When Skyrim first came out, I knew nothing about it because I was really new into gaming at that time. I was able to play it a bit on Ian’s Xbox, but I didn’t like it because I’d never used a controller up until that point. I found the interface and controls confusing and frustrating, and I made the mistake of trying to kill an annoying brat in the first town. The townspeople did NOT like that, and I had to leave the town forever. Ian explained to me that you can’t kill kids because it gives the game an AO (Adults Only) rating, which is the kiss of death in the video game industry. He thought it was hilarious that I tried to kill the kid, but in my defense, the kid was fucking annoying. Anyway, while I liked the world of the game–I’ve always been more fantasy than scifi–and the trailers drew me in (the link is to the live action trailer, which is incredible. The official trailer is below. I watched the ‘FUS RO DAH’ part of it hundreds of times. The Dragonborn trailer is pretty epic, too. The music in the game is so stirring. Here is Lindsey Stirling playing it on violin while cosplaying), the gameplay on Xbox was a barrier to me actually playing it.
I shrugged and set it aside. There were so many other games to play, why get hung up on one? Admittedly, it was showered with accolades across the board, but still. I also didn’t want to have to kill dragons*, which is a pretty hefty part of the game.Fast-forward five years and countless games later. Imagine me sitting in front of my computer, feeling a bit lost because I’d just put in probably close to a hundred hours into The Witcher 3** and was looking for my next epic open-world adventure. At this point, I’d played Dark Souls (and beaten it. My biggest video game triumph to date.) and The Witcher 3 with controller, so that was no longer an obstacle to me enjoying games I wouldn’t have played before. I tried a few games, but none of them stuck. I stayed obsessed with Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (and then Afterbirth), but I needed an RPG to scratch my wanderlust itch. I looked over my pile of shame and my eye kept landing on Skyrim. I loved the world, and I now had experience with a controller, plus I had faster internet and a newish desktop PC that could run The Witcher 3 with ease, so why the hell not? I had played an hour or so of Oblivion in the meantime, but it was too unwieldy for me to handle. Still, something about Skyrim intrigued me, and I decided to try it again.
I installed Skyrim and created my character. As usual, I chose to be a Dark Elf, female, and a magic caster. I named my character Mulan because I always name my characters Mulan, and I was off and running. I started using keyboard/mouse, then I tried it with controller, and I felt like the former was a better fit for me. Even though I’m more comfortable with a controller these days, every game has a different setup for its buttons, and while keyboard/mouse commands aren’t always the same, you can usually rebind those. By the way, whomever at Bethesda decided that the left hand should be controlled by the Escape key and the systems menu should be mapped to the Mouse 2 (right click) button should be demoted. That is the most counter-intuitive shit in the world, and I quickly changed that to left hand being M1, right hand being M2, and Escape being the systems menu like every other goddamn game in the world. I started on Apprentice (the second easiest mode), but quickly changed to Adept (third easiest) after I killed a dragon without it even touching me. I may bump it up to Expert, but I don’t really want stressful combat as I’m exploring the wintry realms of Skyrim, so I may keep it on Adept.
Another thing I did fairly early in my Skyrim days was to install the Convenient Horses mod. I was nervous to install it because other than DSfix for Dark Souls,*** I’ve never messed with mods. I didn’t want to fuck up the game files in any way because I have no computer savvy in that area, but I did not want to lose my horse in Skyrim and have to buy another. I paid a thousand gold for Morgan (my name for her), and in the early game, that’s a lot of gold. I overcame my nervousness at adding a mod and installed Convenient Horses. It didn’t show that it was working. When I Googled it, I discovered that I had to install two other mods as well. I watched YouTube videos to make sure I was doing everything right, and then I installed those mods, too. By the way, the modding communities on Steam are incredible. If you browse through the mods for Skyrim, you can probably find anything you want to add or take out of the game. Mad respect to modders who do this out of love for the game.
Once I had Convenient Horses installed, it took me a bit to figure out how to use it, but now, I wouldn’t be without it. Morgan fast-travels with me (not into cities, but that’s understandable), and I can whistle for her whenever I’m outdoors. I can store endless items in the Large Sack she carries, which alleviates one of my constant pet peeves about these kinds of games–limited inventory. I understand the reason for it because in real life, you have a limited amount of things you can carry, but in real life, I can’t hurl fireballs, either. I don’t mind so much in games like Diablo 3 in which you can portal to the town pretty much at any time, but in games like Path of Exile (which I like otherwise) in which portals are not as plentiful and the inventory is ridiculously limited, it’s aggravating to have all this loot drop and not be able to pick up a quarter of it. The Large Sack aspect of Convenient Horses alleviates that irritation along with allowing me to bypass the ‘you’re too loaded down to run’ bullshit that makes me want to rip my hair out.
