Bethesda’s ‘Not Pay Mods’

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These days, Bethesda has quite the reputation. They’ve delivered countless hours of exploratory joy with The Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises, and have published a number of successful games besides (such as Doom, Dishonored, The Evil Within, Prey, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and more). When it comes to making games that sell, they’re on top of the world… and they know it. That’s why they’ve recently launched the ‘Creation Club’.

The Creation Club is a way for Bethesda and third-party creators to make new content for games and submit them for internal review. This quality control ensures that whatever you acquire is actually going to work, unlike other mods which have the potential to make your game unstable. Because this takes time and resources for Bethesda to stay on top of, there are fees involved.

And it boils my blood. Not because of the money, but because of how Bethesda are positioning this.

The Creation Club idea may sound innocent enough, but Bethesda, in conjunction with Valve, revealed a non-curated approach to paid mods back in 2015, and the internet, rightfully so, had exploded in anger. You don’t start to sell something that’s been free since the dawn of (gaming) time. Just because Microsoft and Sony have added paywalls to online access, doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all out there.

PC gamers love that particular platform because it gives them endless possibilities which consoles aren’t capable of. Mods have ranged from skins to full blown gameplay expansions, and best of all, it was free. Every bit of it. It’s content that’s been created by and for fans because they’re passionate enough to do so, not because they want to make a quick buck. Some of the more well-known modders have Patreons if you’d like to donate some money out of sheer appreciation, but their content remains free.

But hey, leave it to Bethesda to monetize something that’s free. Because, you know… Bethesda.

Fortunately, the outrage was enough to cause the publisher to cancel their plans a week after announcing them.

And now here comes the Creation Club, a thinly veiled attempt at reintroducing paid mods. And I say thinly veiled because Bethesda are position this as… actually, let me rephrase this. They’ve flat out denied that the Creation Club is a paid mods platform:

“Is Creation Club paid mods?”

No. Mods will remain a free and open system where anyone can create and share what they’d like. Also, we won’t allow any existing mods to be retrofitted into Creation Club, it must all be original content. Most of the Creation Club content is created internally, some with external partners who have worked on our games, and some by external Creators. All the content is approved, curated, and taken through the full internal dev cycle; including localization, polishing, and testing. This also guarantees that all content work together. We’ve looked at many ways to do “paid mods”, and the problems outweigh the benefits. We’ve encountered many of those issues before. But, there’s a constant demand from our fans to add more official high quality content to our games, and while we are able to create a lot of it, we think many in our community have the talent to work directly with us and create some amazing new things.”

Yeah, that all sounds well and good, but it stinks. It stinks because it doesn’t make any damn sense. In the Creation Club, you have to buy virtual currency with real world money, and then use that digital currency to purchase mods.

Sounds an awful lot like paid mods, doesn’t it? I mean, you’re giving them money, and you’re getting mods in return, right? Yeah. That’s because they’re paid mods.

As mentioned earlier, Bethesda tried to pull this nonsense a couple of years ago. Valve asked Bethesda if they’d be open to a paid mods thing, Bethesda said ‘you’re damn right we are’, and fans shut them down. Instead of taking the hint that gamers want nothing to do with paid mods, they shelved the idea for a couple of years so they could come up with a fancy name and some bullshit PR babble, hoping people wouldn’t notice that the paid mods idea didn’t actually go away, but was just retooled.

Lying to fans and customers is about the most despicable thing a company can do. It tells us they have the bravado to say whatever, and do whatever they want because they think we’re too stupid to read between the lines. But we aren’t, and video game journalists haven’t been either. Most headlines in regards to the Creation Club are some iteration of, ‘Bethesda Introduces Paid Mods!’ Say what you will about gaming journalists, but at least they call a spade a spade when crap like this comes up.

Fortunately, Bethesda has made it clear that free mods will still be allowed, but considering how backhanded they’re being with the announcement of their Creation Club, but again, they’re full of crap. They have absolutely screwed over the whole ‘free mods’ thing.

The Creation Club update is mandatory, and when it went live, it changed at least one game’s .exe file, causing F4SE (a script extender which is essential for many mods) to stop working. Script extenders pretty much need to be updated each time the game updates, but assuming the Creation Club files will be updated on a regular basis, that’s going to turn into a full time job for community modders, which may only incentivize them to quit.

And by the way, when I say the Creation Club update is mandatory, that includes all the content available through it. Yep, you’re going to have a lot of useless crap on your hard drive, and there’s not much you can do about it. Some have theorized that Bethesda are doing this to get around Sony’s rules about 3rd party content by wrapping it all into the game itself, but that’s hardly a good solution. In fact, it’s fucking terrible. Why would this affect PC and Xbox One users, then? A 2.1 GB update shouldn’t be forced down anyone’s throat if it’s not vital to run the game.

