Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Skyrim Revisited

at 6:16 PM
You heard it here first - almost exactly a year after I got it, I'm making my glorious return to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - and this time, it's personal.

Here's the thing. I probably bitch a lot on this blog about Skyrim. It's hard to remember how much of this bitching is put into writing, how much is spouted off with friends, and how much just rolls around in my head, but I bet if you didn't know any better, you'd think I quite hated the game. And it's true that I spend a lot of time criticizing anything that achieves the amount of praise lauded on Skyrim. Sure it's partly because I'm a trend-breaking rebel with a bone to pick and a bone to prove about how I'm smarter than everyone else, but it's also because I think that to understand gaming as a whole, one of the most important steps is to scrutinize why we like what we do, and not be satisfied to declare it a masterpiece and move on. Something as massive as Skyrim, something that so well embodies the state of video games in 2011/2012, is bound to unveil many of the successes and flaws of the medium. So yeah, I'm going to give it a much fucking harder ride than a game carried by pure artistic vision like Black Knight Sword. I heap as much grief on every last Zelda and Blizzard and Valve game.

But at the end of the day, when I shut the fuck up and just play, this is a great game. So much time and effort, so many years of experimentation, so much vicious and worshiping fan feedback, and The Elder Scrolls V can't be anything but a triumph. Just like Nintendo knows exactly what made you fall in love with Mario and how to roll that out year after year, Bethesda has a masterful team that may not be overflowing with artistic genius, but that can come together and draw you into a fantasy reality. Every challenge thrown at Skyrim is framed as "how can Skyrim get away with X and still be one of the greatest RPGs of the era?"

If we roll back time a few years to the Year of Our Lord 2006, we'll find me wasting away my freshman year of Our Lord of college first being introduced to The Elder Scrolls by means of some 250 hours spent in Oblivion. At the time the game was an utter revelation to me, and to this day it remains one of my all-time favorites. Hopping my way across the Cyrodiil countryside to manipulate the skill system is a gaming experience I'll never forget. Fireballing my first rat. Deciding my second character would be a psychopathic mass murderer and almost entirely forgoing questing just to lurk among rooftops sniping the citizenry and evading guards. An RPG where you could be anyone was all I had ever wanted from the time I first picked up an NES controller at age 3 (well uh... kinda... the idea probably didn't hit me RIGHT at age 3).

It was probably this Oblivion saturation that caused my original hesitance with Skyrim. After you fuck around with a game for hundreds of hours, those colorful early highlights begin to dissipate into the memory of the little annoyances, like accidentally picking up an owned item and immediately putting it back, only to be charged with thievery anyway and forced to spend a night in jail. Or worse yet, the outrageously lax auto-saving system that demands you remember to save every few minutes, lest lose potential hours of content. To try to keep things fresh, I opted to go with a new and unconventional class, something I had never tried in Oblivion, a stealth destruction mage, and set off to join all the guilds and find the Dark Brotherhood et al.

This first round of play hardly lasted ten hours before I had had it. The little niggles were all I could see anymore, the new class was a hassle, and the iterative guild quests felt empty and unrewarding. Disappointed, I put the game aside for nearly a year. Determined to give it one more shot, I picked it up two weeks ago and decided to start from scratch. Forget trying to do everything the right way - I was going to make a plain old melee warrior and wander about the countryside until the fun came to me. And that's exactly what it did - I've hardly been able to put the game down and have probably dumped 30-40+ hours into this character in the span of just a few weeks.

I now realize the flaw of my original approach: I wanted to play the game as if it were still Oblivion, as if I had simply started it up and opened up a new save file. What this was ignoring is that I had gotten tired of Oblivion. I had walked away from it because there wasn't enough left to interest me, and all the really fun things I had already done. But the really fun things in Skyrim were still right there waiting for me, so why try to jump to what had been my Oblivion endgame - all that stuff I had first enjoyed was back again, fresh and tweaked and new. 

Also, this time I'm playing as a lizardman.

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