Thursday, January 12, 2012

Skyrim: An Open Heart Surgery and Explanation

I really like Skyrim.

No, you don't seem to understand, I REALLY like Skyrim.

Giving Skyrim my award of Game of the Year isn't really enough to describe how much I love it.

I understand it has flaws, I mean it's still as broken as political campaign promises (what a bad zinger) on the PS3.

Thankfully, I decided to construct a gaming PC over the past summer and have had the best experience.

I guess I should better get to why I actually love Skyrim so much. So I'll go ahead and just take apart piece why I enjoy it so much.

1. It's an Open and Immersive Fantasy game

Ever since I was but a wee little lad in New England I've always loved Fantasy. I would get every Harry Potter book the day it came out and read it to completion on the same day. Even to this day I'm still a huge fan of fantasy books, as well as science fiction.

I was also bullied a lot when I was younger, in elementary and middle school, I had always dreamed of being the valiant Paladin, the powerful Wizard, and the mysterious Thief, both taking revenge and doing the same heroic deeds I often read in books.

Now, a lot of people often live out these fantasies through table-top games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, but even to this day I have yet to meet a dungeon master and other people that I could possibly play a game of it with. Skyrim manages to fulfill that same desire, without needing to go through the effort of wrangling together a group of people.

In Skyrim I can be an dark elf, oppressed by the nordic people of in Skyrim, who uses his stealth, and skills in destructive magic to rise through the ranks of the Dark Brotherhood and exact his revenge upon the nord populace. Or I can be a schizophrenic lizard-man that hordes cheese.

That's what's great about Skyrim, its designed to be open enough to allow the player to do almost anything. And as a PC player, there will be mods for every possible addition to Skyrim imaginable.

"But Will..." you begin to tell me, with pitchforks raised at my mention of liking Skyrim better than Morrowind, "The other Elder Scrolls games have those aspects as well, and some do it better, why do you like Skyrim so much?" Well, that leads me to number two.

2. It's the highpoint of the series thus far.

I think it is, at least.

Now before we continue, I think it bears mentioning I have only played, about 30 minutes of Morrowind. It might seem unfair for me to compare Morrowind to the rest of the series, having played it a year ago, and in the context of modern games. However, I was about 8 years old when Morrowind came out, and at that time the extent of my gaming interest was only within the realms of Nintendo games and products.

I gave Morrowind an honest go. I tried playing it without mods, and just couldn't get past the bad 3d graphics. Then I spent at least 4 hours trying to mod Morrowind with help from an online overhaul guide. However after following the entire guide, was unable to run it. So that was Morrowind.

Then came Oblivion.

Oblivion was a great game, it just seemed kind of, bland. It had all of the basic pieces that Skyrim would come to use and need. It was open, accessible, allowed the player to do as much as was possible within the confines of the engine, and to be almost anything. It was also very moddable, and because of the timing of it's release, before there were many big franchises on the 360, it acquired a much larger audience than the previous games.

But as I mentioned earlier, it was bland. Albeit some of the side quests were interesting, but it was set in an extremely generic fantasy setting. The main quest was your run of the mill "Demons are attacking the city/nation/continent/world/dimension/reality so we'd better look for the chosen one". A lot of storylines can be abstracted to the point of following that plotline, but Oblivion didn't have anything that differentiated its plotline.

Skyrim took the raw ore, that was Oblivion, and refined it into a pure and strong metal ingot.

Many of the mechanics from the previous games such as leveling up, companions, combat, and magic were refined. New systems and mechanics were added that enhanced game play and immersion, such as the Radiant Storytelling system that helps introduce the player to undiscovered quests and dungeons organically.
Now by just playing, you'll often run into the quests you want ,without ever having to really search them out.

The parts of Skyrim that needed to be simplified were. First is the removal of Acrobatics and Athletics. Running and jumping more in order to improve how fast you move and high you can jump seems ridiculous. As well, how much you used a skill, over the course of a level, determined how much you could boost the ability scores related to that skill, if you decided to choose to boost the related ability scores.

Instead, once you level up, you choose to either boost Health, Magicka, or Stamina, and then are given a perk to put into a tree. It's much simpler, but with the wide amount of trees available, and the medley of perks within each tree, it makes creating a character with a unique feel much easier, and still as robust as previous games.

The dungeons themselves were refined. Each dungeon even if slightly similar, has its own backstory and relation to the Elder Scrolls universe.

Sure, you might end up going through a few nordic barrows, but maybe one has been taken over by a necromancer, whose minions you must fight through, or another hosts the corpse (And probable magic zombie version) of the legendary hero, Ragnar the Red. Every dungeon is unique and has it's own quirks and pieces of design that differentiate it from one another.

Aside from the mechanics, worth mentioning as well is:
  The improved art style. The Uncanny Valley is less present, thanks to more stylized characters.
  Improved quest design and writing. Every one of the Guild Quests is about at least as lengthy and interesting as the main quest.

But really, these two aspects lead me to my last point.

3. Norse Mythology is my favorite flavor of Mythology.

I love Loki, and Odin, and Thor, and Frejya, and the Ice Giants.

Just as importantly. I love Heavy Metal, specifically Folk Metal.

If you don't know what Folk Metal is, or haven't heard much, and want to at least somewhat understand what I'm about to talk about. I would suggest listening to these 3 songs:
Are you back safely? Good.
Were you rocked to the very core by the sheer power of Metal? I hope so.

I love Folk Metal, because of how the songs seem to, within me, evoke heroic triumphant feelings. It makes me want to go sailing with a sword and a shield and slat the mighty Kraken! (Of course I should probably start with the squid that lives in my closet.)

It's hard to describe this feeling, but I 'll do my best. Metal often taps into the primal warrior-like part of me that wants to go out and do things that bards such as Homer would sing of in short poems or epics.

As well, I love Norse mythology, and Dark Age/Middle Age northern European history and culture.

Skyrim draws off of those things and more.

It's the land of the Nords, more or less, vikings. You slay dragons, have arduous battles in an icy land. Also, unrelated to the Viking and Norse point, I love Dragons. If my favorite animal could include a mythological creature, it would be a Dragon.

For me, Skyrim's themes, settings, characters were all intertwined with things that I already loved, and Skyrim felt like a celebration of them.

It felt like a celebration of Western rpgs, Dungeons and Dragons, Norse mythology and architecture, the beauty of winter, making your own story, and of truly heroic experiences.

Well, I think it's time to go start my fourth character. It's either a cat-man that punches dragons to death, or a cowardly bard, tough choice, but I'm glad to be able to make and have that choice.

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