Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Life Amongst the Nords

I've been meaning to write about Skyrim for a while, but then, that would mean stopping playing Skyrim to take time to write a blog post. Somehow, I'm managing that tonight. I've been playing Elder Scrolls: Skyrim for a while now. I'm up to level 18, and having a smashing time.

But things weren't always like that. Starting out in the game, I was pretty overwhelmed. It's like there is too much to do and no one telling you what you should pay attention to and what to ignore. Granted, it is a sandbox game, which means there's no set course. You can wander where you will, and do whatever you like. But when I am starting out, I was freaking out a bit because I had no idea whether I would need to save this broom I found for later, or if I would regret not talking to that person because they'd never show up again and I'd lost a chance for a cool quest or something. So it started out being stressful.

I've gotten past that. I'm entranced by the lush landscapes and detail. At one point I emerged from a cave to stare agog at aurora borealis lighting up the fantasy sky adorned with double moons. I'm oddly enthralled by the menial tasks you can perform like cooking, training, picking flowers, or chopping wood. I'm enjoying the lushness and the cool dungeons and monsters. That doesn't mean I haven't come up with a new set of gripes.

Even after the amount of time I've played, combat still is chaotic button mashing. I usually end up staring into my opponent's armpit or slashing next to them. Any lateral movement makes me lose track of where my foe is. Thankfully, I've got a few other people to depend on. I can summon a flame elemental thingy that is very effective at blowing up the baddies, and I have my trusty housecarl Lydia who has much better battle sense than I do, even if she cannot figure out how to climb out of a lake on her own.

Sometimes, combat is awesome. After one dungeon, I found a route out of it on top of a mountain. I emerged on the snowy peak and climbed through a blizzard to a monument on top. There I was attacked by two ice wraiths, nasty serpents of cold and malevolence. Right as I was finishing up that pitched battle, I was bathed in fire. I was immediately being attacked by a dragon! In the raging snowstorm, Lydia and I fought a desperate battle. Lydia almost died before I healed her back up, but the battle raged on. I lost sight of her, and I feared she was dead. The dragon landed and I went in for the kill. As I slew the dragon, the body started to slide down the side of the mountain with its valuable treasure. I ran after it and caught up before it went over the edge. I turned around and Lydia was there. She had survived! It was an exultant moment. I was pumped and grinning. That was awesome!

I then spent the next hour trying to get Lydia to walk through a door. It was not fun.

That's one of the other things I can gripe about. The game can be pretty buggy. You'll come across axes or tables floating in midair. Lydia wasn't following me through a door because there wasn't enough space to accommodate her on the other side. I also spent a lot of time trying to get her out of lake she'd fallen into. The floating sword type bug is easy to forgive in a world as massive and complex as Skyrim, but when a bug threatens to make me lose a valuable companion (plus all the loot she's hauling for me), and I spend hours trying to circumvent the problem, I get grumpy.

One other gripe I have is that the people don't seem to matter very much. This is an odd complaint, but it stems from having played the Mass Effect games. In those games, your companions, the other people on your team, have stories and personalities and you bond with them. You delve into their lives and help them in their personal crises. It makes sense that people going through war together would get to know each other. In Skyrim, Lydia has crawled through dungeons with me. We've battled dragons and trolls together. She's followed me through the rain on nighttime treks. She has saved my life, and I have saved hers. Yet all the communication I'm allowed with her is where I want her to stand and what items I want her to carry. She's following me all across Skyrim. Shouldn't I learn something about her family or her history?

In another example, I retrieved a guy's stolen family sword for him for one quest. Immediately, I also beat the snot out of him for another quest. I then ask him to train me in combat, and he agrees. Then after that, he acts as if we've never interacted. Weird. Again, I have to forgive this to an extent, since the land is so amazingly detailed. It's definitely the strength of the game. I can understand if the social interactions got short shrift.

Ok, one final gripe before I go back to extolling the virtues of this game. The plot has to do with everyone freaking out because dragons are coming back. People act like they're these super scary monsters. But they're pushovers. I beat my first when I was level 4, and every one since then, with the exception of the mountaintop battle, has been a pushover. The giants, however, are things to be feared. They can kill you with one hit. Or how about snow saber cats that can maul you in seconds? No one seems concerned about them, but they are far, far, far fiercer creatures than dragons. But everyone is soiling their pants over dragons. It seems a bit silly, really.

Anyway, I am loving Skyrim. It is so open-ended; it is astounding. And the fact that it can make me enjoy foraging for alchemical reagents or trying to find cheese to make fondue (really), says something. I'm going to be playing this one for a while.

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