Steam Holiday Auction

Steam launched a new type of event yesterday called the “Steam Holiday Auction”. This event allowed users the opportunity to convert some of the junk laying around in their inventory to gems, which could then be bid on 100 copies of 2000 games and software items.

SteamHolidayAuction

When the auction initially kicked off late last week, there was apparently a bug that allowed for gems to be duplicated, causing initial bids to quickly climb to millions of gems. The whole system disappeared, and gems were wiped. Any gems users had created themselves were returned to their inventory, and any gem purchases were reversed.

The bugs were patched, and the whole system was rolled out again, allowing users to bid on a wide range of games. While the auction is still going on, I’m now out of gems, I did manage to win auctions for Fantasy Grounds and Talisman: Prologue. Considering I spent less than $3.00 on some profile backgrounds to turn into gems (I got them when they were $0.03 for the 100 gem backgrounds) that’s about $46.00 of gameage for $3.00. Not bad!

The e-mail that gets sent to you when you win an auction is titled “Steam Pre-Sale Holiday Auction”, so if there were any doubts that there is a Steam Holiday Sale coming up shortly (not sure why there would be), that should put those to rest ūüôā

If I’m lucky, the Fantasy Grounds Ultimate Upgrade will be on sale next week, making my auction pickup an even better deal.

Skyrim Mods – Part 3 – People and Critters

This segment of my Skyrim Mods list is pretty far overdue! Sorry about that. Here I’ll talk about some of the mods I use that modify the ¬†inhabitants of the province, including a couple of very well done companion mods and a whole bunch¬†of enemies for you to fight.

ApachiiSkyHair

This mod adds over 100 new hairstyles to Skyrim. With styles for both male and female characters available. While the new styles are available for you for your own character (editable via the racemenu mod below) their main purpose here is to be used by the NPC addon plugins in this section.

A tiny handful of the available hairstyles. Check the "files" page of the nexus site for a full image.

A tiny handful of the available hairstyles. Check the “files” page of the nexus site for a full image.

This image doesn’t come close to showing all of the various hairstyles the mod provides, all of which are available for your character as well as mod authors to use for their own creations.

XCE – Xenius Character Enhancement

This is actually a compilation of a number of character enhancing mods by a modder named Xenius. Primarially this mod smooths out and enhances the appearance of character faces, though there are a couple of other changes as well. Many of these changes might not stand out, but taken together they offer a bit of enhanced realism to Skyrim’s characters.

Extensible Follower Framework

The Extensible Follower Framework is a wide-ranging overhaul of the behavior of followers in Skyrim. Everything from allowing you to recruit additional followers (up to 100) to providing a new menu to issue follower commands that doesn’t rely on dialog with the follower.

Your followers can collect alchemy ingredients for you, ride their own horses, and you can set their fighting style to favor magic, archery, toe-to-toe combat and the like.

Follower Commentary Overhaul

Some of the mods below add custom-built followers to the game, but there are a lot of built-in NPCs that can be recruited as followers. While a handful have some voiced lines, many of them don’t say a while log. Follower Commentary Overhaul (FCO) changes this. Each NPC in Skyrim is assigned a voice set from a pool of voices that were included in the game. Followers are limited to a small selection of lines from these voice sets, and FCO removes this limitation. The result is followers that inject commentary from a range of about 1000 additional dialog lines are opened up for your followers.

Convenient Horses

I find vanilla Skyrim’s horses to be more trouble than they are worth. You can’t fight from horseback, they tend to get in the way, you have to dismount to do just about anything. Convenient Horses fixes these problems and more. In addition to mounted combat (for you and your followers), the mod adds new horse armor and equipment, the ability to call and mount your horse immediately, the ability to talk to NPCs, collect loot, and harvesst while mounted.

Diverse Guards Skyrim

This mod expands the range of NPC types that can appear as guards. It adds female guards to the holds that are, by default, populated only with male guards, and varies the faces assigned to guards in the name of variety.

Run for Your Lives

Out of the box, when a dragon shows up, any NPCs in the area will charge headlong into combat – and to their doom. This mod sends non-guard type NPCs scattering and seeking shelter indoors when a dragon attacks, providing a bit more realism to the NPCs reactions to enormous, legendary beasts showing up and laying waste to the area.

