The Trouble with Skyrim

*Videos are taking longer than expected. I’m going to start posting filler. Here’s a a thing on Skyrim!

 

On the fifth day of July I added another year to my age track. Because of this I received a copy of “Skyrim” for free. I have been playing it pretty constantly ever since. It is a fun game, filled with interesting locations and things to do. But a problem seems to be developing and I am beginning to feel that the game has a couple major faults within.

The first is a problem I could aim at “Oblivion” and possibly the past two “Fallout” games. The problem is that the writers, while capable of creating an intriguing story, do not actually know what that story is. In “Oblivion” I was apparently the chosen one, able to find the evil portals, close them, and stop some evil entity. But I never really cared to do so and over the course of the game I entered as few portals as possible, beating the game with the bare minimum of plot encountered and essentially only winning the final battle because some bad guys attacked me.

Part of my apathy towards “Oblivion’s” plot is that it sent me all over the world numerous times. And each time I came to a place there were several plotlines and intrigues for me to follow. As I chased each of these the main plot fell behind and I found that I rarely cared to get back to it. However, if you had the DLC, there was a superior plot located in ‘The Knights of the Nine’ which dealt with me becoming the chosen one, tracking down special people to fill the ranks, locating the ancient artifacts, and then leading the final charge on an evil god. It was a smaller story told in a more straight forward manner, and as such helped me stay aligned with it no matter where I went.

“Skyrim” has fallen prey to this same problem. As I type this my character is level 42. I am only now in the second act of the main plot line and until level 30 I had proceeded only far enough to learn a few shouts for free. Level 30 represents the moment when I finally became bored running around Skyrim doing whatever I wanted. Now I am plodding along with the primary quest, though I am alternating between it and the much more interesting civil war plotline. This is a difficult task for in the main plot I am working to stop an ancient evil that may destroy the world and has lingering and growing effects on the world (dragons) while the other quest involves the lives of the common man torn asunder by treason and loyalty, it is a story of belief and conviction with neither side being shown in a fully good light.

And again the side quest of civil war makes for a better story, and is also told in a better fashion. Once siding with the Empire I was asked to be a courier and consult with a local ruler, I was then used as such again before returning to Whiterun and taking part in a large battle. Afterwards I returned to my primary post and received new orders. I then traveled to my new post and began taking orders. Simple and linier, but engaging and probable actions.

In my main quest I was sent across the whole of Skyrim to find an old man, whom I then had to bring back, and cross to the other side of Skyrim before heading back up to the top of the tallest mountain at which time I learned little and then had to travel to the farthest point north in Skyrim. At this point I encountered the Magical university and a whole new plot line has opened to me, one I don’t want since I’m a simple, steel-driven, barbarian.

Oblivion had this as well. Through he course of the game I became the leader of the mage guild, despite being an untalented barbarian who could barely cast a light spell. I will concede that at least Skyrim lets you enter without joining provided you showoff your status as the dragonborn.

So for the record I have encountered and been offered a position in, the following ‘guilds’: thieves, warriors, mage, assassin’s, rebel, empire…and all I wanted to do was fight some evil and do some blacksmithing. Adding to the problem here is that I can’t even simply speak to the leaders of the rebel or empire factions without attempting to join. I was only able to talk to the rebel leader about his reasons once I had joined the opposition. And apparently I’m part of the thieves’ guild now because the recruited was also the man who had information I needed about the old guy. Also I became a mage student because I talked to the mage headmistress because the lady at the gate told me to do so.

So here seems to be the main problem with “Skyrim”: it’s too free. You are given the illusion of absolute freedom, but not the tools to achieve it, meanwhile the game assumes you care about its plot. You begin as a prisoner, same as Oblivion, but at least there you were simply in jail and if you wished to be a good person it could be assumed you were simply sleeping off a mad drunk. Here you are trapped with the rebel leader and on your way to the chopping block. How am I to be a hero? Clearly I’ve done something horrible, I just wanted to be a blacksmith. Luckily I’m saved by a dragon attack and free to make up my mind (a friend of mine did just this, once out of the sewers he left the imperial behind and just did his own thing) but really it seems like the only likely scenario is either help my rebel master take out the evil empire or run a couple messenger quests out of gratitude to the imperial that got me safely out. But really both of those lead to me killing a dragon and discovering my true destiny, to follow an annoying and unwanted meta plot about running across the world like Forrest Gump.

To be honest I think I’d like a more limited narration, one that limited my options but put me deeper into the world. The game could still start with you coming into Skyrim in a bad way, perhaps you are on the way to a local lockup, maybe you are ready for execution, or maybe you have sold all your possessions just to travel here, or maybe you are the last survivor or a battle gone wrong. To decide the game could simply ask which direction you prefer, perhaps not outright: I want to be a thief, but where your ambitions lie. If you choose duty then it’s a soldiers life for you. Knowledge; you are on a quest to enroll at Hogwarts.  

