Dragon Age: Origins

It has been 30 years since the dawning of the Dragon Age. The Darkspawn have begun to emerge from their underground domain to walk the surface once more. The armies of man are making preparations to mount their stand against the coming hoardes. There are those who believe this to be another Blight, though the Human king isn't taking this seriously enough. The Grey Wardens are though, and they have arrived in great numbers to join the battle and send the Darkspawn back to the hell they belong in. However politics plays its usual ugly role and things go terribly wrong - and now you and another freshly recruited Warden are the last of your kind in Ferelden. So begins your epic journey.

Dragon Age: Origins is Bioware's next big ambitious RPG. No doubt by now you've seen the TV commercials, heard the radio spots, and been drowned in a sea of promotionals all over the internet at every gaming site imaginable. One might even be inclined to pass on it due to the serious over-promotion of the whole thing. Especially since some of the promoting has done a fabulous job of being potentially huge spoilers. Best advice - skip reading any reviews that are overloaded with screenshots. Pay as little attention as possible to the mass media advertising. Stick to sites you trust to give you the scoop. And of course, read what I've got to say :)

Also - a very big kudos to Bioware and EA for not going down the road of evil with SecuROM. The gesture is very much appreciated. Simple disc checks do the job and I think trusting the user base was the right move. I'm sure it'll result in larger sales volume in the end.

Gameplay

So what do I mean by gameplay? Interface elements. Combat tactics. Difficulty, etc. Stuff that's not really germain to the meat of things but plays a huge role in how you interact with the world.

Let me get this out of the way right now. Bioware - you seriously need to take this horrid camera control interface and chuck it out the nearest airlock into a boiling pool of lava. Moving about the game world is a real pain in the ass. You've learned absolutely nothing from the debacle that was the Neverwinter Nights interface. The camera only seems to behave itself when your party is on the move. I want it to behave itself all the time. I expect it to be fixed in place behind the main character being controlled at the time unless you're in combat. I really can't get my head around why you all took this massive step backward from the brilliant interface from the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series. There's just something so 1995 about it all. Maybe it's time to put real consideration into going with a first person view ala Elder Scrolls, Fallout 3, Unreal, and just about every other modern game made.

That said, when the party goes into combat, things become a bit less chaotic. You have the ability to pause and issue orders, as well as shift to a more sensible overhead tactical view. Frankly I wish that were the main viewpoint all the time with the only difference being that out of combat you don't have garish looking yellow circles under you. The entire game would flow more smoothly that way.

On the subject of difficulty, I have only this to say - play on easy. Don't give yourself stress by trying to be macho and play on what are basically version of suicidal above that. It really isn't worth it and you don't get gipped for xp on easy level. Unlike some games.

Your NPCs have a wide range of tactical choices that they do a pretty good job of using. The presets are actually adequate for the early phase of the game and really don't need to be messed with too much. Where things get really interesting is that you can configure complex tactical choices for your NPCs - and even yourself - that the computer will dutifully carry out for you in a fight. How many tactical choices you can set depends on each character's cunning, and on what level they are. As you progress, you'll want to visit the tactics menu and make some decisions on what should be done. If you set things up right, you'll die less. Especially once your mages can access the healing spells.

Speaking of your party, I think it's a bit restrictive to only allow your main hero plus 3 others to come along. You can only have a party of four, which presents a few problems in some areas where you could have used an extra hand or two. I would much rather have seen up to six counting yourself. Trust me when I say that even with six people you'll have a lot of battles where you'll still feel badly outnumbered.

Your party gets its own camp, which is more or less parked outside of whatever area you're in at the time. You can visit this camp and talk to your NPCs in one on one situations. This is sort of tied in with plot elements as well since you get most of the good material here such as the romance options and companion quests. You'll also note throughout the game that others will show up there too.

Major gripe - inventory space is way to little. By the time I got out of my very first major area crawl, I was being forced to destroy stuff in order to carry off things that looked more valuable. Not nice. With money being such a scarce resource (and yes, there's lots to spend it on) I was very VERY frustrated by the fact that you can't simply drop things you can't carry. It's either lug it around, or drop it through the bit shredder. That's not terribly realistic in any sense. You can't even throw things into chests you find along the way. This ties in with the fact that there's also a shortage of merchants to sell junk to.

Traveling from place to place is mostly handled via the world map and you get to watch the game make a trail of your progress from one point to another. So it's far from being a fully open and free world. You can't just strike out into the vast unknown to wander about. From time to time, random encounters will pop up. Not all of them are hostile. Some are even quest related.

