Ed. Note: Apparently I didn’t publish this. I thought I had. I wrote in on December 27th, for whatever that’s worth. Enjoy.
So, yesterday I started a post on Skyrim, intending to explore why I can’t stop playing. Instead, I made a list of all the things that bug me in the game, but I didn’t want to leave it at that. I don’t want to give you the impression that I hate this game or that these flaws make the game unenjoyable in general–no game is perfect. In addition, it’s not as if Skyrim is the only game that does many of the things on the list; it’s just the game I’m playing right now. Many things on the list (such as fetch quests) are video game tropes that I wish didn’t exist. Anyway, it’s obvious that they’re not major hindrances as I continue to play the game; I put in four to five hours last night when I only intended to play one or two. In fact, I honestly thought I only played a couple of hours, so imagine my surprise when I looked at the clock and saw that it was one in the morning. I have never been able to play this game for under two hours at a time, but I don’t know just why that is.
Part of it is the soundtrack. I know that sounds silly, but it’s incredible. It’s so soaring and epic–it makes me feel like I’m the hero of a fantasy novel. Listen to it below and tell me you don’t get chills as it plays*. When the music starts as you’re traipsing around, you know you’re either going to find a Word of Power or about to mix it up with some jerkholes who don’t realize that you’re the chosen one. It’s a call to action most of the time, and it never fails to make me gird my loins in preparation of battle. This is the Lindsey Stirling (and Peter Hollens) on violin LARPing version, which is also pretty damn cool. Seriously, all I want to do when I hear this music is go out and slay some dragons–and I like dragons! I don’t know how Bethesda did it, but they came up with something really special musically.
The game is as epic in feeling as is the music, by the way. I said in yesterday’s post that the story is bog standard–you’re the chosen one, the only one able to save the land from imminent destruction, but Bethesda does it incredibly well. I’m as cynical as they come, but I get swept away as I’m playing with the lore and the grandiosity of the story. Who doesn’t want to be the hero who saves the day and gets the girl?** It’s hard to explain how epic the whole game feels, and yet, there are touches of the mundane, too. Sometimes, I just explore the environment with Barbas (my dog. Well, OK, not my dog, but I’m not finishing his quest until later so I can keep him as a follower) and Morgan, my horse. Or we just chat with people in various towns, picking up quests along the way. There’s little pressure to finish things in any particular order or in a certain time frame, which is exactly as I like it. I hate timed events with a passion, and so far, there aren’t any in Skyrim.
I finished the quest inside the madman’s head that I mentioned yesterday, and it wasn’t as bad as I first thought it was. I just didn’t care for the fact that I spent forty-plus hours learning to play the game a certain way, and then all that is thrown away for this quest. It was a fine diversion, I guess, but it didn’t really add anything substantial to the game. I get that they wanted to mix things up a bit, but it’s a fine line between including variety and being wacky just to be wacky. I felt like this quest would have been fine in a different game, but it just didn’t fit here. Fortunately, it took me maybe fifteen minutes to finish, so it wasn’t a big deal. It just felt gimmicky to me–the puzzles are unlike any others in the game and–speaking of puzzles, that’s a small gripe I have with the game. There are several door puzzles, which I hate in general, and they range from super easy to frustratingly hard. Usually not hard because they’re difficult, but hard because they’re nonsensical. I hated that shit in adventure games, and I hate it here. I have no qualms about using a walkthrough if I can’t crack the puzzle in a few tries. Also, they repeat certain puzzles such as turn the three rings until the right animals align and unlock the door, which is annoying as well.
Back to the positives, though. Each dungeon is like a mini-world, and if the action can get samey sometimes, it’s nice to explore several different environs. I especially love that the world is so snowy. I’m a snow freak, and I love that most of the world is blanketed in it. The enemies are varied, though it seems like most of the humanoids have some magical abilities to varying degrees. I’ve wondered if this is because I’ve chosen to play as a mage because of course I have. I love the fact that whatever skill you use, you get better at that skill. I’ve never seen that in a game before, but it makes perfect sense. The HUD isn’t intuitive, especially the skills menu, but it’s perfectly serviceable once you get used to it.
