The Harpy Fleet

Well, I did not get back as quickly as I’d hoped. Still, I’m going to try.

I really need to discuss things like the jump changes and the recent ISBoxer (multiplexing/broadcasting, but really, ISBoxer is the 800 pound gorilla of this issue) but that needs a little thought. In a way I’m glad I didn’t get to those posts just yet since the jump changes, especially, require a little time to settle out.

In the meantime though, let me discuss a doctrine that I’ve come to appreciate a great deal: The rail harpy. This doctrine is used by BRAVE, and also by the CFC where I’ve recently relocated to (more on that later).

Low slots
Magnetic Field Stabilizer II
Magnetic Field Stabilizer II
Pseudoelectron Containment Field I

Medium slots
1MN Afterburner II
Adaptive Invulnerability Field II
F-90 Positional Sensor Subroutines
Upgraded EM Ward Amplifier I

High slots
150mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
150mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
150mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
150mm Railgun II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
[empty high slot]

Rigs
Small Processor Overclocking Unit I
Small Core Defense Field Extender I

Ammmunition should include, at a minimum, 1000 rounds each of faction antimatter (it does not actually matter if it’s Caldari or Gallente, except that it should be all one or the other) and Spike. I like to have Javelin as well in case of close-in targets due to the combination of the tracking bonus and the even better damage, and either uranium, thorium, or lead. BRAVE calls for uranium, the CFC doesn’t keep the mid-range ammos on the doctrine template. Remember, it’s never bad to have extra ammo above what the doctrine calls for, but you should always have your doctrine ammo. If you’re going to be bashing, bring plenty of standard antimatter as well, or possibly uranium for larger POSs where antimatter might be well into or outside falloff. The Harpy isn’t ideal for bashing, but it can certainly do so in a pinch.

Now, I’m not a fleet commander these days, and only once commanded a rather small fleet of these in BRAVE, so I’m not going to talk about how it’s used so much as why it’s a fleet that people will like to fly in.

1) It’s reasonably powerful.

With faction antimatter loaded, it pushes 170 DPS out to 19KM optimal and 26-27KM falloff, depending on skills – and with Spike it can engage at 70KM without much trouble, at lower damage. This makes you feel like you’re flying a ship that has the power to respond to a lot of situations – you feel like you can actually kill things with your fleetmates. You aren’t tied to getting an ideal engagement range, so you feel like if your FC can find a reasonable target, you can fight it. Additionally, you have frigate-size guns, so it’s not going to be easy for anyone else to get on top of YOU and under your guns (and if that does happen, that’s what Javelin is for.) While the ship is by no means a DPS king, it does more than a reasonable amount for its size and range capability.

2) It’s reasonably tough

The Harpy has high native resists, plus the Adaptive invulnerability field and the EM Ward Amplifier plugging the hole make it pretty tough. However, what people often miss is that it doesn’t piss away this toughness advantage with shield extenders and rigs blowing its sig radius up and increasing vulnerability to larger weapons and bombs. It only has one shield rig, and it doesn’t even use an MWD. This does make it a little more vulnerable to bubbling, but not excessively so, and while MWDs on assault frigates are generally a good idea on account of the sig radius bonus, that leads to its other tough area – capacitor. With all systems on it has a good 7 minutes of capacitor, more if you’re using lower-cap ammo, or if you cut the sensor booster. Everyone likes to bring their ship home at the end of a fleet – expect to lose it, but any time you don’t is a treat and the Harpy treats you pretty often.

3) It’s affordable, easy to train into, and easy to fit

While it does require a few level 5 skills to use, none of them are very hard ones and it gets the new pilot into a tech II ship and feeling like he’s something more than suicide tackle pretty early on. You don’t need to wait on Advanced Weapon Upgrades V or anything like that. Moreover, it’s not costly. Yes, there’s SRP, but you have to buy the first one, and you may have to buy replacements while waiting on SRP, especially in BRAVE where reimbursement can take a week or more.

A Harpy hull isn’t precisely cheap for a new pilot, but it’s not outrageous either, and the fit doesn’t use a ton of expensive modules or rigs. While more expensive than a Moa on the hull, it’s cheaper to fit and insure, and with the recent buff of T2 insurance, that’s a more important point than in the past.

Now, this all may seem pretty obvious to the experienced pilot, even those that have never flown Harpy doctrine. “Kiryen, why are you bothering to make a blog post about the obvious?”

Well, because these three things make pilots WANT to get into this doctrine. Harpy fleets usually mean content, and usually don’t mean bashing – even though they can bash.

The Harpy is a great way to cure Fast Tackle Disease – and that’s what I’m going to talk about next. It’s still a frigate, but it’s a few steps up from a suicide fast tackle, while remaining well within reach of the first-90-day player. Fast Tackle Disease is part of what led to my departure from BRAVE and will be my next topic.

Getting Hellcamped…

By life.

It’s happened for the last 3 months, mainly involving work plus buying a house plus having three young daughters at home plus one in college and of course actually playing EVE. And a little ESO, but not much. It’s not that I’m bored with ESO, just that until we move and get better internet downloading ESO’s patches is just nothing but painful. This isn’t so much a comment on ESO patches as it is on how shitty AT&T U-Verse is when you’re on the Mexican border.

In the meantime, however, I departed BRAVE for the CFC – specifically FCON. I don’t have any major animus towards BRAVE; it was just time for a change. BRAVE held it’s annoyances for me, most revolving around the implications of “Stay Classy” and how it was actually implemented, a plethora of people that had neither the critical thinking skills nor the experience to do so arguing with me, and a small group of people constantly turning chat into a lot of liberal-ass bullshit. I don’t consider myself terribly conservative, but I am not interested in listening to anyone talk about what a swell bunch of guys the Black Panthers are. I’m also not interested in hearing from some drunken nitwit who can’t match bombers to damage types how he knows all about the military from his 5 relatives, but me being a Major in the Reserves means I don’t know jack after 17 years because I’m “part of the problem”. Fundamentally, I don’t play games to discuss or hear about politics – except as they relate to the game – and I really am not interested in hearing political lectures from conspiracy theorists.

But, hopefully I’m back. This blog needs a lot of work, and with luck I’ll be able to get it done.

