Every time an Elder Scrolls game is released, I am filled with great anticipation and great dread in the fact that I will be able to explore and delve into a rich and vibrant world, and get utterly sucked into it. After all, this is how I play RPG's, it was the same with Mass Effect, Dragon Age, or any RPG of your liking. I want to experience the world they have created in a persistent way in that I trick my mind into thinking I'm actually there or maybe not there, but engrossed to a point where I can savor all of the minute details, for a fuller experience.
And so thusly, I thrust myself into Tamriel once again to live in this undiscovered Province, and it has been a very enjoyable one overall, though not without some glaring errors, or bugs (backwards flying dragons), or lazy/weird game mechanics (giants launching bandits 500ft into the air for the lolz), but thank god for the mod community, at least if I want I can play as Lighting from FFXIII (yes that spelling is intended). In reflection of leaving I'd like to share some of my journey, and some highlights, or frustrations that come with playing any TES game.
The first shocking thing about playing Skyrim was that I was playing on near max settings, sorta...holy wtf? I have a Dual Core Athlon 6K and 6GB of RAM and a 9800GTX. I honestly thought that I wasn't going to be able to play anywhere near max settings, but here I was playing in 1920x1200 with only the Shadows and Shadow Detail on medium. No AA or filtering of course but, I've never had a beastly rig to be able to do that with games.
Anyway so here I go, and into the opening sequence, which I actually liked, both cinematically and dramatically speaking, though I had to go all D&D and make a plausible back story for my character for this to make more sense, and carry more weight. I chose for the first time in a long time, a sword and board fighter. Usually in RPG's I like to go for more odd characters, like Ranger/Thief or Mage, more tactical fighters, but here I am, changing it up. I also decided that for developments sake, that I would also not pull a typical D&D and immediately plan my über-badass, and just fucking play. Man that was a good decision, not worrying about how to break my character was a good dramatic choice because It helped make the immersion more believable, and not about how to game the system.
Ok, so the dragon shows up an....oh wait, if you haven't played, stop reading...
...PER ME SI VA NE....SPOILERS ABOUND!!...
Yea so your head's about to be chopped, and a dragon shows up and kills everything...wait, he didn't kill everything? wth? I thought dragons were giant bad asses...well that seems to kill believability because that dragon could murder all of Helgen with his breath, yet, wasn't...hmmm... oh well, I'll be right back, there's a mod for that :D
While I'm on the subject of difficulty, I do want to point out one of the worst offenders of TES games that make them so idiotic, leveling monsters beside your character. Sure it maintains the 'difficulty' but Immersion takes a massive nosedive once you reach monster level cap, which is to say, once they ran out of new monsters they said, hey let's just level them beside you so it's always difficult. I cannot tell you how much I loathe these systems. At some point, every bandit walking around is effectively level 46. I'd really just like some believability (see variability) because that is the single biggest thing that fucks this game for me. I need to believe that by the time that I'm lvl 46 and found everything on the f'ing map (literally) that bandits for the most part will be laughable enemies, and should run. the fuck. away (I would be remiss to say that at some point, there will be a mod for that :D). Oh and if your AI is going to constantly tell me "I surrender" and always get up to swing at you again, well, I guess it's a funny bug, but it does get a bit tedious after a while, just like that arrow to the knee quip (there was at one point that if I were playing an thief/assassin I would have most definitely shot anyone who said that in the knee, again, just for fun). I should mention though, giants in the world when at lower levels was a nice touch, because If you fucked with them you were dead as shit.
But I digress... On getting out of Helgen I finally had my first chance to do what I want, but decided that I'd stay with my dude for a bit, and so I traveled to Riverwood (I chose in the chaos to go with the Legionnaire). From there I did a little exploring and did a few quests but eventually moved on to Whiterun to inform the Jarl of the dragon. Once I got to Whiterun I did that thing about killing the dragon, heard Dovahkin on the wind, which was kind of an interesting 'summons' if you will and became a Thane, and got my housecarl Lydia (who died when we got ambushed by bandits... for more Lydia stories go read RPS The Life And Death Of Skyrim’s Lydia)! It was at this point where I said, nope, not gonna go to the Greybeards, I'm not going that direction, and left the main quest to rot while I planned my exploration of Skyrim . I basically lived in each town/city exploring the countryside, and finishing quests, only if I were in the area, but this eventually led to the second or third most egregious error by the developers, which was the economics system.
