If you want to start playing a role playing game (RPG), then The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the way to go. The Xbox 360 controls are pretty straightforward and there are no complicated button combinations to memorise. Even a noob like me was running, jumping, sneaking and slashing in no time. Archery was a greater challenge but “practice makes permanent so eventually that was a piece of cake too. Goodness knows there are many opportunities to fire arrows in this game! You’re fighting for survival from the very start and enemies are everywhere. The wilderness is full of dangerous animals that want to make a meal out of you. As well as ruthless bandits who live to loot and plunder. Ironically you’ll be the hand of Karma, looting and plundering them instead.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has a vast environment with a seemingly endless amount of things to do. Wikipedia cites the Collector’s Edition – “Making of Skyrim” DVD saying the game “features 244 quests and over 300 points of interest.” That’s a lot especially when you consider that each quest includes numerous activities. As is typical with adventure games, you have to fetch and deliver items to people or sometimes convince characters to do certain things. Radiant quests for various factions are dynamic and can be done repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly. You can have as many games as your console or PC’s storage space will allow. With ten distinctive races to choose from, this is why people are still playing or newly discovering the game years after its initial release.
I currently have two characters: Chaconia, a High Elf and Scarlet Ibis, a Nord. Chaconia is further along in the story. She went to heroes’ heaven and slew the evil dragon, Alduin. Think Smaug but smaller and meaner. She became the College of Winterhold’s head mage and after taking care of business at the Skyrim Hogwarts, which was no small feat, she rooted out corruption in the Thieves Guild (oh, the irony!). Chaconia also leads a legendary group of warriors called The Companions, and most recently threw her lot in with the Empire to end Skyrim’s massive civil war. In case you’re wondering why she hasn’t become a Dark Brotherhood assassin – she won’t because I don’t want her to and that’s allowed for in the game. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. The flip side of the coin is that you can do just about anything.
Time is always on your side
This fantasy world revolves around the player, which is something I didn’t understand until watching my Skyrim sensei, Nick and Sean “Day” Plott play. (Disclaimer: Day is a compulsive swearer. He’s also very funny but I warn you that the f-word is his favourite expletive.) Just because a quest giver says you need to go somewhere as soon as you can because it’s a matter of life, death and all existence being turned upon its head – there’s no actual rush. The crisis will keep until you get there and enemies will patiently await their chance to do battle with the Dragonborn. (That’s you.) For example, Delphine of The Blades is still waiting for Scarlet Ibis to show up for instructions to do a quest called Diplomatic Immunity from the main storyline, which won’t happen anytime soon. Chaconia died many times on that mission because she was not ready to tangle with her cousins in the Thalmor Embassy, so I want Scarlet thoroughly prepared. My next character will be a Khajiit and her name will be an ode to one of the most famous Bond girls. (Hint: they’re cat people.)
Since quests wait for the player, exploration is encouraged. If something in the distance catches your eye while you’re journeying somewhere, then by all means take your character for a closer look. Important undiscovered locations appear on the game compass to make sure you know if there’s something cool in your path. More often than not, it’ll not only be interesting but sometimes you’ll find adventure along the way. I want my characters to explore every inch of the land until they’re stopped by the map’s boundaries.
I am woman hear me Fus Ro Dah!
Gender equality in Skyrim was one of the best surprises for me. Although a burly male Dragonborn is featured in all the promotional ads, players choose preferred gender during character creation; and here’s the thing – it doesn’t matter what you pick. My Dragonborn girls have the very same strengths and weaknesses as their male counterparts, and it’s glorious. Non-player characters (NPC) treat you with the same adoration, disdain or indifference. It all depends on a player’s choices and actions – not gender. This also applies to marriage in the game. The list of potential spouses includes NPCs of various races, ages, occupations and both genders. Despite the game’s M rating no sexual activity is seen but the chosen spouse will speak lovingly towards the player among other things. I haven’t come across all the candidates yet but of the thirty or so I’ve interacted with, the females are generally more interesting characters than the males. Yet who knows if my girls will marry at all? They’re quite accomplished on their own with multiple homes and money in their pockets.
Get Rich or Die Tryin’
Capitalism is alive and well in Skyrim. It’s entirely possible to buy potions, weapons and armour from money you’ve taken from vanquished adversaries; and found in chests or burial urns from various creepy places. There are a lot of those in this realm. However you can also make money doing the same thing, taking bounty jobs issued by the local Jarl (Lord/Lady). They’re usually an order to kill a bandit leader and his (or her because hello, gender equality!) lawless entourage; or a giant. These are legal looting opportunities. You sell whatever you don’t want or to use local traders, plus payment for the job. Stolen items will be turned into cold, hard septims when sold to a Thieves Guild fence because those kids will sell whatever you bring them. It’s just a matter of how much you can carry and how much money they have to buy your stuff.
If you’re a warrior with The Companions, then vicious animals that have killed people will fall to your blades or arrows. Or you’ll be rescuing kidnapped citizens from bandits or witches. Of course, if you enjoy having a bloody blade then assassination will be the name of the game. The Dark Brotherhood will pay you to kill people they refer to as “poor fools.” It’s funny because the player’s first interaction with these shadowy figures is usually surviving an attack by them. As aforementioned, Chaconia won’t join up with them but Scarlet Ibis definitely will. She just hasn’t gotten around to it as yet. Getting paid for adventuring sounds like a win-win but the best way to make big bucks in Skyrim is selling what you make: potions, weapons and armour. One poison or potion bottle made from commonly found ingredients can fetch hundreds. Ores are easily mined from the open countryside or mines, which can then be made into items. Of course you can enchant what you make which increases their value even more. Carrying weight is the major issue in early levels, but I’ve found that making and selling jewellery is especially lucrative. Deep pocketed players can eventually buy homes, the strongest weapons and armour for themselves and followers.
