Hein (fub) wrote,
Hein
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Skyrim

Just as I was wondering if the living room PC was powerful enough to run the PC version of Skyrim, I found an ad from someone who was selling his PS3 copy of the game for less than the PC version costs. We made a deal and Monday I received the game.

Ever since then, I have been spending a lot of my time in Skyrim. 15 hours so far -- 3 hours per day on average. That should tell you something. (I'm playing a woodelf. I specialise in one-handed weapons, but I've had lots of use from my healing spell as well.)

If you want to know about the game, go look up one of the myriad reviews. This entry is for my personal thoughts on the game. Mind you, I haven't progressed far into the main quest (I still have to visit the Greybeards), but I have done so many sidequests that I have reached level 14. I can slay a troll, if the need arises. I haven't seen all of the game world yet, but enough to see a pattern emerge.

The Nord culture of Skyrim is clearly a culture in decline. The landscape is dotted with ruins of towers and fortresses that have fallen into disrepair. Who knows who built these structures? And yet the population huddles together in small 'cities' and hamlets, not straying too far from the safety of home. And they are right to do so: in the wilds, you can get attacked by a bear or sabrecat (and let me tell you, those attacks hurt). Or you can run into a giant, who will squish you like the annoying bug you are. And so, these grand structures are left to fall to pieces, their secrets lost forever.
And yet the Nords are proud of their culture. (The grand conflict is between the Empire, which conquered Skyrim aeons ago, and the Stormcloaks, who fight to liberate Skyrim from the Empire.) They're a martial people: everyone knows how to fight. Early on, I got killed by a blacksmith in the first village you visit, because I killed one of his chickens when I used it for target practice with my bow. Weapons are readily available. And there are books everywhere, detailing things like how to pick a lock or the history of historical figures. How come they read these books, are proud of the stories, and yet still choose to remain at home?
A good 75% of the people you meet are bandits, who have occupied these ruins. Some of the bands stay close to the surface, others try to decipher the secrets of the ancient temples, towers and castles they occupy. Out in the wilds, if you encounter people on or near structures like that, you have a 100% chance that they will react with hostility to your presence. Just who these bandits prey on is not immediately apparent, because they tend to be in out-of-the-way places like a temple on a snowy mountaintop.

It all reminds me very much of a typical Rolemaster module: villagers trade rumours of a derelict ancient temple/tower/castle that was put there by an old empire, and now there are bandits there that need to be taken care of. Everyone you meet has a weapon, everyone fights to the death, magic items are plentiful. There are no tough choices to make: the difference between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys is quite clear. Go in there, slay the evildoers, loot their bodies (and everything else you find) and go back to collect your reward from a thankful mayor. It's all very task-oriented, and not character-oriented.

People are not very conscious of race. Once in a while someone will make a remark on my elf-hood, but it's not a factor in your interactions with others. And curiously enough, you find people from all over the Empire in the cities -- so there is a lot of long-distance travel, even though the roads are not exactly safe. This is not like, for instance, Dragon Age, where there is a complex relationship between elves, humans and dwarves. If you play an elf in Dragon Age: Origins, people will initially treat you with a certain disdain, whereas they will be more neutral if you play a human. This, of course, ties in with the task-oriented nature of the game.
Another aspect of that is the lack of deep conversation trees. Heck, I gained a 'housekarl', Lydia, and I can't get to do her anything else but follow me and fight with me. (She died, by the way, when we killed a dragon. While I was busy absobing its soul, Lydia ran after a fire mage who resided in the castle that the dragon attack -- one of those types who lurk near a structure and try to kill you when you get close. When I came to the courtyard, all I could find was a charred corpse. I did kill the mages, of course. But since Lydia was completely devoid of any personality anyway, I didn't shed a tear and went on my merry way.)

What the game lacks in character depth, it makes up more than enough through the sheer number of things to do. Even just walking through the wilds is an adventure: you might stumble on a cave with a spring in it where a troll guards an enchanted bow. Or you might find a ruin where a mage is holding a ritual (which he or she will happily pause to attempt to kill you, of course). Or you might find a lumber mill where the proprietor is complaining about the lack of labour now that everyone has run off to join the Stormcloaks. Or you might find a dragon attacking a castle.
And when you get to your destination, you will find dungeons filled with traps and (probably) bandits. Or undead, if it's a tomb or temple. Or both, with the bandits on the ground floor and the undead on the lower floors. The bandits will have made themselves comfortable with beds (or bedrolls), cooking fires with utensils, tables with stacks of books.
Speaking of cooking fires: food is an important factor in Skyrim. You can consume food to gain a bit of health, but the sheer variety of food is mind-numbing. Salmon, grilled leeks, red apples, cabbages... I haven't really experimented with cooking yet, because I haven't bought a kitchen for my house in Whiterun yet, but it is supposedly possible to combine various ingredients into healthy dishes. (Same goes alchemy: the number of different ingredients is quite high.)

I really like it so far, but I miss the character depth that Dragon Age has. If that was added, it would be the best console RPG ever.
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