How is it that a store can be carrying at least 5K in items, yet only have 500 gold to trade with... As for someone who went through the world with a fine tooth comb, and an incessant pack rat, I took everything, and sold everything making me filthy rich very quickly, also this was the only time that I would actually fast travel because muling isn't exactly a joyous task. But it got me thinking about how things were valued (for instance why does fur armor even have a value greater than 0), and how much money was available, and there was this disproportionate lean towards having way too much money and nothing to do with it. I'm not sure I would have minded if somewhere that was made up, but by the time I reached Solitude and bought my house (edit: ahem, third house), buying and furnishing it was chump change in how much I actually was carrying. For instance in Dragon Age, while not an open world, had a few items that were ungodly expensive and/or rare, making having money and managing it a lucrative tool, especially if you were a wizard. So at this point I decided that unless it was either a unique item, or an amazing weapon/armour that I wouldn't even touch it. I also had just recently gotten Dawnbreaker so I had just gotten a great 1 handed weapon. Needless to say I was a bit disappointed that managing your economy was a trivial affair (at the end of my play through, I still have +80K just laying around).
delving out Meridian justice, one blow at a time
I suppose the next thing that's on my mind is questing, or fetch questing, or fleshing out questing goddammmit! OK so I'm not upset that there are a ton of things to do in Skyrim and some of the quests are quite engaging compared with other Bethesda entries. I really liked how much of the what the mod community did for Oblivion that made it into Skyrim, for instance, there was a mod that had you save damsels in dungeons, and they said, while sort of cookie cutter, why not have contained quests in explorable areas? Another nice addition as always was that if you took the time to explore you could find quests that wouldn't be handed to you normally, and was a nice incentive. Yet here comes a large however. I liked the occasional, we need this taken care of quest from the Jarl, but those always turned out to be, kill this bandit, or kill this giant....gets a little monotonous after a while, and I started avoiding asking barkeeps the "i'm looking for work" question.
Another oddity in activating quests in your log was that I would talk to someone and ask them what this was about, and once I found out and didn't want to do it, it was too late, there was my quest log all filled up with "take this guy over here to be killed" when I wasn't playing that way... In conjunction with this was a far more glaring error, lack of fleshing out quests. For this I'll reference the whole political intrigue of Markarth.
Firstly, loved the idea, and the way it was presented, but I inevitably ran into a bunch of walls because of my character. I first talked to Thonar in confronting him with his deceitful behavior and decided that it was unacceptable and would kill him myself, except oh wait, he's unkillable...Fuuuuuuuuu.. Why can't I actually do that, I don't care that it might invalidate other quests that I haven't done or whatnot, can't you just write a trigger in that states that if character X is dead then this quest is not available anymore? Too much to ask? The second part came in the form of me just being a giant bad ass. I go talk to Eltrys about finding out the conspiracy only to find that he's dead and there are 3 guards over his body. At this point they say their come quietly crap to which I replied "You clearly don't know who I am because there are only three of you here" and then proceeded to murder them. Look, I'm not an unfeeling murderous asshole (well, not this time around at least), but i'll be damned if some corrupt official is going to try to strong arm me into doing what he wants. Unfortunately I then stumbled upon the worst possible decision in all of Cyrodiil, err Skyrim...I walk out of the shrine only to find that every guard in the city is not yelling and screaming at me and running with their weapons drawn. My immediate response to this was "FUUUUCK YOOOUUUU! Seriously? psychic guards? SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?" My then second response was "uh, uh... ok, find a closed space, uhh...funnel" and proceeded to run to the top of the hill and kill each guard individually, 300 style. Yes, this is Sparta bitches. Unfortunately I thought I was sooo smart, and proceeded to walk in the front door of the mine/prison only to find that I couldn't actually access the mine once I got in..
..........insert meme here..........
well shit, didn't think that one did ya? Well that whole quest line was a bit of a shit storm there eh? I learned my lesson but good that day, don't do shit in ways they don't want you too... but I can't help but think aren't you kind of shooting yourselves in the foot if you're not allowing me to play it this way? It was a letdown to say the least. The funny thing about this decision was that if I had been playing an assassin or thief, or more cunning individual at least, I immediately would have 'gotten arrested' to gain access to my target, it just makes sense, just not for a sword wielding fighter.
Lathan Jeros, sword wielding badass
My final comment on questing was that it overall was just lazy. Never once did I have to read (ok maybe like 2 times in total) to figure out what to do, all that was necessary was to look at my quest markers. And that is the real problem with the more developed, non-fetch quests was this complete reliance on using the map markers to tell you what to do rather than to take the time and actually flesh out your damned quest. As an example, I would find a journal telling me about some item that was lost that sounds like a cool thing to find, but that was it. It didn't say who wrote the journal or who I should talk to in order to find more information, or where I need to go. They would just activate a quest marker and say "go there." Really? I understand that there's a lot that needed to be covered, but you really can't take just a little bit of time to lead a trail of breadcrumbs, so that I can figure it out on my own, without the need fo..... oh, I think I just answered that, no they can't. I unequivocally need to be hand held at all points in time, damn the niceties of having fully fleshed out storylines and plot points or giving me the enjoyment of figuring out something on my own, I mean perish the thought...
