Player Owned Housing

So I don’t know about you, but I personally have always been a fan of the Player Owned Housing systems typically found in MMOs and RPGs. The idea of having your own personal space which can be decorated with your heroic endeavours (or plain old furniture) has always been charming to me, and with the release of ESO’s Homestead update which adds (surprise surprise) Player Owned Housing, I thought I’d look back on some of my favourite versions of this feature in gaming.

To begin with, though, I’ll add that I’ve barely scratched the surface of ESO’s Homestead update. As a poor, lowly level 30ish character, I don’t feel the pull to immediately go home hunting, knowing in my heart that I won’t be able to afford much more than the free inn room that the opening quest awards you. I have a clip of my reaction upon entering my “House” for the first time, though:

Cosy.

Before moving on from the topic of ESO, I will add that what I have seen of the furnishing system looks very well done and fleshed out. It’s not grid or tile based; nor is it a simple options menu that allows you to select what you put in your house, but not where, as was the case in Skyrim (and Runescape, incidentally, discussed below). ESO’s furnishing system allows full free to place your furniture and collections anywhere. And, er, I mean anywhere.

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It has idle animations, too. The breathing wallhorse is a sight to behold.

So anyway, my first real housing system was in Runescape, and it comes in the form of one of its many skills, Construction. Any Runescape player that isn’t a billionaire will happily tell you how much of a bitch Construction is to train, as it’s one of the most expensive skills in the game. Obviously you have to buy your plot of land, and then each room costs money too – a pittance, really, but to a low-levelled player with little money, it’s a fair gold sink. You also have to pay to upgrade the size of your land, to allow for expansion. The real money sink, however, comes in the form of planks, which you need to build the majority of your furniture. Planks cannot be made by the player. The player must take logs to the sawmill and pay 500gp each to have them made into planks, a cost which adds up alarmingly quickly given how many planks you’ll be needing.

Besides this, however, the housing system is great… though on second thoughts, I may be looking at it through rose-tinted glasses, seeing as room furnishing layouts are unchangeable, you can simply construct different tiers of furniture within the highlighted spaces. Regardless, it’s still a satisfying feeling to upgrade your wonky, uncomfortable parlour chairs into cushioned seats, and to add more functionality to your kitchen as you go along. My favourite part about Runescape’s housing system was always the player-run house parties you could attend back in the day. I don’t know if anyone still bothers with them, but last time I checked, the house party world was devoid of, erm, parties. That being said, they may have all moved to Prifdinnas, a high level area I’m yet to unlock.

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Here’s my attempt at capturing the entire downstairs of my house. Yes, it’s wonky shaped. Can’t be helped!
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And here’s the upstairs. Bit less filled out, working on it!

Another one of my favourite housing systems belongs in Skyrim, though there are two types of houses in that game. The first one that shipped with the vanilla game consists of you unlocking the ability to buy a house, buying the house, and then buying each room from the steward to become fully furnished. Quite basic, but functional, and homely enough to enjoy living in. Plus, the cost was well-tailored to make it obtainable, whilst maintaining the satisfaction of making a hefty purchase to secure your own home.

The second version launched with the Hearthfire DLC, and allows you to build a house from scratch, adding from a choice of different wings as your house expanded. Much like Runescape though, you didn’t choose your furniture so much as unlock it. This is perhaps a little more forgiveable given that it’s a single player RPG, and players are therefore unlikely to think of making their home unique a priority. It’s a good place to store the wife and kids, anyway. And speaking of storage, houses in Skyrim acted as a sort of bank, in that they contained safe chests for you to store all your dragon bones and cheesewheels in.

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I always liked this screenshot of my house.

Player Owned Housing is a system that has been requested in World of Warcraft for many years now. In fact, one gate at the end of the Stormwind Canals had an inaccessible instance portal which the devs later admitted was going to lead into player housing. However, they said they’d only ever add it to the game if it had a function other than the novelty of owning a house. Player owned housing is still an often requested feature, but what many players don’t realise is that the Garrisons of Warlords of Draenor was a take on that concept. Players were given their own garrison which only they could enter, and it provided many in-game purposes regarding quest lines, professions, and conveniences such as accessing your bank and various vendors. Garrisons are retrospectively viewed as one of the worst ideas in the WoW, as they removed the multiplayer aspect by giving players too much accessibility in their private garrisons, and the mobile type gameplay of the mission tables one used to govern their garrison followers ensured that the player didn’t even have to complete dungeon or raiding content to get the best gear.

