival run, before I completely give up on the game. Skyrim has many flaws but can be much better if you self-impose rules and limitations.

And I should point out: you can't eliminate the Thieves Guild outside of modding, but you can slaughter the Dark Brotherhood instead of joining them. Was very nice to have the option to get rid of those annoying pretentious assassins.
posted by honestcoyote at 10:55 AM on November 26, 2013


I wish Skyrim had the animal AI from Shooty Skyrim (Far Cry 3). It would make all the wandering so much more fun, and the dogs would be a nice counter to Sneak.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:03 AM on November 26, 2013


Is there actually a video game that does a good job of letting you play a sorceror/wizard/magician?

I thought it worked pretty well in Daggerfall and Morrowind, but maybe that was just because I enjoyed abusing levitate and teleport spells.

In re, useless skills and alternate paths: Daggerfall had language skills for various classes of monster (speak Dragonish, speak Daedric, speak Orcish, etc.). When you leveled these up high enough it improved the chances that a monster of that type would not attack. I tried building a Linguist character once, whose major skills were all languages. It worked okay but I spent a lot of money on training as language skills were really hard to level otherwise. I think you had to get some kind of barrier between yourself and a monster and repeatedly hit the dialogue button while not getting killed if memory serves. I think I actually got pretty far but ran into one of the many main quest disrupting bugs that plagued Daggerfal, so never took it all the way.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:09 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unless the game is heavily designed around multiple play-throughs (which normally means being a short randomized game rather than an epic sprawling modern RPG), it's just going to be annoying to have to play 90% of the same game again just to get to 10% new content.

Oh yes, this. I can't understand people who gripe about not being forced to play 100 hours of Skyrim with only one decent weapon skill or one school of magic. What I loved about Oblivion and Skyrim is that it let me use a variety of play styles. I could go into a dungeon and say, "OK, this one I'm going to sneak around and shoot arrows from the shadows." Then the next one I'd play mostly by conjuring allies and letting them do most of the fighting. Then the next one I'd get my best two-handed melee weapon and just try to mow down everything in my path. Each of those would be fun, and it would also be fun when I'd sometimes run into something that forced me to switch tactics. I can't imagine having to do 30 of those dungeons with just one skill set.

Even in games like Diablo that are designed around the idea of tackling the dungeons multiple times with different character builds, I get sooooo bored hitting everything with the same 3 optimised skills over and over and over level after level after level.
posted by straight at 11:56 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Morrowind was fun to do magic in. I remember creating huge oversized continuous blast spells that would clear out entire dungeons, leaving me time to go shopping for more clothing. Because really. Morrowind is all about the fancy dresses.

REAL magic though was figuring out some of the system hacks, like moving npcs from one one location to another. I first learned it because an npc disappeared from my screen during a conversation, but then decided, "Screw this Nerevarine being the errend boy crap, let's have Vivec fight Dagoth Ur his own damn self!" a couple key clicks and Vivec was sitting in top of the Big Bad.
posted by happyroach at 12:29 PM on November 26, 2013


Also that you could kill anyone in Morrowind (even if it broke the main quest). Who among us hasn't soul trapped Vivec?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:35 PM on November 26, 2013


The most disappointing thing about Skyrim is the voice actors, all four of them.

The two that voiced Esbern weren't so bad. If only they had actually sounded alike.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:26 PM on November 26, 2013


I'd like to see an open-world RPG built entirely around magic use. No shoehorning mages into MMORPG roles; no "arbitrary equality between those who can reshape matter with their thoughts and those who cannot;" just full-on world-changing Merlin-Gandalf-Taliesin-Sauron magic.

Challenge and balance and objectives would be driven by tradeoffs and choices, something like Rory's "consulting with demons." On the simpler end, that might be a permanent decrease in health in exchange for a spell. On the more ambitious end...

-You take the oaths of the Albic Order and cloister yourself in the Pale Manse for fifteen years to learn the Albic rituals. By the time you emerge, your parents have died, your lover has married another, your mentor has declined into senility; worst of all, the Southron barbarians you fought for sport in your younger days have finally swarmed over the mountains and overrun the Weald. You have the power to turn them back--but the Order will come after you if you break your vows and use the rituals against humans.

-You have found the long-lost Words of Fire enciphered in accursed books, graven on the foundation stones of lost cities, whispered on the lips of your unsuspecting rivals. But if you speak the Words too openly, people will overhear them, use them, spread them--and soon enough every noble, bandit, and peasant will be able to kill with their voices. The social order will burn, and your game will end in ashes. Unless, that is, you were savvy enough to only speak the Words in secret. Or if you took care to silence everyone who witnessed their use.