Bellyaches New Dragon Species

If you’ve played Skyrim for a while, you might think you have seen all of the different types of dragons out there. Not so if you install Bellyaches New Dragon Species. This mod adds 13 new dragon species to the game (without disrupting the existing dragon types) and scatters 50 instances of these dragons throughout the province. The dragon’s are on par with the difficulty of Skyrim’s normal dragons, though you may find that you run into them a bit earlier than you might be ready to take some of them on.

Dragons, Dragons, and more Dragons.

Dragons, Dragons, and more Dragons.

High Level Enemies

This mod adds hundreds of new enemy varieties to the game, starting at level 10. There are several “revisions” of these enemies as their level’s increase, and the highest tier of enemies scale with you as your Dragonborn increases in level.

This has the effect of keeping the game challenging as you increase in power without overwhelming you with too-strong enemies early on.

The mod supports the base game, Dawnguard, Dragonborn, and the Falskaar mod.

Skyrim Immersive Creatures

This fairly large compilation mod adds 3800 creature types to the game. Some are variations on existing creatures, while others are all new. The mod adds boss mob encounters, custom loot, and new spells that are used by the new enemies and can be learned by the player.

The mod contains 100 random events that can occur throughout the province, as well as patrols from the various Skyrim factions (and conflicts between those patrols as appropriate).

RaceMenu

The RaceMenu plugin replaces the default Skyrim character customization system, allowing you to tweak your character to your heart’s content.

 

Hope you like sliders!

Hope you like sliders!

To activate the menu, bring up the console in Skyrim (hit the Tilde (~) key) and type “showracemenu”. Proceed to waste the next hour or so fiddling with sliders to get your character¬†just right.

Cerwiden

There are lots of mods on the Nexus that add followers for you to pick up. Some of them are nice, others lackluster. One of my favorites is called “Cerwiden – SMART Healer – AI Configurable Companion”. I’m just going to call it Cerwiden.

A VERY talkative caster companion

A VERY talkative caster companion

Cerwiden (or Ceri for short) is will buff, heal, and cure you and your other followers. She has tons of fully voiced dialog and will often expound on life as a cleric of Lord Donblus. She also has a questline that she is interested in achieving. When it comes to companion mods, it is hard to beat Cerwiden.

Vilja in Skyrim

Competing¬†for the top spot in companion mods is Vilja in Skyrim. Though I didn’t play it in Oblivion, this mod is a descendant of a similar mod in the fourth Elder Scrolls game. According to the “lore” of the mod, the Vilja you met in Oblivion was the current Vilja’s grandmother.

Like Cerwiden, Vilja is fully voiced and has a set of quests she wants to pursue. She is quite talkative, and especially likes to banter with Lydia as you travel about Skyrim. Vilja dreams of being a great bard, and will sing songs for you and read you a selection of books if you find them and give them to her.

I have both Cerwiden and Vilja installed in my current playthrough, though I haven’t picked either of them up yet (I’m not that far into the game… I got distracted by Wasteland 2!)

 

5E Character Sheet v1.1 Update

We have now had the opportunity to get in a couple of sessions of 5th Edition, and based on those sessions, I have made a few updates to my 5th Edition D&D character sheet, bringing the version number to 1.1. Here are the changes:

  • Rearranged the top-most information box (with class, level, etc) to provide a spot for the archetype your character chooses at 3rd Level
  • Added an area for Inspiration by shrinking the Max Hitpoints field
  • Collapsed the Magical Items table (back page) to a smaller size
  • Added an Attunable Items table (back page) with descriptive text about attunement

This won’t be the final version, of course – especially since the DMG isn’t even out yet! ūüôā

The sheet can be found on the RPG Resources page or downloaded directly via this button:

Download D&D 5E Character Sheet

New Section, and D&D 5E Character Sheet PDF

I have a new page in the navigation menu  at the top of the site for RPG-Related resources, and the first of those resources is now available for download.

I have just finished putting together the first version of my own D&D 5E character sheet. This sheet, based loosely on the official Fifth Edition sheet from WoTC, includes a focus on spellcasting, including a paper-clip based spell tracking system borrowed from the original character sheets for the Deadlands RPG.

5E Character Sheet ThumbnailOur 5th Edition game actually starts this weekend, so I will probably end up making a few changes after we get rolling and see how the sheets work out. I’m also open to suggestions from anyone using the sheets as well!

