Game-related ramblings.

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Saying Farewell To Skyrim

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My Skyrim character, Nhazki, has completed the game’s main quest line, which I had arbitrarily chosen as the point at which I would be finished with the game. There are still things that Nhazki could do, of course. Guilds she didn’t join, quests she didn’t pursue (or even find), and even an entire city she never set foot in (although I did, with a previous character). But this felt like the end of her journey. This came with a certain sadness, because I’m aware I’m unlikely to return to the game again. But it’s time to move on, and reflect on my time with the game here.

I wrote a lot about Skyrim when I first played it years ago. On my return, I outlined the set of mods I planned to use, discussed the handling of gender and race in the game, wrote about its enduring appeal, and chronicled how I found (and embraced) some grind. Here, I’ll discuss some final thoughts and reflect on how the mods I’ve chosen affected the experience.

Finding The Grind In Skyrim

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The concept of “grind” appears often when discussing games, especially role-playing games. It refers to performing repetitive tasks, over and over again, for incremental gains, and typically derided as evidence of poor design that encourages “un-fun” behavior in players. I discussed the concept a little in my History Lesson post about Final Fantasy, as it is often associated with Japanese-style role-playing games, especially older titles. But grind can appear in any game. The Elder Scrolls series, with its concept of character skills improving with practice, could easily fall into this trap. Players could just sit around practicing magic or swordplay all day instead of actually heading out on an adventure. But I’ve never felt the desire to do this; the games offer so much to do, why not head out and do it, and train on the job?

So I was surprised that I not only found the one aspect of Skyrim that encourages grind, but fully embraced it.

The Enduring Appeal Of Skyrim

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When I decided to return to Skyrim, I was planning to take a more critical stance on the game. My writings during my first stint with the game focused on the positive, but this does not mean the game is without its problems. My most recent post does point out a few complaints, but mostly I’ve been struck by just how much I’m enjoying myself again. So I decided to write about why that is; how Skyrim’s enduring appeal overcomes its weaknesses.

Race And Gender In The Elder Scrolls

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There aren’t many games that let you play as a black woman. Skyrim is one of them.

Returning To Skyrim: Mod Time

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I always intended to return to Skyrim. While I spent a lot of time playing it not long after release, and wrote several posts about it here on this blog, there are lots of things I never did in the game. I joined the Thieves’ Guild, but not the Companions or the mage’s College of Winterhold or any of the other factions in the game. I explored many parts of the province of Skyrim, but never set foot in two of the cities. And not only did I not tackle the game’s main storyline, I never even battled a single one of its supposedly infinite dragons. I’d planned to start again with a new character, but decided to take a break first, and then never seemed to have the time to go back.

Eventually I realized that if I didn’t play it again soon, I never would. I’m not sure exactly why I made that decision now; with the remastered Special Edition of the game releasing next month, it would seem to make sense to just wait for that, but it seemed like a bigger deal for the console versions of the game. On PC, the new art isn’t a huge improvement over the original, and there are already a slew of graphical tweaks and enhancements available from the mod community anyway. Plus, I wasn’t sure I liked the golden cast over all the new screenshots. A harsher, whiter light seemed more appropriate for the wintry land of Skyrim.

So I decided to just go for it, and start playing now. But this time, I planned to use a lot more mods.

Country Life

Earlier I wrote about Skryim’s cities, and how I found them much more interesting than the cities in previous Elder Scrolls games. The same is true of Skyrim’s countryside, but not in the way I was expecting. In many respects, Skyrim’s playable world looks a lot like that of its predecessor, Oblivion, but I was surprised to find that exploring Skyrim’s countryside was far more enjoyable, and it completely changed how I play the game.

City Life

My Skyrim character has now been to seven of Skyrim’s nine cities, although two of those were more like villages. I’ve heard a lot of complaints from players about the cities, but I’ve actually quite enjoyed them so far. Cities in role-playing games are always tricky things, as many players will simply be interested in them for their most basic functions: buying things, selling things, and getting quests. In many RPGs, this is all that the cities are — a few traders and quest-givers, surrounded by unimportant stuff that’s shaped like a city. Getting the cities to feel more like real places is the hard part. Some games (like The Witcher) are set almost entirely in and around a single city, to really flesh it out, while others more closely resemble Skyrim in that they feature several cities and the land in between, and have to work with more limited resources to make the cities feel alive. Skyrim’s cities aren’t perfect in this regard, but I think they end up fitting the game quite well, and they are certainly a big improvement over the cities in Oblivion.

Wishful Thinking: Bandit RPG

It’s the start of a new series! Well, maybe that’s a bit optimistic as I’ve only thought of two entries for it so far, and I might not even get around to writing the second one for a while. But hopefully I’ll think up some more. Perhaps it will just be a very slow series. Anyway, the idea with Wishful Thinking posts is to describe some designs for games I would love to play. Some of these will be relatively simple while others might be essentially impossible to actually make, but since I’m certainly not going to make any of them I figured I’d share.

This first entry is an idea I’ve had for some time, but playing Skyrim has brought it to mind again. Essentially it would be a full-on fantasy role-playing game, similar to Skyrim or other open-world games, except instead of playing a hero or adventurer as usual, one would play as a bandit. Players can have their own reasons for choosing this way of life, but the important thing is that they live outside the traditional, civilized part of the world. Rather than starting in cities and heading out into the wilderness for adventure, as is usually the case, players live out in the wilderness, and find adventure the closer they get to cities. Most of the time they’re tending to their lair, raiding hapless travelers, defending against the odd adventurer, and generally scraping out an existence on the wrong side of the law.

The Wonderful World of Tweaks

A desire to fiddle with things is one of the main reasons I prefer to game on PC. I understand why consoles are so popular: console games tend to simply work without problems (although technical issues have become more common recently), so players can get right to playing the game without having to wrestle with drivers and such. This is possible because individual consoles have identical hardware to one another, making it much easier to design a game that runs reliably on the system. But the downside is that players can’t tinker with stuff. You can’t swap out the processor in an Xbox for a faster one. You can’t turn the shadows off in a first-person game to improve the framerate. In most cases, you can’t even change which buttons do what in a particular game.

But I want to be able to do those things. To me, dealing with drivers and patches and whatever else to get a game to run is a small price to pay for the ability to set up a game exactly the way I want. That kind of user control is the biggest advantage of the PC, and it’s an interesting aspect of gaming that can almost become a game itself. While I don’t often partake in truly hardcore tweaking, I’ve found myself going farther than usual with Skyrim, which, like its predecessors, seems specifically designed to be tweaked.

Taking It Easy

In my last post, I mentioned that I’ll likely be playing Skyrim for a while. This is partly because Skyrim is a huge game with tons of different things to do, and I anticipate I’ll want to try most of them, probably playing a few different characters in the process. But another reason is that Skyrim is a game that encourages the player to relax and take things slowly as often as it provides action-packed adventure. Sure, there’s plenty of places to explore and enemies to fight, but you can also visit a city and just talk to people, or craft some items, or hang out it the tavern and get drunk.

In a recent play session, I did nothing but read books in-game. One of these triggered a side quest, but for the most part they were just there to flesh out the world, and provide a bit of history. I’d just finished traveling the wilderness, so it was nice to take a break in one of the cities and just read about things. I learned a lot too. I learned about the history of the Nords in Skyrim, about the other cities I haven’t visited yet, and about the events that happened in the time since the previous game (turns out quite a lot happened, and I now view the world in a very different light). It’s a rare thing for a games (single-player games, anyway) to provide this kind of break from the action, and it’s something I’d like to see more often.

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