Your followers also have horses, but I don’t currently have a follower, so I’m not sure how that works. The other thing I did with the Convenient Horses mode was to make my horse invincible because I don’t want to have to worry about her in combat and because it’s bullshit that you can vertically scale a mountain with your horse, but you die if you fall two inches with her (an exaggeration, but not by much). Other than that, though, I haven’t modded the game in any other way. I know the game’s graphics have aged–it’s especially noticeable after playing The Witcher 3 on ultra high–but they still look pretty damn good. I love all the snow–oh, I installed the Prettier Snow mod, which I think gives the game more snow. It’s kinda hard to see at night–and the world is so vast. I’m level 10 and still in the first act of the game, though I’m on the second-to-last quest in Act I. The thing is, there are so many side quests in Skyrim, and they are all pretty damn interesting, so I get sidetracked from the main quest more often than not. I don’t mind, though, because I’m interested in the people of all the different towns. I want to know more about them, which is both a boon and a curse. It’s speaks highly of Bethesda’s writing that they can make me interested in a character in just two or three lines, but it’s frustrating because there is limited interaction with most NPC. I get a taste of their lives before I finish their quests, and then I have to just move on.
That’s not a dig at Bethesda, by the way. That’s how it works in most open world games. One of the most compelling quests in The Witcher 3 was The Bloody Baron, but after you finish the quest, you never hear about the characters again.Well, you do learn something about one of them tangentially and it has ramifications throughout the game, but you never get to learn what happens to one of the main characters. I’m purposefully being vague because The Witcher 3 is a newish game, and I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t played it, but intends to play it in the near future. On the other hand, there will be spoilers galore about Skyrim, and I don’t feel bad about it because it’s a four-year old game. I think the statute of limitations on spoilers has run out by now. So, I love that the minor characters in Skyrim are fleshed out to some point, but it also emphasizes how they’re used to populate a huge world that would seem empty otherwise. I like it more than I don’t, by the way. I tried to play Bioshock Infinite when it came out, and one of the many things I didn’t like about it was how empty the world seemed, despite all the characters walking around. Not only were there doors you couldn’t enter, the people were mostly just background noise.Full caveat, I only played a few hours before getting bored, so my viewpoint may be skewed. However, I love that in Skyrim, you can talk to almost everybody and glean different bits of lore/information from them. I like games in which the lore is learned by reading books and item descriptions as well as by reading the loading screens (hello, Dark Souls), but I also like having other people discuss the history of the world with you.
The base conceit of Skyrim is pretty standard–you are the One who can save the world from wrack and ruin. In this case, you’re Dovahkiin (Dragonborn), which means you can absorb the souls of dragons and convert them into shouts that do powerful things. You find this out after you kill your first dragon and absorb its soul. Then, you can use the soul to unlock a shout after you learn it from runes you find at dragon shrines. Or something. One Easter egg I actually found in Torchlight 2 was a dragon shrine in which you can learn a shout. It was pretty cool. I will say that I haven’t used shouts much, but it’s mostly because the shout command is bound to the Z key, which is pretty awkward to use with the WASD claw. I may have to rebind it to the Q or something. One aside, the ability to pause during combat and change what you’re holding in your hands is welcome, but strange. It makes the combat feel jagged and not fluid at all. Plus, it feels kinda scummy to be able to quickly switch to my healing spell and heal up during a fight, but I’ll take it.
One thing I’ve learned from playing RPG is that it’s not a good idea to spread your upgrades evenly over several skills. That’s my temptation every time I play one of these games, but it ends up with me being frustrated because nothing is overpowering. It’s usually a better idea to concentrate your points into one or two skills, three at the most, and become OP in those areas. Right now, I’m leveling up my magicka mostly, and then my health. I think I leveled up my stamina once, but I’m not as concerned about that. As far as my perks, I’m concentrating mostly on destruction and restoration. i do wonder at the number of magic casters I’ve run into in my travels. I mean, is it because I’m a magic caster myself or is that the same no matter what build a player has? It seems like every humanoid I’ve run into knows some magic, which is frustrating. I hate the Restless Draughrs because they have the freeze ability that I consider unfair (until I’m able to use it, of course). I also have started to do my The Witcher 3 strats of galloping past the wolves and not bothering with them. Fighting the common enemies of an area quickly gets tedious, no matter what the game, and if I can outrun them, I will.