 

Shellshock Bug : How to Patch bash Manually

I have a number of Linux system, including several virtual machines with various distributions running everything from test web servers to a Minecraft server for my daughter, and a Raspberry Pi that gets its SD card swapped out all the time depending on what I need it to do. While most of these systems can be automatically updated via yum or apt-get to install new versions of packages, a few are running distributions for which update packages are not readily available.

This doesn’t mean that I can’t secure them against the recently discovered Shellshock vulnerability. I just needed to compile the bash software from the source code, including the Shellshock patches, and install it. That is actually not nearly as complicated as it might sound. Here’s how to do it:

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Skyrim Mods – Part 2 – Skyrim UI Mods

In the first installment of this series, I talked about visual enhancement mods that make the world of Skyrim come to life. This time around, I want to talk about how we interact with that game world. The Skyrim UI is obviously adequate for playing the game, but there is definitely room for improvement.

Background Work

As I mentioned in the previous article, many of the mods I use require SKSE to allow for extended scripting. I included a brief discussion on the installation of SKSE in part 1, and you are going to need it for most of the mods in this section, so if you haven’t done so, go install it!

The Framework

First and foremost, the SkyUI mod is an absolute must for any modded Skyrim. While the changes SkyUI makes directly to the interface are subtle (mostly tightening up wasted space) it has a few really nice improvements as well. The inventory, trade, and magic windows have all been cleaned up, with graphical icons for categories and the ability to search via text string. The trade menu contains a tabbed interface to switch between your items and the vendor’s item list.

The unmodded skyrim inventory - Lots of scrolling around thanks to the need for gamepad usability

The unmodded skyrim inventory – Lots of scrolling around thanks to the need for gamepad usability

 

The SkyUI inventory screen, with category icons, details at a glance, and a search bar at the top.

The SkyUI inventory screen, with category icons, details at a glance, and a search bar at the top.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, SkyUI adds a Mod Configuration Menu (MCM) to¬†the “Escape” menu in Skyrim’s UI. Other mods can register with the MCM to allow their configuration options to be integrated into a consistent interface.

 Fixing the Problems

There are a couple of annoying issues with Skyrim’s interface, and both Better Dialogue Controls and Better MessageBox Controls address some of the most common. These mods change the way you interact with, as you might expect, NPC Dialog and the pop-up menu boxes that occasionally appear on-screen.

In the case of Better Dialogue Controls, sorts out a conflict between the mouse and the keyboard. If you happen to have the mouse pointer over a portion of the dialog menu, it can interfere with using the keyboard to navigate the dialog entries, leading to selecting dialog options you may not have intended.

Better MessageBox Controls lets you use the keyboard (WASD) keys and Activate (E) to navigate pop-up menus, similar to the way you would using a gamepad. It also makes a few changes to the buttons themselves (bigger “hit-box”, hilighting)

Making it All Go Away

One of my favorite UI mods is called Immersive Hud (iHud), which hides¬†every UI component¬†when you don’t need them to be shown. When any of your stat bars (health, magicka, or stamina) are full, they fade out. If you aren’t sneaking or using your weapon, the crosshairs fade away. The compass at the top of the screen is hidden unless you press a key to see it.

The result is that, most of the time, you have no interface chrome visible on the screen and can just enjoy the Skyrim landscape in its full glory.

Next Up…

My selection of interface mods is fairly light, simply because there are not a lot of other changes that I find necessary for the interface. In the next installment of the series, I’ll look at the NPC, PC, and Creature mods I use in Skyrim.

Resolving Windows Update error code 80246002

I don’t know exactly what sequence of updates caused the proliferation of the 80246002 errors when attempting to run¬†Windows Updates, but it appears to be a fairly wide-spread problem on Windows 7 machines.

The problem manifests itself as an inability to manually search for Windows Updates. If you are on a domain that uses a Software Update Server, this check is done by selecting the “Check Online for Updates from Microsoft Update” link at the bottom of the Windows Updates window. Typically the manual check will quickly fail with the error code 80246002.

Searching the net for a solution comes up with a few suggestions, most commonly to change your DNS server to 8.8.8.8 (Google’s DNS) and try again. This does seem work to allow for updates to be downloaded immediately, but it doesn’t solve the problem going forward (you will have to do it again the next time you want to check for updates), and you can’t access any of your local domain resources until you switch it back.