Furthermore, the Creation Club is breaking people’s free mods… mods which worked perfectly fine before the update. This is because mod load order – which is essential for ensuring everything loads properly and plays nicely with each other – is being affected. Mods are now forced to load in alphabetical order, meaning your free mods aren’t going to work. I’ll assume this is a bug, but you never know.

Last but certainly not least, it seems Pipboy skins refuse to work with any other free mod installed. Once other free mods are removed, the Pipboy skins will work.

I normally don’t condone piracy unless it’s firmly authorized by the devs, but you know what? Go for it. You can use all this new content for free because it’s easily crackable. Unpack the Creation Club .BSA, rename it, and then run the game. Tada! You have all the Creation Club content for free!

Except it’s all boring as piss, and all the free stuff is better.

Another way around this is to, if you haven’t updated through Steam yet, to use F4SE.exe to open the game exclusively, and tell Steam to not update the game unless you launch it (directly from Steam). That way you’ll never have to worry about updating the game when you don’t want to.

I won’t get into the whole ‘slippery slope’ discussion, because I know that’s an anecdotal part of the conversation at best. Still, there is precedence for other companies to follow suit when an idea bears fruit (money) for someone else… and that’ll be the worst if it happens. Just the absolute fucking worst.

After all is said and done, Bethesda probably would have garnered more respect and less outrage if they had just announced this program like this:

“Hello! We’re introducing the Creation Club, a place where you can buy first and third party created mods. These paid mods will mostly come from you, and you can submit them to us for internal review, and as long they pass our qualitative standards, they’ve be available from the Creation Club shop and you can earn a bit of money, too!” That still doesn’t make the whole thing about breaking free mods any better though, especially since they said free mods were still OK.

Telling the truth is groundbreaking shit, I know. But, no, we got two lies here for the price of one. They ARE paid mods and free mods ARE being affected.  Period. Here’s to hoping the backlash online causes Bethesda to once again rethink their position on paid DLC, because this isn’t going to end well for them.

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Bit-History: The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim

My last Bit-History was dedicated to Oblivion, a game which had been touted as the definitive open-world/free-choice RPG. It wasn’t. The world at large felt like a sandbox that did little to differentiate one area from the next, and the main quest missions were the very definition of tedium. Because of my underwhelming experience with Elder Scrolls’ fourth installment, I was no longer sure about my place amongst the world of RPG’s – If Oblivion was considered the best of the best, and I found it to be disappointing in most every aspect… was my brief relationship with RPG’s at a close? Would I have to stay content with FPS and platform games? The answer to both is obviously no, since I went against my better judgment and decided to give Skyrim a shot. I guess the better question would be, “Why would you play Skyrim when you obviously loathed the game that came before it?”

I expected Skyrim’s release to be a major event, but the onslaught of coverage was too effective for me to ignore. I’m a big fan of gaming, so I keep myself up to date as much as humanly possible, regardless of whatever biases I’ve acquired along the way. A good rule of thumb for any gamer, especially serious ones is ‘Never judge the current state of a franchise on where it’s been.’ How many series began with a bit of a fumble, only to improve and become some of the most recognized names in gaming? Yeah, Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed say hello. So, I read every review, watched every video and looked at a bajillion opinions from actual gamers on the appropriate forums. What I had read sounded interesting enough, and as a fan of everything Viking, its look had more than piqued my interest. The gameplay actually showed off a variety of terrain (shocker!), and being able to hike throw snow peppered lands while taking on dragons as they attack from the sky? I couldn’t help but feverishly follow the hype… but still, I was careful to make an INFORMED decision, rather than make a blind leap to buy something I probably wouldn’t enjoy.

I am so, so glad I went against my better judgment and picked up this game.

After a brief tutorial which hinted at the disparity of the land, as well as an introduction to dragon battle, I found the true beginning of my journey in the wilderness. Well, a path on the wilderness, but it was still nothing but trees, snow-covered mountaintops and shrubs as far as the eye could see. I could already see this was going to be quite a different experience than Oblivion… this world looked fully realized, and I was hoping some exploration would complete that picture with a bit of variety. It did, but more on that in a bit. One other thing worth noting, was that I met this world with an orchestral score that was every bit as epic, majestic yet calming as anything out of Lord of the Rings… and this score plays a BIG part of the adventure that awaits. The game’s soundtrack is on, like, four CD’s, and the game has more than enough occasions to cycle through so none of the themes feel irritatingly recycled.