Another minor complaint about Skyrim: the mapping. I think this is more me than the game, though, as I’ve had the same complaint about Borderlands and The Witcher 3. Any time i have to go vertical, the map is useless to me. I had to use a walkthrough to see how I was supposed to reach The Greybeards after I wandered fruitlessly up the mountain on Morgan for a half hour or so. There’s a path that makes it easy to reach them, but you have to start from the town of Ivarstead rather than just at some random point on the mountain. One of the things that devs LOVE to do with verticality is make you have to walk around in literal circles to reach a point that is two pixels away from you on the map. I hate it with the intensity of a thousand fires, and I quit one of the Borderlands over this issue and nearly quit The Witcher 3 late in the third act because I couldn’t get out of a cave. I don’t like to use a walkthrough while I’m playing a game, but I’ve reached the point on this issue that I won’t hesitate to Google how the hell to get somewhere if the map is confusing to me at all.
What I love, though, is that I can make choices that seemingly affect the story and how people react to me. Last night, I finished a side quest given to me by a child who thought I was a member of the Dark Brotherhood (a group of assassins). He was being mistreated in an orphanage by Grelod the Kind. He did the dark sacrament to ask the Dark Brotherhood to kill her. I show up, and he thinks I’m one of them. I choose to not say anything and to let him continue to think that. He asks me to murder her, and I go to the orphanage to check her out. I catch her being cruel to the children, and I follow her into her bedroom and kill her in cold blood. Afterwards, I get a note from a courier that was given to him by a mysterious person in a dark hood. The note had a dark hand on it and the words, “We know.” That’s it. I’d heard about the Dark Brotherhood in the game somewhere, and I instantly knew they were behind the note. I don’t know if they’re contacting me because they want to recruit me or if they’re angry that I pretended to be one of them, and I’m curious to find out which one it is.
I do have to note that this case was pretty cut and dried, though. Grelod the Kind was anything but, and I didn’t feel at all remorseful that I killed her in cold blood. I’m hoping that if I join the Dark Brotherhood, the cases will have more nuance. So far, most of the people seem either good or bad (I’m only about fifteen hours in), which undercuts the fact that Bethesda wants you to think you’re making difficult moral choices. I mentioned The Bloody Baron above, and one of the best things about the quest is that neither of the main characters were wholly good or bad, I would urge you to play The Witcher 3 for that quest alone–it’s that good.
Still, there is obviously something about Skyrim that scratches my open world RPG itch. Any time I start playing, it’s at least two hours before I save and quit the game. (I’ve learned to save after every fight just so I won’t lose any progress). I start one quest, and then pick up two or three more while I’m attempting to finish that quest. None of it feels like filler so far, but again, I’m in the early days so I’ll let you know what I think as I make more progress. I have a dozen or so quests that I have started, including the Dawnguard quest, which is the DLC concerning vampires, and I feel no pressure at all to finish them in any particular order. In fact, I had to Google to figure out which one is the main quest storyline (finding the Horn of some dude or the other), and I haven’t felt the need to do it any time soon.
I also joined the Companions early on, but I haven’t finished the quest I’m supposed to do for them. Because I started it, I gained Farkas as a Follower, which means Lydia was dismissed. However, I haven’t met Farkas where I need to meet him for the Companions’ quest, so I’m currently flying solo. Which, honestly, I prefer–although Lydia was helpful as I learned the combat system of Skyrim. i like Farkas as he’s a lovable lunkhead (better than his snotty twin brother, Vilkas), but I’m currently crushing on Njada Stonearm, a sister-in-shield who is constantly insulting me. Story of my life, by the way, crushing on someone who has no interest in me! I’ve been invited to join the Thieves Guild as well, but I’m not sure I want to do their quest. I met Brand-Shei, a dark elf who’s wondering about his origins, and I don’t want to help them set him up. The great thing is that I don’t have to do the quest right now if I don’t want to. i can do it twenty hours from now if I feel like it (and if Brand-Shei turns out to be a jackhole).
I like that you can make such divergent choices in the game, but it’s also a negative to me because I don’t intend to play the game more than once. I felt the same way about The Witcher 3. There’s so much to do, and I felt pressured to do it all because I knew I would never do another playthrough. As much as I enjoy Skyrim and getting lost in the lore and the world, once I’ve played through it once, I’m done. Still, it’s a minor gripe to make about a game that I’m enjoying tremendously. I anticipate that I’ll be immersed in the world of Skyrim for plenty of hours yet to come. I can hardly wait until I learn dah as now I can only fus ro!
*Dragons are revered in Asian cultures, and we don’t consider them evil.
**Which I loved, but I’m really disappointed with the DLC. I haven’t finished it, and I don’t know if I will.
***Which is a MUST if you’re playing Dark Souls.