Chapter VII: Mea Culpa

Well, this is was inevitable, I suppose.

By now, it should be well known fact that when it comes to Skyrim, I have a passionate dislike for it, bordering on monomaniacal hatred one or two issues with it.

However, upon reflection, I have realized that for all my ranting and raving, I have been incorrect in one of my criticisms about this game.

Dave: Ah, so you admit that you were wrong!

Yes. You see, much like when I wrote the addendum to Die Another Day, I feel that I have a duty towards the people reading this. It’s true that I am incredibly opinionated, angry and hate this game with the intensity of a medium sized star, but I will not stoop to knowingly spreading false information to prove my point. It’s beneath me, and it hurts my position, since I should not have to make up reasons to criticize something.

Least of all this game.

And as such, I will not just make an edit in the previous chapters. Instead I am writing this additional chapter, in order to address my mistake and set the record straight.

Dave: Glad to hear that you can admit to being wrong once in a while. So what is it you were wrong about? The dragons? The lack of choices? Alduin actually had a well defined reason to attack Helgen?

No, nothing that big. This is about my criticisms about the characters in the game. Specifically, that I stated that they are either morons or assholes. I stated that the characters in the game were either evil, stupid or, in some cases, both.

And this, I have realized, is not true. At least not with the humanoid NPC’s. The Redguards, Nords, Khajiit etc.

Dave: Aha! Vindication at last! You’ve finally realized that the characters have depth to them, and that the writers are not as incompetent as you thought! You’re admitting to being too harsh in your criticism!

What? No, I didn’t! The writers are as incompetent as ever, if not more so than I previously thought.

Dave: But you said….

I said that I was wrong about the NPC’s being either evil or stupid. What I mean by that isn’t that I was being too harsh.

What I mean is that I wasn’t being harsh ENOUGH!

It’s not a matter of whether or not the characters are evil or stupid. It’s a question of whether or not they’re evil AND stupid. Make no mistake, they are stupid, just not always evil.

Dave: Really? And how, exactly, did you reach this conclusion?

Very easily, as it happens.

See, among the skills you can train yourself in, there is the “pickpocket” section. Like all skills, it can be improved to the maximum of 100, using the levelling system I have already written about and expressed my dislike over.

Dave: So? What’s wrong with that?

Well, upon reaching 100, you are able to activate the perk “Perfect Touch”. This perk allows you to pickpocket items from your targets, even if the item is equipped. This includes rings, necklaces, and clothes.

You can go up to someone on the street, start picking their pockets and literally leave them standing in their underwear. And they don’t notice anything.

THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE.

And not only does this apply to clothes, but also to ARMOUR! As in, the heavy, reinforced type of attire, secured and fastened for the EXPRESS PURPOSE of not falling off!

Dave: You DO know this is fantasy, right? It’s just a fun little thing they put in. Surely, you can allow for some willing suspension of disbelief?

Oh, sure, I can! It’s what allows me to accept dragons existing, people turning into werewolves, ghosts rising from the grave, or people being able to shoot fire with just a wave of their hand. But even in the face of all that, I’m calling bullshit on this!

There is willing suspension of disbelief, and then there’s insulting my fucking intelligence! You cannot blitz something like this past me and not expect me to ask a few questions. This “funny little thing” tells me that the characters in this game are complete fucking morons!

Think about it. Look at the clothes you’re wearing right now. Can you imagine what it would take for someone to steal your shirt without you noticing? Or your shoes?

Dave: Well, I…

Actually, I can tell you what it would take. You’d have to be so catastrophically incapable of basic thought, you’d be considered braindead. I don’t mean just a bit thick. I don’t mean plain stupid.

I mean being fundamentally unable to register the information your body is sending to your brain. Remember, we’re not dealing just with the sense of touch here. We’re dealing with balance, vision, temperature and hearing. For all of those not to register something as being amiss, you’d have to be comatose! Brain activity on par with a boiled potato!

Talking would not be an option. Eating liquid food would require assistance. Walking would be doubtful. Remembering to breathe would basically be conscious effort rather than reflex.

But the characters in the game are not unconcious! They’re standing around talking, laughing, shopping, fighting and drinking.

Surely, you can see how terrible the writing is, with these two facts blatantly contradicting one another.

Dave: Perhaps the skill involves using some kind of magic or manipulation?

Sorry, but I’m not buying that. Manipulating others to that degree falls under magic, specifically the Illusion school. Pickpocketing falls under the thief’s section of skills. As such, it’s not magic, but a skill based of dexterity and stealth.

Dave: Well… maybe you’re just that good? Did you ever consider that?

Yes, I did. And you know what? That answer doesn’t work either. After all, this would mean 100 in one particular skill is “god-like”. So let’s go with that. Let’s say that 100 in pickpocketing enables you to do something that, let’s face it, only gods should be able to do.

If so, suppose you have 100 in speech? That would make you basically a god of speechcraft. There shouldn’t be a confrontation in the game you couldn’t talk your way out of, nothing you couldn’t convince someone else to do.

In other words, convincing the Blades to spare Paarthurnax should be the easiest thing in the world!

Dave: You’re still on about that?

Yes, I am, because that mission perfectly exemplifies what a failure of an RPG this is.

100 in speech shouldn’t just mean I could convince the Blades to spare Paarthurnax. It should mean I could go up to Alduin and convince him to not destroy the world! Convincing armageddon incarnate to abandon his purpose, his entire raison d’etre, should be a cakewalk for someone with 100 in speech!

Dave: Wait… So you’re complaining about being ridiculosly good… before complaining that in another situation, you want to be ridiculously good?

No, what I want is consistency.

After all, what I’m suggesting is no less ridiculous than what 100 in pickpocketing offers.

Dave: Well, either way, you’re being stupid. There have to be limits to what you can affect in a game.

EXACTLY! But they don’t set reasonable limits! One fully upgraded skill tree should not be infinitely superior to another fully upgraded skill tree. Otherwise, the numbers have no meaning or purpose other than looking pretty.

Going back to Fallout: New Vegas, 100 in speech doesn’t make you the unquestionable king of diplomacy. You can’t go up to Legate Lanius and convince him to leave the Legion and open a small diner. It allows you to, among other things, manipulate him into withdrawing his army, convinced that attacking the west will eventually cost the Legion both the east and west.

It allows you to play to his pride, his fear or his honour.

By the same token, 100 in medicine doesn’t mean you can raise people from the dead like you’re The Lord Jesus Christ himself.

Basically, the people behind this game are still incompetent. It’s just that either their character writing is worse than I thought it was, or their skill system is fundamentally broken by how unbalanced it is.

And while it’s true that the “Steal clothes” thing only works on non-essential characters or characters not wearing unobtainable clothing, my point about the NPC’s being mind-shatteringly stupid in general would still apply.

Of course, there are solutions to this.

Either, you can have every skill culminate in the same kind of god like level. You then assign a level cap, assuring that it’s only possible to max out one or two skill trees, with hard line dedication. Basically, if you want to become a god among pickpockets or blacksmiths, you have to earn it, at the cost of other skills. You’ll be unto a god, but it’ll cost you.

(This, of course, would lead to replay value, since you could play the game several times, just to get a different end result)

OR you can remove the ludicrous, God-like skill. If they just settled for allowing us to steal rings, necklaces and other jewelry, that’d be fine, while also remaining an amazing display of skill. Even stealing a sword or an axe, while impressive, would be allowed as a display of how talented your character is.

Obviously, that doesn’t change the fact that speech, by comparison, is still virtually useless, but it would at least not be as blatant in how worthless it is.

Ideally, you’d create a middle ground, where maxing out all skills is possible, but it takes a lot of planning and patience, resulting in a character who is great at many different things, making him or her a force to be reckoned with, without necessarily being a god among men.

But such a thing, I suppose, is too much to ask. A game like that is only a figment of a hopeful imagination…

That is, unless you’ve played Fallout: New Vegas, where you can play that exact kind of protagonist if you so wish.

Go figure…

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Chapter VI: Technically Speaking

For this chapter, I would like to discuss a few technical issues I have with the game. They’re not so much related to writing, as much as programming. So let’s not waste any time and get right on-

Dave: Not so fast!

The fuck do you want now!?

Dave: In the last chapter, you complained about how Alduin attacking Helgen made no sense, and went on and on about how it was a tactical blunder and how stupid he was for showing himself, and revealing the return of the Dragons, all in order to save Ulfric!

Yeah?

Dave: Well, that’s not why he attacked Helgen!

It wasn’t? Then what was the reason?

Dave: Well, there are a lot of theories on the subject….

I’m not interested in theories and speculation. What was the actual reason given in the game?

Dave: Uhm…. They… don’t actually give a specific reason….

Really? Well, colour me surprised! I would’ve never guessed! You’re yelling at me for getting the reason why Alduin was there wrong… when the game doesn’t actually give a good reason for it? Doesn’t that mean the theory I’m questioning is just as valid as all the others?

Dave: I suppose…. but it’s not the only theory!

Oh, right. I suppose expecting the writers to justify their own plot points was a bit naïve. I’m sorry for assuming that such a monumentally important moment for the game, the catalyst of everything that happens, would have some explanation! I don’t know WHAT I was thinking!

Dave: Well,  Maybe they didn’t explain it, because they wanted to keep things mysterious?

Oh, so they wanted to create a sense of mystery? A very interesting theory…

Never mind the fact that nothing else in the game is kept mysterious. Never mind the fact that there is absolutely nothing mysterious or interesting about the dragons, since you know their history, their language, their powers and their tactics. Let’s ignore the fact that Alduin, the great black dragon, who once ruled the world and everyone in it, gets chased away and HUMILIATED by the Dragonborn, a moron with the personality of a POTATO!

Let’s ignore the fact that since killing dragons is such an obvious thing in the game, they end up little more than obnoxious pests, and what should be an epic fight that’s usually reserved for the end of a game, instead becomes tedious routine.

Let’s just ignore ALL OF THAT for a moment, and instead answer me this. Do you know what you need, when you make a mystery?

Dave: Well….

You also need to give a SOLUTION to the mystery! The whole point of a mystery is to unravel it! If your mystery doesn’t have a solution, it has no reason to exist!

You can’t just add a big dragon attack because it’s cool, and then claim that you don’t need to give a reason for it because it would “ruin the mystery”! If you don’t want me to complain about the bad writing, give me a valid reason for Alduin attacking Helgen. Seeing as the writers can’t be bothered to provide a reason, I’m placing the responsibility on you, Dave. Let’s take a look at these other theories, and see if they add up, shall we?

Dave: Wait… Are we doing The Skyrim Chronicles or Why the Fans Are Wrong?

Well, thanks to you interrupting, we’re now doing both! Let’s just get this over with.

Dave: Alright. Alduin came there looking for you, the Dragonborn.