Anyway, I was walking my way down to a lower elevation, until I stumbled upon my next breathtaking sight – Running water. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but that stream seemed to be alive. Oh, and what was this? A fellow traveler is resting his haunches next to his lean-to! I walk over and introduce myself, and he happily tells me about the fruitful hunts he’s had in the area. Not only that, but he’s willing to share! He says something along the lines of, “There’s more than enough to go around, bud!” I agree, nod my head and smile… and then I realized something – I don’t really have any appropriate hunting equipment. At least, nothing long range. I decided to take a look in his inventory… he had a bow. So, I took a look around, making sure there were no witnesses to inform the nearest town of my wrongdoings… and made the hunter meet his maker. The bow was mine! His little bed beside his lean-to looked enticing, but I didn’t want to stay so close to the ‘evidence’, so I continued in my travels. For the rest of the game, that hunter had never respawned, proving each and every choice you make is everlasting. Oddly enough, I sort of felt bad after the fact, especially since this little item would be dropped by many-a-foe throughout the game.

Over the next some-odd hours, I made my way to the nearest town and learned how to do some chores for a bit of coin, and I pushed my way through a few caves which were inhabited by bandits. I wandered off the beaten path for a bit, and met some fairly dangerous animals along the way. After putting them down and taking their hides so I could eventually turn them into leather or leather strips, I visited my first major city. There I learned a great deal more about the situation in Skyrim, and the further I pressed through the main story, the more I began to realize how much better it was than Oblivion’s. Dragon’s which haven’t been seen for ages are beginning to rise, and there’s an ominous force behind them which must be stopped. Coincidentally, you learn you are ‘Dragonborn’, meaning you’re the only hope that Skyrim has. The world of man needs to stand together as well, but they’re too busy brewing a civil war to really care what that means in regards to their survival. The scope of the story is far greater, and more epic than anything Oblivion attempted to deliver. As a result of the story at hand, I felt more like a hero… like a man who was working with each separate faction to get them where they needed to be, as opposed to merely being their errand boy. Even so, I didn’t feel unstoppable – Regardless of all my efforts in mediation, the civil war would come to a head, and I would have to choose a side.

So yeah, I found the main quest to be a HUGE improvement over that of its predecessor. A civil war in the works with the threat of powerful dragons looming? What’s not to like? That being said, it really was the free-roam gameplay that sucked me in. Oblivion tried to offer the same sort of experience, but since its world wasn’t fully realized, nor feel as if it was truly inhabited with life, I never got into it… but in Skyrim? Oh, I wanted to see every piece of the map, so I stayed away from the main quest for a long, long time, just so I could explore. 70 hours dumped into the game, and I was probably only halfway through the main quest. Not only that, but I was STILL finding new locations! How crazy is that? That’s how massive this world is – To walk from one side to the other takes 30-ish minutes, and that’s if you’re taking the easiest route. Incorporate traveling through the mountains and you’re going to increase that time by quite a bit, especially if you’re the kind of adventurer who doesn’t mind stopping to admire the beauty of the land. Granted, the game allows you to fast-travel to locations you’ve visited, but I just didn’t want to. No, I wanted to keep walking, hunting, having random encounters, and come across various other surprises along the way. This is why the ‘open world’ of Skyrim works, and ultimately crushes the ‘reality’ that Oblivion failed to provide – There was enough people and events throughout this world to make it feel alive. I could be walking along at night, and see a powerful spellcaster take on some dangerous vampires. The appearance of towering giants made me stop in my tracks. Travelers would break down and require assistance. Assassins would just run at me out of nowhere, having my heart rate jump as I struggled to survive the battle. Merchants wandering the wilderness would offer me rare and even illegal products. Oh, and there’s plenty of random dragon encounters, too. We certainly can’t forget about that. And all this is only the tip of the iceberg – I can’t even begin to describe the variety of animals and creatures you’ll face along the way. Again, in short, Skyrim feels ALIVE… the land looks and feels REAL. Well, real enough at least, anyway.

