RPG Club Plays Skyrim: Week 4 Finale
As the month comes to a close, so too does our time with Skyrim. After a long time playing, we all have basically arrived at the conclusion that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has little-to-no replayability. Mike and Ethan reflect on that, while Caitlin gets distracted by over-analyzing the Daedra.
Eventually, no matter how much you love a game, you run out of things to do. Despite the rhetoric, these virtual worlds have their boundaries. That’s exactly why DLC exists, to keep you engaged and funneling money towards new projects. I was tired with the core Skyrim offerings, and having been disappointed by the earlier DLC options, I packed up my loot and entered the final bonus content – Dragonborn.
At first, it felt like coming home. The port town of Raven Rock is a place I’m quite familiar with, having helped establish the settlement in the Bloodmoon expansion for Morrowind. The insect shell homes and guards’ bonemold armor immediately surged my mind with nostalgia, casting a sharp separation from the plain-looking designs of regular Skyrim. Perhaps this was the place I needed to get my spirits soaring again.
But one step outside the town put that quickly to rest. The fields and forests of Solstheim mimic the rest of the game almost exactly. Draugr (a.k.a. zombies) and dragon burial mounds dot the landscape where something new could have taken hold. Sure, sometimes ash from Morrowind’s volcano piles on the ground instead of snow, and a few new “twisted concept” enemies like flaming tree spirits mix things up a little, but in the end it’s a palette swap. It’s just more of the same. Again.
So while I’m having a little fun walking through places that remind me of a game I like more, I’ve come to accept that this is the swan song. The story of Skyrim, for me, has ended. In a few days, I’ll uninstall the game and leave it to sit idly in my Steam library like so many before it.
I’m honestly kind of sad. I have vivid memories of Skyrim’s reveal trailer, pouring over every little detail with my friends and speculating on the adventures awaiting us. The midnight release for the game was an event unto itself for me and how I walked away with a free copy is a story I still tell my friends. To know that I’ve finally wrung out every last drop from the world leaves me…well, down.
I think Tom Bissell posed the issue best when he wrote, “there’s a point at which this brand of enjoyableness becomes indistinguishable from compulsion, and it seems fair to ask when a game’s expansiveness becomes an affable form of indentured servitude.”
The “this” that Bissell refers to is Skyrim’s to-do list style of adventuring, where pleasure is produced from finding one more group of bandits to decapitate, one more secret cavern to stumble upon, one more mysterious chest to loot, or just one more beautifully nordic vista to behold.
Skyrim’s Siren Song is the promise of a world that the player can inhabit without ostensibly being the causal center of. Beyond the game’s scripted narrative, which appears hobbled together and reads like a fourth grader trying to mimic the passages of their favorite derivative fantasy series, what Skyrim offers players is the chance to both generate and perform their own individualized histories.
But time and again I find that the things I can actually do in the world of Skyrim simply aren’t that interesting. Moments of surprising NPC interaction are rare, and often overshadowed by the much more frequent bits of adventurer minutia. Whereas if I were actually wandering around the mountains, valleys, and forests of Skyrim, the stories I might relay to friends would include the amazing treasures I’d found and the band of hunters who I single handedly fought off after they tried to take it from me, the moments of Skyrim that I, as a player, am most likely to relay to friends focus on inconsequential but unexpected conversations with other lone wanderers, or their village dwelling counterparts who nevertheless have something intriguing to whisper or problem of their own to tell me about.
That’s because treasures, dragons, and other things trying to kill me are plentiful in Skyrim, and therefore rarely worth remarking on. Whereas when it first was released, Skyrim was hailed as the pinnacle of what a certain type of game could achieve, it now feels like a wonderfully polished, big budget echo of an old style of video game development that had great solutions to out of date problems. It feels like we’ve moved beyond the dream of creating a world that’s grafted onto a tedious to-do list of fantasy-inspired chores, and hopefully the next Elder Scrolls game will do a better job of realizing that.
In Skyrim, ‘daedra’ are effectively demigods. These beings are scattered throughout Skyrim, with quest hooks all over the place. Quests are of significant length, with the daedra giving you the original quest and making you dance for it. Foolish mortal, you must obey me, I am your king… that sort of thing. Of course, the character can ignore it and walk away. Sure, you don’t get that awesome looking mace or maybe that follower, but who cares?
Unless you want the cheevo.
Do all the quests, get all the daedric artifacts, and you get the “Oblivion Walker” achievement.
It’s rather entertaining, if you think about it. In-game, the character has free will – they can do whatever quests they want, ignoring the commands of these demigods. Right? Well, no. The character is forced to do whatever the player wants them to do. So while the demigods may be false gods, there is a greater power controlling the player character – you become the real diety, micromanaging this particular dovahkiin. And of course, you have free will. Right?
Unless you want the cheevo.
At that point, Steam (and your senseless greed for achievements) controls your actions, telling you what to do and how.
So when one of these achievements basically says “seek out daedra and do what they say,” it makes them much more entertaining. Sure, the character can just walk away, but can the player? It’s almost as though one god is talking to another, in order to change the actions of this one character.
So because I wanted the cheevo, my character was forced to act out of character, kill innocents, and wreak havok. It wasn’t her fault, though – she was being compelled.
By the daedra or the player, though… in the end, it makes no difference.