-Perusing the .ini file, you discover several values (PROPHECY1, PROPHECY2, PROPHECY3), all set at 0 by default. What happens if you activate one of them? What happens if you activate all of them?

-The Sarkhlega Chants heal you, buff you, and vaporize your enemies all at once. But what you don't know is that every Chant opens a rift somewhere in the world, and things have begun to slither out of the rifts and shambling slowly towards you...
posted by Iridic at 1:27 PM on November 26, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm with Iridic. I'd like a magic-centric game where you play one of the few people naturally talented enough to wield the really crazy powerful magic, but obtaining the knowledge of such is itself a huge undertaking. Here's the core problem: you've got to obtain really powerful magic artifacts/tomes (to save/rule the world, depending on your ethical bent), but the long-since-(un)-dead mages who amassed said crazy power also used some crazy power to guard their troves/dungeons/towers. How does one bypass or overcome the obstacles to true power put in place using true power before you have that power yourself?

One way might be to essentially play an evil manipulative bastard who sacrifices the lives of (some of) his NPC allies to overcome the obstacles (said sacrifices ought to actually cost you yourself something as well -- there ought too be some kind of feedback loop between your moral choices and your power level... maybe evil characters can't draw on the 'good' magic and have to use the tainted stuff instead, which has nasty side effects). The non-evil route ought to have its own set of issues and require some side-questing/puzzle solving. Oh, and casting the really good magic ought to be a non-trivial matter too, requiring obtaining special ingredients/artifacts, not just have X mana and press hotkey Y (though simple spells can work that way, I don't want everything to be completely tedious).
posted by axiom at 1:42 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perusing the .ini file, you discover several values (PROPHECY1, PROPHECY2, PROPHECY3), all set at 0 by default. What happens if you activate one of them? What happens if you activate all of them?

Ooh that made me think of a fun magic system: the cost of magic is a chance of randomly changing variables in the game code. Reality breaking down is represented by the glitches that emerge when characters, objects, the engine itself start to break down. You'd have to kind of code limits to "safely" break the game, so you don't damage someone's graphics card or lock up their PC or something, and maybe some variables change back over time and there are limits to cut down on game-breaking emergent glitches when little ones pile up, but going overboard with your magic use would be a giant glitchfest. Maybe you intend to damage an enemy but instead turn down gravity, you cast a healing spell on yourself but you also flip one of your control axes, or some of your inventory is wiped, or character models are fitted to the wrong skeleton (always terrifying), or your location randomly changes, or some things change silently until glitches emerge when they interact with other things, or there are strange transforms between local and world space, or terrain generation is fed a set of nonsense variables...
posted by jason_steakums at 1:46 PM on November 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


It occurs to me that all the Elder Scrolls games tend to break easily. From playing Illusionists in Skyrim (although it seems that this approach wouldn't last, later in the game the autoscaling enemies become largely immune to illusion magic) to people beating Morrowind in five minutes to creating pairs of magic items in Oblivion to circularly build skills.

I do not think this is necessarily a bad thing, although I'm not fond of the scaled enemies.
posted by JHarris at 1:58 PM on November 26, 2013


Ooh that made me think of a fun magic system: the cost of magic is a chance of randomly changing variables in the game code.

I've thought a bit about this. But just randomly changing variables, I believe, isn't enough, what you're referring to sounds more like bit twiddling and corrupting code. There's a lot of interesting work to be done in this direction I think, that direction being the "magic as coding" idea, which I think is bigger than just letting the player make glitches.

The cultural idea of magic is that of smart people figuring out how to change the world starting from the effect: making something happen without having to work out exactly how. Casting "fireball," quick and easy; finding firewood to put under the target and lighting a match, slow and laborious.

Of course, if magic worked in real life wizards would have to figure out how spells worked and how to implement them. There's always been a kind of subconscious connection between the cultural idea of magic and programming, I think. In a way, the march of technology is humanity's attempt to actualize magic.

You'd have to kind of code limits to "safely" break the game, so you don't damage someone's graphics card or lock up their PC or something

Many games these days have a separation, under the hood, between the bare-metal game engine and a scripting layer that the game itself is implemented in, which is essentially a virtual machine. If the glitching aspect affect only the scripting later, it could be sandboxed in such a way as to make crashing the program impossible. One would still want to guard against infinite loops though; if done in a virtual machine it need not necessarily crash the game, but it'd still cost resources to run such a loop.
posted by JHarris at 2:16 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there actually a video game that does a good job of letting you play a sorceror/wizard/magician? I feel like all of them end up feeling like that Wheel of Time FPS where your spells were all basically different sorts of guns.