The Daedric Thief

This is Katherina’s build, continuing from my previous post.  I decided I really needed to come up with a name for her “class”, and settled on Daedric Thief.  It’s not perfect, but it works.

A note before I go on – I’ve actually modified the build VERY slightly so that it works for people that don’t use the console, or can’t because they’re not on a PC.  The reason is that I normally treat the smithing tree as not actually being there – I give my character ALL the smithing perks as soon as I start.  This is partly because I have a huge number of modded weapons and armor that I want to use, and it’s just easier to be able to see them all at once, and partly because I consider the smithing tree to be terrible, because it’s near-mandatory.  Even if you avoid every other aspect of it, you almost have to at least get Steel Smithing and Arcane Blacksmith.

So, the below build is shown with a minimal smithing inclusion.  Enjoy!

Katherina, Daedric Thief

Overview: Katherina has come to Skyrim to try again to get a proper magical education.  Naturally talented at Conjuration and taking to other magics quickly, she nevertheless cannot seem to stay in any magical institution.  She’s intelligent, curious, magically apt.. and has incredibly light fingers.  Katherina cares about making life good for Katherina.  She wants things for herself, and she wants them without a lot of drudgery.  Exploring, learning, even fighting can be fun – especially when done from a distance – but the real goal is taking care of herself, here and now.  Be a friend, and she’ll direct her attention elsewhere, but make no mistake – Katherina considers rules to just be an impediment to getting what she wants, when she wants it.

Sex:  Female, obviously.  This is solely to be able to use the West Wind Misfit Mage outfit.  There’s no reason this character can’t work as a male.

Race:  Breton.  I chose Breton because of the starting Conjure Familiar spell and the magic resistance.  Any other race could work,but Altmer, Dunmer, Argonian, Khajit, and Bosmer have better starting skills and/or racial benefits, depending if the stealth or the magic aspect is what you want to emphasize.

Attributes:  Magic/Health/Stamina in a 3/1/0 ratio.

Skills and Perks (at level 50)

Conjuration: Novice – Expert, Dual Casting, Summoner 2/2, Atromancy.  Conjuration is the bread and butter of this class, relying on summoned atronachs to keep the enemy at bay.  If the non-smithing version is used, also add Mystic Binding and Soul Stealer for use with Bound weapons.

Alteration: Novice – Adept, Dual Casting, Mage Armor 2/3, Magic Resistance 2/3.  This is the centerpiece of the character’s defenses.

Illusion: Novice – Adept, Animage, Kindred Mage, Silent Casting.  Obviously used to supplement the stealth skill, the Silent Casting perk and the various invisibility and silence spells are goals.

Enchanting: Enchanter 3/5, Insightful Enchanter.  We’re going to be using non-elemental enchantments on weapons a great deal, so we’re staying away from the left side, as the perks are needed more elsewhere.

Restoration:  Novice, Recovery.  This is used to keep the cost of the free initial healing spell down, and to boost magic regeneration

Archery:  Overdraw 2/5, Critical Shot 1/3, Eagle Eye, Power Shot.  Archery is used to support her Atronach and/or follower.  Power Shot is the real goal here, in order to keep enemies from closing.  If the non-smithing version is done, an extra perk is available to take overdraw to 3/5.

Smithing:  Steel Smithing, Arcane Blacksmith, and Elven or Dwarven Smithing.  Which one is up to which quest you want to do.  If you want to do the Dawnguard line and get Auriel’s Bow, then Elven is preferred, which also lets you make more of the Misfit Mage outfits at a tanning rack.  Dwarven Smithing is good if you want Zephyr.

Sneak:  Stealth 2/5, Backstab, Deadly Aim.  She isn’t an assassin, so we won’t be going for Assassin’s Blade.  Muffled Movement isn’t needed as she doesn’t wear armor.  The bottom stealth perk provides far less benefit after just one perk in it, so I don’t invest that much.

Lockpicking:  Novice-Adept, Quick Hands.  This is really for quick hands more than anything else, and eventual progression into Golden Touch, Treasure Hunter and the Expert and Master pciking perks, both of which are far more useful.  Plus, there’s the thief-ish flavor.

Pickpocket: Light Fingers 2/5, Night Thief, Cutpurse, and Extra Pockets.  The last is very useful, since this build puts nothing in Stamina.

Gear:  Obviously the aforementioned Misfit Mage outfit, or if you don’t like that your choice of available mage-like clothing, plus your choice of footwear and headwear.  I’m using the Footwraps, but the College Boots you get at the beginning of the College of Winterhold line might be good too.  I recommend Bandanas of Skyrim for this; it fits a lot more with the casual adventurer look than a fancy circlet does.

As for weapons, if you go with the non-smithing version, all you need to do is lay your hands on the bound melee weapon of your choice, and the bound bow spell.  If you go with smithing, pick either Elven or Dwarven smithing and do the Dawnguard quest or Lost to the Ages early for Auriel’s Bow or Zephyer.  You can then smith up an Elven or Dwarven melee weapon of your choice for backup.  I used a dagger to keep weight to a minimum, but a bigger weapon can certainly be used.  A shield is also a possibility, since it does not prevent Mage Armor from working, but you don’t want to be in melee much in the first place, so it may be dead weight.

Other gear is pretty much according to taste.  Plenty of poisons, especially paralysis poisons are definitely advisable as are Fortify Alteration and Fortify Conjuration potions, the latter especially once you have Frost Atronachs.  If you have mods installed that add items to alternate nodes that buff carry weight, by all means get them.  The same applies to cloaks.  Other options are Chillrend or The Pale Blade for their effects in fending off opponents that close to melee range.

Spells:  It should be obvious that atronach summoning spells and flesh hardening spells are a huge priority.  Soul Trap is a staple, and Muffle and other stealth-enhancing illusion spells are an important supplement to your stealth skill and perks.  Restoration spells other than the one you start with aren’t terribly important, nor are destruction spells, other than (possibly) runes.  I like to have Lightning Bolt to fight flying dragons with since I have trouble leading with a bow, but it’s not otherwise very important.