The progression of the main plot for the game is quite well done and seems to be consistent with itself. I haven't stumbled onto any major issues that don't make sense. If you are a casual RPG player, the plot elements will be delivered well enough through direct interaction. But the real fleshing out of all of that is done through reading books, finding notes, prying into places you don't belong. People may or may not appreciate you doing this either and in some cases it will come back to haunt you.

The locations you visit are all filled with their own quirks of history and lore and have a lot of their own internal politics to resolve as you arrive. They all have a nice unique feel too them and the quests the NPCs there offer are just as varied and interesting.

Nearly everything you say and do will have some kind of influence on things. It is possible to piss the wrong people off and have that come back to bite you in the ass. Which is a good thing. Not enough games do this sort of thing. Choices have consequences. The world should react to them. After all, you're about to have a major impact on future history. Even if it's not entirely obvious at first.

Nowhere does the choice and consequence angle come into play more than with the origin stories for your main character. Though I've heard others were weak, the Dwarven noble origin I played through was absolutely fantastic. It involved a great deal of political wrangling, plotting within the plotting, posturing, and all around intrigue. they put it together so well you actually will care about the outcome - and if things go wrong, you'll care about setting them right later. I'd hate to think so much effort went into the Dwarf noble story and all the others got left lacking. Can't say for sure without playing through them. The origin stories appear to also have a heavy influence on the way the game progresses.

Graphics and Sound

Nothing makes or breaks a good RPG as much as the graphics and sound. Throughout your adventures in Ferelden you'll visit many places. Most of them are very well presented. My main beef is with the lack of high quality detailing. The game's isometric 3D view is showing age. It's sadly lacking in texture detail, especially up close. There are also some really annoying issues with graphic detail on NPCs. Some have clothing that looks really flat. There are also annoying clipping issues with some of them while in dialogue. Nothing too serious, but every little bit distracts from things. This gets especially annoying in indoor areas with stuff on the floor. Mage Tower, I'm talking to you. Piles of books that look painted on the floor? Really? I thought we gave those up 9 years ago. Maybe I've been spoiled by the higher detail available for Oblivion and Fallout 3 though, who knows. It just seems to me that with modern hardware at the levels it is today that they could have squeezed so much more out of it.

In the over all sense though, the graphics are well done. There's a bit of a stylized look to it all. I especially love the way the Dwarven area looks. It has an almost technological feel to it, which is highly appropriate given the nature of Dwarves in games like this. Certain areas infested with Darkspawn have that gooey biomass gross feel to them. Villages have that homey feel to them with just the right touches of filth thrown in. The one big city is appropriately crowded and feels closed in. They seem to have gotten fires more right than wrong, which is a peeve I have with a lot of games with fire. Including Oblivion. While wandering around, you get an appropriate level of distant landscaping which fades out to a fog-like greyness.

Ferelden must never get rain though. It's never even cloudy. In fact, I can't say for certain I've even noticed a sky. This needs improvement. Weather effects add a lot to a game and it's been noticeably lacking. Come to think of it, I haven't even seen it be dark except at the party camp. Time of day also never seems to change while in an area. Static environment = bad.

A special "blah" goes out to the whole out of focus craze that's been going around lately. Guys, can we please not do this? It's ugly as hell to have stuff around you go all blurry. Depth of Field or some such. An option to disable it would have been nice. I absolutely HATE it.

Where the graphics really shine though is in combat. All of the various affects you can fling around at people are visual treats. Especially the fireball spell. At least someone at Bioware finally figured it out. It's just too bad the same level of detail wasn't passed down to the rest of the game. You even end up with blood splattered on your armor that doesn't go away until you transition to a new area, where I guess it's assumed you took time to clean yourself up a bit.

What the game lacks in high end graphics it more than makes up for with sound. There's no wandering around music, so when you do hear something you notice it right off. I hadn't really given much thought to how distracting game music can be until now. That said, combat music kicks in and is highly appropriate and does the job nicely of adding to the tension. Big booms from explosive spells, nice loud clangs of swords against armor, people yelling and screaming in pain.

There's one particularly creep area in the Deep Roads where a woman is chanting and you hear a verse of it as you progress down the tunnel. Combined with the random noises and the already creepy nature of the location and it makes for some great atmosphere.

Voice acting is also top notch and includes some famous people you're probably familiar with. Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway on Star Trek Voyager. Claudia Black, who you Stargate fans should know. I've seen mention around that Tim Curry did some work, and quite a few others as well. It's all varied enough that you don't end up with the feeling that there's all of 3 people on the VA team. Some of the accents for party members are very well done and add a lot to talking to them. So far as I can tell, lip syncing is totally flawless.

There's some really good cutscenes in this as well which combine the best of the graphics, audio, and voice work seamlessly into the game. Including the interludes that advance the plot elements as you progress.