I feel like with all Elder Scrolls games, they needed another year in their dev cycle to better flesh out their game completely. I would gladly wait an extra year if I could have gotten better combat (or more meaningful, like not almost dying to a single Draugr Deathlord arrow every f'ing time one hits when I'm lvl 46), better NPC interaction, better AI, better quests, a better economic system, no leveling monsters, actual PC controls and not giving us essentially a beta version on release (not that I had any major issues other than losing two files oddly at one point that made it crash every 5 seconds, oh and every time I load it up it re-detects my graphics settings, like every time, thank god I use SKSE to get around that). But this is a wish list of things that if developed better would have taken Skyrim from being a really good game, to one of the greatest games ever, but hey, there's a mod for that (or there will be, to some degree) :DDD
I have two main thoughts on the civil war, or secondary quest. The first was that I was excited to be taking various outlying strategic structures, but was hoping that this would result in a calculated re-taking of every dissident town, creating a more overarching swath of civil upheaval in the province, but unfortunately I didn't get to take part in that. I found this out when I returned to Windhelm to deliver a message only to find all of the Jarls in the palace, and I was somewhat confused as to why. I also had hoped that it would not just be take this fort, take this fort, but that more important strategic areas, such as a prominent bridge or crossing point would be featured, but again, alas.
One of the most satisfying things about the civil war however was that I tried to play the neutral card as long as I possibly could, figuring out whether to join the legion or the rebels. I was teetering between the two for a long time until I met Delphine, or the real Delphine, and we began to unravel the nature of the Thalmor occupancy in Skyrim and what their goals were. From a plot perspective, finding dossiers on specific individuals and political groups in that manner was an instant catalyst or birthing of my overall 'plan'. At that moment I had a purpose besides just defeating Alduin, but to unite Skyrim and all of the Empire in an open revolt against the Aldmeri Dominion. To do this however, I first needed to quell the rebellion here in Skyrim, both taking out the Thalmor sleeper Ulfric, and solidifying the resolve of the empire. I began to fashion myself as the second coming of Talos, or Tiber Septim, and that my coming would sort of re-establish the Empire as the eminent power in Tamriel. This of course was stuff that I had inevitably conjured up to help with my motivations, but it ended up working exceptionally well, as once the siege of Windhelm had concluded, Col. Tigh, err, General Tullius basically alluded to that very thing happening. The only thing that would have made it more so would have been to marry the widow of the high king, but again, alas..
So, It took a long time, but finally I came back to the main quest, after I had explored about %80 of the map and was, lvl 30 ish? I was hoping that the immediacy and weight of the story would make me want to continue, or drive me to complete it, and thankfully it did not follow in Oblivion's footsteps whereas I barely cared about the damned thing ever. Perhaps that's because I took my sweet time with this one, but I tend to think that it was just the pacing and the story itself that was so lackluster in Oblivion, making it hard to do more poorly and was much more carefully planned out in Skyrim. I really wish that I could have sat and talked to all of these people once I got to Sovengarde though, sitting with Olaf One-Eye, or talking with other epic heroes and getting first hand stories would have made the trip there rich and full of great dramatism. The Norse feeling, touch, and influences were pretty strong here, and much appreciated, that and the music was spot on, though I oddly kept thinking of the Volga and the Ukranian/Russian traditions.
Finally I appreciated all of the odd references to other fictions that many of us would be familiar with. For one I lol'd when I met Temba Wide-Arm for the first time, it's too bad there wasn't a Tanagra on the map, though Skyrim didn't exactly have many islands...
It's been a long journey, but I have gained a great deal of enjoyment, even through my various bouts of frustration in my return to Tamriel, whether it be from the exploration, various Winterhold quests, slaying dragons or the like, I think will look quite fondly...
TESV: Skyrim Music Because Jeremy Soule is good and all, but he really has outdone himself with this game. I could talk about the embracing of intricacies that he is now using, but it just makes the music have much more depth and meat to it.
Skyrim Nexus, because no Elder Scrolls experience is the same without some crazy number of mods, and why 130hrs on one character won't actually stop me from playing this another 100+ with another, once a plethora of them are released.
as a bit of afterthought, now that I'm done living in Skyrim, I have taken a somewhat abrupt and decisive action and uninstalled most of my games from my computer so that I will be forced to begin writing music again. Shockingly this includes both SC:BW and SC2, and I'm already running in circles without it, but, I've needed to do this for a while in order to prioritize. I decided that I wanted to write my next set of blogs as a sort of open workshop of ideas for my next piece which will be for solo piano. I'll be describing my thought process, posting some pictures of my notebook, and scribbling down information that I generally do when writing.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS/NEW YEARS TL!