Followers:  The Daedric Thief is.. well, a thief, so a stealthy follower is preferable if you want one at all.  If you get caught stealing, your follower could be a liability in a number of ways.  Not having a follower, however, can be a pain in the butt with no additional investment in stamina, and low health.  For adventures into the wilderness where pickpocketing and burglary aren’t the goal, you may want a heavy armor follower.  Combined with your Atronach, this should hold off all but large enemy groups quite nicely.

Quests:  The Thieves Guild and College of Winterhold are obvious quests for both the rewards and the roleplay aspects.  The main quest works well too, as she’s someone sucked into this by fate, and dragged along by her own curiosity.  Lost to the Ages is a fantastic choice for the Aetherial Crown and Zephyr.  The Dawnguard line works well in either direction.  I don’t see this character being a vampire, but it could be played that way.  The Bardic college quests, and Daedric quests are good too, as this character is curious about the daedra and their lost knowledge; Mehrunes Dagon is especially good for the special effect of the Razor, and Hermaeus Mora is a perfect fit, as is Sanguine.

The Companions and Dark Brotherhood are probably best avoided from a roleplay standpoint.  The Civil War is more up to personal preference.  I’ve avoided it for now, as she’s basically uninterested, but if forced to pick she’d go Stormcloak on account of the Imperials trying to cut off her head for no good reason.  Katherina is a lot more concerned with Katherina’s head than with political subtleties.

Standing Stones:  Mage to start out; getting the Mage Armor perk and better Atronach spells is a huge priority.  One you have the first Mage Armor perk and the Adept Conjuration perk, the Lord stone is a good choice.  Using the Aetherial Crown, there are quite a few potential combinations.  The Atronach may be a good choice, or the Apprentice if you can jack your magic resist up high enough to counter the weakness.  The Steed might also be useful, or any of the training Stones if you are behind on some skills.

Play:  This character is fragile, with low health, little stamina, and limited armor, plus no blocking or melee perks.  She’s an “independent” scholar (driven by her own curiosity, not the desire for academic achievement) and a fairly selfish thief, so she should snatch whatever she feels she can without getting caught.  If caught, she tends to flee before thinking, but she’ll surrender if in danger – life is more important than loot.  Seek out activities that boost her knowledge and understanding, as well as her wealth.  She should buy a house and comforts at the earliest opportunity.

In combat, she uses her atronach, follower if any, and whatever special effects, from staggers to freezing to paralysis to keep opponents at range.  If forced into melee, she uses paralysis if at all possible, then hacks her helpless opponent to pieces before he can get up and finish her.

So there she is, the Daedric Thief.  She’s intended to be flexible, and variations are many, but I think this offers a different take on the traditional Nightblade approach.  Skyrim is a huge world of riches and curiosities just waiting for her to discover.

Running around barefoot

It doesn’t strike me as a particularly good idea in a land like Skyrim.  It’s cold, and there’s rocks and such, not to mention bear traps in caves.  Plus, there’s a plethora of armored boots available, and Skyrim doesn’t have an Unarmored skill.  It does have the Mage Armor perk, but I use a mod that adjusts the armor curve considerably.. without changing the amount of armor granted by the Alteration spells.

I’ve never really been one for unarmored builds in Elder Scrolls games anyhow.  When I played through Oblivion as a mage, it was as a heavy armor Battlemage, not a robe wearer, and I never got far with pure caster builds in previous games.  If I go back and play through Oblivion again, though, I might try again after this experience.

I like to play female characters as much or more than males in many respects.  They’re easier to get attached to.  I don’t mind staring at a female ass rather than a male ass for dozens of hours of gameplay, either, but I prefer not to dress my female characters in overly revealing or excessively sexualized clothing, and I like female armor at least semi-practical.  That might be surprising given that I’ve castigated feminists for their silly concerns about sexy female armor, but that’s for the prudery, not because stripper armor is to my personal tastes.  I do like some outfits in game that show skin, but it tends to be more things like shorts, or bare shoulders.

With unarmored characters  in a game like Skyrim where normal clothing offers no mechanical advantage in and of itself (solely the ability to take advantage of the Mage Armor perk) a lot of the “impracticality” argument regarding skimpy female armor loses traction.  It’s silly to argue that skimpy clothing would offer no protection, because regular clothing doesn’t either.  I can’t think of any terribly skimpy non-armor clothing in unmodded Skyrim anyhow.  Of course, Skyrim is supposed to be cold, but running around in the snow or swimming in frigid water won’t hurt you, which is also pretty unrealistic, especially if you’re any race other than a Nord, and aren’t a vampire.  You can mod in the effects of exposure if you want, and you can also mod in appropriate cloaks and other cold weather clothing that are suspiciously absent from Skyrim, which will punish you for running around in your bondage straps, or whatever, but although I like cloaks I don’t play Skyrim to deal with the realities of cold and wet.  I’ve been cold and wet in the field quite enough in real life as it is.

With all that in mind, while browsing Skyrim Nexus I ran across a mod known as the Misfit Mage outfit.  This outfit is not particularly warm-looking, but it’s not skimpy, either.. at least as long as you use the loose pants, rather than the silly “panties and stockings” bottom, but that’s a good aspect of the mod, as it caters to all tastes.  A more unfortunate aspect of it is the absurd way it introduces the clothing to the game, and leaves any crafting recipe for it out.  I downloaded another mod to make the stuff craftable straightaway.

For some reason, the pictures of the mod “spoke” to me.  They made the character look like she was dressed casually and comfortably, and they looked practical and easy to move in.  It has a nice variety of colors, and you can mix and match all the parts – speaking of which, because this mod uses more than the normal four body nodes, you can get more enchantments on it than a vanilla armor or clothing set.

There’s something else unusual about this clothing set too – it totally lacks footwear of any kind.  I noticed right away her bare toes poking out, and sure enough, the description of the mod states it has no shoes or boots.  He took the screenshots that show her feet with the footwraps you start the game in as part of your prisoner’s outfit, or else in her bare feet.

This combination, of the comfortable-looking mage outfit and the footwraps somehow just has incredible personality to me.  It’s casual and carefree looking, but still practical as long as you stay away from the stockings and undies.  It’s a little unrealistic to go running around snowy Skyrim in just some footwraps, but I also jump into freezing water, and I can always carry a pair of boots for the cold parts.