A co-worker and I discussed this problem yesterday, and she worked out a procedure that has corrected the problem on all of the PCs we have tried it on so far:

  • Open Windows Update from the Control Panel
  • Click on “Change Settings” on the left hand side of the screen
  • Uncheck “Give me updates for Microsoft products and check for new optional Microsoft software when I update windows”
  • Restart the PC
  • Optional – I suggest completing the rest of this process and seeing if it works before you do this step, as this will eliminate your Windows Update history. If after completing the procedure you still receive errors when attempting to check for updates, try the following to remove the directory Windows Update uses to store the items it downloads (It will get recreated when the WUAUSERV service is restarted):
    • Open a command prompt as administrator (Click Start, type CMD, right click on the “cmd” entry at the top of the start menu and select “Run As Administrator”)
    • Run the command¬†“net stop wuauserv”
    • Run the command “CD %WINDIR%”
    • Run the command “RENAME SoftwareDistribution SoftwareDistribution_Old”
    • Run the command “net start wuauserv”
  • Open Windows Update and check for updates. Install any updates other than the language packs.
  • When prompted, restart the PC
  • Open Windows Update again and click on the “Find Out¬†More” link which talks about getting updates for other Microsoft products. This will take you to the Microsoft Update page.
  • Install the Microsoft Update client and check for updates.

After that, manually checking for updates seems to work normally on the machines we have tested. It seems that reverting back to Windows Update and then opting back in to Microsoft Update repairs the problem with the update client on the PC.

Some extra keywords for searches : 0x80246002, Microsoft Update, Windows Update, errorcode, fails, Windows 7, Win7, Win 7, search for updates, check for updates, manual update, manually update, wus, wsus, software update services

Skyrim Mods – Part 1 – Visual Enhancements

Skyrim - Lydia in Winterhold

It seems that every couple of months I fire up Skyrim again. I completed the initial game when it was first released, and the DLC packs were nice, but Skyrim’s real staying power comes from the user community and the endless assortment of modifications available for the game. My current setup uses about 150 mods, and I figured I would take a little time to share some of my favorites. This will be part one of ¬†a series of articles about the Skyrim mods I use and enjoy.

Using a Mod Manager

Before we dive into the mods themselves, first a few words about installing and managing them. Because Skyrim is integrated with Steam, the Steam workshop would seem like the natural place to get your mods, but I actually prefer to use a 3rd party mod manager. There are a few of these around, but my favorite is called Mod Organizer.

Mod Organizer has a number of great features to help avoid the dreaded Crash to Desktop errors that can often result from heavy Skyrim modding. Unlike other managers that directly manipulate the Skyrim/Data directory on your hard drive, Mod Organizer maintains each mod separately and creates a virtualized Data directory when the game (or an external utility) is launched. This makes rearranging mods trivially easy, as you don’t have to worry if the textures from one mod overwrote textures from another when you installed it. Simply rearrange the mods in MO, and whichever one comes later in the list will override the higher ones¬†at run time.

SKSE – The SKyrim Scripting Engine

Many of the mods I use require the SKSE package from¬†http://skse.silverlock.org/ be installed to expand the available coding options for use in scripting inside mods. The SKSE can’t be installed via Mod Organizer, but installing it is a simple matter of copying the .EXE file and the two .DLL files from the downloaded .7z file into the Skyrim executable directory (usually C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps\Common\Skyrim on 64-bit machines… drop the (x86) for 32-bit machines). Mod Organizer knows about SKSE and should¬†automatically configure an executable for it.

Visual Effects and Enhancements

Skyrim looks pretty good by itself, but the difference a few visual enhancement mods can make is stunning. Remember that because Skyrim was also produced for the Xbox 360 and PS3, things had to work at 720p within the limitations of the graphics capabilities of the consoles.

On the PC, we have no such restrictions, and we are likely to have MUCH more memory and graphical processing power than was available on those consoles. As such, we can make some very impressive improvements to Skyrim’s visual qualities.

ENB – No, I don’t know if it stands for anything either!

I use Boris Vorontsov’s ENB module, available at¬†http://enbdev.com/download_mod_tesskyrim.html which is actually a replacement DirectX DLL that intercepts calls to the graphics device and inserts modifications to the rendering pipeline. On it’s own, though, the ENB Series module as downloaded from the enbdev site gives some memory management and crash protection features, but doesn’t actually do anything visually. This requires setting up configuration files that enable, disable, and configure the effects that will be used.

