All I’ve Done is Play Skyrim

This week I’ve been a little short on gaming time, but all the time I have had has been sunk solely into Skyrim. I can think of few better games in terms of pure escapism. The mixture of incredibly sedate activities like decorating my house, or levelling up smithing as well as the more traditional dungeon crawler and save the world type content, is what keeps me coming back to the game. In effect, I can pick what sort of experience I want that day, and there are sufficient options to keep things fresh, and mods certainly help with that as well.

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I’ve spent a really quite inordinate amount of time building and decorating my palatial home, Lakeview Manor, located just to the east of  the town of Falkreath. This content came with one of the games DLCs, Hearthfire, and whilst you can’t truly build a house from scratch in your own image, you are given just enough customisation options to make things engaging. Materials needed for construction suddenly become of value to players, and you may find yourself scouring through the hills in search of goats in order to use their horns as wall sconces. The humdrum activity of building part of the houses extension, then realising you’re out of materials, then hopping to town, then back home, then back to town, can be quietly mesmerising in its own way.

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For once, I’m actually attempting to engage with the games main storyline, and I believe I’m pretty far along with that. It’s not too bad, but I’ve never considered story to be one of the strong points of The Elder Scrolls series in general. I have encountered one particular moment which I found quite exciting to be a part of, and that’s the ‘peace council’ between the Imperials and the Stormcloaks that it’s possible for the player to initiate in the right circumstances. Sitting round a table with all of the games most important characters, and carving up Skyrim between the factions in the name of peace and neutrality was oddly exhilarating, perhaps because being given that much influence over the game world was a little surprising to me. Anyway, I’m currently about to fly off on the back of a dragon to what I imagine is pretty close to the conclusion of the story, but I’m not in a huge rush to get there just yet.

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As always though, the games strongest selling point continues to be it’s open world. It’s just so detailed compared to previous iterations of TES, and you feel that over every hill and in every nook and cranny, there is something worth seeing. It’s beautiful, and diverse, and at it’s best can feel quite alive. I probably spend more time simply exploring, or journeying from one point to another, than on any other activity in the game. Whether it’s the lush forests of the south, the harsh craggy landscape of the west, the snowy tundra of the north, or the fertile, misty lands to the east, I never tire of looking for new things to see and do.

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I’m still having a lot of fun with Skyrim. I feel that, for perhaps the first time since its release, I’m actually going to systematically clear its content. I’ve only lightly touched on the DLCs, mainly just a little exploration, but it’s nice knowing I have fresh content I haven’t seen yet to come to later. And of course, Skyrim is almost endless given the sheer weight of high quality mods available, and the ease with which they can be installed, updated and maintained thanks to the Steam Workshop. So overall, I’m really glad I picked up Skyrim again. I hadn’t spent anywhere near as much time with it as I would of liked, so it’s nice to get around to correcting that.

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Return to Skyrim

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For the last couple of days I’ve been diving into Skyrim again for the first time in quite a while. It’s a comforting, familiar friend, and I’m greatly enjoying a couple of mods that I’ve downloaded. I also took the opportunity to purchase all of the games DLC which I hadn’t yet had a chance to play, and this has served as a welcome excuse to get back to the game, because frankly I’m utterly bored of all of the major quest lines in the vanilla game. I’ve yet to really get round to playing any of the DLCs, except for purchasing a plot of land in Falkreath to construct my house, but the hunting guild mod I’m playing is surprisingly in depth and compelling, and actually makes hunting animals a viable way to make money in the game, which suits my bow wielding wood elf.

I’ve always had a strange relationship with Skyrim. The prevailing Elder Scrolls theory is that people usually love the first game in the series which they played more than they love any other Elder Scrolls game. For me, that was Oblivion, which is perhaps the most maligned entry in the series since it’s post-Daggerfall releases. Having taken some time to play a fair chunk of Morrowind, and 150 hours or so of Skyrim, I can certainly see why people had the complaints about Oblivion which they did. It’s world was a bland reimagining of medieval Europe, the map wasn’t very interesting, the character models seemed oddly cartoony and ugly, and many of the more wacky and silly skills available to players in Morrowind had been removed, seemingly never to return to the series again (goodbye levitate!). Cyrodil was just a less interesting place than Morrowind’s Vvardenfell, and offered a far less complex society to master the nuances of. One of my favourite things to do in Morrowind was to read the in game books detailing the Dunmer homelands relationships with the empire, about its great houses and their animosity towards one another, about the simmering resentment between native Ashlander tribes and the settled Dunmer population, about the complex nature of it’s religious structure and how that interacted with the Imperial religion, about it’s unique relationship with slavery. It was just a more interesting place than Cyrodil, and whilst reading those books offered me no tangible reward, obtaining a deeper understanding of the world I was inhabiting was it’s own reward.

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Skyrim, if anything, has gone further down the road of removing many of the skills and RPG mechanics of the Elder Scrolls series. Even small things like the ability to mix and match armour sets for customisation is further reduced. But, you can never level the accusation at Skyrim that its world is boring. To my mind the world is the best thing about Skyrim, beyond doubt. Half of the time when I jump in to the game, all I do is simply wander the roads and hills, and see what I can see. Even after playing quite a few characters in the game, there is so much I haven’t seen, and I still find new quests and dynamic events. Spotting something interesting off in the distance and then slowly winding my way there, seeing what adventure I meet on the way, is for me the best part of the game. It’s unfortunate though that the game seemingly has to sacrifice everything else in order to create that amazing world. NPCs are almost uniformly bland and generic, the quests aren’t very engaging at all, the core RPG mechanics have been simplified, combat amounts to running backwards holding shoot/slash. But such is the strength of that world, that it’s enough to hold the whole experience together.

I don’t know how long I’ll be playing Skyrim. For some of the reasons described above, it’s never quite grabbed me the way some previous Elder Scrolls games have. But, right now I’m having fun running around and hunting dear and foxes for a living, levelling up my skinning skills, and jumping into the odd dungeon when the mood takes me. It’s not perfect by any means, but on its day Skyrim can still offer one hell of an RPG experience, and nothing quite matches those moments when you lose yourself in its world, and drown in the detail.