Ok, do I really have to explain why this doesn’t add up?

So Alduin has the ability to track the Dragonborn because…. why?

Dave: He sensed the presence of a dragon soul in you, and thought you were a dead dragon he could raise.

So, let me get this straight. He goes there, sees you, figures out that the dragon soul he’s after is actually your soul, proving you are the Dragonborn….

Why doesn’t he kill you?!

You’re the ONLY obstacle to his plan! With you dead, there is nothing stopping him from succeeding! You can’t tell me he’s able to pick you out of the crowd, because if he can, HE IS MINDSPLITTINGLY STUPID FOR LETTING YOU LIVE!

In fact, I refuse to believe that Alduin would be able to sense your soul or any other dragon soul, because it makes no sense that he’d be able to!

If he can, why doesn’t he try to kill you at any time after that, until you call him at the Throat of the World!? Why doesn’t he show the SLIGHTEST interest in you after Helgen, if he KNOWS WHERE YOU FUCKING ARE!?

Why doesn’t he just obliterate you once he realizes “Oh shit, the dragon attacking Whiterun has been killed by the Dragonborn”?!

Surely, if he can sense dragon souls, he’d be able to tell if one of them suddenly vanishes, right?

Oh, and also, if he wanted you dead, you know what might have worked a lot better than attacking an entire city and ignoring you completely? What he could have done if he wanted you to die?

He could have done absolutely nothing! The only reason his ultimate plan failed and he was defeated, was because he attacked Helgen! That attack saved your life! Instead of killing you, he was literally the ONLY REASON YOU DIDN’T DIE!

And don’t you fucking dare suggest this has anything to do with dragons being arrogant and proud! There is only so far you can play the “arrogant villain” card before it becomes fucking ridiculous! If that is the reason, we’re dealing with the kind of clichéd supervillain writing Austin Powers made fun of!

On second thought, no! I take that back! In Austin Powers, the villain tied the heroes up, locked them in a room and left them slowly sinking into a pool of killer seabass and assumed everything went according to plan.

This is like putting the actual James Bond in an empty room, with all his gadgets and weapons, with detailed information of your master plan and the schematics to your doom laser, then closing the door without locking it and PRETENDING HE DOESN’T EXIST ANYMORE!

Next theory.

Dave: Uhm…. let me think… OH! The Throat of the World is right above Helgen! When he came out of the time warp thing, he went to the first best settlement, in order to destroy it!

Why would he do that? That theory seems to rely on the idea that Alduin intends to go on a murderous rampage across Skyrim.

Dave: Yeah!

So why is no other settlement in Skyrim destroyed like that? Why is it that Alduin attacks Helgen… and then starts flying across Skyrim in a distinct pattern, going from grave site to grave site, to the point you can actually arrive at one of them before he does? That says to me that he had a pretty clear idea of what he had to do when he came out of the time warp. Doesn’t it make more sense that he went to Helgen for something beyond mindless destruction?

Ok, Dave, You get one more chance. Give me a theory that explains why the flying fuck Alduin went to Helgen.

Dave: That’s… all I’ve got….

I see…. Tell me, did it ever occur to you that there might have been a reason I latched onto the idea of Alduin going because of Ulfric? Do you want to make a guess why that theory appealed to me?

Dave: Uhm…

It’s because it’s the only theory I’ve found that isn’t instantly disproved by the game itself! It’s a good basic idea, that’s just poorly executed.

(Which could probably sum up the entire game…)

It’s an idea bordering on decent writing! It’s a great justification, if they’d just taken advantage of it! Not only does the basic idea add up, but it would actually tie the two plot lines of Alduin and the Skyrim Civil War together!

Dave: But why do they have to be tied together? The civil war is just the setting for the story!

No, it fucking isn’t! The fact there is a civil war doesn’t affect ANYTHING in the main story! The only time it’s EVER brought up in the main story is towards the end, when they arrange a peace meeting. A meeting, which (say it with meDOESN’T CHANGE THE MAIN STORY IN ANY WAY!

As it is, there is literally no reason why the civil war should be in the game, other than padding!

THAT’S why I latched onto the idea! Because in some subconscious way, I refused to truly believe that anybody would be so extraordinarily stupid, so hilariously incompetent, that they would add an entire alternate plotline to an existing story, with NO CONNECTION OR IMPACT TO THE MAIN STORY WHAT SO EVER!

As it turns out, someone would actually do something that fucking stupid! And not only that, but now I’ve realized that the opening of the game makes absolutely no sense what so ever, and the writers are far, far more useless at their jobs than I could have ever imagined!

Yes, Alduin recognizes you at Helgen, since he yells “Dohvakhin” when he arrives… but all that does is A) raise a whole heap of questions and B) illustrate my point perfectly!

These writers are idiots! Not only is the part with you being executed stupid, since they outright tell you there is no reason for it, but they also decided the best way for you to escape was for Alduin to attack for NO ADEQUATLY EXPLAINED REASON!

The ONLY reason he was there at all, was to provide the writers with a Deus Ex Machina, to solve a problem THAT DIDN’T FUCKING EXIST IN THE FIRST PLACE!

Thank you so much, Dave, for setting me straight!

Dave: Uhm… You’re welcome… Does this mean you will change the previous chapter?

No. I will keep it there, as a constant reminder that I, a random guy on an obscure blog in the back end of the internet, managed to produce a better opening to Skyrim in five hours than all the writers at Bethesda managed in FIVE FUCKING YEARS!

Not only that, but just for my personal entertainment, here are three solutions to the aforementioned scenario that does not require Alduin attacking.

  1. Ulfric uses the thu’um to escape, causing a riot (they put a gag on him, but if you can use the thu’um to throw people across rooms, he can use it to rip apart a piece of cloth.)
  2. Stormcloaks attack and frees Ulfric, causing a riot.
  3. The Imperial Soldiers free you, since you have done nothing wrong. Ulfric is executed, but it turns out this didn’t end the war as expected, since he’s now a martyr.

Presto. Three solutions in under ten minutes. No doubt, Bethesda will now hire me as their lead writer. Clearly I’m more gifted than any of the people they’ve got working for them.

Now, if Dave doesn’t mind, I’d like to get on with the subject I originally planned on discussing.

Now, what I was going to talk about, before Dave interrupted me, is that there are several issiues I have the game mechanics. I’m not talking about glitches or bugs.

Sure, I know I’ve mentioned the lack of a morality system or a decent character creation menu. But there are some very basic things beyond that, which are sorely missing from this game.

Dave: You’re still on about that? What else is there about this game you don’t like?

Well, how about the bullshit leveling system?

You see, in most RPG’s, leveling up works pretty much the same way, with some minor differences. Let’s take Fallout New Vegas as an example. You do a mission, kill some enemies, pass a few skill checks and you’re rewarded with XP. When you have enough XP, you level up. When that happens. You get a pool of points to assign to skills of your choice, in order to improve them. Every two levels, you also get to pick a perk, with some perks just requiring a certain level, but others have certain prerequisites, like a particular level of skill in certain things.

These perks can be things like raising one of your S.P.E.C.I.A.L traits by 1, or maybe giving you the ability to repair any weapon with any other weapon of the same type.

Then you go on more missions, kill more enemies and get more XP, to level up further until you reach the level cap.

Simple as that.

This system is good, because it allows you to customize your characters skills in depth. It makes the quests that much more enjoyable, since not only are you given so many choices on how to resolve them, but you’re also rewarded with experience. Even the level cap is useful, since it means your choices have more finality to them, while also enticing you to play the game again to reach a different end result.

Skyrim’s system, meanwhile, is a bit… oh, what’s the term…

Dave:  Unconventional?

That’s right, piss-boilingly fucking annoying! Here, you don’t level up by accumulating XP from quests, skill checks or killing enemies.

Instead, you level up by improving your skills.

In gaming parlance, this is what is known as completely fucking backwards!

Dave: Well, it makes sense. You don’t just get better at something overnight. It takes training and time and effort to become a world class blacksmith or the worlds greatest pickpocket. Besides, it’s not a backwards system. It’s just a system similiar to an MMORPG.

Great! But you know what the problem is? SKYRIM ISN’T AN MMORPG! It’s a single player game! So why in the name of christ is that in this game, instead of a more traditional system?

See, there is a reason why the system used in Fallout, Pathfinder and countless other RPG’s is so widely used.

It’s because that system works fine! The idea of improving your skills being the RESULT of advancing in level, rather than the CAUSE, has been tried, tested and deemed perfectly fit for purpose!

In other words: If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it!

Because not only does this system mean that leveling up takes fucking ages, forcing you to grind skills for hours on end (and I fucking HATE grinding), but the lack of choices in the game means that almost all characters end up far too similar. Hell, the longer you play, the more similar they become, because the lack of a level cap means you will eventually max out all skills.

Oh, and you know what else this system does?

It makes the quests completely meaningless! There is no reason to do any quests in this game, because you don’t get anything from it! You don’t get any XP from finishing quests!

Dave: Hey, that’s not fair! You can still get money and loot, like special armor and weapons!

Oh, certainly! You can get magic armor and special weapons…. or you can just create a few thousand iron daggers (which improves your blacksmith skill) and enchant them until you’re a master of enchantment. Then you can make weapons and armor just as good or better than the majority of loot you get in any mission.

Dave: But if you don’t do the quests, you can’t get the weapons that have those enchantments! Aha!

Sure you can. With two exceptions, as long as you find someone with a weapon with a weak version of the enchantment, you can learn the basic enchantment and then cast an improved version of it. And finding someone with a magic weapon outside quests is easy.

And there is no reason to play the quests for the sake of making choices, since (as we established in Chapter IV) none of your choices matter.

Dave: You’re overreacting! There are missions that change things! You can choose to either join or destroy the Dark Brotherhood! That’s a choice that has long running ramifications! If you destroy them, you rid Skyrim of a cult of murderous fanatics who kill for money!

That’s a very good point… until you realize that killing the Dark Brotherhood won’t actually end the killings.

Dave: Ok, back up! This time you’ve gone too far! You’re trying to tell me that wiping out a group of killers won’t stop killings from happening?! Explain yourself. What the hell are you talking about!?

Do you remember how you start off the whole brotherhood arc?

You hear about some strange kid in Windhelm performing the Dark Sacrament. When you find him, he then hires you to kill the matron of an orphanage in Riften.

Do you really think that won’t happen again? If you perform the Dark Sacrament long enough, somebody is going to hear of it, and another nitwit will stumble in and accept the contract. After all, everyone in Skyrim is either evil, stupid or both. So no, the killings won’t stop. They just won’t be performed by the Dark Brotherhood. Then the word spreads that using the Dark Sacrament still works. More people will perform it, More people will look for these contracts, maybe they’ll get organized… and then you got a new Brotherhood, without the part where they’re fanatical cultists…

In other words, the exact same type of Brotherhood you destroyed.

