Blog 495: The Elder Blogs: Skyrim

So, here we are at the modern age, having climbed up from the darkness of 1994.

I’ve been the Eternal Champion, rescuing Uriel Septim from Jagar Tharn by rebuilding the Staff of Chaos. I’ve been the random Blades agent who caused the Warp in the West, handing Numidium back to the Empire to crush those pesky warring kingdoms into line. I’ve been the Incarnate, Nerevar Reborn, ending Dagoth Ur’s evil blight and fulfilling the Bloodmoon Prophecy along the way. I’ve been the Hero of Kvatch and Saviour of Bruma, the Imperial Dogsbody who ushered in the end of the Third Era.

Now I have been the Dragonborn.

Skyrim

If I thought Oblivion was streamlined, then Skyrim takes it to a whole new level. When starting the game, you select only your race and appearence — that’s it. No major and minor skills, no attributes. How can you have an RPG without attributes?

Well, it actually makes perfect sense considering the direction they went in with Oblivion. Traditionally, the ability to use your spells and skills would be affected by your physical attributes as well as your skills, but since Oblivion removed the chance of casting failure, the last vestiges of that association went out the window (I think Lockpicking is the only activity (beyond combat) that you can actually fail these days). So as you level up, you pump one of magicka, health or stamina and that’s your whack.

Skyrim's best asset is its ability to show long range dramatic scenery.

On the other hand, relegating crafting skills — alchemy, smithing (instead of armoury, but we’ll get to that later), enchanting and so on — to special tables makes perfect sense. Carting around a complete alchemist’s lab or twenty-odd armourer’s hammers just doesn’t make much sense, not to mention it clutters up the inventory and removes precious loot weight. It just means you append using-up-all-your-guff to the end-of-dungeon shopping spree.

Havok physics remain ridiculous. It might be fun when you're FUS RO-DAing, but getting the same effect from walking down a table ruins the impact.

Conspicuous in their absence, however, are the Athletics and Acrobatics skills. Sure, put some kind of baseline on speed and jumping so you don’t end up crippling yourself like you can at the beginning of Morrowind, but to remove them entirely seems a bit mean. Like the Nerevarine before him, the Hero of Kvatch and Saviour of Bruma the Ultimate Dogsbody was an agile warrior fond of leaping off the tallest buildings (nobody ever questioned his sanity in this regard). Sadly, such pleasures are denied Monsieur le Dovakhiin, who can’t even swing a sword in mid air, let alone cast a spell while running (and that’s a perk tree right there).

And when you’re fighting a dragon, who wouldn’t want to be able to vault onto its back and ride that bitch to death?

Solitude didn't look like this in TES1: Arena! Kids and their retconning...

Also falling under the streamline is clothing. I’m sure I’ve said before that the pretty-pretty-dress-up aspects of RPGs have always been a core feature for me, so having reduced dress-up options is quite a Big Thing.

Armour is now composed only of armour, boots, gauntlets and helmet. Gone are left and right pauldrons, left and right gauntlets, gone are greaves. Sure, it makes life more convenient (and with that interface, you really do need all the convenience you can get), but much less fun — not to mention it’s less bits of kit to slam enchantments onto.

Finishing moves are tremendous fun, even if everyone's geometry clips through everything everywhere.

 

Forgery

The old Armourer skill is gone, and frankly, good riddance. While I think having equipment degrade with use adds another bit of depth to dungeon delving (the balance between using your blunt awesome sword and picking up a disposable bandit blade because it’s currently sharper), I also think that equipment in Morrowind and Oblivion degraded far too easily and quickly, and armourer’s hammers were always a heavy burden taking up precious loot space. Much better to be like Nox where you could only get repairs at shops, but items didn’t fall to bits when you so much as looked at a mudcrab.

Of course, once I finally got to 100 in Smithing, I had an imperial fucktonne of dragon bones and scales just waiting to make some shit out of. Shame that dragon armour isn’t as good as Daedric stuff (I passed by so many Daedra hearts because I wasn’t big into alchemy — don’t make the same mistake), and you can’t even make a dragonbone/scale sword — what gives, man?

The combination of Orcish armour and a bad-ass Steel Plate Helmet, I looked like something out of an old Godzilla film. Shame the higher-tier helmets didn't get any cooler than this.

 

Infinite Dragons

The problem with random dragon attacks is that they tend to occur when you least want them to. Fair enough, in terms of realism, bad things converge, but in a game it makes for extreme frustration. Sure, I’m just going into this bandit camp — oh wait, there is also a dragon, and everyone is attacking me despite the fact that there’s a great big murderous ice- and fire-breathing reptile cruising around above us all.

Sadly, rather than dramatic shouting matches, dragon fights are painfully slow whittling games. In order to get a dragon on the ground, you have to pump arrows into it — but since the fights aren’t hard-scripted they sometimes just don’t happen anywhere the dragon has a landing perch. They’ll just cruise round and round and round endlessly, never stooping to engage you with more than a bombing run, but keeping all those allies you need to talk to to advance the quest in alert mode.

Another factor that lets the dragons down is that they’re just big sacks of hit-points. As things that are so large, and so dramatic, I was somewhat hoping for a bit more granularity — maybe guaranteed critical hits on its underbelly, or pumping arrows into one wing finally causing it to crash to the ground.

If I can jump on its head in the cinematic, why can't I jump on its head in the game?

 

Marriage

Oh, if only marriage was so easy in real life! I love how they even go so far as explaining why there is no courtship at all — it’s basically all-hands-on-deck grab-’em-while-they’re-hot-because-we’re-all-going-to-die. Which, while hilarious, doesn’t really tickle my romance-glands.

Wearing the Amulet of Mara around town was enough to get propositioned. Of course I said yes, whisked her off down to the temple at Riften and — bang!

The great thing is that on becoming my lady, Ysolda turned into a merchant into whom I offloaded all my loot for ever after. Presumably she was then able to offload all my loot onto other people, because she kept managing to turn over a “cosy” profit when I asked for it.

No, dumpling, I just came down from the bedroom after sleeping with you. Ysolda never knew if I was coming or going...

Overall

I’m sure you can tell by the gap between this blog and the last speaks for how much time I’ve spent playing and how little time I’ve spent ruminating.

Sure, I’ve got gripes, but overall Skyrim does deliver a  lot and delivers it very well. Like all Elder Scrolls games, it still suffers in the later stages from you being an unstoppable powerhouse that no enemy can touch — but getting to that stage still took me up to level 43 and a frankly insane amount of play time.

Thus, the Elder Blogs are concluded…

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2 thoughts on “Blog 495: The Elder Blogs: Skyrim

  1. Once again, some very good points here. I honestly don’t have many counterarguments, other than. Mods. If you are unwilling or unable to mod it, then Skyrim is merely a good game.

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    • Yes, but modding the game into being perfect wouldn’t leave much room for interesting discussion now, would it? 🙂 It’s also not unreasonable to expect a product to be good by default, rather than having to rely on other people to volunteer to make it good.

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