The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim


I became overworked -- and my powers of concentration waned. So, I took up a mindless pursuit... I bought Skyrim for the Xbox and distracted myself as a Cat-person (Kajit) and skulked around shooting things with my bow and arrow. It felt like "Tenchu" for the old playstation but with wonderfully stunning graphics.

So I spent many an evening or Saturday skulking around Nordic ruins and abandoned Dwarven factories. All the while I was bothered, annoyed, and addicted. I soon learned the way that the AI responded and didn't respond to intruders. I rolled on the floor laughing in morbid glee as a bandit conducted a one-way conversation his fellow across the table. Putting an arrow through the head of his compatriot had elicited a brief..."Is someone there?" dialog that ended after a few seconds. At first, I wasn't sure his friend was dead so I popped another arrow into the corpse. And so I watched for nearly ten minutes as he returned to the table to continue his chatter with his dead friend artistically slumped across from him with an arrows sticking out of his eyes. He looked like some kind of strange bug with antennae. The effect was heightened as I was able to sneak close, kill the guard and examine my handiwork.

The bandit was gifted with limited AI but no AE (Artificial Emotion). I soon came to realize that entities in Skyrim all talk to themselves. None of them have any emotional response the bodies of their friends and some are indestructible if they exist on a "spaghetti strand." You see the entire plot of Skyrim is a plate of spaghetti. Each quest is a linear adventure that lets you "explore" locations that are subtlely designed to lead you through them. From a design point of view every cavern or castle is a cross, loop, figure-eight, or spiral. The twists, turns, and perturbations give the illusion of choice.

It is branded as an RPG because your character "levels up" -- a game feature that could be entirely excluded from the game. The game has the same shape at high levels as it does at low levels. At low levels crypts are filled with dougar. At high levels crypts are filled with Arch Dougar Deathlords. It is the same monster, just levelled to challenge you. Even the treasure becomes more bountiful and shopkeepers stock better equipment. Another great moment of mirth for me is when I discovered that some Ghosts make a creaking sound like skeletons. I knew that if I had been on this spaghetti strand earlier I would have been fighting skeletons; but alas they had been replaced by ghosts however the designers forgot to change the sound that accompanies them. So the challenge of the game doesn't change; the kind of experience you have doesn't change. This has been one of my long standing criticisms of D&D (Dross and Depravity). It homogenizes all characters to three roles and homogenizes the experience across the "levels" to the point where I don't see the point of doing levels like that at all.

So for Skyrim I would have liked it more if they had taken the levels out all together.

1) They don't add anything to the game other than a false sense of accomplishment.
2) It limits your play at higher levels. You see, at first level you have complete freedom as the monsters are suited to fit you. But, if you decide at level twenty to take off the armor that you have become proficient in and do a switch of paradigms you will find that the monsters have you out-classed because you are now under-powered for a character of your level. You lack the perks and skills that match the equipment that you are using. You have not min-maxed correctly. Incorrect min-maxing is a sign of a real gaming noob; and I seem to do it all the time.

There are lots of bugs in Skyrim. You can walk through some walls, have the game freeze, or have monsters sit paralyzed at some points. Now my game takes over 1/2 an hour to load or save it is time for me to put it down for good. They released it before it was really working perfectly and tested; built it bigger by recylcing all the same polygons and puzzles and turned large chunks of "writing" over to folks without much imagination.

But I say a fond farewell to it -- using the word "fond" in its earlier form -- meaning a naiive, simple-minded, affection. The game has the most breathtaking visuals of any game I have ever played. The flavour of the world is spot on even if cities and towns are drastically underpopulated. I just wish I could really interact with inhabitants and story.

What I would really love is if they could strip out all of the AI and turn the game into an RPG.

I've never really liked the Elder Scrolls series - it's always seemed to be far too ... Greyhawk to me, when I prefer something more Forgotten Realmish (to berate the simile). In that respect, Dragon Age, Star Wars: The Old Republic, etc., are much better choices for "computer roleplaying", though even those are pretty well on the rails. They just seem to react more to my actions.

The plot was really heavy-handed, but the culture of the Nords was tangible and believable. They didn't use enough voice talent though and lacked varied dialog. I mean... how hard is it to spend an afternoon with 50 people from the local drama school and each have them read a different guard. Half of the main characters were voiced by the same cadre of talent. It sounds like one of them was the actor who played Tigh in the newer Battlestar Galactica. The same phrases -- in the same voice -- were used ad nauseum. It was like being in an old-folks home. ... "yes, I got the concept within the first dozen times it was mentioned." Sigh... I guess we are all destined for some level of dementia.

I am going to give up on computer games for a while. I have work piling up and haven't had the energy to attend to it.

I didn't play in either Greyhawk or FR long enough to be able to distinguish them. I do remember throwing a "Gord the Rogue" novel across the room when I was laid up with a leg injury. Mostly we picked apart modules or played homebrew. I have quite a pile... maybe when I retire I can try them all "as written."

I wish that you could build interactions with computer characters...

You could select an emotion: (Deferential, Animated, Empathetic, Angry, Cold, Defiant)
Then a duration (Terse, Short, Medium, Long)
You could select a style: (Question, Answer, Poetic, Request, Factual, Educational, Non-Verbal)
And Finally a topic:(Religion, Politics, History) The AI could remember your style and default to it. So that if you played Stevan Segal you could spend an entire session asking "where's Ricky" in a terse, demanding tone.

.. and levelling up changed the gameplay experience.

... and all the plot lines didn't wait for you.

... and the world was consistent without your character.

... and you didn't have to save the world.

Unfortunately, when AIs are smart enough to give you everything you want them to give you, it will be time to be concerned about their rights, welbeing and job satisfaction. ;-)

I too am too backed up with work to play computer games, or board games (which would trump computer gaming anyway, but I have time for neither). I just have my one night a week of tabletop roleplay goodness. Finally finished running my long-running (sub) campaign. Not DM'ing for the first time in 4 years and I can't tell you how good it feels.