The Sky is the… Rimit? (Skyrim)

This blog post contains some spoilers for the main story and civil war questline in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

So after defeating Alduin and saving the world-

Haaaang on just a moment. Let’s dial this back a bit.

So after playing around 12 hours of Oblivion I realised that I wanted more; namely, that I wanted to graduate to the frozen lands of Skyrim before saving the world in Cyrodiil. I mean, sure, the story in Oblivion was interesting, but I was able to catch up on the events by reading a handy little in game book named The Oblivion Crisis. (Though I’d recommend actually playing the game, in all seriousness.) I decided to play Skyrim as it was meant to be played: with no carry limit removal mod, and on the standard difficulty.

I started out as a lowly prisoner, as this is an Elder Scrolls game and that’s essentially the tradition. After morphing into a few races before the eyes of the nonplussed Imperial before me, I settled on the decision of being a High Elf, as I’ve shown on this blog before:

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You may see Lydia there in the background. We’ll get to her in a moment.

Now, I’ve played Skyrim a few times before; firstly on PS3, secondly on PC, and both times my attention wavered. Before this playthrough I’d piddled through 11 hours of the game, messing about with commands and mods. I was very wary of starting yet another new character due to this. However, 35 hours later, I’m not regretting this decision. I’d previously never made it past High Hrothgar in the story, but once I decided to focus purely on one thing at a time (namely, one questline at a time) then things became much more fun.

I’m a destruction / conjuration user; I summon my Flame Atronach, back away a few paces, summon my Bound Sword, and start blasting people with fireballs. I also learned to use shouts to my advantage, as the game wants you to do but many people seem to forget exist. In passive roleplay fashion, my character has no solid backstory but happens to be a law abiding citizen with high moral values, who sees both sides of the civil war as flawed and remains the neutral party… whilst the dragons remain an immediate threat.

So, after defeating Alduin and saving the world (there we go), I decided to browse Skyrim a little more and learn a little of its history. I bought a house in Whiterun; I adopted a child; I saved a town from its collective nightmares; I adopted another child; I married Carlotta Camilla, who continues to stress to me every day how much it means to her and her brother that I brought back the golden claw. I proposed to her after I completed the silly love triangle quest and also, directly in front of her brother. Awkward.

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A little direct, perhaps, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t work!

I am yet to do many things, but there are some side quests I’ve completed, such as slaughtering the inhabitants of Northwatch Keep to save so-and-so Grey-Mane, joining the Companions and becoming a bit of a werewolf, and obtaining a daedric artifact in the form of a soul gem which will never break upon use. And on my way to the Shrine of Azura, this occured:

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Tesco appear to have adopted a less… conventional means of freezing their meat.

But I’m afraid Lydia’s days of photobombing my screenshots were numbered. I have a rule in my playthroughs: when a companion dies, you may not revert time to save them. It sounds silly, but feeling the genuine guilt and regret when you accidentally kill your follower (for they can only die by your hand) legitimately enhances my gameplay experience. It makes the world feel more real, and it creates a sense of the world having consequences.

Lydia met her end in a cramped hallway in some shoddy cave when I was clearing the place out of bandits for the Companions.

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I don’t think it’s possible to die in a dignified manner in Skyrim. R.I.P Lydia… you were one heck of a pak-yak.

Perhaps I should have given her some better armour. Perhaps I should have advised her to stay behind me when I was casting spells. Or perhaps I should have let her stay in Whiterun, tending to my garden, free of the burdens of my many dragon scales and dragon bones, happy to live a peaceful life with my wife and kids and a never-ending awkward tension of feeling out of place.

Well, anyway! Times change, people die, things move on. Desperate to bury my guilt in the youth of a new follower to aid my cause, I returned to Riverwood and sought out a new apprentice. I came across Sven, the Bard, whom I helped with his affections for Cam-

Wait-

Camilla’s my wife now. Well, that would be an awkward conversation.

Anyway, I approached Sven with the offer of a lifetime – to carry the Dragonborn’s shit – and reluctantly, he accepted, saying that some guy I’m presuming was his bard master had always told him to get out and see more of the world. (Not very good advice for a bard, if you ask me. Counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t he be getting acquainted in taverns? Leave adventuring to the adventurers.) Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I spent 2,000 gold to kit him out with a set of armour to keep him breathing.