I love discovering new towns and talking to the people within. By the way, I just watched a video about the voice actors involved in this game, and three of the biggies are Christopher Plummer, Joan Allen, and Lynda Carter. That’s right, fucking Wonder Woman, and this is not her first Elder Scrolls game. I’ve run into Christopher Plummer’s character as well as Joan Allen’s, but not Lynda Carter’s yet. Anyway, I like that you can learn lore by talking to random people in the towns. I also like that some of the towns are pro-Empire while others are firmly for the Stormcloak Rebellion. By the way, I still haven’t made that decision yet. I’ve talked to the Stormcloak leader and the Imperials leader, and I’m torn as to which way to go. My reflexive impulse is to take the side of the rebels, of course, especially as the Imperials wanted to cut my head off in the beginning of the game, but the Stormcloaks are fucking racist against elves–which, as I’ve noted, is what I am. It’s weird to hear them talk about getting the elves out of Skyrim to my very elfish face. Granted I’m wearing a mask now, but that doesn’t stop other people from noticing I’m an elf. i can understand some of their dislike for elves, but not all of it. And, why the hell would I want to fight for people who want me out of their country? That hits uncomfortably close to home, but on the other hand, I’m not one to back the status quo, either. I get that the Imperials are trying to bring order to Skyrim, but they’re still too do-it-by-the-book for me. I have a hunch that I’ll join the Imperials, but I won’t feel good about it.
I love that you can play the game in so many different ways. There is plenty of loot from which you can choose, heavy armor or light, a plethora of weapons from axes to maces to bows to swords, and several different classes and races. I chose to be a Dark Elf mage because that’s what I always choose, which means I mostly use spells and magic. I do carry a sword (the Dawnbreaker) with me if I need to use something non-magical, but I prefer to use my magical swords if my fire, ice, and shock spells don’t work. I’ve put one level into stamina, seven or eight into health, and the rest into magicka. Most of my perks have been spent on leveling up Conjuration, Destruction, and Restoration, I wear clothing that is beneficial to my magic (Archmage’s Robes and the Molokei mask), but very little real armor. By the way, the archery mechanic is really fucking good in this game. It’s the first time I’ve consistently used a bow in one of these games, and it feels very natural.
You can be a thief or an assassin, both of which paths I intend to do, but just haven’t yet. I have murdered someone in cold blood, someone the Dark Brotherhood (assassins) were meant to murder, and I know that they’re watching me and not pleased that I took their kill. I want to say that I like you can play light or dark, despite you being The One. I tend to play as a good character because even in games, I don’t like dicking people over, but I have weird pockets in my morality. I didn’t have any remorse over the woman I murdered in cold blood, but then again, the game made it very easy to hate her. The reason I haven’t gone down the thief path is because I don’t want to set up the person they want me to set up–Brand-Shei. I’ve met him and helped him find a relic from his past, and I feel a connection to him because he’s an Asian Dark Elf like me. OK, he’s probably not Asian, but he looks like it. The Dark Elves have a vaguely Asian look to me, but that could just be my own wishful thinking. Anyway, I like Brand-Shei. I like Mjoll the Lioness who loathes the Thieves Guild and for good reason. I do not like the thieves I’ve met so far, so why am I considering going down that path? Two reasons. One, they have a sweet-ass armor set that can only be obtained by finishing their quest. It’s called the Guild Master’s Armor set, and I want it, even if I never wear it. Two, I will not play this game again, so I want to finish as many quests as I can in my first (and only) playthrough.
I know that developers make games like this so you’ll play them over and over again. Blizzard makes their games so you’ll never play anything but them (I put many many hours into Diablo 3, so I get the appeal), but that’s not how I roll. I get way into a game as I’m playing it, and then once I’m done, I’m done. That’s why I try to do every quest in the game the first time around, and I’m salty if i miss something. I did that with The Witcher 3, and I think I managed to get most of the quests in one go. I did not uncover the whole map, but I don’t think I would have done that even if I played through the game several times. This is how I play games, and I’m not going to change any time soon. I plunge myself into the world, exploring it as thoroughly as I can, and then once those credit roll, I move on. It can make for some disjointed play, but that’s OK. I’ve already started the Companions storyline, but I’m hesitating at becoming a werewolf. I know I can reverse it at some point, but still. I turned down becoming a vampire because while I would love to experience that, I don’t think it’s befitting my character. It’s also not what I feel Skyrim is about, and while I know you can also reverse that decision, I just don’t want to do it right now.