Am I wrong, Dave?

Dave: No…

Exactly. Because of the system they used for this game, there’s no reason to do any quests, no depth to the characters, no real choices and your character isn’t unique or special in any way.

It is, fundamentally, an awful example of an RPG.

Dave: But it’s a fun game! 

So what? You’re acting like that “Fun” and “Good” are synonymous, when they’re not. A lot of things are fun, but not necessarily good. Plenty of movies fulfill that particular criteria.

Or are you’re saying that the terms “fun” and “good” are mutually exclusive? That we should favour games that are fun to games that are good?

If so, please enlighten me. When exactly did games become a choice between “fun” and “good”? Why is it suddenly unthinkable to have both? I can name several games that are both fun and good. In fact, I’ve written about several of them on this very blog!

Just because a game is fun doesn’t mean it’s automatically good, and it sure as hell doesn’t mean we should be made to choose one over the other. We have the right to demand both. After all, isn’t it our money being wasted if we buy a crappy product?

Dave: But it IS a great game! It has such a big world, with many adventures!

Firstly, the reason there are so many adventures in the game is because the vast majority of them go NOWHERE! The world is big, but that’s because there’s barely anything IN it! Almost none of the quests have any depth or grandeur to them, and the game doesn’t take advantage of the areas it gives us to explore.

And secondly, what you’re describing isn’t an RPG. What you’re talking about is a sandbox.

Dave: And as a sandbox, it’s a great game! 

Perhaps it is, but it’s not SUPPOSED to be! It wasn’t intended as, advertised as, sold as, categorized as or praised as a great sandbox! The Elder Scrolls isn’t a series of Sandbox games! It’s not appearing on any lists of great sandbox games! IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE A FUCKING ROLE PLAYING GAME!

And call me a pessimist, but I’m pretty fucking sure people didn’t BUY it because they wanted a sandbox game!

All this game does, is fooling people into thinking “Sandbox” and “RPG” are the same fucking thing!

And I’ve got news for you.  If someone promises me an RPG, and then delivers an action sandbox with delusions of roleplaying, I will call it false advertising. I will call it THEFT!

Which of course leads to the final argument I always get when I discuss Skyrim. Dave?

Dave: If you don’t like it, why don’t you mod it? That’s how you’re supposed to play these games! Just add the missing pieces!

I have several good reasons why I don’t use mods.

Firstly, I don’t play on PC. I play on console. I can’t afford to buy a computer that plays Skyrim. And do you know what the trouble is when playing on console? I cannot use mods. And IF mods are necessary to enjoy it, DON’T DISTRIBUTE IT ON A PLATFORM THAT DOESN’T ALLOW YOU TO MOD IT!

Secondly, I paid 450 SEK for this game. That was a used game that was on sale. In US dollars, that’s $62. If I pay more than $60 for a game, I expect to get more than a fucking mod platform.

Thirdly, I’ve been playing video games since I was 7 years old. Do you know how many times I’ve had to mod a game to enjoy it?

NEVER!

Because I shouldn’t HAVE to mod a game in order to simply enjoy it. And Dave shrugging and saying “It doesn’t matter if the game is bad, since I can just mod it so it becomes good” tells Bethesda that they don’t have to make an effort. They don’t have to care if the game is good or not. Why would they? If they make a bad game, Dave will just shrug and mod it and DO THEIR FUCKING JOB FOR THEM! And I don’t mean just the programming! The vast amount of theories about why Alduin went to Helgen says to me they’re expecting us to do the fucking writing as well!

Do you know why I hate this game?

I hate it, because it shows that screwing your customers over is OK! It shows game designers that you, the people who buy their products don’t care!

So what if they took your money? So what if the game is a piece of shit? There are pretty pictures and funny sounds! You can even kill a dragon! You want more for your money? Well, then you have to add it yourself. See, when you bought this game, you paid them for the PRIVILEGE of fixing their game. They charged you for the HONOR of doing their job for them! This game is bad because the people who made it didn’t care, and they didn’t care, because they didn’t HAVE to care.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against modding in and of itself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with customizing a game and adding small things here and there to make it more personal.

But the problem is that Skyrim isn’t just mod-compatible. It’s mod-DEPENDENT! It REQUIRES mods in order to be good! By the time you’ve added enough mods to make it as good as it can be, you’re playing a completely different game!

Not only is that a sign of lazy programming and terrible writing, but it’s also a giant middle finger to console gamers, telling them “If our game is bad, it’s not our fault for not putting effort into it. It’s your fault for not playing on the right platform, which means you can’t fix our fuckups!“.

And then people are surprised the game pisses me off?!

But most of all, I hate it because I can see what it COULD have been!

Not because the game is bad, but because while playing it, I can see the negative space where a good game SHOULD be!

It has all the potential in the world to be an excellent game, but from what I’ve seen, the people at Bethesda are either unwilling to or (more likely) incapable of putting that potential to good use!

I hate it, because the people who made it didn’t give a crap about the game, and then had the nerve, the gall, the fucking AUDACITY to demand PAYMENT for it!

If this game was even HALF as good as it could have been, I wouldn’t be writing this!

If Bethesda had done the smart thing, recognizing that they lack the skill to do this game justice, and offered someone like Obsidian to do the writing, people who have demonstrated that they KNOW how to make the most with what they’re given, I would be writing a completely different set of chronicles right now! I would rant and rave of how great the game was, how exciting it was, and hold it up as one of the all time great games!

But instead I am here, explaining exactly why this game is nothing but a GIANT FUCKING WASTE!

This is a game made by people who didn’t care about anything other than making a quick buck. People who thought it was more important that it looked pretty than if it was any good. People who favored style over substance. A shallow game, made by greedy, lazy, conceited fucksticks.

There are more things wrong with this game. I could probably write several chapters about all the glitches or how the voice acting is terrible. But glitches and dub work isn’t my concern.

I read a while back that Fallout 4 is a possibility. If the people at Bethesda are smart, they will leave it to Obsidian. Otherwise, I fear they will do the same with Fallout as they did with The Elder Scrolls. Hopefully, by reading this, people may recognize how good Skyrim SHOULD have been, and maybe people will start holding Bethesda to some higher standards! That way, we may yet be able to save Fallout from suffering the same fate.

Of course, there will always be Daves that will buy games by Bethesda and defend them, no matter how awful the games are.

Now, am I saying that these people are infantile, that they have bad taste in gaming, that their standards are low, that they have no idea what an RPG is or that by defending this game, they are indirectly ruining The Elder Scrolls as a franchise and that they may well end up ruining Fallout as well?

Yes. Yes, I am.

I’ll leave you with that sentiment of mine, along with a quote which, I think, perfectly sums the game up.

It is a tale, told by an idiot. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

– Macbeth

 

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Chapter V: A Tale of Two Games

Let’s talk about the story of Skyrim, shall we?

Dave: Hold on a minute! It’s unfair to pick on the story of Skyrim. The story has always been the weak point in games by Bethesda. You don’t play their games for the main story!

Ok, since when is that an excuse for poor writing!? If everyone knows that the writing is their weak point, and they continue to make poorly written games instead of trying to improve the writing, then it’s completely justified to call them out on their poor writing skills. Wouldn’t you agree?

Let’s begin.

As I mentioned in Chapter I, the story begins on a prison escort on its way to Helgen. Once past the crappy excuse for a Character Creation menu, you’re told that your name isn’t actually on the list of prisoners sentenced for execution.

Do the Imperial soldiers apologize for the inconvenience and let you go, since they have no legal right to hold you prisoner, let alone EXECUTE you?

After all, as far as they know, you’ve committed no crimes and they just picked you up when you tried to cross the border, right? Sure, there’s a civil war going on, but that hardly makes “crossing the border” a crime punishable by death. Especially if you play as any race other than Nords, since the Stormcloaks are exclusively nords.

I mean, It’s not like you’re going to share any state secrets. The people being executed are rebels, led by Ulfric Stormcloak, and surely they will want his death to be known as soon as possible, to signal the end of the Stormcloak Rebellion and the Skyrim Civil War?

No, of course not! They just say “Well, since you’re here, we’ll kill you too” and sentence you to death for absolutely no reason other than it being Wednesday.

If this sounds like a dick move, consider it an example of an issue I hinted at in Chapter II. Namely, Skyrim is almost exclusively populated by morons and assholes. If you’re lucky, you meet someone who’s one or the other, but for the most part the two tend to blur together.

In fact, I defy you to name five people in this game that are neither evil or stupid. I can only count four. Paarthurnax, Kodlak Whitemane, Tolfdir and possibly Emperor Titus Mede II. (I didn’t get a chance to know him very well, seeing as during the one quest where I met him I had to kill him. With no choice in the matter, of course.). Everyone else is either stupid, malicious or both.

See, whereas Fallout had the Karma-system, this game has no way of determining alignment. Of course, If you’re a good writer this doesn’t stop you from writing multifaceted and complex characters.

But the problem is, the people who made this game aren’t good writers. Because of that, almost everyone have the same personality. In other words: They’re dickheads!

Dave: Wait, the writers or the characters?

Yes.

In my opinion, this game could really benefit from some sort of alignment system, if only because it’d give the writers guidelines for how to write characters with any depth to them…..

Anyway…

There you are, sentenced to death by people who have outright stated they have no reason or right to kill you. So far, this is shaping up to be the shortest game in the history of role playing.

But just when you’re about to get your block knocked off, the execution is interrupted by the arrival of the black dragon Alduin. He kills several soldiers and prisoners while also causing massive destruction and chaos, giving you a chance to make your escape.

During the escape, you’re given an option to follow an Imperial or a Stormcloak soldier.

(And in twist that will surely leave Dave in shock, this choice makes absolutely no difference, since the end result is the same)

You flee through some hidden caverns underneath the Helgen keep, and make your way to safety.

Dave: So? What was wrong about that?

I’m glad you asked, Dave, and I will counter with a very simple question.

Why did Alduin attack?

Dave: Because he wanted to save Ulfric. If Ulfric dies, the war ends. Alduin wants as many as possible to die, so he can devour their souls.

Fair enough.

But why did he attack Helgen, instead of attacking the caravan before it arrived? Wouldn’t it be easier to destroy a caravan guarded by a handful of guards and set the prisoners free, instead of attacking an entire city full of soldiers and risk Ulfric being killed in the collateral damage, while also dealing with all the soldiers? Sure, they pose no threat to Alduin, but I’d imagine it’s still pretty annoying to have a bunch of people shooting arrows at you.

Not to mention Ulfric may well be killed by Imperials while trying to escape the city.

And while I’m asking, how did Alduin know Ulfric was there? Ulfric must have been caught recently. After all, why else would they take him to a relatively remote mountain village, instead of Solitude to face execution?