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Aw c’mon Sven don’t be so self-conscious, you look tough! No no I’m laughing because of how strong you look! It’s intimidating!

Sven was… an interesting companion. Sometimes, upon fast travelling, he’d get out his lute and start playing a tune to the open forest around us. Whilst in full battle-mode gear. He once did it even as a dragon was swooping down on us. Poetry in the face of adversity; it would be commendable if it wasn’t so ridiculous.

Well, anyway, I was messing around with my werewolf abilities and, uh, those swinging arms are hard to control, and…

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I ate his corpse. Out of a sign of respect, you understand.

Nobody tell Camilla.

Torn apart by grief, guilt and feral instincts, my Dragonborn High-Elf Werewolf of a Destruction-Conjurer took a look at the world around him, and decided that civil war was tearing Skyrim apart. By this point my hybrid hide had read many books dotted throughout Skyrim, and spoken to many people; I’d discovered the recent war and the threat of the Aldmeri Dominion (more specifically the Thalmor) in basically taking over Tamriel. And the Stormcloaks are a bunch of racists who’d throw me out anyway, so…

I joined the Imperial Legion to bring unity to Skyrim.

So, alright, my moral values loosened up a bit. I completed the civil war questline on day two of my Skyrim playthrough (those 35 hours were not played far from each other). It was morbidly satisfying to blast through forts, killing at will with an army at my back, winning back Skyrim piece by piece. Tullius wasn’t exactly fond of me, given that I signed half his holds away in the peace treaty, and I never did mention the slaughter of Northwatch Keep to him… but hey, I helped him take down Ulfric. And he only gave me the swiftest of glances whilst I undressed the Stormcloak leader and took his clothes.

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He was a prick anyway.

His bloodlust satiated, my character finally settled down and considered his actions, and settled upon the idea of living the quiet life for a while. He ventured to Falkreath where, after being tasked to kill some lowly bandits, he was given permission to buy a plot of land.

He built a lovely little house.

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I’ve yet to build the extensions due to lack of resources, but they’ll be coming soon.

There’s still much to do. Every time I pass a guard nowadays they shout “HEARD THEY’RE REFORMING THE DAWNGUARD!” in my ear like it’s going out of fashion. Alright, I get it, I’m the almighty and famous Dragonborn, you want me to kill vampires, just freakin’ ask instead of screaming hints. There’s also apparently some work to be done in Solstheim. But man, this High Elf needs some rest. For now, his adventures are on hiatus; he’s going to settle down in his quiant little log cabin and read the adventure of another type of elf, one who lived around 1,000 years ago…

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[Festivities Go Here]

Um… right, yeah, this Thursday fell on a Christmas Eve (or is it the other way round?) so there won’t really be a blog post as per usual. To give you a quick rundown of my gaming life right now, though:

Since writing Oblivin’ the Life, I’ve finally caved and graduated to Skyrim early, still dubious as to my ability to keep my attention span directed into the game. This did not turn out to be a problem, however, with over 20 hours played in 3 days, the main story and civil war questline completed and no signs of my High Elfing days ending any time soon. Fully fledged blog post to follow.

The STEEAAAMMMM SSAAAAALLLEEEE has occured, and so far I’ve bought Drive Any Track and let my eyes speak more than my wallet on other games of interest. This restraint has been helped by the fact that I am not only poor, but that Steam sales are now a shadow of their former selves, offering only good-to-brilliant deals in place of the usual mind-numbingly spectacular ones. Also, my library is getting to be pretty sizeable, and is growing into an unhealthy mass of unplayed shame rather than the relic of a collector.

But enough relaxed discussion about gaming; I’ve got some hardcore relaxing to get down to. I leave you with one of my earliest gaming memories: myself, as a child, playing Crash Team Racing in the living room whilst watching the tree being decorated by family, and hearing Christmas songs in the background. I’m not certain if it was the same year, but I desperately hoped there’d be a PS2 under the tree, and it turns out there was. It came with Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX 2, XG3 Racing and Herdy Gerdy.