Online Components

Now I probably don't play enough games to know this for sure, but there seems to be an ungodly large tie in with online content in this game. Achievements you unlock as you play can be uploaded to your profile on the social network. Screenshots of key plot points can be taken automatically by the game and uploaded. I guess this is the new social trend of things like this, and I've been allowing the game to do this just to see what the net result is. I can't say I'm entirely impressed with it. Seems most useful for bragging rights. Which is usually not at all important to me. I like the automatic screenshot snapping part, came in handy even, as the image attached at the top of this long winded post was generated that way and captured everything I wanted it to rather nicely.

That said, this trend has an ominous undertone to it. Slippery slope if you will. The more popular features like this become, the more likely it is that companies will shift more and more things over to the online side. The biggest of those being copy protection and the spyware aspect that is sometimes associated with that. Fortunately Dragon Age doesn't go down that road, though with the DLC system the way it's set up, they're already feeling it out.

DLC, Promotionals, and Mods

Dragon Age is also a moddable game. And with moddable games inevitably comes DLC - downloadable content. There's certainly no shortage of this to go around. I bought the collector's edition which came with some bonus downloads. Two of those were the usual set of items things. The Blood Dragon Plate which oddly enough is also going to show up in Mass Effect 2 (wtf?) and a 3 item set exclusive to the retail collecter's edition box. This box also came with one of the more interesting side quests I've seen and provides you with a really cool character for your party - a stone golem. Well worth it even if all you do is listen to its banter with other party members. One small game related bonus in this box set is a cloth map. But that turned out to be a huge disappointment because it's badly made and is falling apart at the edges before you even open the box.

The other DLC available at launch, Warden's Keep, is supposed to be a fortress left over from the previous age that belonged to the Grey Wardens. Sounds cool and all in the advertising - a base for you and your party complete with merchants, a keep, and storage for your excess loot you can't lug around. In practice, a huge rip off. Yes, I spent the $7 to get it. While the battle to liberate it was cool and it has some good history behind it, once you leave to quest elsewhere and come back, YOU CAN'T ACCESS THE DAMN BUILDINGS!!!! I mean, seriously, what the hell is up with that? All your stuff is sitting out in the snow, your merchants freezing their assess off? And the storage chest for your junk is just out there waiting to be raided by the first thief in the night who shows up? Plus, the fortress is in an inconvenient area which requires lengthy travel times to get to. Gah. The only redeeming quality of it all is that the sword and armor set you get is cool.

There's also a bunch of other promotionals that have been floating around out there from various sources. Use the character editor program that's been out for awhile, upload a profile from it, and you get a ring which provides +1 to all your stats. A bit cheesy really, but useful early. You'll find better as you play. There's some other random stuff like some sword, a mage staff, thief items, bows, etc. I think most of it is still available if you really want to go on the hunt.

Where the meat of games like this lies though are with user mods. One of which I will mention right now so you can save the $7 DLC rip off. Someone made a very simple mod which places the storage chest (yes, it's a STOCK game item) into the party camp. Which really is where something like that belongs.

Browsing the rest of the projects listed on the social network site reveals a lot of ambitious plans, but I rather doubt most of them will ever see the light of day. I don't know yet if the game will allow play beyond the ending, so I'm not sure just how much value user mods will have. The game world itself seems rather small and unforgiving of any large chunks of material being added.

I'm also entirely clueless as to how good the toolset is. If installing mods is as much of a pain in the ass as the storage chest mod was, I doubt any of them will become all that common. Say what you will about TES, but their construction set is absolutely dirt simple to add mods to their games with, as is GECK in Fallout 3. The toolset for Witcher was a technical nightmare to even look at, let alone figure out how to use. I've been told the NWN and NWN 2 toolsets are somewhere in between in terms of usability.

Overall Conclusions

Over all, I've been enjoying the game despite major interface hassles and merely above average graphics. The plot is more than making up for the deficiencies and despite feeling burned by the one DLC I did pay for I have hopes that future DLCs will make up for it. Assuming Bioware actually fulfills their word this time and provides some. Obviously I have no opinion yet on the ending, since I'm nowhere near completing the game. I'm hopeful it's worth the struggle.
.........................
"It is pointless to resist, my son." -- Darth Vader
"Resistance is futile." -- The Borg
"Mother's coming for me in the dragon ships. I don't like these itchy clothes, but I have to wear them or it frightens the fish." -- Thurindil

Well. I guess that's that then.