Even if Ulfric was caught a long time ago, who told Alduin where Ulfric was going? Nobody is shown to collaborate with Alduin. (It’d be an interesting idea, which means it’s not going to happen in this game)

Does Alduin have any telepathic abilities or some secret shout that gives him the power to track people? If so, you have to ESTABLISH those abilities at some point.

Also, we established in the last chapter that killing Ulfric won’t actually stop the war. More likely, it will escalate matters when the Stormcloaks and their sympathizers hear that the Empire has killed Ulfric. This is what I hinted at in the last chapter.

You see, despite their name, the Stormcloaks aren’t really followers of Ulfric. The name “Stormcloaks” was originally meant as an insult from Imperials, which the rebels then appropriated.

The rebellion itself was fundamentally centered around worship of Talos. Making Ulfric High-King was never the end goal! Ulfric was just someone with authority and charisma, representing traits the Nords value. Killing him doesn’t mean the core issue of Talos just goes away! All it does is killing someone who, arguably, has a legitimate claim to the crown, a man who would allow people to worship their god again.

Instead of a leader to follow, he becomes a symbol to rally around. A hero who died for his beliefs.

So either the war ends with Ulfrics death, in which case the writers completely missed the central issue in a storyline THEY THEMSELVES WROTE, or it keeps going, meaning the entire quest line of the Skyrim Civil war I talked about in chapter IV was a complete waste of time.

(Neither explanation inspires much hope….)

But if the goal was to prolong the war, Alduin had EVERYTHING to gain by Ulfric being executed.

Attacking Helgen was the absolutely dumbest tactical move he could have made, and not only because Ulfric survived the attack.

In what other way is it stupid?

Let’s say you’re Alduin. You know there is a civil war going on in Skyrim between the Imperial Army and the Stormcloak Rebellion. You want as many people as possible to die. Now, you don’t have to kill them yourself. As long as they die, it’s to your benefit, and neither side in the civil war is aware of you or your army of dragons.

(Never mind the fact that you’re immortal, so you’re not really in a rush, and you could pretty much just sit in the afterlife with your mouth open and eat everyone who dies.)

What should you do?

The answer is that you should wait until one side has defeated the other. That way, they will have limited supplies, their fortresses will be in disrepair, their troops will be exhausted, their equipment will be worn out and their strategic leaders will relax, since the crisis is over. This means they have little to no preparation or capability to defend themselves when you send in the aforementioned army of dragons and wipe them all out.

Now, I’ve never read “The Art of War” from cover to cover, but I seriously doubt that you’ll find that answer in the military teachings of Sun Tzu.

Do you know why?

Because it’s so fucking obvious, that if Sun Tzu, considered one of the greatest military minds in the history of organized warfare, believed it worth mentioning, he may as well have written an addendum to the book, outlining strategies like that.

And my guess is that the book would be called something along the lines of

The Art of War: The “YOU DON’T FUCKING SAY” Edition

Now conversely, do you know what is the absolutely worst thing you can do in that situation?

SHOWING YOURSELF, AND REVEALING THAT THE DRAGONS HAVE RETURNED!

Why?

Because if you do, chances are they will unite against this new, common enemy.

And even if they don’t, you are attacking them at the peak of their martial power!

Dave: So what?! The dragons can’t be killed! If they die, Alduin just resurrects them again. They are unstoppable, except if the Dragonborn is found!

Right you are, Dave. Now, do you know how someone would find out if they were the Dragonborn?

DaveBy killing a dragon.

WRONG!

The correct answer is: By absorbing the soul of a dead dragon. They don’t actually have to kill the dragon themselves, just stand near the corpse of one before Alduin gets to it. So if the Dragonborn happens to be in a city, let’s say Whiterun, and a dragon attacks, and the soldiers are well trained, well supplied, well equipped and pretty much prepared for war, chances are the Dragon might get killed (since, as we’ve established in Chapter II, the dragons are morons and don’t fight intelligently), which means the Dragonborn might be found.

And guess what?

THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT FUCKING HAPPENS! 

(And keep in mind, Alduin was aware of the prophecy that the Dragonborn would return!)

If Alduin, and by extension, the writers of this game had any brains at all, they would wait with the dragon invasion until AFTER the civil war was over.

Not only because it makes all kinds of sense from a tactical standpoint, but also because that’d mean the civil war would actually be part of the fucking story! If you want to fight dragons, you have to deal with the civil war first. It’s called a storyline! In Fallout New Vegas, you don’t get to go straight to caesars camp and talk with him. In Fable II, you don’t get to travel to Bloodstone and talk to Reaver, first thing you do.

Having the civil war come first would make you want to play the civil war and who knows, you might actually get invested in the story! Not to mention it’d build suspense and mystery around the dragons, culminating in them finally appearing!

The more observant readers among you might be wondering about the title of this chapter.

“A Tale of Two Games”

What I mean with that title is that this isn’t a complete game. It’s two halves of two different games, smashed together with little to no care of whether or not the two have anything to do with one another.

Think about it. you have the threat of Alduin, the Black God King of All Dragonkind, First Ruler of Man and Mer, Devourer of Souls and Armageddon incarnate.

And no, I’m not exaggerating at all with that description. From what I’ve been told, in Morrowind, you were fighting to avoid the world turning into a necropolis, and humanity turning into zombies or worse.

In Oblivion, you fight to keep Mehrunes Dagon, the Daedric Prince of Destruction, from entering Mundus, turning Nirn into a blasted wasteland and either enslave or wipe out humanity, thereby making the world an extension of his domain.

In Skyrim, you are not fighting to save a kingdom, or a continent, or even humanity itself. Alduin’s final goal is the COMPLETE AND UTTER ANNIHILATION OF THE PLANET. That is why he wants souls. Once he has devoured enough souls, he will have enough power to fulfill that purpose. He IS the end of the world personified.

But apparently, someone at Bethesda looked at that premise and thought “That’s not interesting enough! Throw a civil war in there as well!

So all of a sudden, we have a side plot of a civil war in Skyrim. An entire quest line that, ultimately, makes fuck all difference in the finished game.

It doesn’t matter what side wins in this tumultuous conflict that has Skyrim split down the middle. It’s not like if you finish the civil war, the winning side will fight alongside you against Alduin.

Why not cut the civil war, put more effort into the main story, iron out the problems, work on the writing and actually make a game people won’t look at and go “let’s not bother with the main story. It’s not any good anyway”. If people say that your main storylines aren’t very good, put in some effort and PROVE THEM WRONG!

And if you still want the civil war, just make that a DLC!

Sure, people don’t like DLC’s, but wouldn’t you rather have a complete game with a story you’d actually be interested in, rather than this badly constructed piece of crap?

Maybe you could cut a few Daedric quests too, and make the Civil War not just a battle between humans, but have some Daedric Princes getting involved as well, maybe to further their own agendas or just for their own amusement.

Boethia, Malacath, Clavicus Vile and Sheogorath could all be involved with the war, and motivating why they’d be involved should be easy.

But let’s assume that the civil war HAS to be part of the main story, and if you were to remove it, some artistic message or social commentary would be lost.

Fair enough. Let it never be said I wasn’t willing to compromise.

Here’s how you do it.

Suppose Alduin attacked a convoy carrying Ulfric Stormcloak that, rather than going to Helgen, is on it’s way to Solitude where Ulfric is to stand trial. Alduin attacks the convoy for the express purpose of killing Ulfric. Maybe it isn’t even Alduin himself attacking, but members of a resurrected dragon sect, like the one that spawned the Dragon Priests. They kill Ulfric, and remove the bodies of the imperial soldiers. This means everyone will blame the imperials for assassinating Ulfric rather than give him a fair trial, which might have seen him released and crowned as the new High-King.

Brewing paranoia and tension ensues.

Now, you are passing through the area when the attack takes place and witness it. And during the attack, you get knocked out by one of the attackers.

Then you wake up in a small cabin, by someone who found you.

Then that someone says something along the lines of “I’m such-and-such, by the way. Who are you?

Cue a proper character creation menu!

Now, nobody believes you when you claim that it wasn’t the imperial soldiers who killed Ulfric. And they certainly don’t believe you when you talk about “Dragon Cultists”. That sect has been gone for millenia. Clearly you just hit your head very hard.

The civil war could then be just the first part of the game! You can choose to try to meddle peace back and forth or fight with either side, ending with the enemy SURRENDERING. Your choice might have an effect on the ending. And once the war is over, one way or another…

THAT is when the dragons attack!

Now, how would Alduin know when to launch this attack?

Simple. He has informants in the form of cultists, masquerading as members of both factions, loyal to him alone. And maybe when he launches the attack, that’s when he uses some powerful spell or a special shout that restores the other dragons to life!

Cue the arrival of dragons loyal to him.

Alduin tasks one of the dragons to kill the people celebrating the end of the war, and leaves.

And when you defeat this dragon, you are revealed as the Dragonborn!

After that, the story can proceed much like it already does. Maybe the dragon attacks result in more casualties if either side defeats the other in the civil war. Perhaps capture of the dragon Odahviing is different, depending on what faction you favored. Maybe the Imperials favor a technical solution, and the Stormcloaks prefer beating the dragon into submission?

And then, of course there’s the ending…

Dave: What’s wrong with the ending? It was awesome!

And Dave has a point. On paper, it’s brilliant.

In the course of the game, you use a long forgotten shout, that causes dragons to temporarily lose the ability to fly. You learn it by using one of the eponymous Elder Scrolls to look back through history, at the final battle between three legendary heroes and Alduin. During the battle, they used the shout and, when it proved ineffectual, they used the Elder Scroll to throw Alduin forward through time, effectively making him your problem.

Kind of a dick move, really…Then again, they didn’t know what the Elder Scroll would do, so I guess you can’t blame them. On the other hand they come from Skyrim, which is populated by morons and assholes, so even if they knew, they probably wouldn’t care….

Anyway, with the help of this shout, you fight Alduin and beat him to the point where he retreats to the realm of Sovngarde, the Nord afterlife. (We’ll just ignore the fact that ONE person made Alduin retreat, whereas THREE people previously failed.)

In Sovngarde, Alduin intends to devour souls and rebuild his strength. To stop him, you have to follow him through a magical portal, enter what’s essentially Valhalla and ask the three heroes who fought him previously to fight with you.

So there, before The Hall of Valor, the three legendary heroes of the Nords, along with the Dragonborn, fight a climactic battle with the World Eater, the God-King of Dragon-Kind, the Devourer of Souls, the Black Dragon Alduin.

Dave: Exactly! Why is that not awesome? What could you POSSIBLY have to complain about with that cataclysmic battle for the fate of the planet?!

Simple: IT’S EXACTLY LIKE EVERY OTHER FUCKING DRAGON FIGHT IN THE GAME!