Footwraps, being completely worthless, aren’t something it bothers me to add new copies of using the console, either.  I’m not at all averse to using the console for some things, but I try to avoid just blatantly giving myself good stuff.  It destroys the fun of finding loot, if you never need any of it.

I was determined to play a character that dressed in this outfit – which meant I needed a mage of some sort.  I have a plan for a jedi-knight based character, but that one WILL be male; it didn’t fit well with this outfit.

What to do, what to do?

Finally, I decided since I was going with a concept relatively unusual for me, I’d go all the way and do two – I’d make a criminal character as well.  Although I always intend to try out actively criminal characters I somehow never quite seem to get to it.  My stealthy characters, even if they are criminal, always just seem to not steal very much.

The thief-mage combination in Elder Scrolls games has a long tradition in the Nightblade, but this was supposed to be something a bit different.  The Nightblade flirts with the Assassin, and is more of a typical thief that also uses magic, rather than a traditional mage, who also is a thief.

Thus, Katherina was born.  I’m not entirely sure what she’s called.  I was going to call her a Witch Thief, but she’s not a witch, really, not an outcast.  Just a young mage that can’t keep her hands off other people’s things.  She’s in it for herself, for the fun of it, and for her curiosity and comfort.

So far, she’s all kinds of fun, combining enough of what I’m familiar with and like, with enough that’s new to make the game different for me.  It reminded me just how much you can do with Skyrim if you’re willing to go beyond your comfort zone.

Craftsmanship

PI in EVE is technically probably resource gathering rather than industry/crafting proper, but I lump them both in the same category, and part of the reason I like PI is that it’s pretty easy to manage.

I have never gotten deeply into MMO crafting.  PI Alts in EVE are probably as dedicated as I will ever get.  I messed around with it in Everquest II and WoW, but it never really “took hold” for me, despite the promise of riches.

Elder Scrolls Online is turning out to be no different.  It’s not that ESO has bad crafting; I actually like the system pretty well, particularly the motifs for different appearances.  It’s not terribly time consuming, and materials are readily available, at least to make the stuff.  It’s mostly the need for tempers to improve items.

These aren’t exactly hard to come by, but they’re not precisely abundant, either, and I’m in no rush to go out of my way to get more.  This is what’s held up my crafting career in every MMO thus far.

That said, this is not bad.  I am just not a crafter.  ESO gives me incentive to do it to make my own stuff, and more importantly to temper it but I am not going to have an army of crafting alts in ESO lining my pockets any more than I will run some EVE industrial conglomerate.  My corp in EVE is pretty heavily industry oriented, but that just makes me “the PVP guy”.  I’m nothing special at PVP, but BRAVE overall is pretty good, and I can slllloooowwwwllllyyyyy work my way into better knowledge.

One decision that ESO absolutely got right in regard to crafting was the ability to temper and improve any item, not just player-crafted ones.  This gives a value to tradeskills far in excess of the norm for a non-crafter.  I get most of my stuff from drops, so the ability to make them better is invaluable.

This is one of those little things that makes ESO so good in my opinion – the changes and improvements to underlying aspects of the game that give the player choice.  It’s part of what makes ESO one of the most underrated games out there; not enough credit for little innovations.

The PI Alt

Planetary Interaction is something I ignored for the first two-and-a-half to three years of my EVE career – foolishly.  At first, it was something I was only vaguely aware existed, then it was something I kept putting off.  Finally I trained it, and at first I found it rather frustrating – much like research agents, I found it not to really give much return at first.

Then I figured out what I was doing wrong, and got more selective with my planets.  While I’m not getting rich off of it, it certainly supplements things nicely.  My corp runs a small buyback program for those PI commodities needed to make our POS fuel, and except for robotics, I’ve been able to help the corp and help myself at the same time.  When we’re flush on materials, I just sell to the Alliance buyback instead, which also buys up my exploration loot.

Much like PI itself, though, the idea of making a PI alt or two hadn’t occurred to me until recently.  Then, when it did, I instinctively rejected it because it would mean pausing training on my main – and it seems like there’s always something else I need.  Right now it’s Caldari Cruisers V.  But, that had to be finally put off.

Two days ago, my first PI alt set up planets in nullsec.  She has 4 planets right now, and will be able to set up a 5th in a couple days.  Command Center upgrades are at 4.  That’s going to have to hit 5 since she is going to be making robotics, but I probably won’t go for the 6th planet any time soon.  That’s time better spent on a second PI alt.

I wouldn’t presume to write a PI guide.  There are already much better guides than I could ever write out there.  But, I feel that I understand it well enough that now I can feel like I have a good basic income guaranteed anywhere I go.  PI products are highly consumable as ships and sov structures get blown up, and fuel and nanite paste gets used.  Everyone needs the stuff.

With a few careful respecs and about 40 million for skill books, a hauler, and command center upgrades and other construction, 4 or 5 extra planets can be had.  That ought to pay for itself in two weeks or so.

I’m a single-account type of player, and I didn’t use PLEX to dual train.  That might be heresy to some people, but I think it’s time well spent.  It’s a lot easier to lose ships when you don’t feel like every ship you lose means hours of ratting to replace it.

Making choices

I didn’t want to wait to do this post, since it’s an expansion of the previous one.  The first three points I discussed there all involved player choices in three of the major quest lines – the main quest, the civil war, and the Dark Brotherhood quests.

These cases marked the relatively rare point at which the player had a choice about how a questline would proceed (or, in the case of Paarthurnax, a side aspect of the main quest).  For most game quests, the choice is simply whether to go on with it or not.  There’s often a great deal of tactical choice of how to accomplish a quest, but not much in the way of real dilemmas.  Arguably, the choice to become a vampire or not in Dawnguard is one as well, as is the choice to become a werewolf or not in the Companions, but the Dawnguard one somehow just came across as a simple “Wanna be a vampire? Yes/No” and the Companions one just basically paused the questline where it lay if you didn’t decide to contract lycanthropy.

The main quest dilemma, of what to do about Paarthurnax, on the surface seems like a deep dilemma – do we kill this helpful, wise dragon for his history of terrible crimes in response to the demands of the Blades, or do we permit him to remain a hermit, accepting his help and more recent deeds as atonement?