Dark Souls.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:48 PM on November 26, 2013


Re: "magic as code", the big hurdle is probably the interface, right? Because something like live-coding in text becomes unwieldy once it gets more complicated than Scribblenauts. But I wonder if you can't implement something akin to Scratch as your spell building interface, and in combat you can either use your pre-built spells or go into a pause state like VATS in Fallout to code on-the-fly. And like in VATS, you select target areas, but each area has attributes you can slot into your spell - like you select a character's weapon and you can grab its weight, size, damage, etc to manipulate - and you can also attach effects to target areas, like attaching a stone effect to an enemy's legs or a gravity effect to their entire body. And you can also slot objects into the environment into these spells in the same way, like say you apply a force to a specific rock and have it target an enemy's head. And you can save these spells for later real-time combat use, but the target area changes to whatever you're aiming at, and effects involving environmental objects search for similar objects within a certain radius, so they can adapt to real-time changing conditions (and fail in interesting ways when conditions aren't met, like backfiring on you or grabbing a passing small animal instead of a stone to throw). The types of attributes you can select, forces and effects you can apply (and their intensity), and code bits like loops, boolean operations, etc (all with fancy magic names) are all earned as you level up, and you could even have skill trees for certain types of attributes/effects/operations to fall under so you end up with specialized types of spells.

It would be a bear to code, I'm sure, but it would be fun to play.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:49 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only great game about magicians is this PvP turn based finger wiggling one. WARLOCKS.

I sometimes bust out the spells to my best friend in a fit of what probably resembles spastic sign language.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:55 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


requiring obtaining special ingredients/artifacts

I like ingredients in theory, but in practice the game has to be hard enough to kill me if I don't use them; otherwise I'm too much of a hoarder and I'll keep hitting enemies with a rusty pole unless they are a boss. I like spells that level up with use because they give you an incentive to use them often.

Ooh that made me think of a fun magic system: the cost of magic is a chance of randomly changing variables in the game code. Reality breaking down is represented by the glitches that emerge when characters, objects, the engine itself start to break down.


Skyrim on PS3?
posted by ersatz at 5:57 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Reality breaking down is represented by the glitches that emerge when characters, objects, the engine itself start to break down."

I've said this before, but I think that in Skyrim, SPOILER

the Elder Scroll itself is a way for the main character to get access to the code underlying the game. Exposure to all that reality-bending power will drive the character insane if they keep it up too long, which just supports my theory. Metaphorically, the actual Elder Scrolls are the code underlying the game. And, naturally enough, that makes people at Bethesda the gods of the world.

/END SPOILER

There are a lot of things that bug me about Skyrim. One that hasn't been mentioned yet is how ridiculously awful the NPCs are. Seems like dang near everyone is a massive jerk, even the kids. Seems like every time I save the game and try approaching an NPC peacefully, the game reminds me that, no, I should really have just approached them all weapons blazing, because of course they were going to react to me with hostility and hate regardless. And that makes me think someone at Bethesda decided to make sure the player would feel completely justified in killing every single NPC in the game, which makes it feel even worse. It's like the beautiful sandbox is populated by nothing but cat turds, and it comes close to destroying an otherwise great experience. I wish there were more NPCs who rewarded a non-hostile approach.

Another thing that bugs me is how addictive it is. I've discovered about 330 locations with my current character, and I may have to actually buy DLC for the first time ever to get more fun things to do.

The last thing that bugs me right now is how I don't have any time to play it tonight.
posted by jiawen at 8:21 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Muahahaha I too have thoughts about how magic ought to work in video games! Yet I jealously covet my secret hidden knowledge!

I will say two things:

1) In game design, specificity is death. Any kind of design for magic that involves complex layers of details will turn into a Garry's Mod where the only real play is manipulating an easily-broken system. Game design is all about symbolic abstraction. The best systems are the ones which say the most interesting things with the fewest possible mechanics. Think of it as the rule-design equivalent of poetry.

2) By that measure, the best game about casting magic spells is Corrypt for iPad, and in fact it may be the only game I've ever played where magic is worth a damn. I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting, but only Corrypt really makes magic feel as forbidding and terrifying as it ought to feel—it makes a very flat, simple game into something much more provocative and fun. And if you have not played Corrypt yet, that is all I will say on the matter.

