Oh, what a world. What a world we live in when I actually decide to sit down to beat an Elder Scrolls game. Turns out they’re not that long. But what is the Skyrim experience? Let’s find out.
My background with the Elder Scrolls games comes from the desire to eff around for hundreds of hours and not actually do anything. In a sense, that puts in on par with Animal Crossing but is much more aggressive and you can’t kill someone and store your NES collection and Comfy Striped Sofas in your new house. I had played only a tiny bit of Daggerfall before, and a healthy amount of Morrowind where I don’t believe I ever ACTUALLY finished a single quest for anyone, and then thanks to the robust physics engines of Oblivion and the technology that allowed it, I distinctly remember finishing a single Oblivion gate and then looking for every way possible to upset plates of bread in taverns and where the highest mountains were that I could release the rubbery corpses of wolves and horses onto the rocks below.
In my book, that is still formulated success. Hell, if I’m having a good time in your game even if I’m not doing specifically what you asked, then that’s fine, right? I’d say that it is a resounding yes, because the thing is — these games are designed with THAT in mind. It is our own journey, our own questing, and our own methods that do such a good job of allowing the player not to live out an adventure that is scripted the whole way through, but to do so with our personal techniques in mind. Some powerful Nords seek out to conquer the world and destroy gods, some disgusting Argonian women have nothing to do but obsess for their entire lives about how many sets of grapes they can stack on a unicorns corpse.
Skyrim, much like the games before it, gives your player the sense of freedom you’d want if you were thrown into a foreign world. The huge landscape just beckons for exploration, and the game is designed in such a way that even if you want to wander to many of the games later areas, they’re not really later areas unless you approach them chronologically by story. They can be explored in any order, though you’ll find certain elements easier with proper training.
My approach in these games always has somewhat of a silly element to them. I don’t them them seriously in a lot of ways, but I find my personal playstyle ranging from absurd to reasonable.
The game unfolds with your character, clothed and formless, riding in the back of a wagon to a town. Apparently, you’re to be executed. After some dialogue with characters and some great atmospheric lighting, you reach a clearing of sorts. You are thrust into a small village where you are met with jeers and spite, and before getting executed, you get to go up to some dude and confirm a bunch of facts about yourself, mostly your name and the shape of your head. It is here where you begin your personalization of the game’s main protagonist, yourself. In my case, the one who is sent to bring redemption to the mystical land of Skyrim was a sickly lizard woman with bright yellow eyeshadow and a huge overbite named Gay Starr. Take THAT, fate!
So, Gay Star began her journey into the world, and while I don’t feel like I should go into story much (there aren’t even spoilers in the first 5 minutes anyway), I’ll summarize what I noticed about her quests.
Characteristically, these games give you total free reign as to how you play, as I mentioned. I first picked up a huge two handed sword to wreck some heads with, each subsequent blow granting points into my “Two Handed Combat” stat, effectively leveling it up as I practiced destroying crabs and wandering thieves on the road. After I realized that I’d rather have a hand free for something else, I grabbed some dead gentleman’s sword and shield, and thought it to be a little more effective as I could now block AND stab someone. Granted, it wasn’t as strong, but I also would forsake the weight of the sword, something the game takes into effect, for the speed that a lighter weapon may grant me.
Control wise, the game felt pretty natural, but largely in part to the fact that the control had not changed over the past few games. Right trigger was my right hand, left trigger was my left hand, and moving around with a dual joystick setup was as responsive as it ever was. The A button would examine, the Y button would jump, X would put my weapons away and B brought up a screen to explore my items, maps, stats and magic. The interface was clean, much nicer than Oblivions, and I found it very easy to navigate the menus whenever I needed to examine something in more detail.
So, as I began my foray into this gigantic world called Skyrim, I kinda wondered what the scoop was. I wasn’t super involved in the story, as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to invest much into a game I would probably just toss wolf bodies around in for ten hours, so I didn’t throw a lot of stock into the dialogue early in the game. I wanted to mess around, and mess around I did. Wandering the streets of various cities, picking up cogs or dead crabs or whatever it was and dropping them into the laps of the people I had come across was a pretty good description of my first hour or so, but then I decided that because I had never actually finished one of these games, maybe I’d actually get around to being able to if I didn’t mess around so much.
I went through quest after quest, paying attention a little more each time, and getting a little more involved as each quest passed. The objectives themselves weren’t much to write home about, but they were a means to an end, and the rewards could be interesting. Money, weapons, clothing, or accessories to properly hone certain skills by equipping them were pretty excellent. So, my driving force still didn’t stand with story, though I was learning a good amount about why I was actually there and what my purpose was. More importantly, going through the story allowed me to learn Dragon Language Shouts, and the first one I learned was the most valuable of them all, the shout that allowed me to yell at a goat so hard it would launch off a mountain peak.