Now, as an abstract moral dilemma, this is an interesting question, but in the game it comes off as something engineered to create a dilemma for a dilemma’s sake, especially since it’s a branch of the main quest and doesn’t really affect how you’ll proceed from there in regards to actually dealing with Alduin.  What’s worse is that that of the two factions involved, one of them has been nothing but helpful (if somewhat pompous and more than a little naïve), while the other has been at best obnoxious and condescending, and at worst possessed of a sense of entitlement to the character as a resource to accomplish their goals – right up to the character’s blood.  Worse, they just make the demand as an ultimatum, and won’t actually help do the deed.

Game mechanics don’t help a bit here either; the rewards for picking either side are pretty trivial and you can loot Sky Haven temple pretty thoroughly before reaching this point – and you can just steal anything that’s left.  With careful planning, you can get Esbern’s potion and recruit the three Blades before this quest initiates, and lose only the “Dragon Hunts” you get sent on.  Small potatoes, indeed.  In a sense, though, this is a bright spot in this sorry excuse for a dilemma because at least they didn’t get the player to kill Paarthurnax by Appeal to Powergaming.

Given the complete lack of consequences or incentives to choose the Blade’s side in the quest, it essentially becomes a non-dilemma – I don’t know anyone that actually chose to kill Paarthurnax for anything besides a desire to see what happened or how tough he was.  In my case, I simply modded the choice right out with a mod that allowed me to retain the allegiance of the Blades without killing Paaarthurnax, and never looked back, because finally telling Delphine and Esbern who was really in charge was vastly more satisfying than either of the original choices.  I’d also have been sorely tempted to just de-essential them via the console and dispose of their sorry asses at this point, or at least Delphine whom I was heartily sick of by this point on my first play-through.

I could really go on and on about the Blades’ entitled douchbaggery, but suffice to say that if you want to create a dilemma, this is not the way to do it.  While I praise the avoidance of leaving some mechanical treat to make killing Paarthurnax the obvious choice from a power standpoint, in every other respect this quest was a trainwreck, made all the worse by the Essential characteristic of Delphine and Esbern.  This could have been avoided by quite a few means – a third option, making the Blades act less like snotty fucknozzles, or making Paarthurnax represent some sort of real danger if left alive, but it wasn’t.

In contrast, there’s the Dark Brotherhood questline which presents 2 dilemmas: first, whether to proceed with it and butcher Grelod the Kind, and second, what to do once Astrid has you in the shack.

The first dilemma seems a bit outrageous – going and butchering an old lady in her orphanage, until we consider that no one regards it as a crime.  Granted, it’s in Riften, a hotbed of criminal activity, but the fact that this blatant slaughter of a helpless senior citizen goes totally unnoticed beyond occasional passing suspicion of the character is almost played for laughs – Grelong represents that terrible authority figure in so many kid’s stories , and the hilarity of this awful person meeting the wrong end of a greatsword has its place.  Either that, or Grelod is known to be way worse than we actually see, but that creates the question of why no one else has dealt with her, if her crimes against the children are so horrid that summary vigilante justice against her is approved of.  Constance pretty much tells us that this is a joke if she’s asked.  Another amusing bit of trivia is that Grelod, inexplicably, is a member of the NPC class lumberjack for skill determination… go figure.

The second one is elegant, mainly because unless you find out from out-of-game sources, or you pay close attention to dialogue, or just decide to experiment.  Astrid’s precise wording hints that you can kill her rather than the three prisoners.  From a roleplay standpoint, this isn’t much of a dilemma at all – go with what your character would do.  Mechanically, destroying the Dark Brotherhood is weaker – but still decently rewarding.  In fact, the dilemma is really more of a puzzle.. what options do I have to get out of this cabin?  It’s very well done, leaving the player a third option, but not making that option the obvious best choice, or even an obvious choice at all.  How this can be so well done, while the Paarthurnax dilemma is so bad is a mystery.

Finally, there’s the civil war.

The real problem with the civil war is that it’s almost too well done, and there is no obvious right choice, especially in hindsight.  Neither is stronger mechanically (other than that following the Imperial during the initial attack on Helgen gives you the slightly better family visit in Riverwood, due to access to smithing materials for free) and sympathy can swing both ways.

On the Imperial side, there’s the generally more egalitarian General Tulius who, once we get to know him a little, is a decent if crusty sort, and the Empire which is a fairly tolerant society, its putting up with Thalmor interference notwithstanding, as that can be chalked up more to Titus Mede’s political ineptitude than anything else.  In Whiterun, Balgruuf, a just and fair man, remains Jarl, and the new Jarl of Windhelm when Ulfric is defeated is even more just and fair.  We also avoid putting one of the Silver-bloods on the throne of Markath.

Siding with the Stormcloaks comes with the stronger initial recommendation of the Imperials trying to behead the player character under circumstances that are questionable, at best and outright tyrannical in their worst interpretation.  We avoid putting Maven Black-Briar (who competes with Delphine for insufferable) on the throne in Riften.  We get to rather more obviously stick in to the Thalmor (their plans to make Ulfric an unwitting pawn notwithstanding) and there’s the appeal to our real-world sensibilities that we’re fighting for religious freedom against a weird combination of Taliban Nazi Elves rather than caving in to them Mede-style.  I also like Galmar Stone-Fist better than Rikke, from a personal standpoint.

Mechanically almost meaningless (aside from some wonkiness here and there, such as doing Mephala’s quest after Whiterun has been taken by the Stormcloaks) but emotionally surprisingly compelling.. and with a perfectly viable third option of just not doing the civil war quest at all, this is a beautifully-executed game dilemma and incidentally adds additional factions to join – factions that don’t simply promote you to leader at the end, and which actually are mutually exclusive with each other.

The civil war also is one that requires a little deeper thought, especially on the Stormcloak side which initially seems like an obvious choice, but tends to appear less attractive after a first play-through.