No more secrets shall fall from my lips! Arch-Necromancer Marinich, out!
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:53 PM on November 26, 2013


Me, I think there are multiple ways magic "ought" to feel. Different games should have the freedom to try different approaches, depending on the design aim and atmosphere of the game. That said, I do think it should feel more interesting and dangerous than it typically seems in games these days; too many times the potential of magic, as a concept, is wasted.
posted by JHarris at 11:46 PM on November 26, 2013


I'd seriously love to see Spellcaster for the Kinect.
posted by mikurski at 2:40 PM on November 27, 2013


Late to the game, but I just have to say: anyone who says magic in Skyrim is useless is wrong and they should feel bad. I could play the entire game using only magic, and I would be incredibly overpowered by the end. Heck, you could do it using Illusion and Conjuration only. Add enchanting to the mix, and you would be unstoppable. Sure, you're squishier in the beginning, but once you get past that you're gold.
posted by lovecrafty at 5:32 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


That is not helping me to not buy Skyrim at the Steam Sale, lovecrafty.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:12 AM on November 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


So umm, if you already have Skyrim, is the legendary edition worth buying?
posted by MartinWisse at 3:18 AM on November 28, 2013


Dragonborn is the star of the pack, Dawnguard is ok and the house mod is a house mod. I bought it for good measure in case any mods make use of the DLC. When you use Steam, aren't all games technically DLC? Ponder that, Archmage.
posted by ersatz at 3:53 AM on November 28, 2013


The problem I always run into as a Destruction mage is that you can't grind out Destruction like you can the other schools. You have to be constantly moving in search of people to kill. I always get fed up around 50 or so.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:13 AM on November 28, 2013


The problem I always run into as a Destruction mage is that you can't grind out Destruction like you can the other schools. You have to be constantly moving in search of people to kill. I always get fed up around 50 or so.

To fix that, you need a mod which edits the training dummies by the Companions guild so that they count as valid targets, and any attacks on them count toward skill building. You can grind out melee skills or destruction magic by attacking the invulnerable dummies in perfect safety. Grinding on a dummy is much faster than searching for enemies, but it does render it a pretty boring way to build skills.
posted by talitha_kumi at 10:45 AM on November 28, 2013


The problem I always run into as a Destruction mage is that you can't grind out Destruction like you can the other schools.

I would say the advantage of playing as a Destruction mage is that it doesn't reward you for doing boring things.
posted by straight at 12:41 PM on November 28, 2013


It wouldn't be such an issue if there was more to kill, but I'd rather not be a wanted criminal if I can help it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:41 PM on November 28, 2013


It wouldn't be such an issue if there was more to kill...

"EVERY SINGLE GOAT, FOX, DEER, GOAT, ELK, AND BUNNY IS REPLACED BY BANDITS.. WELCOME TO BANDIT HELL"
posted by Iridic at 6:00 PM on November 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ok, so what *else* should I buy on the Steam sale?
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:35 AM on November 30, 2013


Everything on this list that catches your fancy?
posted by MartinWisse at 7:51 AM on November 30, 2013


Thanks, but I was looking for more specific recommendations.

For instance, I bought Dark Souls based on the discussion here. I'd recommend Dishonored to anyone who hasn't already played it who likes Skyrim.

Knights of the Old Republic 2 is good, too.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:49 AM on November 30, 2013


To fix that, you need a mod which edits the training dummies by the Companions guild so that they count as valid targets, and any attacks on them count toward skill building. You can grind out melee skills or destruction magic by attacking the invulnerable dummies in perfect safety. Grinding on a dummy is much faster than searching for enemies, but it does render it a pretty boring way to build skills.

This is partially my fault, but I found with some of the recommended Oblivion mods that leveling as a mage was just impossibly slow, so at the end of major quests I'd just open up the console and buff my stats appropriately as if it were an XP based system. I like it to be challenging, but what that seems to translate into 80% of the time is "abuse the AI and plink them to death / use invisibility." Lots of quests were more interesting when 95% of the world can squish you, except for escorts of inexplicably aggressive NPCs, but you expect a certain rate of being able to do new things to keep it interesting.

it's just going to be annoying to have to play 90% of the same game again just to get to 10% new content

For sure. In Morrowind, it helped a lot that the main quest was separable, the divisions you had to chose clear, and partially geographically distinct. You could easily set out for the different parts of the game and do 3 runs (3 houses, Fighter vs Thieves Guild vs Dark Brotherhood) without a ton of repetition. In FO:NV, if you saved at the Get out Of Jail Free card point and deferred doing endless side quests for later the distinct main quests were fun.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:55 PM on November 30, 2013


> The problem I always run into as a Destruction mage is that you can't grind out Destruction like you can the other schools. You have to be constantly moving in search of people to kill. I always get fed up around 50 or so.

Very late reply, but: to up your destruction quickly, use runes! You get more XP based on how much damage you do, and runes do a lot of damage. If you have silent casting (Illusion tree), you can set one in the middle of a draugr room without waking them up, giving you time to get your squishy self out of the way.

You can also conjure a familiar or an atronach and attack them--they count as valid targets. OR, if you've done the Dark Brotherhood quest line, you can attack Shadowmere. She's invulnerable and won't turn hostile.
posted by lovecrafty at 2:01 AM on December 10, 2013


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