Alduin fights just like every other dragon! In fact, he is even LESS of a challenge than the other dragons! Why? Because now there’s FOUR of you fighting him, and THREE of you CAN’T DIE!

It’s not a question of “IF” you will win, as much as “WHEN”. There’s no clever new strategy, no feeling that this is anything special. Just the same strategy you use on all other dragons. Run around and fire arrows until he lands (after all, it’s not like you actually NEED the Dragonrend shout to make him land) and beat the shit out of him until he flies away or dies.

So, Alduin is defeated, and the world is saved. Next, you’re taken to The Throat of The World, where all the other dragons are flying around and celebrating Alduin’s death.

Now, in Fallout: New Vegas, what happens once you finish the game?

You get a slide show, telling you what effect your actions have had. You’re shown what the future may be like for the Mojave wasteland. You’re shown the difference YOU have had on the world.

What does Skyrim have? You get a quick chat with Paarthurnax, and then the game keeps going.

It all but says that the main quest-line wasn’t important. It’s just another entry in the quest log. No feeling of accomplishment. No sense that anything you’ve done mattered. Even the Greybeard’s speculate that Alduin may return, since you didn’t absorb his soul when he died. So chances are, you haven’t actually saved the world from Alduin, just postponed his victory. Thank you, game. For a moment I felt like I hadn’t wasted my fucking time….

Compare this to Fallout: New Vegas, where you have 4 different ways to end the game, and several more variations on those, based on your stats, skills, actions and choices during the game.

And the only one who decides if one ending is better than another is YOU. YOU decide what happens to the Mojave. YOU decide if Caesar, NCR or Mr. House should rule New Vegas, or you can go against all of them and take control yourself. That’s the reward you get for playing the game. YOU, a seemingly unimportant courier who got ambushed, shot and left for dead in a shallow grave in the Nevada desert, get the chance to rise up and show that one person can make a difference if they’re strong, or smart enough. And in the end you’re shown the consequences for your actions, good or bad.

THAT is a role playing game.

In Skyrim, you could’ve won the final battle with Alduin by standing back and doing nothing, since the other three heroes cannot die and Alduin is fighting like an idiot!

Now, before I end this chapter, there’s one last thing I found kind of fitting that I’d like to mention…

Once you finish the game, you have the Elder Scroll in your inventory.

And you can sell this item of supreme and unimaginable power to the library at the College in Winterhold.

What, you might ask, is this artifact of amazing power, this sliver of creation, this impossible abstraction-made-real and the namesake of the entire series, sold for?

2000 gold pieces. Not enough to buy an empty house.

I can’t help but feel there’s something strangely poetic about that….

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Chapter IV: The Agony of Choice

Skyrim is supposed to be an RPG. There is no use trying to pretend otherwise. It’s meant to be a fantasy role playing game. The problem, however, is that as an RPG, it’s a complete failure.

Do you know what the point is with an RPG? The whole basis for role playing since the dawn of the genre?

Choice. Allowing the player to make their own decisions, to exercise free will and having them face the consequenses of their actions, good or bad.

Fallout understood this concept. Baldurs Gate understood it. Even Fable, one the most simplistic role playing games I’ve ever played, understood it.

Skyrim does not.

You’re not given a choice in this game. None of your actions have the slightest impact on the world. Sometimes, if you are EXTREMELY lucky, you get two options on how to solve something. But those instances are rare. Otherwise, you’re on the plot railroad, and there ain’t no sidetracks. And the thing is, these limitations can make some of the skills you can train yourself in completely meaningless, making you wonder why you bothered with those skills in the first place.

For example:

During the “Dark Brotherhood” story arc, you’re hired by a woman named Muiri who asks you to kill a bandit. The bandit in question tricked Muiri into thinking he was in love with her. In reality, he used her to get close to the Shatter-Shields, close friends and a surrogate family to Muiri, to rob them of their valuables.

The Shatter-Shields disowned Muiri, believing she was in on the scam, leaving her without friends or family in Windhelm, forcing her to move to another city to try and start over.

So she hires you to kill the bandit that ruined her life. So far, so good. A bit dark, but otherwise a fairly basic story, right?

But then the mission throws you a curve ball by having Muiri ask you to, for a small bonus, kill Nilsine Shatter-Shield, the daughter in the family that rejected her, her childhood friend and as close to a sister as she’s ever had.

Right after the family lost their OTHER daughter to a psychotic serial killer.

Now, you can either refuse to kill Nilsine, in which case Muiri is left bitter and alone, judging you for not going through with it….

Or you can kill Nilsine, leading to her mother committing suicide from having lost both her daughters.

Those are your only options in this mission.

However, if someone COMPETENT was writing this, I could think of one or two other choices you could make…

You could use your Speech-skill to convince Muiri to forgive the Shatter-Shields and move on, since killing her childhood friend wouldn’t accomplish anything. Oh wait, that would make sense, and we can’t have that.

Perhaps you could, if you have sufficient points in Charisma, convince the Shatter-Shields to forgive Muiri. No wait, that’s right, there is no stat for Charisma.

Maybe if you have a high Intelligence score, you could try and reason with them, arguing Muiris innocence. But that would mean there was an Intelligence score. Silly me, I keep expecting this to work like an RPG.

Perhaps the Bandit has a journal that proves she wasn’t involved, and in fact is only one of several similar cases? Nah, that would require putting effort into the quest. Can’t have that.

No, let’s just ignore these four perfectly valid solutions, and just go with NOT making you feel like you’ve actually helped someone. That sounds much better, doesn’t it?

Dave: That’s not fair! That mission is part of the Dark Brotherhood arc! If you want to feel like a good guy, you shouldn’t join a faction of assassins!

I’d argue that it’s fully possible to be an assassin with good intentions, and there’s nothing in the doctrines of the Dark Brotherhood (which they don’t follow anyway) preventing you from trying to help people, and in fact all that’s stopping you is the bad writing, but fine, let’s go with that answer.

Then there’s the quest “Paarthurnax

This quest is given to you by the Blades, an ancient organization formed by the Dragonborn-Turned-Emperor Tiber Septim,

In earlier games, they served as bodyguards to the emperor, but in Skyrim they are retconned as dragonslayers who have sworn an oath of allegiance and servitude to the Dragonborn.

In other words: They work for you.

They inform you that the leader of the Greybeards, Paarthurnax, is in fact a dragon.
Of course, you already KNEW that, since by this point you’ve already met Paarthurnax.

Then they tell you to kill him, saying that until you do so, they refuse to help you any further.

I repeat.

The Blades tell you, the Dragonborn, whom they are honour bound to follow, help and protect, and to whom they owe every single victory they’ve had during the course of the game, and who is solely responsible for giving them access to the ancient Sky Haven Temple, that unless you kill Paarthurnax, they won’t help you any more.

Now, how would a properly made RPG solve this quest?

(Obviously, a properly made RPG wouldn’t have made this an issue in the first place, but let’s just ignore that for a moment)

Can you use your Intelligence score to point out that by refusing to help you, they are in fact breaking their oath? No, because Skyrim doesn’t use stats, so there is no Intelligence score.

Can you use your high skill in Speech to explain that the only reason they’re in the Sky Haven Temple is because of you slicing your arm open to unlock the door, and that they owe you? No, because you can’t expect that, just because you are the most persuasive person who has ever lived, you can convince people to use common sense.

Can you lie about killing Paarthurnax, and just bring them any piece of dragon bone? No, of course not. Silly me.

When they tell you that if you’re not going to kill Paarthurnax, they will refuse to help, can you threaten them, pointing at all the monsters you have defeated over the course of the game, the graveyards you’ve filled, and ask them if they really want you as an enemy? Ha! What a cute little imagination you have…

Maybe you could tell them that Paarthurnax is, in fact, the one responsible for teaching humanity how to use the Thu’um, and as such is directly to thank for the fact Alduin was defeated and humanity was freed from his tyrannical reign, and surely the freedom and safety of EVERYONE WHO HAS EVER LIVED SINCE THE DAWN OF RECORDED HISTORY is enough to forgive his crimes? Of course not! That’d just be silly!

In fact, if you tell them that Paarthurnax, at great risk of his own life, betrayed Alduin and decided to help humanity, they claim that’s only proof that he might betray you at a later point, since all he’s done is prove he’s untrustworthy.

And sure, that’s a good point… After all, it’s not like he switched sides at the height of Alduins power. It’s not like before he switched sides, humanity had no realistic way to fight the dragons, since the lack of a Dragonborn meant Alduin could just revive the dragons, even if the humans managed to kill one. I mean, That would mean Paarthurnax sided with humanity out of compassion rather than necessity-Oh wait, that’s right, that’s exactly what he fucking did!

But no, you can’t use any of your skills to explain BASIC FACTS about Paarthurnax. He used to be in league with Alduin, and killed THOUSANDS of people! He must pay for those lives.

Never mind the literal BILLIONS of people who have him personally to thank for being alive. Never mind the fact the whole reason humanity flourished, and Tiber Septim himself ever coming into being to form the Blades in the first place, is because of Paarthurnax betraying Alduin.

Dave: Well, technically it was thanks to the Elder Scroll that Alduin was defeated, not Paarthurnax’s betrayal…

Perhaps, but without the thu’um rendering Alduin flightless, I’m willing to bet they would’ve never gotten the chance to use it in the first place. Not to mention they probably wouldn’t have been able to survive long enough to retrieve the Elder Scroll without the Thu´um to help them fight dragons.

I just don’t understand the reasoning behind this quest.

Dave: Isn’t it obvious? The blades are dragonslayers. If the Dragonborn won’t slay a dragon, they won’t follow him.

BULLSHIT! That’s not how an oath of allegiance works! You can’t claim you’ve pledged yourself to serve the Dragonborn, and then start issuing ultimatums. If you’ve pledged yourself to my service, you serve until I say otherwise.

If you’re not going to do as I say, you have broken your oath, and you are no longer allowed to be a member of the Blades. And yes, this is my decision to make! The game has outright told me I am the one calling the shots, even without all the shit I’ve done for them already!

Dave: Well, they could just find another Dragonborn…

Oh, Sure they can! Oh wait, that’s right! The prophecy on Alduins wall specifically mentions me as “The Last Dragonborn”. So no, they haven’t got a damn choice! They can either do as I say, or fuck off back to the shithole where I found them.

THOSE are their only options!

But you know what the funny thing is? Believe it or not, I’d be able to forgive ALL OF THIS! Every single piece of shitty writing and braindead character motivation in this quest, were it not for ONE teeny tiny little detail….

YOU CAN’T KILL THE BLADES!

THAT is not an option in this mission! This is one of the most obvious opportunities for a writer with a basic understanding of storytelling to write multiple solutions.

But instead, they give you ONE option.

Kill Parthurnax.

The only other option is to not do the mission. And that is not a fucking option in an RPG!