Passive Roleplaying

When you hear about “roleplaying” in an MMO, the first thing that will probably rush to your mind is level 1 human females running around Goldshire Inn sending winky faces and selling their virtual bodies for in-game gold via a series of private messages composed of erotic text, thrown together almost more carelessly than the works of Fifty Shades of Grey. But when you take away some of the more modern experiments with the MMO experience, what was the full name of the genre? MMORPG.

Roleplaying is not about getting naked and kinky with your overenthusiastic level 1, but instead the idea of creating a fictional element to your in-game character. Even when you get past the stigmatic notion of nude dudes swapping pubes, the typical expectation of roleplaying a character is that you walk rather than run, speak as that character would, and imagine yourself to be living in the game world rather than playing it. And some people enjoy this, I’m not knocking it, I find it to be an interesting experiment into fiction. Nor am I denying that this is roleplaying, as that’d be absurd. What I am denying is that roleplaying has to be a different approach to playing the game, and that only a minority of players do this.

In my eyes, roleplaying is done by many of us and we don’t even realise it. Once you spend more than a few seconds in the character customisation screen, choosing your forehead colour and elongating your nose, you may have already started to question just what your High Elf is even doing in Helgen. You don’t even have to flesh out the backstory; just paying attention to the story in relation to your character and the significance of these events is enough to warrant the title of roleplayer. I find that giving your character a good name, personality, and contextual presence within the game world, as well as a set of dashing good looks is enough to enhance your gameplay experience. In all of my previous gameplays, I’d been dashing around the land as Kritigri the whatever-the-race-he-felt-like-choosing-at-the-time, ignoring backstory and killing at will. Now that I’ve actually stopped to give thought as to my character within the game, I’m much more receptive to the world and find that it just can’t be ignord.

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My High Elf, lookin’ sharp. The quest required that I wear the fancy clothes but they remain in my chest at Breezehome.

…yeah, that was terrible.

The most prominent example I have of the difference between passively roleplaying and not is a World of Warcraft character I once had. My friend and I decided to make Worgens, and given the restrictions of class combinations, I ended up making a Worgen Shadow Priest whom I named Kritigrawr. He made it all the way to level 50 before his name, race / class combo and the ridiculous appearance of a wolf in robes bothered me enough to delete him. He has since been replaced with a Human Discipline Priest, and her name is Divinitaine. I have thoroughly enjoyed this change, and have made similar deletions in the past, typically deleting a character whose name was a variant of “Kritigri” (see: Kritigrawr the Worgen Priest, Kritigro the Dwarf Warlock, Kritigru the Draenei Monk) to make more befitting names and races (i.e the aforementioned Divinitaine, Netherwarp the Human Warlock and, ah… Thunker, the Human Monk. The name amuses me.)

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Here is my WoW character Netherwarp, before I found him a decent staff to wield. The robes were intentionally gathered, though; transmogrification allows you to make your armour and weapons look like different armour and weapons, further enhancing your character’s fantasy.

 

Some RPGs such as Borderlands and the Witcher put you into the boots of a character with little to no customisability. From a narrative standpoint, this has its merits and advantages (I’ve only played a little of the first Witcher game but I already very much like Geralt), and your immersion lends itself more to the story of that particular character than your own passive roleplay. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, for I sure as hell know I wouldn’t be able to create as much of a glorious Italian badass as the Ezio Auditore that Assassin’s Creed 2 through Revelations presented me with.

Cleaning the King’s Basement (Hammerwatch)

For those of you not in the know, Hammerwatch is a top down, 2D Gauntlet-esque RPG. That is, to say, a highly minimalised version of Gauntlet. From what I’ve seen you get a basic attack and a mana-costing attack, you eat the food you find to survive, pick up coins and occasionally come across a vendor who can upgrade your attack, defense, or combo maneuvers.

When I first bought the game some time ago I gave it a whirl, died, and went, “Oh, game over is really game over; there’s no alternate progression and the levels aren’t randomised, so I’ll have to do it again. Well, whatever, that was fun.”

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Toasty! Leagues of skeletons are no match for Reece’s mastery of fire!

I wish to go back in time and slap myself in my big dumb face. Randomised dungeon crawlers have spoiled us; they appeal to our short attention spans and throw algorithms at us, which we gleefully lap up as we explore the never-ending shifting maze. Games like Hammerwatch reign us back in and invite us to consider the beauty of manual architecture; secrets are hidden ingeniously, food scattered provisionally, enemy spawns have rhyme and rhythm to them, and treasure is presented on a silver pedestal as opposed to half glitching into a wall somewhere.