Can’t we all just get along?
While gender equality was a pleasant surprise, racism was a startling one that was part of the Civil War storyline. Skyrim’s native Nords are split between those who don’t mind other races settling there and those who want the borders closed and immigrants sent back to their native lands. NPCs interact with each other and in the city of Windhelm you see Nord men verbally abusing a Dark Elf woman. That was rather unsettling and you have an opportunity to help her, as well as other others trying to get a fair chance in that city – or not. Like I said before, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.
Besides it’s not like the Dragonborn can make everybody cast aside their prejudice anyway. There is contention among all the races. The cats don’t like the lizards. The humans don’t let the cats into the cities because of their reputation for thievery. The High Elves think they’re superior to everybody. The Nords are enthusiastic xenophobes, although a group called Forsworn claim part of Skyrim as their own. The Imperials are generally thought to be the Aldmeri Dominion’s stoolies and the Orcs are just trying to survive. Despite all this racial strife, the Dragonborn won’t face any travel restrictions played as a Khajiit or Argonian and it’s perfectly acceptable to marry outside your species. For the most part, the most sass you’ll get is from city guards who flip-flop between awe of your accomplishments or scoffing that you’re not all that…and kids. Kids are weird in Skyrim but that’s another blog post.
After a fair amount hard core adventuring, the game started acting like a jerk as all video games tend to do. I have a few quests under the Miscellaneous tab that have been completed but still show as outstanding. As a goal-oriented person, this is completely infuriating. On the other hand I’m befuddled by one of the missions where I must inform Leifnarr’s family that he was killed by bandits. However when I interact with his wife, Grosta, at the Heartwood Mill just outside of Riften, there’s no option in the conversation menu to tell her the bad news. I reloaded the game and revisited her a few times but no beans. It’s an incredibly easy quest I simply cannot complete. Chaconia’s Civil War quest was stalled for a few weeks. She reported to Legate Rikke at an Imperial soldier camp but, like Grosta, didn’t have “Reporting In” as a conversation option despite the quest icon floating above her head. I randomly checked back and it was suddenly accessable. Needless to say, that storyline was wrapped up before the glitch could raise its ugly head again. (Skyrim belongs to the Nords Empire!)
One of the game’s problems is my own fault because I messed up The Companions’ Radiant Quests. As a matter of explanation, Radiant Quests follow main storylines for various factions you join: The Companions, Thieves Guild, College of Winterhold and Dark Brotherhood. I never wanted Chaconia to be a werewolf in the first place and delayed continuing the story because of it. When the opportunity presented itself I disregarded my Skyrim sensei, Nick’s advice and cured her immediately, not realising that a major part of the Radiant Quests depends on her being a werewolf. By curing her, I curtailed the storyline which included some pretty cool adventures. Now that I know better, Scarlet Ibis’ game will be quite different. I’m making different choices for her – very different but you’ll hear more about her later on. Nick said that I saved too often and one of the files was corrupted so Chaconia is hopelessly glitched out, but’s I don’t mind recreating her. She’s my firstborn Dragonborn. Also I now have The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Legendary Edition, which should include bug fixes and the downloadable content (DLC). I’m not sure if this will clear up the glitches but I’m hopeful and with all the extra goodness, we’ll be playing this game for a long time.
There are so many things I love about this game, and have discovered communities of people from all over the world who love it too. Click around Tumblr to see artwork inspired by the game, funny memes and some screenshots of the night skies or sweeping vistas that should make the game’s artists proud. There are also cover versions of the Skyrim soundtrack like Malukah’s positively beautiful Tale of the Tongues. Sometimes walking your character around the countryside in Whiterun hold gathering flowers for potions can be a thoroughly rewarding experience, far the less for trips to ancient Dwarven ruins like Blackreach or beautiful cities like Solitude. So much care went into even the small details. For one thing, there are books everywhere. Even bloodthirsty pirates have well-stocked shelves and almost every single book contains text on an incredible variety of topics related to the game. Just scroll through this list on http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Books_%28Skyrim%29 and you’ll see what I mean. Cookbooks, smithing and alchemy instructions, diaries, fairy tales, biographies, political essays, and so on, which you can read at your leisure even during an adventure because time stops once you open a book. Although I highly recommend letting your character take them home and stock their own bookshelves.
A Final Word
A new game called Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) is currently available but you’d be better off waiting until its next incarnation – The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited. That will be on PC/Mac on March 17, 2015, PS4 and Xbox One on June 9, 2015. It’s an MMORPG which means Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game and set a thousand years before the events in Skyrim. As interesting as it sounds, I haven’t begun to explore the Skyrim add-ons (Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn) as yet. By the time I’m well and truly done with The Elder Scrolls V, hopefully sixth instalment should be ready for release. Personally I hope they take their time and do it right. Skyrim blew people’s minds when it came out and the main grouse folks playing ESO have been going on about is that this game simply isn’t’ Skyrim. Hopefully Bethesda Softworks leave us speechless and turn the industry on its head with the next game; but in the meantime dragons beware, my girls are on the lookout for you.