       
« V
Black Friday »

Posted on Nov 10, 2009 2:14 am by Samson in: | 26 comment(s) [Closed]
Comments
Hrm. Ok. So a quick addition to this - there's some puzzles in this game that are not even close to intuitive. The sort of thing that just plain frustrates you to no end. Like this one where your fellow party member comments "oh, one of these, this is almost too easy" he doesn't volunteer to just go solve it for you. No in game hints, nothing. Just a lot of stumbling around on push plates trying to make sense of it. If the character thinks it's childsplay, you should get some kind of dialogue to prod you along on what to do.

Since he chose not to (gah!) I had to go look up the solution. Even the solution explanation was cryptic, even though it had screenshots. Plus, the folks in the thread I found it in were all extremely rude and insulting and claimed it was so simple an 8 year old could solve it. Well clearly that's not true, because if it's a puzzle every 8 year old should know how to solve, I never played with one. Either that means I had a deprived childhood or the puzzle wasn't presented in a way that made it obvious what you were facing.

Ding some points off the cool factor of the game for making me save, quit, look it up, write it down, load, and then play tip toe with the fucked up interface so the puzzle didn't reset while I was trying to move around.

       
Plus, the folks in the thread I found it in were all extremely rude and insulting and claimed it was so simple an 8 year old could solve it. Well clearly that's not true, because if it's a puzzle every 8 year old should know how to solve, I never played with one.


HEHE i have always found this sort of thing a very interesting demonstration of just how different peoples brains work, i often had this trouble with quests in certain muds, where some people got the clues and i just never did, because i could not join some arbitrary dots that the builder thought were adequate in pointing you in the right direction.

So while you found the quest painful a lot of others totally got the subtle clues or lack there of. Maybe this shows something about how you think, perhaps with logic rather than the creative, my assumption here is that programmers tend to be very logical thinkers in the ways they break down a problem, rather than using the creative mind to understand the problem.

Peace out.

       
Well if there had been any subtle clues to get I could see how they might conclude I and others are idiots. But aside from Alister claiming to know how to solve it, there were no clues. You were simply presented with a puzzle that had no obvious solution. After having looked it up, I simply can't fathom how anyone could have figured that out on their own since even with the solution in hand it makes no sense.

       
Well if there had been any subtle clues to get I could see how they might conclude I and others are idiots. But aside from Alister claiming to know how to solve it, there were no clues. You were simply presented with a puzzle that had no obvious solution. After having looked it up, I simply can't fathom how anyone could have figured that out on their own since even with the solution in hand it makes no sense.


Kind of reminds me of this ROM mud i used to play, where a number of quests which were important to the game consisted of banging into walls untill you found the secret doorway that lead to the mob who had all the great gear, or that you needed to kill in order to progress through multi class system.

I dont understand how anyone can seriously think that banging into random walls is a great idea for a quest, its not like people walk about banging into walls looking for secret doors all day in life or in games, so it just does not seem rational to me.

I understand the frustration you feel when encountering things like this, i know it shits me to tears when it happens to me.

Peace out.

       
Nice review, sounds like another game I'll have to go get a copy of to try out after all. I was seriously considering blowing this one off specifically due to the over-promotion that you'd mentioned (Did I really need two emails from each of you Bioware and EA to advertise your new game on top of all the other advertising you'd paid to throw at me? and that's not counting the mentions of it as an upcoming project in your regular newsletters...).

Most of the time, I tend to play games muted (my best time to game is after we've put the kids to bed), so good graphics go much further than good sound does for me, but if the sound is done appropriately rather than just music all the time with the occasional stupid character remark (or even more ridiculous "death cry";) and the occasional object/action related sound byte being looped yet again, maybe after I get a copy I'll actually try listening to the game for a change.

The camera thing sounds like a pretty serious pain in the ass though, but it probably comes from all the beta whiners who complain that they can't check out the super cool environment enough all the time (suck-ups...).

Great, another game that uses puzzles to test the player skill rather than the character skills.. You mean you didn't have a deprived childhood like the rest of us who grew up in the 70s-80s without the benefit of 1st grade gang initiations and 3rd grade drug dealers and 4th grade rapists... When I encounter the puzzle you're talking about, I'll be sure to let you know how my 9 year old step-son handled it without any grown-up assistance just so we can see if it's truly solvable by every 8 year old... unless they meant that you have to be 8 years old to be able to solve it...

Otherwise, sounds like a pretty good game to try out. (I'll probably pass on the DLC and modding options, especially at first, though, and certainly on any such DLC/mods that requirement payment.)

       
I guess my anti-spam measures work here. I never once got a promo email about the game. Just the TV ads and the flood of online material shortly before release. Then again, before DA:O I didn't have an account at Bioware. I guess my gmail address will have more to toss aside later :)

I don't know that you'll have much issue with the sound, because I have to jack my speakers up pretty high to hear much of anything, to the point where if I forget about it and exit the game to check email, I get blown away by the notifier sound. They appear to have recorded everything at subdued levels. There's still plenty of crazy death cries and useless battle yells and such. It wouldn't be a Bioware game without them. And yes, looting things makes stupid clicky noises, but it's not a big deal.

