Alduin Dies This Vacation

It has been about six months since I took some time off, and it was not exactly in good circumstances considering it was to ease being forced from my home for awhile.  Lately, my introvert batteries have been severely drained by getting invaded by the young niece and nephew, and I decided it is about time for a week off to really relax this time!

I love a good stay-cation.  Home is where the computer is.  So, aside from having 60 more hours of it to myself, this week will probably be spent the same as last week.

Last week was spent in pursuit of two things:
  • Indie game development on my own Roguelike Zorklike hybrid RPG.  My progress is unfathomable, but each session is good practice, and I aim for at least one session a day.
  • Making progress in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Remastered Edition.  The goal is to kill Alduin, that nasty world-eating dragon, so I can finally say I did.
In the last blog entry, I was bored of melee and was thinking of starting up a purely Illusion/Conjuration focused spellcaster.  So I did, and played the new character for about a dozen levels.

As it turns out, I was even more bored of a dedicated mob controller.  Cast fear on them, and they give you a merry chase.  Fury them, they'll come after your scrawny cloth mage ass half the time.  Calm them... actually, that gives you a much-needed breather and opens up a potential to get in a free backstab.  Turns out playing a dedicated mob controller is like herding cats.  It is better to have a form of direct damage.

Speaking of direct damage, there's a kind of mob control that is a lot more effective.  Instead of trying to land a temporary magical effect that impedes a foe's ability to attack you, just deplete its hit points to zero and change its behavior to being dead, permanently.  Even warriors can cast these spells via a ritual involving repeatedly hitting the enemy with a weapon.  Thanks to smithing being incredibly overpowered, weapons are far and away the quickest direct damage dealers.

My original Remastered Edition character, the melee-centric, heavy armor, sword-and-boarding juggernaut, ended up being the one I decided I would take to Alduin's doorstep.  My earlier qualms about how long it took to kill stuff were settled by setting the difficulty back to medium ("Adept") and simply smithing up some better weapons.  Green bandits go down with one swipe a fine dwarven mace, and that is just fine for content completion purposes.
This is the character I chose to stay with.  Or is it that one over there?  Ah, they're all the same in full dwarven armor.
The altaholicism runs as strong as ever; I never was one to want to stick with a single character.  However, I soothed it by deciding to look at Skyrim this way:
  • There are three main campaigns to Skyrim:
    • The main Skyrim campaign, involving dealing with the return of the dragons.
    • The Dawnguard expansion, involving dealing with a vampire invasion.
    • The Dragonborn expansion, involving dealing with an old dragonborn that sold out to a daedric prince.
    Each involve a fairly hefty amount of content tied to a quest chain, although some are clearly longer than others. 

    (Of course there is much more than what it mentioned above, including a plethora of extra side quests handed out by every NPC and its dog - sometimes literally - and even that whole bothersome civil war arc.)
  • There are three main paths to character development in Skyrim:
    Once again, each involve a fairly hefty amount of content tied to a quest chain.  This time, it includes trainers related to the skills of that path of character development. 

    (There is also The Dark Brotherhood, a fatal alternative to the Thieves' Guild.  You can also become entangled in other factions such as The Dawnguard as well as a number of lesser-implemented ones such as The Bard's College.)
I settled my altaholicism by looking at Skyrim as having three campaigns, three paths of character development, and the campaigns of three related guilds. So, I decided, why not do all three, one after the other?  Choose one path, complete the campaign for the related guild, then complete a main campaign.  Since there is no level cap anymore, I could do it all with one character!

For my first path, I was tempted to stick with my Conjuration/Illusionist specialist.  With previous characters, I had completed the Mage Guild related campaign twice, but none of the other major guilds, and so it seemed most true to myself.  Magic is the easiest thing to practice leveling up.  After I was done with that, I could move on to the other paths with the support of magic.