For example, the racism of the Nords when you first enter Windhelm seems pretty despicable off the bat – until you carefully consider that the Dark Elves don’t want to help because “it’s not our fight!”  Isn’t it?  Why not?  You want to live in the place, but don’t want to fight for it?  One wonders if the Nords would have the same attitude if the Dark Elves were willing to fight alongside them, especially since Ulfric seems to extend the honor of “True Nord” to anyone willing to act like what he considers a true Nord, as does Galmar – even a high elf PC.  Or do the dark elves secretly favor the Imperials?  If so, why are they just sitting it out rather than moving to an Imperial-controlled area and maybe fighting for them?  The Nords are asses and the Dark Elves are mistreated.. but it’s not entirely clear that this is just pointless racism.

One doesn’t need to make Skyrim a philosophical exercise to enjoy the game – but doing so can greatly enhance the experience.  In TES VI we can hope for a lot more Dark Brotherhoods and Civil Wars, and hopefully no more Paarthurnaxes.

Elder Scrolls VI: Amalgamation

No, that isn’t the title of Elder Scrolls VI, and to my knowledge none has been announced – in fact, I don’t think the game has even been announced, even though Skyrim is approaching 3 years old.  Then again, I don’t think Skyrim had been announced yet in 2009, and it wasn’t even in full development until after Fallout 3 was released.

However, I’m sure there will be one sometime in the next 3 years, based on the longest gap (Daggerfall to Morrowind) in the series’ history.

That said, the elephant in the room for TES VI is ESO.  Up until now, the Elder Scrolls games have been about the main series games, with the side games being minor forays into other things, Battlespire probably being the most prominent of them.

ESO tends to distort that; It’s a huge game with at least as much overall series impact as Oblivion, and maybe more than even Skyrim, which made Elder Scrolls into a mass-market franchise.

So, with that in mind, what do we want to see in Elder Scrolls VI?

Well, here’s my laundry list.  I’ll discuss some of these in the detail they deserve in upcoming posts, but here’s the list.  I’ve grouped them mainly by subject, but not by importance as I haven’t totally made up my mind in that regard.

Lore:

Resolve the Civil War.  They may have painted themselves into a corner with this one, since in previous games there has been a canonical resolution to choices when the next game comes out, and it may be impossible to avoid pissing people off with this.  I don’t think a repeat of the Daggerfall “all endings happened simultaneously” will work a second time, nor will a resolution that obviates both choices.

Less significantly, an adequate resolution to the Paarthurnax dilemma.  This one I think is easier since there seems to be a certain consensus that Delphine and Esburn act like total shitlords about the entire thing.  I’ll address both these points in another post, for sure.  In fact, more choices in general would be nice rather than almost entirely linear questlines.

The choice made by the Dragonborn in regard to the Dark Brotherhood also needs to be resolved, but given how integral the Dark Brotherhood is to recent TES games and lore, the result of this is likely a foregone conclusion.  I don’t have a major problem with this, given that Titus Mede II is a nincompoop, so having him canonically assassinated doesn’t bother me much.  I’ll address this one as well.

Some hint as to the result of the Cidhna Mine escape and what happened with the Forsaken would also be nice, and of course there’s the result of Dawnguard, but I’m fairly sure that one is another foregone conclusion.

Also, more joinable factions in general are needed, and not by adding them in DLC.  In Morrowind you had the Fighter’s, Mage’s and Thieves Guild quests, plus the Morag Tong, the Imperial Legion, the Imperial Cult, Tribunal Temple, and three Houses.. and there was no joining them all.  Something like that is needed, including meaningful choices between them.

Gameplay

I’d like to see a retention of the present “3 attributes” scheme, rather than a return to the system of 8 attributes and then the 3 resource pool attributes on top of them.  Although I found a lot of the criticisms of this system in Oblivion to be overblown, they weren’t totally invalid, and it demonstrated the limits of this system.  The present system could use some refinement, but it’s more simply grasped, and lacks the pitfalls of the Oblivion system.

The skill system is fundamentally good, but needs some revisions.  Some of the skills, like Speech, were practically worthless, and worse it turned social challenges into a simple skill check rather than the minigame of Oblivion.  Stealth, on the other hand, was complete winsauce, especially combined with archery, as was the alchemy-enchanting nonsense.

Another improvement would be taking out a lot of the “tax” perks, such as Fists of Steel (really?) or the excessive numbers of perks needed to enhance Destruction damage across multiple elements, or the “matched set” armor perks.  I’d also rather not see any more of the “stack of 5” base perks, especially not with the massive bonuses given to some of them.  Something like Sneak had, with a strong first perk in the stack and small additional bonuses would be better, and only stacking 3 rather than 5 assuming the same leveling curve.

Finally, I’d like to see a more even distribution of total perks across skills and an avoidance of highly specialized skills like “pickpocket”.

Increase the number of magical effects available significantly.  A lot of cool effects have been lost since Morrowind and really need to re-appear.  More variety overall in magic would help immensely.  I’d like mysticism back, even at the expense of Restoration, which is a really narrow focus and hard to make as varied as the other schools.  I’d roll Restoration into mysticism.  Some people are likely to screech, but that’s how I feel.

Something a little more similar to the ESO control scheme would be nice, rather than the “hands” system of Skyrim.  I’d like something like, say, 4-6 hotkeys for weapon sets (rather than the 2 of ESO) and then 4-6 ability slots for each weapon set where you could put spells, items, or weapon abilities, like ESO.  No ultimates, though, please.  Noncombat sets could comprise some of the loadouts as well, so you might have a “Stealth” hotbar that contained a lockpick, an invisibility potion, a silence spell,  fortify carry weight spell, and a fortify pickpocket spell.

The crime system could use some additional work.  It’s far from bad, but it always strikes me as a bit weird that any crime can ultimately be cleared by just throwing money at it.  I wouldn’t mind something where murderers defeated in combat by the guards ended up on the scaffold or at the block with some options to escape in the meantime.. and failure means reload a save!

Combat

DODGE MECHANIC!  The double-click dodge of ESO is a must!  I find myself constantly missing it now.

Improved dual wielding, similar to ESO as well.

Destruction magic needs to be stronger than in Skyrim, or at least not be so ridiculously slow to level.

Smithing improvements should be far less drastic in their effect on the damage curve.