The camera thing is indeed total ass. It's still irritating enough to me that I'm very seriously considering never buying another one of their games again for as long as they insist on continuing to use this system. Engaging story or not, it just isn't worth it. Apparently I enjoy self torture too much though because I'm putting up with it long enough to do a second play through as an elf mage - which is totally outside how I normally play things like this.

Someone on one of the forums described it as a "simple slide puzzle any 8 year old could solve". Followed by the obligatory insult about how you'd have to be a moron not to get it. Color me a moron then. I didn't get it. Even with solution in hand, it still makes absolutely no sense. For anyone reading this, I guarantee you when/if you play through and reach that point (plot necessary quest) you'll know what I'm talking about. And you hit the nail on the head - it isn't a test of the characters' skills at all. Alistair openly commented about how he'd seen something like it before. My feeling is then he should talk you through it, and if he's not with you, then you're SOL or something.

There's one mod I would classify as absolutely necessary - the party storage chest in camp. All others are probably worthless junk right now. Inventory slots are simply too few and their solution for getting more is too expensive. Especially since there's just not enough money in the game. You have to be a tightwad in order to be able to get any of the really cool stuff from shops. I will agree with not paying for DLC. The one $7 DLC they had is a complete waste of money. Clean out a fortress, leave, come back later, you don't even get to go back inside. WTF? Aside from the party chest, I fail to see any way user mods are going to be of any value past the point of no return in the plot. Mods will almost certainly have to be played in the middle of the game, because the post-game ending does not allow you to leave the hall you're in.

I'm also rather unhappy about how they tied character specializations to obscure plot points in the game with no warning about where to get them unlocked. It's also even more ridiculous that you can unlock them forever - even on a totally new character. It's almost like they wanted to make people throw out their first play through or something. The alternative leads to people saving ahead of these plot points and forking JUST to unlock the specialization. Since it works no matter what save you load, you can even retroactively unlock one you missed so you can take it before ending the play through. Rather dumb. Why not just put specialization trainers in the city or something?

       
Wow, all that and yet you're doing it a second time through just to see the differences in another race/class, eh? :D

I imagine there's all sorts of sounds in the games I've played that I've never heard before given that I usually play them with sound muted entirely and even when I don't, I definitely don't turn the sound up. In fact, usually one of the first things I do the first time I fire up a new game is go into the options to lower volume and double check video config settings.

Without having seen what you're talking about regarding the camera, I can only say what you're describing sounds vaguely familiar. Are we talking about an isometric top-down viewpoint that self-rotates as you wander? (without actual camera controls to correct it as needed.) I've seen those in games before and so far it's only been games that also offered an alternative camera angle.

I had a couple of PS2 games that I ended up setting aside and forgetting about because they insist on testing the player's skills and I just don't play enough video games to have the appropriate skill and I lack the patience to keep re-attempting a given jump (or whatever) enough times to finally get it, usually I hit those points in a game and retry it a couple of times then hand the controller to my wife. If she can't do it either I give up on the game. (They always make them points where the game offers no alternative solution to continuing game-play too. *grrr*) Hey all you developers out there, if the character absolutely needs to be able to do this amazing feat, just automate the feat with a cut-scene or make it one of his standard moves without testing the player, otherwise there should always be another way to get past that point of the game in case your end-user isn't a 13 year old video game addict.

Ok, if/when I get this game, I'll be sure to grab the party storage chest in camp mod, but Bioware and EA can count on making money from me only from my initial purchase and not from DLC, especially if the overall experience is as bad as you described.

So, if I play my usual style (start a character of each available class/race to level 2-3 and then go back and actually try to play them alternately depending on which one my wife is playing - we usually play mostly multiplayer via lan so I try to play something she's not playing currently to be supportive) then I can unlock these specializations for all my characters at once each time I find one in whichever character I'm currently playing? Gee, that's sort of convenient if completely illogical.. how exactly did the characters who weren't being played get this benefit? Or is that another test of player skills type thing rather than anything remotely RP?

       
What can I say? The game is dynamic enough that I wanted to see what doing some things entirely different would cause. And there's been a few interesting surprises along the way I wasn't expecting.

Uh. The camera thing. You ever play Neverwinter Nights? If so, it's basically that only slightly less annoying. If not, then I'm not sure how to describe it. Camera rotation is independent from walking, it only turns with you if you're already in motion.

