Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Becoming A Master Of Skyrim - 10 Things You Need To Know

Most of us have probably suffered from Skyrim burnout somewhere over the past few months since its release.  Personally, I didn't touch the game for most of the past two months, but picked it up recently in order to explore the final frontier (of sorts): The Master difficulty setting.

I've played through the game a good amount (probably ~100 hours), and have multiple characters over level 30 that range from stealth assassins to front-line melee brawlers and pure mages, so I've got the game play pretty 'mastered' for lack of a better word.  I know how to abuse the AI into wandering aimlessly as I tear it apart, and I can keep myself relatively safe from enemies by utilizing crowd control spells (illusion) and dodging techniques.  At least, that's what I thought going into it.

Master isn't so much of a game as it is an exercise in endurance and patience.  I couldn't tell you the last time I died playing Skyrim prior to raising the difficulty.  Even when I started playing the game for the first time, it wasn't very often (save a wandering giant or poor placement in a room of enemies).  During my master play through, I died more in the first thirty minutes than I did throughout all of my other campaigns.  I went back, loaded up the save files, and checked. 

(For the record, I rushed through the intro and went straight to bleak falls barrow).

It's with these lessons learned that I provide this very general list of ten things that every player, regardless of their character's specialties, needs to know when playing on the highest difficulty Skyrim has to offer.

1 - Melee is a dance of timing.  If you misstep, you die.  Blocks need to be spot on, and dodging blows either by sprinting past an enemy, or sidestepping them, need to be clean and crisp.  As with every lesson you'll learn, painfully, while playing on the Master setting - practice makes perfect.

2 - Enemies will regularly execute you if you remain in melee range at low health -  no blocking, no dodging, no amazing armor to protect you.  If you stick around with less than 30% of your health remaining, you're asking to get killed.  I estimate enemies probably have a 25% chance to do this every swing when your health is low.  I've looked for exact numbers to no avail - if you have or can provide me with a source of that info, I'll gladly post it here.

I was dead as soon as the game registered this hit.
3 - Your current level is the most important tool you possess.  That sounds kind of odd, but enemies grow in power SIGNIFICANTLY every time your character advances a level.  Keep this in mind when selecting worthless perks and crafting.

4 - Don't even CONSIDER crafting, or any thing else that raises any skill not directly combat-oriented until level 25.  I'm sure I'll get a comment/death threat from someone who thinks that just because they can power level smithing and enchanting to 100 means they should do it.  Yeah, you'll have cool and useful gear - but no skills or perks to use it with.  As a result, your enemies (which will also get access to your new gear since you leveled up so much) will one shot you since you concentrated on crafting for 20 levels, and they concentrated on combat.

5 - Damage is king.  The ability to kill enemies quickly (quickly is a very loose term on the master setting, as everything has tremendous amounts of health) greatly outweighs your ability to sit there and take an extra hit in melee, or an extra spell from a mage.  Concentrate your first 15 or so levels exclusively on dealing damage, and/or maintaining your ability to do damage throughout a fight.

6 - Defense is greatly underpowered.  Going off what I said before, the best armor and stats in the game won't help you much against a room full of enemies, or one particular boss that shouts you to the ground and kills you before you even get control of your character again.  In all respects, enemies are meant to kill you quickly if you stand in front of them - there is little you can do about this.  Even magic resistance (while absolutely necessary) is greatly underpowered.  Around level 30, with capped out magic resist (85%) you'll still shudder at how quickly you take damage from magic based attacks.  Without magic resistance, you will instantly die from every magic based attack, regardless of your health, starting around level 25.

7 - You need to abuse the AI.  The artificial intelligence in Skyrim is pretty terrible.  Enemies will walk in odd directions to try and get to you, or stand aimlessly for no reason while you cast spells at them from afar.  When they do this, punish them.  A lot of playing on the Master difficulty is saving and loading games hoping the AI does something stupid - which it often will.  I'll be writing an article specifically about this in the near future - some of the things I show you will be pretty hilarious.

8 - Use the Illusion spells, and use them often.  You can turn entire rooms of enemies against each other, or send them fleeing while you have time to recover.  This one school of magic might be the only one worth noting, except for #9.

9 - Conjuration.  With the difficulty raised, non-player characters (NPC's) got a huge health boost.  That includes your summoned creatures and raised dead as well.  Conjuring minions not only buys you valuable time in combat - but unlike on other difficulties, these creatures will actually do a decent amount of damage and potentially take a few enemies with them.  Conjuration goes hand in hand with #7 and #8; abusing the AI, and Illusion spells.  The AI will often focus on your summons first - make them pay for it.

10 - The character you're planning to make might not be one that's viable on the Master setting.  I use the word viable as kind of a misnomer here; every character can be 'viable', but some are so horrendously underpowered that they just don't fit well on the highest difficulty without reloading every combat scenario dozens (if not hundreds) of times waiting to get lucky and down an enemy.  Take stock in what you learn as you go, and consider your lessons learned when making a new character master Skyrim with.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The End Game

I wonder if I'm the only one who suffers from the syndrome I'm about to describe; follow me here:

I generally tend to enjoy games up until maximum level (or skill cap, whichever applies), and I then get bored rather quickly.  I've never been a big raider - and honestly, the PVP achievements/gear to acquire in most games can be done rather quickly with little effort (or risk) involved.  Afterward, I struggle to find something new to do.

I recently started playing Everquest (EQ) again.  As I was leveling, I was (as I always am) focused on the next level, where I'll get it, if there's someplace better, and is this group good enough or should I drop and solo for awhile?  Once I didn't have another level to look forward to, I hit a wall again, just like I described above.  Then I remembered about the alternate advancement (AA) system EQ has in place, which is available to every character at level 51, and which I had neglected up until that point.

The AA system lets you divert experience away from your character level and into a pool, which will eventually reach 100% and give you one AA 'point' and then reset to zero - allowing you to do it again and get more points.  The points can be spent on a myriad of things from damage mitigation to mana regeneration, enhanced critical strike chance, or a number of abilities that can be used at your discretion once purchased. 

This guy has way too much time on his hands.

The limits are nearly endless - most hardcore players will have between 3500 and 4500 AA points.  Some guilds require an entry barrier - or a certain amount of AA's you need before you can join them.  But regardless of how you earn them, or what you do with them once earned, it's something I don't think I've run across in many other games.

I wonder why EQ (and EQ2) were the only games to implement something like this in a mainstream way?  Full Disclosure:  I've played just about every 'major' MMORPG release in the past 12 years, and I'm sure I've run across alternate advancement systems before - but I honestly can't remember any being as paramount as the one in EQ.  Or honestly - really any at all that offered this much character customization and building after the level cap was reached.

Am I crazy?  Maybe I'm the only one who suffers from the staleness of end game raiding.  But honestly - why can't I have a way of bettering my character other then fighting for a spot on a raid and hoping something I can actually use something that drops from a boss that we kill after hours of preparation?

Maybe this is a solid reason why Everquest is still around.  Developers, take note.