Fortunately, there are a number of preset ENB configurations available, and the one I use is called Seasons of Skyrim. The mod’s tagline describes it as “An elegant blend of realism and fantasy”, and I find that to be pretty accurate. ENB effects only go so far, though, and¬†while Bethesda provides a nice High Resolution Textures Pack along with Skyrim, there is lots of room for additional goodies.

Installing ENB typically involves placing the files from the “Wrapper Version” folder of the ENB download into the Skyrim program folder (where Skyrim.exe is). The same is then true of the particular ENB preset you wish to use – the instructions included with them will usually instruct you to copy additional files to the Skyrim program folder, overwriting the components of the base ENB package that they have updated.

Many ENB preset packages also come with standard mod components as well (textures, meshes, .esp files) so should be installed as mods in your mod manager also.

Clutter – The “Stuff” Scattered Around the World

The Static Mesh Improvement Mod replaces both the 3D models and textures for hundreds of the everyday things you find laying around in Skyrim – the background stuff like furniture, decoration, and clutter. Things simply look more realistic and natural than they do in vanilla Skyrim. This shot from the SMIM Nexus page is a good example:

SMIM Structure

From The SMIM page on the Nexus – From blocky, flat, and smudgy to round, and detailed.

Another nice (though pretty large at 500mb) mod that I quite like is called Book Covers Skyrim, and it gives every book in Skyrim its very own cover artwork, and includes additional paper styles for notes, scrolls, and the like. I really like this mod, and being able to see a book on a bookshelf and read the title on the spine instead of hovering over it conveys a bit of additional immersion in the Skyrim world.

Plant Life of Skyrim

The Skyrim Flora Overhaul mod does for the plant life of Skyrim what SMIM does for the man-made objects. New grasses, trees and plants will be scattered throughout Skyrim. The two images below illustrate the difference that Skyrim Flora Overhaul makes. The first image has all of my mods enabled except SFO, and the second has SFO turned back on.

Skyrim - Without SFO

The forest outside Riverwood without Skyrim Flora Overhaul turned on.

Skyrim - With SFO

The same location outside Riverwood with Skyrim Flora Overhaul.


Lighting

While SMIM replaces meshes everywhere in the world, and SFO deals with the out-of-doors, the next mod on my list, Enhanced Lights and FX, primarily deals with interiors (not exclusively, however Рthere is a module of ELFX that deals with exteriors. Most of these changes are noticeable at night, since the sun pretty much overrides all other lighting during the day).

ELFX modifies Skyrim’s light sources so they cast light in a more realistic manner that vanilla Skyrim. It also significantly lowers the ambient light present in many areas, giving the interiors of the game a darker, warmer feel. Again, screenshots for comparison: the top shot is without ELFX enabled (but all of my other mods), while the bottom is the result of turning ELFX back on:

Skyrim - Without ELFX

High Hrothgar interior with standard lighting.

 

Skyrim - With ELFX

High Hrothgar interior with ELFX lighting.

The difference here is quite astounding. Remember that both screenshots include all of my other mods, so they are using the same textures and meshes. While ELFX reduces the about of white ambient light in the room, the fire burning in the brazier now conveys an orange light to the surrounding area, lighting up the banners above it. Overall the whole scene looks less washed out and more vibrant.

In addition, I use the Lanterns of Skyrim, which comes in two flavors. One is stand-alone and doesn’t require any other mods. The other version requires SKSE and SkyUI¬†(which you should install anyway – I’ll talk about that in an upcoming installment on User Interface mods). Lanterns of Skyrim, as you might expect, places lanterns throughout the world. These are primarily in settlements, but some roads and intersections get them as well.

Water, Ice, and Snow

I use a combination of several mods here, so I won’t have screenshot comparisons of them all. They do, however, all work together nicely and dramatically improve the various forms of H2O in the game. The first and primary mod is called Realistic Water Two, and it modifies almost all aspects of water in the game. It prevents water from flowing in ponds, lakes, and the like, adds waves, reanimates waterfalls, splash particles and foam effects, and even replaces the ambient sounds associated with rivers, lakes, oceans, and ponds.

In addition, Realistic Water Two causes the ice chunks and rowboats found throughout Skyrim to bob slightly. It might not seem like much, but this really can make a landscape seem alive. There is an optional file to make larger boats bob, but the static meshes on them will not bob with them (they will float above or clip through the floor) so I don’t have this turned on.