I don't think your usual method of play is going to work out as well as you'd like. Many of the specializations to be unlocked can't be until well into the game, and even then, only after VERY specific plot choices are made. I suppose they're tied in to how you should RP those situations but you almost need to be psychic to realize you're at one of those decision points.

       
Interesting surprises can be good. ;)

Oh, I didn't realize that's what you meant. I can live with that, but I agree that it's an unnecessary pain in the ass.

Usually I end up with one character way ahead of the rest from playing multiplayer with Dragona (for example, if there are six classes, I'll have five characters under 6th level when my first character hits 15-20th level). Sounds like I'll end up having to find myself a walk-through somewhere. *sigh*

       
DA doesn't have multiplayer, so you won't have any problems with having one character miles ahead of others. Unless you actually do end up playing through more than once. I think for me, twice completely was enough, and sampling the remaining origin stories rounded things out nicely. The origin stories are the best part, but sadly those are over and done with in the first hour of play and then it's cookie cutter time through most of the rest of the game.

       
So, basically to get the most out of the game, one should play completely through it once and then go back and do each of the other origin stories and call it archiving time?

Btw, on a completely unrelated note, I've finally gotten around to trying out Oblivion and I'd been trying to catch you via IM to ask your opinions about which mods/plugins I should be considering "must have" but haven't seen you on any of the IM clients in the last few days. (Mind you, I've been stuck in Albuquerque for the last week or so and only connected to IM clients through my new blackberry phone, so I've only checked every so often when I've thought to check... so my having not seen you may not mean anything.) Anyway, if you get a chance, some input from you, or any other oblivion players here would be much appreciated. So far I've visited TESNexus and grabbed the Chase Cam Mod (Dragona already told me after watching me a few seconds the first time I started the game she couldn't possibly play herself without getting sick), and I grabbed, but haven't installed, the Alternative Start mod (the one that starts you on a ship instead of in a cell). The copy of Oblivion I bought came with Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine too. I have not yet grabbed a copy of the mod you made because I figured I needed to get a bit more familiar with the world before I worry about adding to the world anyway, but I do consider it a must have along with the ones you mentioned about roads & bridges and the one Dwip made too, if I can find it. In fact, after I post this I'll go check out your oblivion folder here and see what you have for download.

       
Ok, I take that last remark back, you've got too much there that I don't quite follow.. I'll await your input. I know I want the roads & bridges one and the one you wrote (at the bottom of the list), but I don't know if I need the Open Cities one or all the compatibilities ones you've got, etc.

       
Conner, welcome to the addiction. ;)

I'll let Samson do the heavy lifting on this topic, because frankly he's better at it than I am, but:

- AFK_Weye (my mod) is here: http://www.tesnexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=22828

- On that same village note, Samson's Faregyl and Vergayun mods are awesome, and you have no reason whatsoever not to install them.

- For first playthrough, I'd recommend against the alt start mod, if only because the start dungeon is reasonably atmospheric and cool to go through the once. Also a lot more forgiving for the new player than Anvil, IMHO. After that, well, do your thing.

- I assume you've had Bash and BAIN mentioned? I don't use Bash for much, but its BAIN installer function has saved me an awful lot of install/uninstall sad facing, which is to say "use it for installing all your mods." Likewise you're going to want to look up BOSS.

- Both Samson and I get a lot of milage out of graphics overhaul mods, which are discussed in detail here. QTP3 redimized is pretty much necessary in this day and age. Also make sure that Samson talks you into Weather: All Natural.

- On that note, look up the Unofficial Oblivion Patch, plus the SI and plugins ones. You'll need them all.

- New Roads and Bridges really is worth your time. As is Let the People Drink. They both look super cool, and NRB has the added benefit of being handy.

- TheNiceOne's Map Marker Overhaul is definitely something I'm not sure how I ever did without. In particular the Ayleid Well and Runestone markers.

- I don't meet a whole lot of quest mods for this game that I really love, but Lost Spires is definitely the exception to that. That said, it has some balance issues, namely that it's really easy to get in way over your head in the dungeons. It is, however, epic and cool.

It suddenly occurs to me that I've already talked about this at some length on my blog, so why don't I just link you there and stop?

If you read everything we say and feel like screaming, keep in mind that it really is ok to just go get the appropriate Unofficial Oblivion Patches, throw those in along with SI and KOTN and just play. Perfectly good game even without mods. :)

       
I usually recommend people play Oblivion through at least once with no mods to experience things the way Bethesda intended. That said, the unofficial patch mods are still very much a necessity due to some crippling bugs that can come up.

Unofficial Oblivion Patch

I've got an update to that which requires the above installed first, which fixes a few minor things, and one crippling bug that the UOP itself actually caused.