Whatever the case they could lengthen the mini plot for that section. This could give you a more in-depth magic plot or a longer companion’s plot that really lets me know why Kodlak liked me so much. And then if they wanted the meta plot to kick in, just tie it into the final arc of the plot. Using the magic university as an example it would go like this. Act one would be enrolling and learning to use magic, with quests centered around the university and eventually spreading out into the surrounding area. Act two would see you graduating to the higher ranks, allowed to travel further and dealing with plots and intrigues in the surrounding towns along with mentions of a civil war on the horizon. Act two would end with you on a mission and encountering a dragon, after the battle the shouters would summon you and act three would begin. Act three would begin with you being summoned and the whole of the world open to you; some paths would be shut off (if you showed a proclivity towards good there would be no admittance to the assassins) but a few others would still be open (perhaps now you feel your magic is strong enough to aid the empire) but the dragon threat would be ever looming.

This would give a fuller experience and help tie you into the world, actually make you care. Plot with a dedicated plot it would be easier to drop hints of the danger to come, instead of just having dragons attack each time you leave riftin. And for the people who still hate this idea and would cry about the game limiting them…just have one of the options be “I want to be a legend” and have the game function as normal.

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2 thoughts on “The Trouble with Skyrim

  1. First, a correction: the game actually establishes that there isn’t really a reason as to why you’re a prisoner (as in all TES games). Rather, you were caught up in an ambush you happened to be near, while crossing over the border into Skyrim. Your execution is mandated based, literally, on your past and current proximity to the rebels, something even the other imperials seem to try to warn her off against.

    Joining and progressing through factions used to be slightly more nuanced, in Morrowind. While I’m pretty sure most faction quests end with you in charge of the faction, not all do. In fact, all factions in Morrowind had skill and attributed based requirements for entry and advancement. Each faction also didn’t have an overarching story that ended with you in charge; rather, advancement was a function of skill mastery and completing certain tasks (quests), among the many quests offered by various people throughout the faction. Quests were just work within the faction. You looked for artifacts and did research for the mage’s guild. You stole stuff for the thieve’s guild. You got yelled at for not wearing your uniform in the Imperial Legion.

    And not every faction was joinable. You had the Great Houses, which were mutually exclusive. You also had some exclusivity between the fighter’s and thieve’s guild. Regardless as to exclusivity, some factions didn’t like members of other factions, so joining became more difficult, as did dealing with individual members.

    The effect, I feel, in Oblivion and Skyrim is that developers have come to loathe the idea of producing content that only a fraction of players will see. They don’t want to have a modest mage’s guild that refuses entry and denies rank advancement. They to advertise the content. They want guards to tell you to put your magic hands to use in Winterhold. Every Jarl has a court wizard that tells you to join it. The main quest takes you there and they tell you to join. And then you join, and there aren’t even ranks anymore. You just do things, and are rewarded with meaningless guild leadership (that no one recognizes).

    Rinse and repeat for basically every faction.

    Okay, that went on too long.

    What you’re talking about sounds like a prolonged period of character creation, one where the world only opens up once you’ve decided on and played a character for some time, locking you into decisions and out of mutually exclusive or contradictory options.

    Which …kind of goes against the whole goal of TES, which is to produce a world for you to play in, that restricts you as minimally as possible.

    In as much as I agree with you, I think some restrictions could enhance things some, as in Morrowind. I also think some focus could help, so when you’re doing the main quest you aren’t beset by offers for work and quests from every damned person.

    How much the game shoves it down your throat depends on the game. Oblivion only had Oblivion Gates showing up four or five quests in; Skyrim gets dragons rather quickly, but then they’re linked with character advancement in a way that the Gates were not.

    So yeah.

  2. Shamefully late response! You actually posted this on my own birthday, funny enough, so I saw it, but didn’t quite get to look it over…

    Well, I can’t comment on Oblivion, ‘since I never played more than a lick of it. At Trod’s apartment. In Chicago. You may have been there!

    I can segue a little though, as you mention Oblivion shoe-horning the player into a “chosen one” status, something Skyrim certainly does as well, and something I feel Fallout 3 was also guilty of. It feels a bit device-y, and I think Bethesda likes falling onto the device since it makes it easier to justify handing the player anything they might want to hand them (like, say, snappy guild membership?).

    Of course, on two points:

    Fallout 3 being the only of the above three games I’ve actually beaten, the whole thing feels like a bit of an overplayed morality tale with the player being forced into being an accomplice to something that is decidedly good and lacks significant moral gray areas for consideration. Of course, the whole damn thing isn’t helped by the fact that even if you try to be a dick and let someone else sacrifice their life to turn on the Purifier, your game still ends, making the decision effectively moot.

    That aside, where Skyrim is concerned at least, I haven’t really touched the guilds with a ten-foot stick. Most of these RPGs I’ve mainly just dropped into and started playing once I was cut loose. I have no clue how the story of Morrowind goes, and while I followed Skyrim’s by a little bit, I tend to get detoured by side quests rather badly.

    Fallout 3 I only finished by mistake, since while exploring I stumbled onto the tail end of a quest I hadn’t even started, prompting the next story event forward, to which I said “well, let’s just see where this goes”. By comparison, New Vegas was the only one that I actually went into with intention of following the plot… which I did.

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