I never play as a tank/warrior character, but I assume this game would be perfect for that as well. I like that the combat isn’t too difficult, but that it’s not a cakewalk, either. I’ve toyed with the idea of ramping up the difficulty level, but it’s not really why I play the game. If I want tortuous combat, then I’d play Dark Souls 2 (which I still have to do). I want to feel powerful, even OP at times, and Skyrim scratches that itch nicely. I really like that I can stop mid-combat and switch up my spells, even if it feels a bit like cheating. I notice that I tend to use the same spells all the time, which is fine, but there are so many more that I can experiment with. However, I do think that you tend to stick with what you’re comfortable with, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I experiment with new spells/items every time I run into them, but I haven’t found much to replace my Flame Atronach, fire, ice, and shock spells. I also have to remember to use my potions and scrolls. I tend to forget that they exist until I’m in a dire situation, and then I’m scrambling to slam down all the potions I can find. I don’t use the scrolls because they’re one-time use items, but there’s no point in letting them stock up, either. I have that same problem with my Powers, by the way. You can only use them once a day, so I want to save them for a really bad situation, but then the day ends, and I’ve wasted them.
I only have two so far, and one of them is listed as a Shout, so I was confused and wasted it twice. Ancestor’s Wrath was my first Power, and it allows me to burn enemies that are too close to me simply by being. It’s because I’m a Dark Elf, which also makes me 50% resistance to fire damage. I learned that in one of the loading screens, and I’m very pleased that this is a perk of being a Dark Elf. the other Power is Dragon Aspect which allows me to be like a dragon for 300 seconds. It’s pretty badass, but I’m sure it’d be even better if I actually used armor and weapons. I do like that the game makes you learn things by trial and error (or by looking them up in the wikis) rather than just holding your hand all the time. You can also favorite the weapons/spells you use the most and put them on hotkeys. I’ve done the former, but not the latter because I don’t want to be bothered to remember which number is what spell/item.
The main storyline has gotten really interesting. At least I think it’s part of the main storyline. It’s taken me to Solstheim, which is a whole different country/land of its own. You have to take a boat there, and then it opens up a whole new map of unnavigable terrain. I’m only half-joking, but so far, it hasn’t been as torturous as is Skyrim. My horse sometimes glitches over with me and sometimes doesn’t, so I don’t know what’s up with that. Here, though, I find out about another–spoiler alert, but really, do I need to call it a spoiler four years later?–Dragonborn, one who’s gone to the dark side named Miraak. He started out by being sympathetic to the dragons, which I understand, but then he turns on them after he becomes drunk with power or some such. I killed a dragon in Solstheim, only to have him take the dragon soul. That pissed me the hell off because I did all the work,*** but I also thought it was a nice touch. I do wonder if it would have happened if I didn’t have a spare dragon soul or two, though, because during this quest, you have to unlock a new Shout, and you can only do that with a dragon soul. I can imagine being pretty salty finding the word, only to have to go back to Skyrim to kill a dragon to unlock it, but i always keep a dragon soul or two in my back pocket in case of emergency.
See! My resource hoarding came in handy for once, but it’s not something I would recommend. Resources are plentiful in this game, dragon souls notwithstanding, so go ahead and quaff that potion or use that scroll!
I will say that another thing I like is that you can get as deep or as shallow into the various crafting systems as you want. I don’t craft, ever, but I appreciate that I can if I want to. At some point, I will want to make dragon armor. I do wish the crafting systems were explained in game, but that’s a minor complaint. If I’d been playing at the time and really into crafting, I might have been irritated at the trial-and-error aspects of it, but now, I can simply look it up if I want. I try not to use walkthroughs, though, unless I’m absolutely stuck because I like to play a game knowing as little possible about the game as I can. It’s hard to do because I usually don’t play games when they are first released, but I do the best I can to avoid major spoilers. If I’m interested in playing a game at some point such as Fallout 4, I don’t read reviews or watch playthroughs. It keeps the spoilers to a minimum, not that there is much to spoil story-wise in Skyrim.
I’ve used so many words only to say I don’t know exactly what it is about Skyrim that keeps me playing for several hours at a time.In the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter as long as I’m enjoying the hell out of the game, which I am. Nicely done, Bethesda, nicely done.
*It’s OK if you don’t, by the way. It just means you’re not Dovahkiin.
**There is no girl or boy getting in Skyrim, I don’t think. I’m just being facetious.
***With a healthy assist from Barbas and my Flame Atronach.