If you’re going to give me a scenario where the people in question are impossible to sway, threaten or convince, at least give me the option to kill them, even if that means I fail the quest. That’d still be a resolution!

See, choices aren’t just there to pad out the game. They are necessary, not only because it makes you feel like you control the story to a degree, but also because not enforcing choices can cause huge problems later.

For example…

During the course of the game, you come across several of the Daedric Princes, god-like entities from the plane of Oblivion. They give you quests to complete in exchange for benefits, such as magical artifacts, unique weapons or armor.

But the thing is, some of these Daedric Princes are violently at odds with one another, with different agendas, goals and philosophies. One of the quests even has Molag Baal task you kill the priest of another Prince.

In any other RPG, this would be something that has long running ramifications, seeing as you have now made yourself an enemy to a demi-god who owes their allegiance to nobody but themself! This could potentially lead to them seeking revenge, which in any other RPG might make you want to weigh your options. Is helping this Daedric Prince really a good idea in the long run? Is the reward they offer really worth it? You’d have to make a CHOICE!

But in Skyrim, it doesn’t have any lasting impact on the game. Nobody comes after you, nobody is upset and there is NOTHING preventing you from completing quests for the other Daedric Princes, including the Prince whose priest you just killed.

Now, this is bad in and of itself, but it also leads to a giant pseudo-philosophical problem. In this game, you can do a mission for Boethiah, making you her champion. You can become a werewolf, which means that once you die, you will go to Hircine’s realm in oblivion and hunt with him for all eternity. But then, you can pledge your body and soul to the service of Nocturnal. You can also become the Listener of the Assassin’s Guild, which may or may not bind you to Sithis for eternity. All in the same playthrough. 

So, my question is: What happens when your character eventually dies? Won’t that pretty much tear the spiritual realm apart, since two or more deities now have an equal claim to the same soul?

See, this is another very obvious situation where the writer should force the player to make a choice. The paradox I’ve just outlined is the perfect justification to enforce that choice. Forcing you to make these choices means you want to play the game again, to explore a different approach. But of course, Bethesda decided this wasn’t something people playing an RPG would be interested in.

And lastly, there’s the Skyrim Civil War.

This isn’t just one quest. This is an entire series of quests, taking up several hours of gameplay, where you lead one of the warring factions of Skyrim in victory against their enemies.

The factions are the Imperial Army and the Stormcloak Rebellion.

I decided to side with the Empire.
We fought across half the country, with missions leading us down into abandoned grave catacombs and holding off attacking armies, laying siege to cities and finally attacking Windhelm, the seat of power of Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak himself. After fighting through the city, we finally stormed into Ulfrics throneroom, and defeated him in combat. With his last breaths, he asked to be killed by The Dragonborn, since it would make for a better story.

After I killed Ulfric, the imperial general held a speech in front of the citadel, before the imperial army that has killed and died for this peace. Finally, the country is free!

Cheers and applause all around!

And so, I left Windhelm, happy to have contributed. Who knows what impact I may have had on Skyrim? I’ve brought peace to this war torn nation! Finally, this game has allowed me to ACCOMPLISH something!

But as I kept playing, I started to realize that I’ve only contributed in prolonging the war!

I will explain in greater detail in the next chapter, but for now, all I’ll say is that Ulfric dying doesn’t automatically mean the war is over. The only way to end a civil war so that it actually, you know, ENDS, is if your enemy surrenders! Otherwise someone else can just take the place of whoever you killed! Now thanks to you, Ulfric isn’t a regicidal asshole out to claim the throne. He’s a martyr who gave his life for the people of Skyrim!

The game is just TAUNTING me with how meaningless my actions are at this point!

It’s not that Skyrim doesn’t have choices…
It’s that the few choices you’re given have no real impact. Any choice you make is invalidated almost instantly, and you never get the feeling that you have any control over what happens. It’s almost like the writers are afraid of the concept of “Consequence”. They don’t trust you to make a choice, so they will either invalidate your choice or, more often, make the choice FOR you.

And that, to me, is the ANTITHESIS of what an RPG is supposed to be!

Dave: You’re just being overly critical. All RPG’s have situations when you have no choices.

Oh, sure. But you know what the difference is between Skyrim and a good RPG, like Fallout: New Vegas?

In a good game, scenarios where you have no choices are the EXCEPTION, not the RULE! Hell, taking away choice is a great way to show that “This is bigger than you!“. Done sparingly, it makes situations big and important. You know what doing it all the time accomplishes? It makes YOU, the player, seem insignificant.

Let me put this into context….

In Fallout: New Vegas, one of my absolute favorite parts is an unmarked quest called “Silus Treatment”.

The quest features the NCR, having captured a centurion from Caesars Legion named Silus. So far, their interrogation has yielded no results. That’s when you arrive.

The NCR decides to see if you’ll have better luck, since you’re not constrained by the same laws as members of the NCR military. As such, you’re to use whatever means you deem necessary to make him talk.

You’re then allowed inside Silus’ cell.

From here, you have a few options on how to deal with him.

In Skyrim, you’d have the option to hit him until he talks, or leave the room. MAYBE you’d also be allowed to kill him, thereby failing the mission, but who knows if you’d be that lucky…

In Fallout, you’re given, not one, not two, but FIVE DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS to this one unmarked quest.

(6 if you count the Skyrim approach of ignoring the mission altogether.)

You can:

  1.  Hit him until he talks.
  2.  Use your speech skill to mock him, until he gets so angry he starts revealing confidential information to prove himself.
  3.  You can be a dick and kill him, which makes the NCR angry.
  4.  If you’re siding with the Legion, you can help him escape.
  5.  Pretend you’re a Legion assassin sent to kill him.

My personal favourite is nr 5, an option that’s only accessible if you have a high enough intelligence score.

Of course, if you pick that option, he doesn’t believe you, and calls your bluff.

That’s when you start talking to him in latin.

Since the members of the Legion are all unaware that Caesar modelled his empire on ancient Rome, and instead believe he created it himself, the idea of someone outside the Legion speaking latin is completely unthinkable to them.

Silus instantly believes you and begs you to just let him go, and that his plan was always to disappear.

At which point you accuse him of desertion.

Silus gets angry, and tells you that he has been loyal to Caesar, never revealing any secrets, such as the spy they have hidden on the base, sending information from the flight control tower. He tells you how he has never questioned Caesars leadership, even when the latters prolonged seizures (caused by a brain tumor) would leave him incapacitated for days.

He ends his angry tirade by telling you that if Caesar repays loyalty with assassination, his empire will crumble…

At which point you reveal that you’re not with the Legion at all, you just got Silus to tell you everything and that if Caesar’s empire crumbles, it’s because his Centurions are so gullible.

That, right there, is what I want when I play an RPG. I want the choices I’ve made with my character to matter. I want the skills I’ve favoured to be useful. I want to be given a choice on how to approach a problem. I want to feel like I’m making a difference. In short: I want to ROLEPLAY!

But clearly, Bethesda and I have very different ideas of what the term RPG means.

The main difference being that my definition is correct.

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Chapter III: A Giant Problem

You know, I may be a bit harsh against Skyrim. It’s not like they have nothing that I find fascinating or impressive. The music is great. The scenery is spectacular. But the thing that will never cease to amaze me is their ability to never miss an opportunity, to miss an opportunity.

Case of point: The Giants.

The Giants, to me, are pretty much unique in this game.

Let’s say you’re walking through the wilderness of Skyrim, or across the great plains.

Suddenly, you see a pack of wolves. The wolves see you.

Question: What happens?

Answer: The wolves attack.

Let’s say a bear sees you. What happens?

Answer: the bear attacks.

A Skeever? It attacks. A troll? It attacks. A dragon? It attacks. Atronachs, Vampires, Bandits, Forsworn, Hagravens, Spriggans, Altmer soldiers, mages of any kind? They all attack. Some may insult you first, but they all attack. All of them with little to no provocation.

Then you see a Giant, herding a pack of mammoths. The Giant sees you. Does he attack?

No.

He looks at you, and goes on his merry way.

There are only three instances when a Giant will attack you.

1) Attack him.

2) Attack one of his mammoths.

3) Trespass on his territory.

And even then, if you do go into their territory, does the Giant attack?

No, he warns you!

He waves with his club, stamps his feet and gives every single possible indication to “STAY THE FUCK AWAY!

If you comply, he goes back to doing what he was doing.

And this is ONLY at their camps. They don’t warn you when you approach their mammoths. Not when you approach them. But when you go into their camps, they warn you to stay away. If you then refuse to listen, THEN they will attack.

Now, with that in mind, let’s say you walk into an inn, looking for work. The bartender tells you that the Jarls men stopped by with a bounty letter.

The letter states that the Giant at Steamcrag Camp has been killing people, and that the Jarl is paying for the Giants death. (And yes, it is only ever bounties on Giants who live in camps, areas that are officially sanctioned as their territories)

With the information the game has supplied, what does that letter say to you?

Because to me, it says someone saw a 3.5 m tall, blue-grey man, carrying what’s essentially a tree trunk with a rock tied to it….

AND THEY DECIDED THIS WAS SOMEONE THEY WANTED TO ANNOY.

Maybe they decided to try their hands on mammoth tipping, maybe they wanted to take some potshots at the giant, or perhaps they were part of one of the many factions that decide that this land belongs to them by right, and that they walk where they please and hey, the giant is probably bluffing anyway.

Whatever the reason, I’m not going to blame the Giant.

But the thing that drives me insane about the Giants is that, beyond bounty notes, they have no purpose in the game! They are completely wasted! They’re treated as bothersome pests. NOBODY shows the slightest interest in them!

Here’s an idea. How about establishing some contact with them?

Dave: Why would you want to do that?

Oh, I don’t know… how about the MASSIVE, FLYING MONSTERS OF FROST-AND/OR-FLAMESPEWING DEATH AND DESTRUCTION?!

Like I said in the previous chapter, a single Giant, with nothing but a loincloth and a stick, can beat a dragon in a one-on-one fight.

Two of them can beat a frost dragon. And none of them wears anything more than animal skin for protection!

Imagine, for a moment, what a Giant in plate mail, wielding a sword might do.

Imagine, if you will, that every city in Skyrim had five or six armoured Giants each.

Suddenly, those dragons don’t seem like much of a problem, do they?

Dave: Maybe, but how would you do that? The Giants are idiots! It’s not like they understand trading, ownership or even language.

The Giants understand status. We know this, since they collect trophies, in the form of animal skulls.

They have a system of ownership. We know this, because they mark their mammoths, by engraving their tusks. They will also mark their cows by painting them.

They may well have a religion, since they’re covered in scars in the form of symbols.

Either that, or it’s another sign of status.

(You know what might be a good way to find out for sure? ESTABLISHING A CONNECTION TO THEM AND LEARNING SOMETHING ABOUT THEIR CULTURE!)