Of course, there is more to a game than plot and aesthetic experience, and when it comes to RPG’s, a big part of the game comes from navigating menus. Menus allow you the ability to level up, equip armor/weapons and use items, and check on the status of your quests. Personally, I didn’t like the menus in Oblivion. They were all so dull, and as a result, using them felt like a chore (yes, even on the PC version), thus ruining the immersion. So, Bethesda streamlined the menu for Skyrim and PC fans everywhere cried foul. “EHRMAHRGAWRD, THEY MADE IT CONSOLE FRIENDLY! NOOOOO!” Not me, however. Things don’t need to be complicated in order to work, and I vastly prefer the menu system in Skyrim. Not only are they easier to navigate, but they all look vastly different from one another. For skills, you unlock ‘star branches’ from constellations in the night sky. Looking at items appears in a list that can be broken down by category, and you can always see the physical item and inspect it. Applying magic to weapons and armor looks a bit different, as does the quest menu… it never gets dull. When I look at my inventory, I feel like I’m looking at my own stuff, and not just a yellow parchment with reddish-brown lettering (yuck).

For me, Skyrim is one of the must play games of the last decade… but that’s not to say it’s perfect. Far from it, as a matter of fact. Skyrim has a TON of issues, the first major complaint stemming from battle. It’s a HUGE improvement over Oblivion, but it still feels wonky. People are so used to first person precision nowadays, that anything less feels unacceptable. Use of your shield and weapons aren’t terrible, but they do leave an awful lot to be desired, mainly because it doesn’t feel like you’re actually in control. Pushing your action buttons will allow you to raise a shield or swing a sword, but the animation happens a little after your command, not WITH it… like in any other first person game. To make the clumsiness of battle more awkward, the scaling of certain enemies just doesn’t make sense. I mean, if I can take countless DRAGONS down with ease, I should be able to take more than a single hit from a giant before I’m pushing daisies right? Or, even more lopsided are the times when you’re actually able to destroy dragons AND giants, yet an armored enemy in dungeon or keep will shred you like yesterday’s lettuce. Does that make ANY sort of sense whatsoever? No? OK, just making sure I wasn’t crazy or something.

Then, there’s the bugs and glitches. Many have been hammered out of course, but there’s still a good handful of quests that will get hung up, meaning you’ll never be able to complete them. There have been a few mid-quest tasks that just wouldn’t ‘activate’ for me, so they’re forever stuck in limbo. Actually, I once even encountered a bug in one of the main quest missions – A certain order of actions actually rendered my attacks to the enemy useless, and I had to clear the cache on my console in order to get things working right again. To be fair though, these really are minor inconveniences when compared to the amount of stuff there is to do in Skyrim. As I already said, I put 70 hours into this game without thinking twice… and I probably only touched a fraction of what the game had to offer. Bethesda had this to say – There are an almost infinite amount of possible ways to play this game, and virtually no one is going to replicate the same experience, step for step. As a result, some glitches are nearly impossible to find in testing, before AND after the fact. I accept this response from the devs, because the game is MASSIVE and there are bound to be flaws. Some people won’t accept this and say that more time should be spent on quality control… but when virtually every decision you make along the way is going to be unique from everyone else who plays the game, can we really expect Bethesda to find EVERY bug? Probably not. So, they get a pass from me… the game is just so immersive, I can skip a side quest without worry, because I know there’s more than enough to do no matter how much time I put into the game.

Honestly, I could sit here and write all day. In fact, I’ve already written a bit more than I usually do for a Bit-History piece, so I’m going to put a cap on the ‘review’ here. I’ve covered some of my favorite aspects of the game as well as why it craps all over Oblivion, as well as the negatives. If you’ve played this game, you already know how great this game is… but if you haven’t tried this game because you loathed Oblivion, take it from me… Skyrim is not to be missed.

Bit-History: The Elder Scrolls IV – Oblivion

You know, it would be easy for me to sit here and write an entire essay about why I love Skyrim so much – despite the fact it has a ton of flaws – but I would rather go against the grain and talk about a title I didn’t like: Oblivion. This game was highly anticipated by RPG fans around the world, and after its release, was applauded for being the greatest adventure to hit pop culture since Tolkien released his Lord of the Rings novel in paperback. Curious to see what all the fuss was about (since I had never had the pleasure of playing its predecessor), I picked it up and hoped for the best.

At first, I was amazed. Stepping out of the underground tunnels and into daylight for the first time was simply jaw-dropping. Everything was so beautiful and lush, and to have complete freedom – and I do mean COMPLETE freedom – was jarring, and I mean that in the best possible way. To stumble upon other travelers or bandits and decide how to deal with them, or to cut through the dangerous wilderness as opposed to taking the safer passage of roads… it was all up to me. I didn’t have to start the main quest if I didn’t want to, and I never had to play by the rules. The choices were always mine and mine alone to make… and so were the consequences that followed.