As Dwip mentioned, the Unofficial Official Mods Patch which fixes issues with the DLC - you'll only want to bother with the Knights of the Nine portion since the GOTY edition doesn't include the other smaller DLCs you can't get anymore. I think Bethesda dropped the ball on those no longer being available, because Battlehorn Castle and Mehrune's Razor were worthy of the cost. I suspect Piratebay could solve that issue easily enough :)

Open Cities is definitely not for the faint of heart. Play the game for awhile, and if you find the city loading screens to be annoying, then definitely grab that. Or if you played Morrowind and miss the way the cities were meant to be. Don't worry about the sea of compatibility patches for OC, you don't need them if you're not using it. Patches get into a whole other realm of ugly messes anyway.

Once you're ready to sample mods, Nexus has no end of variety. Obviously we here have our favorites. Texture mods being among the best. Dwip already covered all the big ones on his blog, so I'll leave it there. Just be careful with the graphic enhancers. Using too many can cripple your game performance. Don't be overly hardcore like me unless you have a hardcore system like mine :)

One utility Dwip didn't mention that's almost always necessary when dealing with mods is TES4Edit. The most useful function it has is to clean mods of junk edits. Stuff the buggy construction set likes to contaminate mods with. Many of the older stuff is filled with "dirty edits" that can cause no end of trouble with compatibility issues.

Quest mods: Lost Spires, Bartholm (make sure it's 6.0+), Windfall, Kvatch Rebuilt, Dungeons of Ivellon (hard, but worth it), Heart of the Dead, The Ayleid Steps. There's a lot of other ones, but these are among the best. One of the big ones most of us are chomping at the bit to get to is Reclaiming Sancre Tor. Huge wide sweeping big daddy of a quest mod that takes place after the end of the game. I helped with early locations testing on this one and just the settings alone are top quality work. Also, if you end up playing through the Dark Brotherhood quest line, the mod I mentioned here before that we're working on should appeal to you as well when it's done.

Village mods: Faregyl, Vergayun, Region Revive Lake Rumare, Shezrie's Villages. Plenty of others, but these are the really good ones. Even if I did build two of them :)

Definitely want to grab All Natural too. Stock game weather is sadly lacking, and this more than makes up for that.

And of course, to really spice up your visuals throughout Cyrodiil, look up the Unique Landscapes mods. I know Dwip isn't a huge fan of those, but they're all very well done and provide some really cool places to explore. Even if most don't have quests or other things to do there. Do be aware though that once you start into the UL mods, compatibility patching becomes an issue. Especially for the ones making drastic changes to the landscape.

There's some really awesome work being done lately with the Oblivion Graphics Extender (OBGE). Things like godrays and ambient occlusion that the game doesn't currently support. Best to look those up to see what I mean by it, but don't bother using it just yet as it's all still very much in the early stages.

And there ya go. We've successfully hijacked a Dragon Age post for Oblivion discussion. It had to happen at some point :)

       
I'm not sure if you've noticed, O Fearless Leader, but some of us around here may be Oblivion fans. I realize this may come as a shock. ;)

I actually got inspired to write up a sort of "installation for n00bs and that forgetful Dwip idiot" guide, so assuming my head doesn't explode I'll link it in a while.

Two things I totally forgot to mention are interface mods and Really Almost Everything Visible While Distant, yet another excellent Samson Production which fixes the annoying "dude, where are all the buildings?" problems. It's a bit of a performance hit, but I can't live without it. As far as interface mods go, I prefer BTMod for fixing up the annoying as hell stock interface without going overboard. Other people like the Darnified UI and other stuff. Your milage may vary intensely.

A couple of notes in support and dissention from our host:

- Battlehorn, Frostcrag, and Mehrunes Razor are the best of the official DLC if you can find them. I have them all, personally, and like them all to varying degrees. There's a couple dozen threads on the official forums on the subject if you decide you care. If not, KOTN is easily the best of them by leaps and bounds.

- I hated every single second of my experience with Dungeons of Ivellon. Hard, filled with non-obvious and annoying puzzles, and my copy bugged the hell out and killed my game. Samson's milage totally varies here, however.

- I hate a love/hate relationship with the UL mods. They have a varying quality, and a compatability nightmare. Some of them, such as Chorrol Hinterlands, look awesome but will make your computer shoot blue flames out the fan ports from trying to keep up. Some of them, such as whichever the Cheydinhal farming one is, just look terrible. Most of them provide nice but subtle landscape improvement, but may or may not be worth the annoyance of patching them.

- Performance is an issue. I used to get away with QTP3 redim on a 2005-2006 era machine with a 512 meg graphics card and 2 gigs of RAM. These days, with about double that power, I can get away with pretty much whatever I want. QTP3, RAEVWD, and OC in particular are hogs.