And they understand trading. I know this, because during a quest, I SOLD A GOAT TO A GIANT!

And I did it while drunk. Not only drunk, but blackout-and-propose-to-a-hagraven-drunk.

And I still managed to sell a goat to a Giant. I was never informed what I sold it FOR, which meant I had to steal it back. And it’s only because of a glitch that I managed to do so without killing the Giant.

But the point is, they either understand gesticulating or language, so much so that a drunk could make themselves understood, and sell them something.

Dave: Ok, but what else do they have to offer? What if we don’t want superstrong soldiers?

Well, first of all, you’re an idiot if you don’t want them as soldiers. But let’s look at the other things they have to offer, shall we?

They herd mammoths. Mammoth ivory is valued by jewellers all over the empire. They also make mammoth cheese, one bowl of which is about as nourishing as a cooked beef, horse haunch or a mammoth steak. And unlike all of those, the cheese doesn’t need to be prepared in any way. And they make that in vats of about 30 litres at a time.

Oh, and they also have mammoth meat and hides.

Let’s go a step further. Imagine that, instead of herding, they could do farming? Imagine the size of a field, ploughed by a mammoth? Or the amount of supplies a mammoth could carry? Mammoth-powered machinery? I’m sure you can think of more uses for big, strong elephants.

Then there’s basic man power. Giants building houses, working mines, cutting trees, clearing roads?

Teach them trades. Imagine a Giant working as a mason, or a blacksmith?

How many expeditions into Dwemer ruins have been halted because of tunnels collapsing? Oh, if only they had some very strong people with them who could help clear away the rubble and protect them against things like… oh, I don’t know, THE DWARVEN CENTURIONS!?

This isn’t hard!

They have scholars going through ruins of the Dwemer, a race that pretty much combines Steampunk with Josef Mengele. A race that captured, tortured and genetically altered the Falmer (Snow elves) into hideous, insane, blind monsters and they’ve been dead for hundreds of years.

There are scholars who are studying the language of the aforementioned Falmer, a race who’s only goal is to destroy all life above ground!

And yet nobody has ever thought of trying to learn the Giants language, a people who are

A) still around and B) Not out to destroy humanity?!

They’re spending years, if not decades, trying to chronicle civilizations long dead, completely ignoring the civilizations RIGHT OUTSIDE THEIR FUCKING FRONT DOOR!

Imagine that as a quest! Establishing a contact with the Giants! I can paint the scenario right now! Once the civil war is over (and don’t worry, I’ll get to that) you’re charged by the High King to make peace with the Giants.

You’re told to bring a chest of materials to Whiterun, and ask Eorlund Gray-Mane to make a big, heavily decorated battle axe from the materials. You then bring the axe to the Giant Chieftain as a peace offering.

If this were me, and this game was worth a crap as an RPG, this is where a high intelligence-score would come in handy. You’d have to communicate without being able to speak the same language. Maybe you could go the “gesture and body language” route, or you could try and learn the language then and there?

That done, the chieftain will allow academics to visit and learn the language.

This pretty much writes itself!

But no, we can’t have that. We need to make room for really important things. We have to make sure the graphics are good! We need to make sure the world looks pretty.

The Giants aren’t important. There’s nothing useful or interesting we could do with them. They’re only useful after they’re dead, because we can take their toes and make potions out of them. I mean, if they did anything else with them, it’d mean putting some effort into the writing, And we can’t have that in an RPG, can we? Just shut up and look at the shiny, jingling keys- uh, I mean the pretty scenery.

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Chapter II: How to Misuse Your Dragon

One of the greatest selling points of Skyrim is that you fight dragons. I don’t blame you if you bought it because of that. Out of the all reasons you could give me for why you would play this game, the prospect of being a bad ass dragon slayer is a pretty good one.

But I’m not sure you’ve really stopped and thought about the dragons. Sure, as a concept, killing dragons is cool and all that, but why is it cool?

I think a very big problem with Skyrim is that the dragons aren’t actually dragons.

I’ll explain.

What is a dragon?

When you hear ”Dragon”, what do you think of? Just a big, fire-breathing lizard? That also describes Salamanders in fantasy. Flying lizards? There are dinosaurs that do that.

What is it that sets a dragon apart from say, a troll or a giant gecko? Why are dragons so impressive? Why are they iconic as fantasy creatures?

The answer: Because dragons are intelligent. They’re not dangerous just because they’re big animals. They’re dangerous because they are superior both physically and intellectually. They’re often vain and arrogant, but that’s because they have very good reasons to be. They are older, smarter and stronger than most other creatures in Fantasy.

If you ever get the chance, google “Pathfinder Dragon”.

In case you don’t have time, here’s the crash course.

Dragons aren’t just another fantasy creature. They are THE Fantasy Creature. Any dragon that is older than 50 years is likely to be more powerful and intelligent than you can possibly imagine, and they do not answer to anybody but themselves.

Imagine Smaug with magic spells.

THAT is what you’re up against, if you decide to fight a dragon.

Now with that said, it doesn’t mean all, or even most dragons, will attack and obliterate you for the fun of it. After all, that is why Pathfinder has the D&D based alignment system of Law-Chaos/Good-Evil.

The problem is that dragons, as I mentioned earlier, tend to be somewhat vain, arrogant and proud. That means that when dealing with dragons, you want to be careful about what you say. When you see a dragon, you shouldn’t think “Great! I can kill that and get some nice loot!“.

You should be on your best behaviour, because if you piss that dragon off, be it intentionally or accidentally, it will fucking END you. And if the dragon is feeling sadistic and knows a thing or two about necromancy, you can look forward to spending the better part of the next century being continually resurrected and killed in different ways, for the amusement of the dragon.

Of course, I’m not saying dragons are or should be invincible. I’m just saying that trying to kill one is something that requires amazing skill, meticulous preparation and no small amount of luck, if you want to have the slightest chance of succeeding.

Now, how do the dragons in Skyrim compare to that?

Well, a single giant beats the shit out of a dragon. And the giant in question is wearing nothing but a loincloth and a beard, and his weapon is a stick with a rock on it.

THAT is what can kill a dragon in Skyrim. A tall, blue man in his underwear, armed with a stick. And he does it within 2 minutes.

Don’t you feel cool killing dragons, when that’s your competition?

Do you know why that is? It’s not because they have low health. It’s not because they have weak attacks. It’s because the dragons in Skyrim are FUCKING IDIOTS!

What makes me say that, you might wonder?

Well, my argument can be summed up in one simple question.

Why does the dragon land?

There’s no explanation for why it’d do that. It can breathe fire or frost! Meanwhile, you’re running around with a daedric greatsword, a weapon designed not only to kill, but to do it as painfully as possible. Why the hell would the dragon want to get close to that? Yes, you can shoot it with arrows, but what do you think is harder to hit, a flying target or a slow, lumbering target? It has an amazing advantage over you.

And yes, you have shouts that forces the dragon to land, and if you shoot enough arrows, it crashes. But that doesn’t change the fact it has no good reason to land voluntarily.

I’ve asked that to several people. and to voice their arguments in order to dispute them, I will require the assistance of my resident Devil’s Advocate, Dave.

Dave: The dragon gets tired from flying.

This, to me, is absolutely laughable. You mean to tell me that a dragon, a creature whose very language is magic, and has been designed for flying either by evolution or intelligent design, gets tired after 30 seconds of flight? I’m sorry, but that explanation doesn’t hold up. Look at a dragon crawling. Does that look graceful? Does it look like it was made to move like that. No, of course it doesn’t! It’s made for flying! There are birds that can fly for 10 years without landing. You’re telling me that in an endurance flight, a dragon would lose to a fucking albatross!?

And that is ignoring the fact that during the course of the game, we SEE dragons fly across the length and width of the country without landing, and at one point we RIDE on the back of a dragon. And we do that wearing full plate mail and a fucking ARMORY of weapons. Does the dragon land after 20 seconds? No. It flies over the highest mountains, miles away, and sets you down. Does he then take 10 minutes to rest? No, he flies away!

So no, the dragon doesn’t get tired. What’s next?

Dave: The dragon gets hungry.

Now, I’m no dragon, but if it were me, I’d probably try to eat something like a cow or a sheep. You know, something that has a lot of meat and doesn’t fight back. Wouldn’t you?

And even then, you wouldn’t land until after the thing was dead, right? Also, if you’ve paid attention, you’ve noticed that at no point in the game do we actually see a dragon eat something. The closest we get is the instant kill move, where the dragon bites your head, shakes you around, breaks your neck and throws you away. Clearly, it wasn’t that hungry, or it wouldn’t have thrown you away.

Am I wrong?

Now, how about some arguments that are slightly more compelling?

Dave: The Dragon is so arrogant that he doesn’t think he NEEDS to fight smart to kill you.

At first glance, that explanation makes sense…. Until you look at it closely, at which point it completely falls apart.

IF the dragon is so superior to me, if he thinks I am as amoeba to him… WHY THE FUCK DOES HE ATTACK ME?! Why does he give a shit about me, if I’m so unworthy of him?!

And then, we take this a step further. Let’s say that you’re a dragon. Let’s say you’re out flying, and you spot a humanoid walking around in the wilderness.

And for some reason you think ”That little germ is nothing to me. But I’m going to kill him, just to prove my superiority”.

That’s a bit weird, but let’s run with that. But if it’s so unworthy, so low and pitiful… Would you land and kill it with brute force, allowing the blood and guts of that piece of filth to taint your scales, your claws or your very TEETH!?

Or would you just swoop down and turn it into a speck of soot in a moment by yelling at it? No bad taste in your mouth, it doesn’t take long and you can get back to doing….whatever it is dragons do in Skyrim.

Not to mention that once you realize that close combat doesn’t work, and daedric greatswords hurt like a motherfucker, wouldn’t you want to stick to flying, seeing as that doesn’t involve close combat?

And finally:

Dave: The dragons, having been revived, can’t fully connect with their souls and memories. The time it takes them to get back to normal could be years. perhaps even centuries.

Finally, this should be the clincher, right? This explains why the dragons aren’t fighting intelligently! They’re not in their prime! At this point, they’re just dumb muscle to be directed by the far more intelligent Alduin. It all adds up!

That is, until you think about it….

First of all, let’s say I accept this explanation. What does that say about the dragons? Would anyone care to explain to me why I should feel cool for killing a dragon under those circumstances? Why the flying hell am I supposed to feel proud for beating a monster suffering from the spiritual equivalent of a concussion!?

That’d be like beating Usain Bolt in a hundred meter sprint, after someone broke his foot!

It kinda takes away a bit of the achievement, if you know what I mean.

And then, let’s not forget that the explanation still doesn’t add up! At least two of the dragons Alduin wakes up are perfectly lucid, speak coherent English (by dragon standards), and one of them even recognizes Alduin, having been raised from the dead moments before. Seems a bit odd, if they don’t have access to their memories, doesn’t it?