However (as I mentioned earlier) I went melee.  This meant I could complete The Companions questline for the first time, I would be in a better position to enjoy the equipment progression as a new character, and the gameplay might be a bit fresher since I never forced myself to stick with melee combat.
Farkas welcomed me to The Companions via a hearty surprise fisting when I was bent over trying to mine more iron ore to transmute.  Roughneck warriors, go fig.
For my first campaign, because the whole reason I am playing the Enhanced Edition is because I wish to correct the ovesight of never bringing down Alduin, I am doing the main campaign first. I hope to have that dragon dead by this time next week.  But first I will complete The Companions questline.  It just wouldn't be right to bring down the ender of the world as some wet-behind-the-ears nobody, right?

Thoughts on balance.

I am playing Skyrim without mods, primarily because I am afraid it will disable achievements and I would like to bag those as long as I am doing a full playthrough.  However, I have noticed quite a few things which I am jotting down for future mod potential:
  • Conjuring Atrnonachs is overpowered. 

    Raise zombie spells have several limitations:
    • They require you actually hit a corpse with the spell projectile, which is tougher to do when engaged.
    • You are limited to whatever corpses are nearby, and the raised zombie is only as strong as that NPC was (plus 100 hitpoints with the right perk).
    • They have a limited duration, after which you will need to find another corpse because your zombie will turn to ash.
    • At extreme high levels, you can have permanent zombies, which allows you to pick out some extra good ones, but they still can't be re-raised if defeated because they will turn to ash.
    Summon Atronoch spells cost the same in mana, but have no such limitations.  At higher levels, you can pull two atrnonachs out of your pocket at any time and simply resummon them as they are defeated.

    A good balancing solution would be to make them require reagents, (e.g. Fire Salts for Fire Atronachs) to be "bound."  There is even an existing spell that does this.  It is my thought that "unbound" (hostile to everyone) atronachs can be a source of reagents.  It has the added balance benefit that those reagents were a bit too hard to come across anyway.
  • Magic, in general, is unbalanced. 

    The biggest problem is that there is redundancy of the same effects in alchemy, enchantment, and shouts, but no real balance between them,  Ideally, there either should have been less redundancy or better enforced balance.

    However, the individual details of where magic is unbalanced are too many and too long to list here (and I'm a spammy bastard who has tried in the past) but suffice it to say magic in Skyrim would require a major overhaul to fix.
  • The Transmute spell is unbalanced and awkward to use.
    • It is unbalanced because it simply turns iron ore into silver ore or gold ore for nothing but mana, an unlimited resource.  Free money!
    • It is awkward to use because sometimes you want silver ore to make silver things, the spell automatically transmutes silver ore into gold ore (one at a time) but you need two ore to smelt one bar.
    A solution to the cost issue would be to make it require more ore (or other reagents) to transmute to a higher level.   A solution to the awkwardness issue would be to require dual casting to transmute from silver to gold.
  • Crafting is sorely out of line with a good Skyrim balance, resulting in ridiculously overpowered gear.

    The ideal item balance should be common < uncommon < crafted < artifacts.  
    Instead, it is common = uncommon < artifacts <<<<<<<< crafted!  
No doubt more things will occur to me as I continue to play.  In the meanwhile, I tend to exploit this game as hard as I can until Alduin dies.  For example, I have found if I use Raise Dead on an opponent that I fed on while in werewolf mode, I automatically consume an extra heart, doubling my werewolf progression.   Hey, if Bethesda doesn't care about balance, why should I? 
The first staff one of my new characters found was a great big, "I Win" button.  I put it on a weapon rack in Breezehome and never looked back.
Well... an exploited game is admittedly a bit less fun, since the whole point of balance is to promote fun.  That's why I deliberately choose not to summon atronachs anymore, so I can have the fun of not leaning on an endless army of them.

Regardless, I plan to take Smithing, Alchemy, and Enchantment to 100 and leave it there for the rest of the playthrough because these are the three single most game-breakingly powerful skills in Skyrim and it seems sort of fitting to I ram that straight down Alduin's throat considering the game trolled me by being unbalanced like that.

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