Next up is Better Dynamic Snow, which gives texture to the vanilla Skyrim’s plain white shader effect on objects that can be snowed upon. It is a subtle effect, but it does look better than the default method of just tinting the object white.

Speaking of snow, I also¬†use No Snow Under the Roof. This deceptively simple mod (I imagine it took quite a bit of work) removes snow from outdoor areas¬†that are covered by some ¬†kind of roof. Think porches of homes and inns, and that sort of thing. The reasoning being that these areas would receive far less snow in the first place and because they would be “high traffic” areas, they would be cleared fairly rapidly after a snow storm. Again, this is one of those things that you might not notice¬†before you install the mod, but after playing with it for a while things would look odd if your removed it.

Finally, Pure Weather add a variety of new weather types and outdoor lighting to Skyrim. Light levels – both during the day and at night – depend on the current weather conditions, so a night in the middle of a storm is going to be¬†dark!¬†There is some interaction between ENB settings and Pure Weather, and I haven’t extensively experimented with how ENBs other than Seasons of Skryim interact with Pure Weather, but I might end up trying out PureVision, the ENB settings specifically designed for Pure Weather.

That will wrap up this edition of my Skyrim Mods series. Next time, I will look at user interface mods to help tame the sometimes clunky Skyrim interface.

 

Cool Kickstarter Projects – d6xd6 CORE RPG

corerpg_title

I was browsing through the Kickstarter games section last night and stumbled across an interesting little project by Lester Smith. If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Smith, he was the co-author of the Planes of Chaos boxed set for TSR’s Planescape setting, and the editor of Gary Gygax’s Dangerous Journeys¬†RPG (and the supporting magazine) – Gygax’s creation after leaving TSR. Mr. Smith¬†has also been involved in¬†Traveller,¬†Sovereign Stone,¬†Deadlands, and a number of other RPG-related projects.

Currently, he is the president of Popcorn Press, producing eBooks and card games. His latest project is a new lite-on-rules RPG called d6xd6 CORE, which is currently in the middle of its Kickstarter campaign.

The character sheet for the CORE RPG fits on a single business card (and in fact, backers of the project at the $9 level and above are receiving a sample as one of the completed stretch goals, and more can be printed on business card paper or ordered as Kickstarter addons). The game adopts a single stat : Focus. The more diversified a character’s skills are, the lower his Focus. The lower a character’s Focus, the harder it is for him to be particularly good at any single thing.

The really interesting thing about the project is that the CORE RPG rules are meant to be easily incorporated into pretty much any setting, and Mr. Smith has worked with a number of authors of popular fiction novels and series to incorporate their settings into the CORE RPG book that will result from the Kickstarter campaign.

As of this ¬†writing, eight settings have been “unlocked” via stretch goals, including the Watershed setting by Douglas Niles (really good books if you ¬†haven’t read them, by the way!) The funding is approaching the unlock point for four more settings, these all being Sci-Fi themed (though all pretty varied under that heading).

Beyond that, ¬†an additional 12¬†settings are lined up as stretch goals at higher levels, including a 4-setting Horror pack, an urban fantasy pack, and a “laugh pack” consisting of four humorous¬†settings. Additional “secret” packs are also in the works beyond the currently defined stretch goals.

I’m in for the print version ūüôā Hop on over to the Kickstarter campaign and help unlock the additional settings so I can have ’em!

Divinity: Original Sin

One of the coolest things about the Kickstarter trend is that is has given us a resurgence of the “old-school” cRPG. Pillers of Eternity, Wasteland 2, Shadowrun, Torment: Tides of Numenera – just a few years ago, games like these had all but disappeared. It seems like every new (non-indie) game was a derivative of a first-person shooter (not that there aren’t some really good games in this style).

DOS_Logo

Divinity: Original Sin is a new party-based cRPG that was funded with Kickstarter, and saw it’s official release on Monday (June 30th, 2014). I had missed the Kickstarter campaign, so the official release was my first chance to get into and play the game.

So far, I’m pleased to say, that while the game is not without issues, I am very much enjoying it.

Old-School Difficulty

Anyone used to the toned-down, hold-your-hand style that many modern RPGs have adopted will be in for a shock playing Original Sin. If you played the original Wasteland, you might remember that the game was completely open. You could wander anywhere you wanted to right after leaving the Ranger Center. Even if that meant walking your level 1 characters into a group of enemies that could grind the entire party to dust without noticing you were there.