What players don’t realise – or seem to have forgotten – was the initial success of the Garrisons system, before it became apparent that they were going to lead into the death of gameplay. For the first time in Warcraft history, players had their own space in-game that they could customise (albeit to a very limited degree) and make their own. I remember reddit flooding with positive feedback about the system for a good month, and I myself was delighted with having my own base of operations. This, of course, didn’t last, and I soon despise my garrison as much as everyone else. Now we’re in Legion, however, I’ll admit that it’s not so bad when revisiting Warlords of Draenor’s content, although the lack of any cosmetic customisability is disappointing.

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Disregard the fact that my spellbook is open. This is totally not a salvaged screenshot of the only picture I have of my garrison on my hard drive. LOOK I’M NOT SUBSCRIBED RIGHT NOW OKAY

There were, of course, plenty of other games that allowed you the ownership and customisation of your own house. An old web game I used to play called Gaia Online is still around:

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I’m surprised this is still around.

I remember trying out Everquest 2 specifically for the player housing:

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Picture taken on my old, dying laptop, hence the horrible graphics quality.

And of course, the most cutting edge player housing of them all:

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Club Penguin, home of accidental intimidation.

All in all, there are plenty of games which give you your own house to dick around in, and I’m always drawn to the objective of owning my own place. Maybe it’s what drew me to Minecraft and Animal Crossing. Well, in the meantime, here’s another goofy EQ2 screenshot:

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Welcome to Jackass.
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Wait… This Isn’t Tamriel! (Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning)

Kingdoms of Amalur is to Skyrim what Torchlight 2 is to Diablo 3. It was developed by one / some of the developers of its predecessor, it’s similar yet different in that it uses more traditional gameplay in place of the popular brand’s newer take on things, and the graphics and general aesthetic is more colourful, and less… gritty. Oh, and it’s also exactly what you’ve been looking for when searching for alternatives to the more mainstream franchise.

Now, as far as I can tell, I’ve just spoken heresy. Some of the user reviews for Kingdoms of Amalur beg you not to compare it to Skyrim, stating that it’s a very different game. And whilst partially, I agree, given its third person driven point of view and its more hack-and-slash combat, I also disagree. Now, to be fair, I’m only ten hours into the game as of now, but I can already see many similarities pop up between the two franchises, such as how stealth, lockpicking and pickpocketing works, how it has persuasion and crime, different guilds (sorry… houses) with their own questlines, and a myriad of other things. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; nor am I saying that this was unexpected, given that one of the lead game designers was prominent in Oblivion’s creation. In fact, this pleases me. There’s enough similarity here to feel right at home whilst still being a completely different and brilliant game.

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Here is my character, fresh out of the intro to the game. It’s… somewhat greener than Skyrim.

Take abilities, for example. Not to bash Skyrim’s exemplary collection of spells (see: fire hands, fire bolts, bigger fire bolts, fire floor), but I’ve always felt that something was… lacking. It is primarily, I think, due to the fact that spells are bought, not earned by levelling up. Not only do you learn them in Kingdoms of Amalur, but you can also put more points into them to make them more powerful. This is, like I mentioned in the introduction, a more traditional take on the game mechanisms of an RPG. It is also, however, better, removing simplicity and allowing far more customisation of your character’s ability to function in combat situations.

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It would seem that my penchant for accidental murder has carried over to Kingdoms of Amalur.

Now can we talk about scenery? I applaud Bethesda’s dedication to make an RPG that doesn’t think it necessary to include every biome, and this fits in with their apparent ideology that fantasy can be gritty and real instead of constantly airy-fairy. It attempts to immerse its players solely in one continent at a time, thereby building a more fleshed-out and believable environment instead of a handful of half-realised lands. And I respect them for that. But, man, sometimes I want to stop shivering when playing Skyrim and find somewhere warm to go bandit killing. And whilst, admittedly, I’ve not yet made it off the first continent in Amalur, I have visited Webwood, an area with an entirely different atmosphere to the surrounding lands. It’s full of, erm, big pink fluffy bunnies.

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These books… they’re not physics based! (They are readable, though.)

Finally, whilst I can’t exactly comment on it’s value as a whole yet, I can say that I’m enjoying the main storyline more than Skyrim, as well as many of the side-quests. The characters have more… character to them. When I arrived at the town of Gorheart, and I went through one of the merchant’s personal possessions and found a diary detailing the loss of her husband and her grief, and then found out more by talking to her about it. I then found notes by her husband’s graveside from his brother who promised to look out for the merchant and, well, I won’t spoil things. But as far as I can tell, there’s no accompanying quest. It’s just story for the sake of story, and it’s more interesting than half of Skyrim’s main questlines. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that they have more than three voice actors per gender. You know, soft spoken, rough spoken, and that one voice which says, “I’m going to betray you later in the questline because I’ve got that shifty voice.”

