I’ve purchased Skyrim a couple of times. When it first came out, I bought it for the PS3 based on the word-of-mouth I was hearing from co-workers. For whatever reason, I never really got into the groove of using a controller for an RPG, and quickly abandoned the idea. About two years later, still encouraged by strong reviews and graphics that were very appealing to my gaming tastes, I picked up the Ultimate PC edition on Steam for a little over $25. This time, I tried a little harder to understand the game, but still found it frustrating and turned to more familiar titles to fill my precious free time.
I’m starting to think that, for me, timing is an important consideration when playing a game. If I start playing a game because it’s new and everybody is talking about it, my experience is usually not as good as if I wait several months (or years) to begin playing. Such was the case with Guild Wars 2, and I’m finding the same to be true with the fifth iteration of the Elder Scrolls franchise. The benefits of waiting include fully fleshed-out documentation in the form of fan wiki’s, blog posts and videos that can help me through the sticky spots, as well as the expectation for many of the bugs to have already been squashed. However, waiting longer to play can increase the risk of wading through a game that may seem outdated from a graphical or mechanics standpoint. From what I can tell so far, Skyrim benefits from the former without suffering from the latter.
Skyrim is a first or third-person RPG, set later in the Elder Scrolls timeline than any of their other titles. The basic premise is that dragons are back, and you character, upon helping to kill one, discovers that he/she is of special breed – something that Skyrim legend calls dragonborn. Essentially, you have the ability to absorb dragon souls and learn their language in order to use dragon powers in battle. It’s a nice main storyline, but seems almost eclipsed by all of the other “stuff” going on around you within the game. There’s a civil war brewing between the Imperials and Stormcloaks, there’s vampiric activity being reported, bandits and witches occupy abandoned ruins, and – oh yeah – walking skeletons.
Even after four years, the graphics in Skyrim hold up remarkably well. I’m continually impressed by the snow whipping around in the mountains or the eerie silence of a fog engulfed keep in the distance. A shadow passing quickly beneath my feet still makes me jerk my bow heavenward, expecting a winged monstrosity to bear down on my party with (literally) flared nostrils. In all, the environment within which the stories of Skyrim play out is masterfully crafted. I’m also finding myself very invested in the stories themselves. I love how these stories play out through quick dialog and actual questing experiences rather than long-winded text followed by and all-too-familiar “kill ten rats” objective.
There are several things in Skyrim that are still pretty mysterious to me. Crafting, for one. Also, with the edition I purchased, the Hearthfire expansion supposedly gives me the ability to buy a plot of land and build a house, but I have not taken the time to figure that out yet. I have a rough idea how progression works, but am still not 100% sure what kinds of things contribute to overall character leveling. For example, I know that I level a skill (say, archery) by using that skill, and when that skill increases in level, my overall character xp also increases. But I’m unsure if things like mob kills and quest completions also contribute towards character level. Also, what does leveling actually mean? Are there base-stats that increase as you gain levels, or is it only the leveling of individual skills that has an effect on your character’s performance within the game? Bethesda seems to have kept much of this type of information “under the covers” in attempt to get us to focus on playing the game instead of leveling. This is a noble goal, but having this type of knowledge would help me to better focus on certain objectives.
While I can’t offer a ton of tips on how to play the game, I can reveal some things that I’ve learned the hard way which may enhance your enjoyment. First of all, explore. Don’t depend on the quest lines to send you to the most appropriate areas, either. My first mistake was trying to do an entire quest line, ending up in an area that was too difficult, and dying in frustrating fashion. Then, after some time off, going back, picking up another quest line, and doing the same thing all over again. Many of the quests are meant to be experienced throughout the entirety of the game, so it’s ok to carry them on your journal for a long, long time. The key to my eventual enjoyment of the game was when I realized I could pick up a quest and then carry on exploring. Perhaps I would complete it along the way, or perhaps I would have to get back to it at a later time. I’d advise exploring the southern part of the map and working your way northwards. That seems to be how the difficulty progresses. Also, you can find a lot of gold by just wandering around, clearing out caves and keeps, and looting the corpses and chests along the way. Oh yeah, tip number two: gold and arrows have no weight value, so ALWAYS take them. They won’t slow you down! Third tip: take a companion! I’m actually using two at the moment, Lydia, who I picked up in Whiterun, and Barbas, an annoying dog who always blocks my path in dungeons. Normally, I think you can only have one companion at a time, but Barbas is part of a quest line that I haven’t completed yet. At any rate, having someone fight at your side makes things much more doable, especially when one of those fire-breathers swoops out of the sky. I like to use the dog as a tank while I fire arrows from a safer distance.
In all, while I’m about four years behind everybody else (and four years removed from my original purchase!), I’ve finally reached the point of really being able to appreciate how deep and fun this RPG is. I can’t wait to log in of an evening and see what’s in the next valley.