Original Sin adopts the same kind of freedom. When attempting to leave the city during the beginning of the game, the guards might suggest that you appear to be unfit to survive in the wilds, but they won’t actually stop you.

While you can use the environment to your advantage (more on that in a moment), your enemies will do the same, inflicting all manner of painful debilitating effects on your party. All of this, though, is a good thing. You can tone down the combat difficulty (slightly) by going into easy mode – which is still no cake walk – but making strategic use of your abilities is a must if you wish to survive for long.

An Environment that Matters

Setting things on fire with a fireball - and a poison cloud triggered by killing a zombie.

Setting things on fire with a fireball – and a poison cloud triggered by killing a zombie.

Lots of objects in the game  world can be manipulated. Barrels and boxes can be moved to clear paths and block off noxious vents. Paintings can be stolen  off the walls of houses, and items in the world will react to damage by shattering, burning, exploding, and what have you.

This is a nice change from the totally static world-as-backdrop we see in many games these days, but Original Sin goes a step beyond these interactions. Surfaces in the game can be covered with various effects – fire, water, ice, poison, etc. These surfaces will not only convey effects for characters (player and non-player) standing in them, but will also react realistically with other elements.

For example, a rain storm can put out fires and make areas (and creatures) wet. You have options for following that up. Use a cold-based spell on a wet monster and you have a chance to freeze them, denying them actions until they thaw out. Or, you could shoot a fireball into the puddle, creating a scalding cloud of steam. You might also fire a lightning bolt into it, zapping everyone standing in the water.

Using the environment to your advantage is critical to surviving combat – and it cal also be fun to pick up an enemy with your teleportation spell and drop them into a lava pool – unless they are healed by fire.

Character Freedom

Much like the Elder Scrolls games, the classes that exist in Original Sin are just templates of pre-selected skills. You can use them as a starting point, or throw them out completely and make your own choices for the character(s) you create (if you are playing in single player mode, you create two heroes).

Advancement works the same way. Put your points wherever you feel they will be most useful. My current party consists of a wizard and a rogue-turned-ranger. I’ve picked up two companions – another wizard (more healing focused) and a warrior. I hadn’t planned on creating a ranger at all, but when I ran across a mighty fine bow I dropped a point into Bows and never looked back at one-handed weapons again.

Just a Bit Goofy

A sentient wishing well. That wants you to rescue his kidnapped brother...

A sentient wishing well. That wants you to rescue his kidnapped brother…

Larian has certainly not forgotten that we are playing a game here, and they have sprinkled some bits-o’-weird throughout the game. There is a quest in the middle of the starting city which as you chasing after a lost cat collar so that the cat that lives at the inn can impress the mayor’s cat – did I mention there is a skill called Pet Pal that lets you talk to animals?

Little bits of odd are scattered throughout the game, and can often make for an unexpected laugh when they show up. No more spoilers here, though – they are more funny when they show up out of the blue.

Editor Included

Bundled with the game, Larian has included “The Divinity Engine”, a powerful editor that allows users to create their own games with the D:OS engine. I’ve only barely looked around in the editor, but it appears to be jam-packed with features, so it is likely we will begin seeing fan-created campaigns down the road. Having this functionality built into the game also leaves open the door to future official campaigns as well.

A Few Issues

Divinity:Original Sin is a great game, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things I would love to see changed. For starters, a pause button in single-player would be nice – or at least an option to have all of your characters STOP MOVING when one of them shouts ¬†out that they see a trap.

The in-combat controls are generally good, but I would like the option to not automatically end my turn just because I ran out of action points. The way the game is set up, you can press the space bar to end your turn and save any remaining action points for the next round. This is great, because some of the more powerful spells require more AP than you generate in a single round to cast.

Unfortunately, it is too easy to not realize you have used your last action point and hit space bar during the delay when the game automatically ends your turn and switches to the next character, causing them to end their turn. Not game breaking (just have to pay more attention) but an annoyance that could be fixed with a simple toggle option.

There are a few minor camera issues as well, though it doesn’t come up too often.¬†In some outdoor areas the tree canopy doesn’t fade out properly so you end up looking down at a thick tangle of weeds unless you zoom way in, which makes getting an overview of the battlefield difficult at times. Again, though, this doesn’t happen all that often.

None of these are game-breaking, and in fact are annoyances at most. Overall, the game has been very enjoyable.

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