The fun really begins when you pull a friend by their ear and get them to join in with you. The sense of adventure and exploration is more than doubled when shared, and the “OH GOD SAVE ME” moments are to be relished. Whilst I’ve never played Gauntlet beyond dabbling in Dark Legacy as a child on the PS2, I’ve read elsewhere that Hammerwatch really brings back the feeling of couch co-op that the old Gauntlet games excelled so well at.

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Wasn’t this the pivotal scene in Batman Begins?

The linearity of the game is to be praised. For the longest time, I thought the game would end after defeating the maggot boss after three floors. I know three floors doesn’t sound like much, but there truly was a rich quantity of content offered and the game came equipped with an expansion and user created campaigns, so I assumed this was the case. I once jokingly referred to Hammerwatch as a game in which you were hired to clean the King’s basement, as the three types of enemies you come across in the first segment of the game are ballistic bats, hardy beetles, and the never ending tide of maggots that spit so much acid at you, the game quickly descends into a bullet hell of avoidance and triumphant spamming of attack when you find that sweet spot devoid of pain.

Well anyway, my friend and I defeated the maggot queen and were surprised when we were met with not a credits screen but a new basement, full of skeleton warriors and archers. “Hurray!” we cried. “These 14 extra lives will make this a cakewalk!”

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This was not the case.

Oblivin’ the Life (Oblivion)

The first Elder Scrolls title I played was Skyrim, and after a few hours of running around, picking up flowers, talking to crisp packets and slaying my very first dragon, I promptly stopped playing altogether.

I’m not saying Skyrim was a bad game. In fact, from what I’ve seen and tried to play if it since my first toe-dipping, it’s freakin’ fantastic. It’s not difficult to see what all the fuss (ro dah) was about. It was just too big for me. My concentration never managed to latch appropriately onto the game. Maybe I just didn’t feel like an RPG at the time.

About a week ago, I decided to play some Oblivion, which I’d had similar experiences with since abandoning Skyrim. I’m not sure what was different, but something clicked. Suddenly, I was fireballing rats and failing to protect the Emperor like nobody’s business. Wolves live in fear of me. NPCs cower at the thought of coming off as rude and being callously cut down, before hastily returning to life in the quicksave prior.

Well, alright, I guess I'll be leaving, then!
Well, alright, I guess I’ll be leaving, then!

I’m a bit of a cheater. One thing I’ve never liked about the Elder Scrolls games – more so in Oblivion than Skyrim – is the limitations of carry weight. So I maaaaybe downloaded a mod which extended my carry weight from 210 to somewhere along the lines of 37,000. I’m a magical Pak Yak masquerading as an Argonian, and it’s goddamn spectacular. That being said, I don’t pick up everything I see. If I’m aware that I have a Dremora Mace in my inventory, I don’t typically pick up one of the other thirty thousand laying around the place. If it’s light, like the good old Deadric Heart, then I’ll probably shove more than a fair share in my endlessly expanding pockets. (I’m quite a sight when I rock up to the Imperial City with my pockets trailing behind me like Santa’s sack.)

I also turned the difficulty down, because I’m an awful gamer. It was default up until the siege of Kvatch, where I was met with a stretch of maybe 15 demons and nowhere to replenish resources. I turned the difficulty down just a smidgen, just a little tiny bit, and I was suddenly dispatching scamps in two swings instead of twelve. I’m not entirely sure what kind of scaling that is, but I’m not going to question it. I’ve been able to experience much more of the game in a shorter span of time due to it.

All jokes aside, I actually find myself interacting with the story and paying attention to characters and plot, far more so than I did in Skyrim. I don’t have the best attention span as a gamer, so this is a rare treat. Oblivion’s gameplay is tugging at me to try out Skyrim again, which I know harbors many improvements in niche, quality-of-life areas. But I’m forcing myself to stay with Oblivion for now, maybe to the extent of finding a quiet corner and reading through the fifty books I picked up to learn a little more about this world which I so ceaselessly charge through without much of a second thought.