- What khajiit do for you?

       
I did remember to say "the DLC you can't get" right? Obviously KOTN is worthy, and Bethesda clearly thought so too or they'd not put it in the GOTY :) Though you obviously liked Frostcrag, whereas I think it's a pile of guar dung.

Your reaction to Ivellon describes about 50% of the consuming public. It's a love/hate mod for sure. I hate the lead-in hunt for clues, but the dungeon itself is wicked cool.

There's a Cheydinhal farming UL? You mean Rolling Hills? Yeah, that one could use some help but still looks way better than the... uh... nothing that was there before.

On the subject of hogs, QTP3 FULL is a hog. Redimized is fairly tame. Not advised on anything less than a 512 card obviously. And yes, RAEVWD will kill all but the most powerful machines. But I'll pick the bone with Open Cities. It's no more of a hog than the vanilla game, and that's easy enough to prove by installing it and having a go. Nobody who has claimed it eats performance has ever been able to back that up. It's a huge piece of disinformation I've been trying to stamp out for ages since taking over the project. All the evidence you need to prove than opening the cities isn't an issue exists in Morrowind - plenty of open cities there and none of them had the least bit of performance drain. I've not been able to come up with any reason for why Bethesda did what they did in Oblivion.

       
I'm apparently having issues with reading comprehension today. Namely:

- My bad on the OC thing. Not sure what I was thinking.

- QTP3 redim actually DID slow down my old machine in a fairly serious way. It was worth it, but there WAS a performance hit. It's not at all noticable on my new card, however, so no big deal unless you're barely scraping by anyway.

- I mean Rolling Hills. I personally prefer the nothingness to the crappy models it uses.

- I dunno, but let's all take a moment to miss Morrowind, shall we? Yay Balmora.

       
As promised, here is a new blog post with various installation tips and discussions and some stuff about my personal load order/mod list.

HTH.

       
And on the subject of the roads mod, updated it today so if you've already got it, grab it again.

       
Thanks for the welcome, Dwip! :)

Wow, a lot there to digest (and research). So far the game's had no performance issues for me that were significant enough for me to notice, but I am playing on a laptop. Albeit, a laptop with 4 GB of ram, an Intel Core 2 Duo (T8100 @ 2.10GHz), an onboard nividia GeForce 8600M GT, running Vista 64 bit...

I've already started my first character and am slowly making significant progress with him (a level 2 dark elf battlemage, already a blade who's in the fighter's guild & mage's guild with invites to the dark brotherhood & meeting the gray fox, but have been way busy with side quests so haven't made it very far with the main quest... though I have already found out where the temple is that I need to go next.) for only having played a few hours at a time for a few days so far. I was thinking that the alternate start mod looked like a really nice idea for future characters.

I'd looked at the unofficial patches and just wasn't sure if I should grab them or not since I'm not 100% certain that I'm even patched to the latest official version yet, but after what you guys had to say about them, I'll be sure to address that and grab the unofficial patches along with the update from here.

I'd seen BOSS on the nexus but not noticed bash or BAIN, guess I'll have to check them out.

It's funny you mentioned the Darnified UI, I'd very strongly considered that one (since it was listed in the top 100 on nexus) because it not only looks pretty good but seems to add a clock to the top corner of the UI but hadn't grabbed it because I wanted y'all's input before I downloaded something that huge, but I'll check out the BTMod before deciding between them. (Nexus has way too many files available to just spend a few minutes browsing to find goodies.)

As for the rest of y'all's suggestions.. I'm saving this spot so I can come back and follow-up, but for now M$ wants me to reboot from some updates and I don't have the time to go on a downloading spree after that reboot right now, but perhaps over the Turkey Day holiday when I'm visiting Dragona's family where I have wireless access to much better bandwidth than at our motel room. ;)

       
Lol. I have none of these issues with the XBox 360 Version of DA:O. None of that Camera business, everything felt natural to the controls. It was wonderful. I guess it just goes to show that people are caring less and less about the PC Market and more about the Console market since they put more time and focus into the console side of games..

       
Yes, it's pretty obvious that Bioware/EA has joined the anti-PC gaming crowd in making a game that's been written with the XBox as its common target. Rather ironic since PC gaming built that company up from nothing. But times they are a changin. They send mixed signals though by offering modding toolsets that can only be used on a PC.

       
A brief bit of thread necromancy to say man, that was really great. That ending rocked. I have some quibbles, but I'll save them for my own review later.

       
Only five months later.. you're still a fledgling necromancer, ain't ya'? ;)

       
Well, I DID say I was going to have my own review later. I just didn't say how much later.

       
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