Bring back some classic weapon choices, especially spears.  Crossbows were a really strong point of Skyrim, especially how they felt different from bows, instead of just being funny-looking varients of the same thing.

More varied enemy AI would be really nice, including enemies that have appropriate perks and crafting-equivalent buffs, or pre-improved gear.  Enemies that have more varied builds with things like spellswords would be fantastic, as would stealthy enemies!

So, broadly, that’s what I’d like to see.  I tried to keep this broad, mainly because what I want for TES VI is not “fix Skyrim in these areas.”  It will be a new game with new technology and its own way of doing things, and we should look to it for that, not for a revision of Skyrim or ESO.

Dressing for Success

     Despite my fondness for the Elder Scrolls games, I was not into modding them until Skyrim came out.  Installing and managing mods seemed like far more effort than it was worth.  I never understood a lot of the complaints about Oblivion gameplay, and beat it – on several, varied characters – completely unmodded, more than once.  The same applied to Morrowind,  With Skyrim, however, I discovered the Nexus Mod Manager, a tool that made modding the game fantastically easy.

     I now have over 130 mods for Skyrim.  Of those, I am most fond of my collection of armor mods, followed closely by weapons, allowing me to customize my character’s look in new and different ways.  I especially like this because a lot of Skyrim’s vanilla armors are pretty bad.  Glass and dwarven armor, in particular, annoy me.  Glass armor looks like it should be heavy armor, and dwarven looks like you could hardly move in it.  Dragonbone is nothing to write home about, either, and I find the elven armor somewhat boring compared to that of prior games.  The other armors I generally like better, to varying degrees. 

     The other day I was browsing Nexus for mods, running across a few I liked, in particular a quicksilver retexture of Elven armor which makes a nice substitute for the notably absent Mithril material, and an Ivory retexture of glass as Ancient Falmer in a very attractive white-ish.  I also ran across a mod purporting to make the “impractical” female armors more practical.

     Now, ever since Daggerfall and Battlespire, which had some pretty stereotypically stripperific stuff for the women in them (Battlespire‘s profusuion of thongs for example) Elder Scrolls has, on the whole, kept the armor for the ladies pretty damn practical.  Off the top of my head, the only truly skimpy armors for women have been in Skyrim – the Ancient Nord armor which is inexplicably classed as Heavy, worn by Aela the Huntress, and the Forsworn Armor, which is equally skimpy for the males.

     I therefore knew things did not bode well when I clicked on that mod out of morbid curiosity.  It turned out that the author basically objected to female armor having visible breast shapes, and his mod essentially modified the armors to cover the shape, and make the overall appearance much more similar to that of the male armors.

     Now, Skyrim is a single-player game, so if that’s what you want, by all means play your game the way you want it.  The idea, however, that these armors are impractical is hilarious.  They might be fairly impractical (in some cases being made of material that clearly doesn’t exist in the real world) but not because they expose too much skin, and certainly not because they are shaped to the female form, which includes breasts.

     It has evidently never occurred to whoever wrote this thing that it might actually be comfortable for women to wear armor that is designed for their form, rather than some designed for a man.  No, apparently the mere appearance of boobs is “impractical” and needs to be modded away because clearly they are only there as fanservice to the men, not because women are actually shaped that way.

     While thankfully this is just an obscure mod amid the admittedly huge selection of mods that will make your female character or companion run around Skyrim armored primarily in her underwear, it’s symptomatic of the larger silliness pervading the game community lately.  Playing video games, especially RPGs, is all about becoming someone else, and living in a world other than the real world.  Even those games that are about real events tend to be that way; real combat is nowhere near as fun as it is to play Medal of Honor or Call of Duty.

     Furthermore, there is really nothing wrong with men, or for that matter women, wanting to see skimpy, impractical, sexy armor – some of the time.  And some of the time is, contrary to the distressed wailings of professional victims like Anita Sarkeesian, when sexy impractical armor appears.  Take WoW for example – yes, there’s skimpy silly outfits for women; there’s also quite practical, fully covering outfits.  The starting outfit for the Death Knight comes to mind (I liked that one so much that I tailored all my Death Knight armor back to this appearance) , as do any number of fairly boring sets of robes.  Other games may be almost all fanservice, but Elder Scrolls is not the only game with properly-dressed women.

     Now granted, scantily-clad men are less prevalent, but this is not “because SEXISM/MISOGENY/PATRIARCHY RARRR!!”  This is because A) gamers are mostly men B) men are mostly straight C) men are more visual in their sexuality than women are and D) women look for marks of status to the degree that they are visual.  Men like naked women; women like well-dressed men, or “men in uniform”.  Obviously none of this is universally true, but it’s pretty frequently true.

    Could we use more sexy armors for men?  Yes; I’d welcome that and not just in the name of equality – I’m bisexual, and although that comes with a pretty strong leaning towards women rather than men, I can definitely appreciate an attractive, sexy male.  I’m sure men with stronger same-sex attractions than I would agree.  There’s a shortage of male armor mods overall – sexy and otherwise.

     If you want more sexy male armors, or more male armor mods in general, get out there and make them.  It would be nice if game companies included more of this too.  What we don’t need, though, is people coming up with more ways to pretend that simple male sexual attraction “treats women as sex objects.”  This is a nonsense term that attempts to treat male sexuality as inherently boorish and inconsiderate (at best) so as to shame men into hiding it, and expressing it only when given permission by women.  While some men are boorish and inappropriate, policing video game armor is not going to stop this, nor (by the same token) is the pixelated female we’re fantasizing about likely to get her feelings hurt by the oogling of the guy at the computer.

     More importantly, the gaming world is a male space.  Women are welcome, and the more of them, the better, but the game world doesn’t need to change to accommodate women.  Women need to adjust themselves to the world of the gamer.  Lots of women do this.  What we don’t need, though, is more Anita Sarkeesians masquerading as gamers to find new sources of victimhood to fuel their political agenda.

Interception!!

It’s been over 6 months now since the interceptor changes, and I feel like there’s been enough real experience with them now to deal with the topic of the changes they experienced in Rubicon.  This was a hot topic for some time, but it’s dialed back to a slow simmer with occasional flare-ups when some nimrod has nothing better to do on the forums but whine that interceptors killed his ratting Tengu or run his gate camps too often.