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It’s good to get away from Skyrim’s physics… oh goddamnit.

It’s a shame there won’t be a Kingdoms of Amalur 2, really. This was a game world unconnected to any other franchise who’s story wasn’t afraid to do things differently, who’s graphics weren’t afraid to look a little fantasy, and who’s game design wasn’t afraid to use tradition. And it does it really, really well. Hell, they even made me like gnomes.

Faendal x Camilla (A Skyrim Misadventure)

This isn’t going be your typical blog post because I’m currently knee-deep in deadline panic and have already written 1,500 words today! But a blog post there shall be, following up on last week’s post on Skyrim. I’m a little traumatized from some in-game events that took place a few minutes ago in-game, outside and inside my very own home. (Hey, I wrote 1.5k words today, I needed me some Skyrim.)

I know I said my High Elf was going to settle down for a while. It’s just… you see, I realised that my wife Camilla was having an affair.

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Faendal here had the gall to tease me by showing up outside my very house. The smugness in his voice could not be mistaken; this pointy bastard was sleeping with my wife.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not flying off the handle here for no reason. Camilla and Faendal have history, you see. Upon my first arriving in Riverwood, she was locked in a vicious love triangle with him and another pursuer named Sven. I don’t remember who approached me first, but each of them wanted me to fake a letter from the other to give to her, but I ended up simply marrying her myself after saving the world and proving that I was the better elf. Beforehand, however, I ended up faking a letter from Faendal and tipping the scales on Sven’s behalf. (Don’t worry, Sven met an unfortunate end before any of the events of this blog post happened.) As a result of this, and probably due to the subsequent marriage, Faendal held a fair amount of resentment towards me.

Oddly enough, Camilla kept the faked love letter and put it up for sale in our shop:

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Well, anyway, let’s return to today. After going rogue for a while and ultimately completing the Thieves’ Guild storyline, I decided to drop in on my wife and kids and let them know I was alright. Upon entering the premise, I discovered that my daughter had adopted an adorable little puppy! This was great news. I was home. The fire was going. The kids weren’t arguing. We had a puppy.

And then, to my left, came his voice. “Greetings, friend! It’s nice to see such a friendly face so far from home!”

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What.

What.

My world shattered. My eyes darted to my wife, who stared back at me with her eternal, unblinking gaze. I returned to Faendal. He eyed me from the shadows. They didn’t even care that I knew. Even my children were happily playing in the other room, probably happy in the knowledge that Uncle Faendal was home again, never mind their dear old Dragonborn Dad.

I had to make him leave. I couldn’t harm him, not here, not-

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Dear Talos, the bastard was asking for it. He was mocking me in my own home, cuddling up to my own wife. I understand that I’d not been there for her. I get that I’ve been absent. But she’s my wife.

This was inexcusable.

I was a law-abiding elf, once, intent on saving the world. But then I got roped into the civil war. I killed brave men. Lost Lydia. Lost Sven. Guilt consumed me, drove me to the Thieves’ Guild. The wolf’s blood ran thick in my veins and this abhorrent act was now punishable by my own hand, with no regrets.

It was time to be rid of Faendal.

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Camilla couldn’t watch; she turned her head away as her lover was murdered in front of her, the horror and guilt unreadable on her endlessly placid face. But damnit all, I was justified. This smug bastard came all the way from Riverwood to destroy the sanctity of my marriage. And I-

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Oh fuck.

Raised voices were heard. Guards were called. This one arrived at my house within moments of Faendal’s… dispatch. In a state of disbelief, this young milk-drinker turned to me and uttered out his duties as a guard; I’d committed crimes against the people of Whiterun. I was to be punish-

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You’re god damn right.

The guard left. Grimacing, I turned to face the wrath of my wife. I’d already taken her dear friend Sven under my wing and ended up killing him in a wolf-out; now I’d murdered her other friend in our own home, in cold blood. Surely she’d not forgive me for this. Life would be forever changed and Faendal, the bastard, will have won.

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My wife is either a cannibal, a necrophiliac, or a blank sheet of paper. All she did was thank me once again for returning the golden claw to her brother in Riverwood, before continuing to stir that pot of oh so lovely mammoth stew, and smiling. In a way, her indifference to the situation was more terrifying than my reaction to it. Taking this into consideration, I nudged Faendal’s corpse into the flames and took an early night’s sleep.

And we all lived happily ever after.

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.

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.