Geek Proud, GeekOut.

Geeking Out Hard – Skyrim

The_Elder_Scrolls_V_Skyrim_coverIt’s way too late to do a review of Skyrim, the game is fast approaching its 5th anniversary and there’s a major remaster on the way instead of an Elder Scrolls VI like most of us would rather see. Personally I want to see Elsweyr, never play Khajiit, I read Ahzirr Traajijazeri and I love the sound of the rebellion, maybe include Valenwood so we can see the walking trees that wood-elves make their cities in. Not a huge fan of Elder Scrolls Online because I’m not a fan of MMOs, and it sounds like it wasn’t all that popular from what I hear, I can’t find any population statistics which is quite interesting.

The problem is Bethesda have left themselves very little room to grow, Skyrim isn’t perfect, and yet I can’t stop playing! I’m back to spending hours trawling the frozen north in search of words of power, cool stuff no one can afford to buy from me, and awesome places and adventures that I haven’t encountered in nearly two hundred hours of game play. I only went anywhere near Dawnstar a couple of weeks ago, I’ve never picked a side in the war, never joined a faction, never even played the storyline past… I don’t know, I forget, when are you chasing a guy through Riften?

So why is Skyrim so addictive? When it’s so imperfect, glitchy, and why do I keep playing even though I spend most of my time walking at a torturously slow pace because I looted dragon bones and I can’t let go of any of the potions I made?

Scale

The playable area of plain vanilla (no mods, no DLCs, no frills) Skyrim is overshadowed in pure size by a suprising number of games, a mere twenty square miles compared to some which can claim in the thousands. Most of these are MMOs which are often over-sized to account for population size, driving games that can fly by in seconds, or are randomly generated or filled with identical set-pieces at a disturbing frequency.

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It’s odd to call a space the size of a small town a country, and to be able to walk from one remote hide-away to some long forgotten castle in a matter of minutes, and walk from one corner to another in maybe an hour. And yet every few metres there’s some new detail, some unique facet you weren’t expecting, a necromancer stood at a blood-soaked altar, a spriggan grove, a row-boat spilling jewels into the riverbed (follow the river south-west from Kolskeggr Mine, there’s a small fortune down there) all carefully spaced to allow for time to explore and search before relishing each new discovery.

What’s more, every dungeon adds depth. The surface world is but a fraction, and each sprawling dwarf ruin, Nord burial chamber and frozen cave is a journey of its own, ripe with discovery. Though they possess rather obvious thematic designs they each have unique features, and often have their own stories. In fact you can pretty much stand anywhere in Skyrim and made an educated guess at where you are. That makes the world seem so much more real, and makes every corner and hole in the ground something tantalising.

Play Your Character

Oh we can all joke about the hours spent perfecting nose shape and choosing the exact tone of your eyebrow hair only for it all to vanish under your full-face helmet or to sit behind the first-person camera never to be seen again, but once you get past those first exciting moment of ultimately pointless gameplay you’re handed the reigns of your own character development. Gone are the classic RPG roles, the rogue, the fighter, the mage, playable only if you want to play them, but if you want to play a heavy armoured tank with a warhammer slick with poisons of your own design then go for it. If you’d rather hide in a shadow hurling illusions and lightning bolts while your victims duke it out amongst themselves, you can build it.

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Forehead Colour… well if you insist

The ability to pursue whatever skills you like make your character so much more personal. I’ve praised Titan Quest and Grim Dawn for the ability to mix and match a pair of classes to make a complete character, but the completely classless system gives you a surprising amount of freedom. Though any build you create may find certain situations much harder (dragons aren’t too fussed by illusionists apparently) there’s enough in the game that you can have fun in most scenarios.

Which brings me to my next point.

Play Your Way

I never play the story in an Elder Scrolls, I’m an explorer, I’m content to pick up bounties and wander around as I please, and pick up the unusual side-quests, anything with a story that grabs my interest from the first few minutes, or anything involving the Daedric gods. You can always join a faction, get in on the war on either side, unite the empire, or free the Nords, or play the story if you must. Though the world is fairly small all things considered, it’s very full of things to do, and there’s a solid amount of options to interact with the other characters.

Do you want to go it alone, or take an ally? Do you travel light or grab everything you can? Are you a wandering nomad, or a landed gent in every hold with properties to make a Jarl jealous? Are you a werewolf, a vampire, a slayer?

I’ve encountered only one other game that offers up an experience close to my love of tabletop RPGs and that’s Shadowrun. My very first article I espoused the virtues of the table over Skyrim but to be honest it’s not always an easy call to make which is better. Skyrim is still lacking in many areas, and has plenty of annoying features, but between the scope of this legendary Elder Scrolls game and the undying modding community there is no reason not to keep on loving it.

Elder Scrolls VI

I think the real reason we haven’t seen a formal sixth entry into the series is because Bethesda have climbed a very tall mountain and are struggling to find a taller one. Where do you go from here? Skyrim was about as good as RPGs get, despite of the flaws, at times because of the flaws, so how can you up the ante when the ante is that high? We had a few thoughts on that.

For a more immersive world experience, there are a few obvious solutions like improving the conversations between NPCs, adding a few more voice actors for a bit of variety (or even getting the actors to switch voice a little more) and maybe improving the variety of wildlife, but there are a few more fundamental pieces of realism that are sorely missing. There are three ages of people: child, adult, old adult. It may sound odd to say, but where are the teenagers? And would it be so odd to put a few infants in the mix? It may sound over the top to put babies in the way of terrible threats like dragons, daedra and player characters, but to see an actual family would be incredibly immersive.

How could a tabletop game compare to this level of detail?

How could a tabletop game compare to this level of detail?

Little features like climbing ropes, constructing traps, even the ability to pilot a cart or row a boat would make interesting changes and add a few fascinating options for quests. The game features a calendar with it’s own days and months, so it would be nice to see events and quests that depend upon it, like market days, annual festivals, or just personal habits.

Optional gameplay features like a survival mode that requires you to eat, sleep, and endure harsh conditions offers a whole genre to the Elder Scrolls that could fit into their harsh environments elegantly, without it intruding on players who just can’t be bothered because they can choose whether or not to use it. How about the ability to run missions to train yourself in skills? They touch upon this a little, but it’d be nice to see more, but as an option not a necessity.

And would it kill these people to start printing accompanying rules for a tabletop RPG? I know I’m an addict but c’mon! Tamriel is begging for a pen and paper game!

I’m just touching on a few of the things that Bethesda could implement with relative ease, things that don’t impact on an incredible formula but potentially augment it. It’s important not to make these features mandatory, because the Elder Scrolls – and by extention Fallout – is a masterpiece of versatility and it’s a pudding that’s easily over-egged. I know that no matter what, Bethesda will deliver.

And I also know I’ll be buying the remastered Skyrim because that is one pretty looking game, and I’m fairly sure they’ll have delivered more than the modding community can provide.

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