It’s not that the topic is unworthy of discussion, but more than the topic tends to be hijacked by idiots who seem to think camping a gate with a bubble is automatic entitlement to kill anything that comes through it other than the cyno bait Rupture that’s going to hotdrop it, or who think  that because they are ratting out of titan bridge jump range somewhere in a rental Empire, that dropping a few “defensive bubbles” ought to be a foolproof method of getting into warp before anyone can catch their ratting Raven/T3/Carrier.

First, I want to get out there that personally I think bubbles are a shit mechanic, with the possible sole exception of Heavy Interdiction Cruiser (HIC) Bubbles.  Regular interdictors are marginally better than anchored bubbles.  They have the potential to not be a shit mechanic with some careful nerfing to the regular interdictor bubbles (namely, capacity to carry more of them) and anchored bubbles, but as of right now, they’re shit, placing a premium on expensive ships of a few narrow types (cloaky or nullified) to beat them when not travelling in areas you have a strong intel network for.  they are especially bad in places like null-to-low/high connection systems and other crowded areas like NPC null.  The Doril gate from Sendaya is camped so frequently that hotdropping the campers is a public service.

Therefore it should be no surprise that I consider the interdiction nullification change.  Not only is it a nerf to bubbles, but it also means that interdiction nullification is not a T3-only feature.  While I have no particular dislike of T3s, aside from the absurd durability of their buffer fits, I do think anything that provides alternatives to T3s is a good thing.

That said, interceptors require some consideration, because the class is not JUST interdiction nullification.  Roaming gangs of interceptors are a thing.  They don’t seem to be as much of a thing as they were 4-6 months ago, but that also might be a matter of BRAVE relocating from Barleguet to Sendaya and now to Catch and not having every bored lowsec pirate in the neighborhood coming around in interceptors looking for newbies to farm.

That brings up the weakness of claiming that interdiction nullification is the problem with interceptors – Barleguet and Sendaya are both lowsec systems.  There are no bubbles there.  Yet, the roaming gang of interceptors can do as much damage there as nullsec; maybe more since lowsec is not vast swathes of empty between possible targets.

No the problem with interceptors is not with their ability to evade bubbles, nor with the ability of 14 interceptors to swarm a Raven to death.  The problem is with the advantages of the interceptor in fights where numbers are more or less equal.

The interceptor is at the extreme limit of the advantages of small and fast, and because of EVE’s mechanics trying to balance ships across all sizes, things break down a bit with the interceptor.  Not all the way; the game is not broken, per se, but interceptors combine high speed with small signature radius to an extreme degree.  This really shows in the level of skill the interceptor pilot has trained; every level lowers the interceptor’s sig radius bloom from MWDing by 15%.  When you add in things like boosters, faction mods, and off grid links in some cases, interceptors can reach astounding speeds, while suffering much less penalty in terms of sig than other frigate-sized ships.

This means that all interceptors have a fairly large “zone of immunity” where it’s very hard indeed to hit them.  Outside of 10KM (edge of web range without faction webs or bonuses) and inside somewhere between 30 and 45km, interceptors enjoy a VERY high degree of protection from almost everything.

In these ranges, small short-range guns probably won’t reach at all, medium short-range guns will reach, but with a stretch to get out to the high 20KM ranges where interceptors like to fight.  Large short-range guns will generally reach, but suffer major issues of tracking and sig radius.

Long-range guns aren’t much better; almost all cannot track the interceptor effectively, even if they could track other small, fast targets like Imperial Navy Slicers.

Consider the example of BRAVE’s now-sidelined Pocket Rocket Thorax doctrine.  The Thorax has a 7.5% per level tracking bonus to the hull, and the Pocket Rocket used 250mm meta 4 railguns.  It included a tracking enhancer and a tracking computer with strips.  Hitting kiting Slicers was easily done’ hitting kiting interceptors nearly impossible.  Using 20mm Tech 2 guns with Javelin with have remedied this, but I have not had the chance to really experiment.  Still, that would mean a hull bonus, 2 tracking modules, a slightly smaller gun size AND a tracking bonus to ammo, just to hit with medium long guns.

Add a tracking disruptor to the interceptor, and you can basically forget about hitting it with any gun weapon system.  At longer ranges the interceptor might not get enough transversal to avoid being tracked, but at longer ranges it also can’t hold point.

Other weapons systems seem like they should fare better, but even light missiles suffer from extreme speed tanking of their explosion velocity.  Flare catalysts can help, but they aren’t that common, and the interceptor stays well out of web range for the most part.  Drones, even Warrior IIs, are mostly outrun.

Specialized ships can help, such as the Arazu or Lachesis, the Huginn, Rapier and anything else that can apply webs, scrams, or neuts farther out than normal, but these tend to be expensive and specialized ships.

Now, to be fair, gun interceptors run the risk of outrunning their own tracking too, and brawler interceptors like the Taranis and some Claw fits end up getting in web/scram range because they tend to apply scrams themselves rather than points, and possibly webs as well.

But that’s highlighted in the choice of interceptors – the most popular are the Crow and Malediction which avoid any problems with their own weapon system tracking or range, and which easily stay outside web/scram range of a target.

This means that an interceptor can essentially hold down a lot of targets indefinitely.  Often, these targets are ostensibly powerful combat ships.  While this isn’t automatically bad, the degree to which they can do it and the need for specialized options to have any chance at dealing with them pushes this over the limit of what’s acceptable.

Mynnna posted on her blog a few months back, an idea of taking bubble immunity from half the interceptors and giving them web/scram immunity instead.  While intriguing, this might actually make the problem even worse – stripping away counters to interceptors in lowsec. and any time a bubble is not available in null.  Worse, bubbles don’t slow the ship or make it easier to hit, so while it might not be able to warp off, it becomes harder still to hold it down and hit it, either to kill it or even just keep it in the bubble.

Right now, I would say any solution that alters all interceptors equally is not a good idea.  A solution should focus on bringing the worst offenders in line with the other six interceptors.  After that a better adjustment, if still necessary, can be better explored.  Still, if it’s a choice between having them as is and giving up bubble immunity, I’ll take “as is”.