So, now more incentive was learning these shouts, and as you explored and completed more quests, you were able to get more strength to these babies and find new ones. That’s it, I’m hooked. I ran around leveling up my sword until I had remembered that one of my favorite parts of Oblivion were the Guilds.
(It should be noted that during this moment, in the middle of this review, I felt the urge to start up Skyrim again and keep playing. About 4 hours later, I get back into writing this.)
Getting back into the game, I obsessively began to complete quest after quest just to reap the benefits. There was a fantastic quest line that was centered around assassinating various characters, and it came with weapons and clothing that would basically allow me to do 30 times more damage to something if I was holding a one handed weapon, sneaking, and fully hidden from someone. Since I had been doing those things most of the time anyway, I actually ended up having a great time utilizing my new super strength. Doing this series of quests essentially helped me max out one of my skills, Sneaking. During the course of the game, the more you do things the more that particular skill levels up, meaning your character gets better and better at it. However, when you go into a skill, there is a skill tree in mind for you character to further develop that particular set of skills to maximize efficiency. With my sneaking to level 100, I learned a bunch of extra combat benefits, got to the point where I could sneak simply by walking and even running through areas, and then ultimately, become nearly invisible to anyone, regardless of where I was.
For example, a perk to a level 100 sneak is Shadow Warrior, which is a skill that turns you invisible the moment you crouch to go into sneak mode. Depending on where you are, you can basically walk up to someone, shoot them in the gut with an arrow, go into sneak mode, and they will start screaming about how they will find you, only to sheathe their weapon and start walking around as if nothing happened. While this is the one I developed the most thoroughly, there are a ton of others involving magic, archery, and pickpocketing. You can pick pocket so well that you could essentially walk up to some chick, grab all the gold out of her inventory, and then change her shoes and put a hat on her without her noticing. Beautiful.
While there are all these fun and games with the enemy and NPC AI, you will also find that there are a couple things that detract, mildly, from the experience of Skyrim. Now, these are minor issues, and given the scope and nature of the game, do not actually bother me because I expect it, that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues.
The game has a slew of characters that behave more on technical ‘dice rolls’ than you would expect in an RPG. For example, I went into a tavern, snuck into the corner, shot some lady holding her harp right in the face with an arrow and she threw it onto a table, right next to a guard. She flew across the room, dead, and everyone panicked and started threatening to find me, only to calm down sixty seconds later and act as if nothing happened. And not just act like it, but really just let you know. The guards walk back to their tables, essentially stepping over the corpse that has a fresh arrow installed in the eye socket, and explain it to themselves rationally. “Must’ve just been the wind.” Perhaps it’s some political statement about the goverment sidestepping important issues and closing their eyes, or it’s just that the game isn’t programmed to go that in-depth. Of course, given the magnitude of what the game is doing, it would be silly to expect it to try to do more than it already is, because throwing full results for virtually infinite variables is asking for a lot. However, when a game does promise such an involved world, it’s going to cause anything that falls short outside of that vision to stand out like a sore thumb.
In that vein, you will notice that the world is absolutely stupidly gorgeous. Beautiful landscapes, amazing lighting, the sky that looks as natural as one could ask for, all blend in beautifully with each other. So when you have elements of stiff human animation and sub par lip synching, it throws off that realism, and hard. Right into the ground where I buried a stack of giants.
But despite these kinds of issues, the game is magnificent. It doesn’t demand that you do things a certain way, and so my 5 hour quest to completing the game became a 40 hour journey filled with Gay Starr, the dragonborn hero — the hero who not only finalized the essential quests to completing the game, but became a master assassin, lord of a guild of thieves, and slaughterer of hundreds of giants and mammoths through this journey to glory. The history books will have a grand time condensing my tale into those bullet points, but while an abridged story of my conquest may seem simple in the epic retelling of the tale, I know that it was filled with launching foxes off of cliff faces, screaming so hard at my female thief boss that she flew into a pool, and sneaking into taverns at night only to kill tons of innocent drunkards so I could drag them into a pile and decorate their bodies with various cheeses.
My story is very much my story. It is as unique to me as a game’s open world could get, and it is truly an RPG in every sense of the word.
If you wish to find yourself lost in a world that doesn’t actually demand that you finish the initial quest it has presented to you, Skyrim is the place to explore. You can be serious, and you can be silly. This game truly wants you to be who you want to be.
This video sums it all up.
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