After a while however, that novelty began to wear off. “Novelty you say? Preposterous.” Yes, novelty. Perhaps it was just a result of limited technology, but the more time I spent in this open world, the less I felt immersed in it. I don’t know if you’ll agree with me, but here’s what ultimately turned me away from Oblivion – Everything was pretty much the same. The entire ‘over-world’ was pretty much the same damn thing being recycled over and over again. Elevations would change as well as the density of trees, and there would occasionally be patches of tall grass, but for the most part, there was very little differentiation to speak of. Here’s what I heard a lot of my friends and people on the internet say:

“For the game to be truly immersive, you’re going to want to do all your traveling on foot. Sure, you can fast travel to locations you’ve already visited, but you’ll miss out on certain events that your path would unexpectedly lead you to, as well as some solid grind-time, since every action helps to level your character in some way.”

That’s all well and good, but the ‘leveling up’ incentive is just silly. Oblivion allowed you to level up by performing actions, as opposed to actually accomplishing something. You could jump in place for hours on end and gain something from it, and there’s nothing I loathe more than this primitive method of grinding. It just feels broken to me, you know? It just serves to bloat the time you spend in-game (read: it isn’t fun). Take Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for example – If you wanted to 100% the damn thing, you HAD to spend countless hours doing idiotic tasks, such as swimming, going to the gym, etc. You had to stop playing the game in order to grind, for no purpose other than to say “I got 100%”. Oblivion sort of did the same thing – I didn’t have to actually engage in battle to level up, I just had to perform each task on a dry grind in order to level. As a result, I never wanted to explore anything… I just wanted to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. Still, I tried the ‘walk everywhere for total immersion’ method, but it grew stale because I never felt like I traveled anywhere new!

The dungeons were even worse. They all had the same generic texture blocks throughout their entirety. The only thing that ever changed was the layout of the maze, which was easy to get lost in since no room/path looked any different than the last. The caves were a little better, but not by much. No, the only places that actually felt different from one another were the major towns and cities. They were actually fun to roam and interact with. They also had the most intriguing side quests, not to mention the various factions you could join, so that’s where I spent most of my time until I decided I had done enough and should start plowing through the main quest.

And the main quest was laughably like the rest of the game – The same boring crap over and over again. Go here, do that, and once things finally picked up and Oblivion portals started to open everywhere, that’s when I really started to get pissed.

The first Oblivion portal was cool – Inside was an evil-looking dimension filled with rocks and lava, and you had to make your way to a tall tower that was guarded by nasty foes. Once inside, you had to work your way up, defeat the keeper and wait for the next portal to open. Get this though – The innards of the next portal was almost EXACTLY like its predecessor. The only difference was a slight increase in difficulty. Each subsequent Oblivion portal was also the same, more or less, just a little harder than the last. To me, it seemed like Bethesda didn’t even try in delivering a competent, engaging quest. The focus was all on the open world and being able to do whatever your heart contented. Great concept in theory, but listen up, ‘Thesda – The main quest acts as the glue that holds everything else together. If I don’t care about the central plot, then what’s the point? Granted, there’s a decent story to be told as you progress throughout the game, but the framework of each individual quest feels so lazily thrown together, I just felt disconnected from everything else. Literally doing the exact same thing in each Oblivion portal, and in every other part of the game, was actually game-breaking for me, as it did little else than ruin the illusion of the open world Bethesda had created.

One last complaint, was that the combat felt like an afterthought. Since most are likely to complete this game entirely in first-person, how could such an important aspect of this game be so damn sloppy?

“Pfft. I bet you were playing an inferior console port. The PC version is far superior, duh. There’s far more environmental effects, which makes Oblivion feel less like a green sandbox and more like a living, breathing entity.” Yeah, I played this game on the Xbox 360. It was the superior console port, but I thought maybe, JUST MAYBE, its limitations acted as the catalyst for the game’s overall blah-ness. So, some years later I revisited the game on the PC, hoping the additional effects would help with the major gripe I had from day one. Well, it did a tiny bit, but to a negligible degree. “You just didn’t give the game enough time to suck you in.” Yes, many RPG’s require a hefty investment before it reaches its true potential, but I played Oblivion for 20 hours before calling it quits. I don’t know about you, but I’d say that’s more than enough time.

I may write an article on Oblivion’s successor in the not-too-distant future, but let me say this – Skyrim improved on everything that Oblivion got wrong. The story was more engaging, the quests and land more diverse, the world fully realized, and the combat was much more enjoyable (although still awkward overall). Skyrim is up there as one of my favorite games in the last generation, but in contrast, Oblivion was one of the most disappointing. Although it still wasn’t as bad as Duke Nukem Forever… which was so terrible, I dare not mention it again, for fear of opening a real-life Oblivion portal.