Not to mention that breathing fire or frost, in case you forgot, isn’t a biological ability of theirs. It’s their LANGUAGE! Just saying the Dragon word for “Fire” does nothing. Fully comprehending the meaning of the word is what gives it power. You’d think one or two dragons might have some difficulty producing fire, if their memories are all muddled and distorted. And yet, when do you ever see a dragon fail to breathe fire?

According to this argument, the dragons are lucid enough to remember people, two different languages, the ability to focus their knowledge to the point where they can breathe fire, navigate Skyrim….

But the basic god damn idea that staying in the air = not being stabbed with weapons that hurt like fucking buggery? THAT’S something they forgot?! That’s an awfully convenient type of amnesia, don’t you think?

And of course, the entire argument completely falls flat when you consider one detail: Both Paarthurnax and Alduin (neither of whom were ever dead) fight the same exact way as all the other dragons!

There is ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE between their fighting styles!

To put it bluntly, the explanations do not add up with the facts the game presents.

It’s ALMOST like it was an afterthought by the fans, trying to give a bullshit hand-wavy explanation to the shitty fucking writing or something….

Now, on it’s own, this portrayal of the dragons would be ok, if it was consistent.  If they made it clear that dragons are just beasts, with no higher reasoning, this behavior would be fine. But the problem is that we KNOW that dragons are supposed to be intelligent, so they just come across as badly written!

So why is this a problem?

Well, first of all, the game completely takes away the mystique and wonder of dragons. Not only because they’re not really a threat, but because, during a simple walk between keeps at higher levels, you can fight up to three or four dragons! If not for the Draugrs, they’d be among the most common enemies in the game!

(Incidentally, the Draugrs, the decrepit corpses of old Nord warriors? More of a challenge than the dragons.)

Because of this, killing dragons becomes routine in Skyrim, to the point where “Dragonslayer” may as well be a euphemism for “Pest Control“. It’s only really a challenge when you fight ancient dragons. But all it does is to make you use the same tactics you use on all other dragons. You just do it for a bit longer. They don’t change tactics, they don’t use different shouts. So why should I feel bad-ass about killing dragons in this game? Anyone can do it!

Dave: Well, the dragonborn is special! He can kill dragons permanently! Or what? Is absorbing souls not cool enough for you?

Oh, right! Of course! Killing a dragon permanently! What an accomplishment! And what do you have to do, in order to perform this amazing feat? Do you press a button combination? Do you play a minigame? Do you throw a spell? Surely such an amazing ability has some criteria? Do you train to unlock it? Maybe It’s it only accessible at a certain level? Pray tell, what excruciating trials must you endure to attain this phenomenal power?

Oh, right. you don’t do anything. It just happens automatically, because the gods said so.

I might as well be proud for making a fucking SANDWICH!

Hell, at least that would require some fucking effort on my part.

So much for “Amazing dragonslayer”…

Dave: Well, of course the dragons have to be easy to fight, you idiot! You have to kill dragons to learn the shouts! You have to kill three dragons per shout, so you need to be able to kill them quickly. I mean, how would you do it?

Well, if it were me, the first thing I would do: Remove the word walls.

You know, the big slabs of stone where you learn words in the dragon language, which you then use dragon souls to understand and use as shouts?

(I’d also reduce the number of shouts, since they make spells pretty much obsolete…)

Instead, I’d make the dragons fewer, much stronger, much tougher…

And then when you kill them, you go Highlander on their asses, and LEARN THEIR SHOUTS WHEN YOU ABSORB THEIR SOULS!

Kill one dragon, you get a unique shout.

Maybe weaker dragons could be in old burial ruins. The cramped space means they can’t fly, and they’re there because the better resting places have been taken by bigger, stronger dragons. Imagine running around some old ruined castle, entering the main dining room, and there’s a DRAGON sitting in it!

The stronger the dragon, the better the home. Giant Dwemer-halls, abandoned keeps, mountain tops… you get the idea.

You know what else I’d change?

See, one thing I just don’t understand is why exactly the dragons follow Alduin.
They clearly have no love or any real reverence for him, since they celebrate his death by the end of the game. The only one who seems upset about his death is Paarthurnax, and even he says that it was necessary.
It’s not because Alduin controls the other dragons, since they continue to be murderous monsters even after Alduin dies.
Is it just out of fear of dying? That sounds unlikely, since Alduins final goal isn’t to rule and govern humanity. It’s a well known fact that he intends to destroy the world and everyone in it, including the dragons.

There’s no good reason why they’d all be following him.

Instead, why not turn them into big, very hard to kill, very dangerous NPC’s?

Instead of hundreds of them, just have about 10 or 15. Maybe they were revived en masse, rather than Alduin going to each grave in turn and raising them. Then you can make every dragon unique, with different personalities, opinions, philosophies and powers.

See, this is a brilliant place for some sort of alignment mechanic to factor in. I’ll get into it more in later chapters, but let’s use the D&D system as an example.

  • Lawful Evil dragons follow Alduin, reasoning that they owe him or that it’s the will of the Gods that the world ends.
  • Chaotic Evil dragons might follow Alduin for the chance to rain death and destruction, or they may just strike out on their own.
  • Neutral Evil dragons refuse to follow Alduin, since helping him will get them killed, when they can exploit peoples fears instead. Either that, or they can fight for Alduin, until it’s clear that you are more likely to be victorious.
  • Chaotic Neutral dragons can reason that they never asked to be revived and owe Alduin nothing.
  • Dragons with any of the three Good alignments would obviously be unwilling to follow Alduin, and might even be willing to fight to stop him.
  • True Neutral dragons might refuse to get involved in the conflict altogether, knowing that if they stand up Alduin, they might get killed and if they support him, the world might end.

These are just a few suggestions. You don’t have to use the D&D formula. You can come up with something new.

Not only that, but the reduced number of dragons can be used to advance the story! Maybe Alduins army just consists of a crap-ton of fanatical cultists, with five or six dragons acting as lieutenants, but these dragons are incredibly powerful and devoted to Alduin, seeing him as a divine agent.

The ones who don’t follow Alduin could be characters to interact with. You could talk to them, argue with them, and if you piss them off by insulting them, stealing from them or hurting them, they might attack you. But they can also share rumors and ancient legends, having first hand experience of history from ages past, forgotten by most others.

How about this; you can choose to run errands for them in exchange for magic weapons, treasure or maybe you could even convince them to become allies, giving you a special shout that calls them to your side, I know that the game does that with one dragon, but it could be so much more! Suppose that by the end of the game, you might have a choice of five or six different dragons to call on for help, each with different shouts, different strengths and weaknesses, strategies and personalities.

(And don’t tell me dragons would never ally with humans. You know that’s bullshit).

Or you can take your chances and attack them, being rewarded with their specific shouts if you kill them. If you help them, and they become allies, you cannot kill them and you cannot get the shouts they know. Suddenly, you’d have to make a choice.

You know, LIKE YOU WOULD IN A ROLEPLAYING GAME! 

But hey, that’s just me. Why would we want something like that in a fantasy RPG? That’d just be lame, right?

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Chapter I: In the Beginning…

Before I start, I should point out that throughout these chapters, I will make comparisons to Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. They’re both, in my opinion, good examples of RPG’s, and I will use them as a benchmark.

Unfair, you might say. I disagree. One of those games is made by the same people who made Skyrim. I will judge the makers both on their own terms, and compare their efforts to that of people who KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING.

But I warn you right now. Clear your schedule. This will not be a quick read. There is a reason I call them “Chapters” rather than “Pages”.

Let’s begin.

The game starts with you, the player, as a prisoner on a cart, rolling through the wintry wilderness of Skyrim towards a small village/mountain outpost called Helgen. On the way, the other prisoners talk, and you’re made aware that there is a civil war raging between the Imperial army and a group of rebels, known as Stormcloaks, and that the leader of the rebels, Ulfric Stormcloak himself, is among the prisoners.

After a while, you arrive in Helgen, where you and the other prisoners are led from the wagon, and a guard asks you your name.

Cue character creation menu.

Well, So far, so good. You get a basic understanding of what’s going on, and then you get to create your character. Seems perfectly reasonable, right?.

You’ll be shocked to know that I don’t think so.

Let’s compare this opening to Fallout 3. That game opens with a radio sparking into life, playing “I don’t want to set the world on fire” by the Ink-Spots. Pan out to revealing the radio is in the dashboard in an old, broken bus. It pans out further, showing you the blasted remains of a city street. And finally, a Knight of the Brotherhood of Steel hoves into view. Then the narration by Ron Perlman begins with the catchphrase of the series.

War… War Never Changes

It then proceeds to explain the world in an abridged history lesson.
Nuclear war, humanity didn’t end with the war, and is now doing its best to survive.

Then the game itself begins with you, the player, being born.

From there, you’re creating your character.

In Fallout New Vegas, there’s a similar approach. A slow panning out from a poster on a casino wall, with the song “Blue Moon” by Frank Sinatra echoing out over the Vegas Strip, further past an NCR Ranger firing a gun. We follow the bullet through the air, until it hits a guy in the head. We then see a group of scouts from Caesars Legion surveying the city from afar.

We then cut to a bunch of people digging a grave, one person bound and on their knees and a man in a checkered coat smoking a cigarette.

What follows is the narrator explaining the world. This time, it’s less of a general description, and more an explanation of the current situation of the Mojave Wasteland. The NCR, Caesars legion and their history is explained in easily understood terms. You also get an explanation of what you’re doing in the world. You’re a courier. You’re also the person with their hands tied in front of the open grave.

Then the guy in the checkered coat shoots you in the head.

The game proper begins with you waking up in a hospital bed. You then start creating your character.

So I’m sure you’re wondering what’s wrong with Skyrim. They gave some exposition, and then you get to create your character. What’s wrong with that?

The answer: As is so often the case, the problem is in the execution.

The thing with the intro movie in Fallout is that it’s a MOVIE. You’re just supposed to watch it. It’s just an introduction given by the omniscient, impartial narrator. A factual description of the world setting up the style and feel of the game. Not a biased, unreliable account from people who are about to be killed.

Oh, and this might just be a small thing, but in case it’s your second time playing, you know what the great thing about an intro movie is?

YOU CAN SKIP IT!

In Skyrim, you press “New Game”, and you’re on the cart. And what follows is four and a half minutes where you’re stuck. you can’t click anything. You can’t talk to anyone. You can’t move. You can’t do anything other than look around, marvel at the scenery and hear idiots and assholes say things you already know.

Hooray…

So the opening explanation for what the hell is going on is clumsily given. It’s annoying, but it’s not really that bad in the grand scheme of things, I admit…

You know what is really bad?

The Character Creation.

Skyrim is a role-playing game. The idea with a role-playing game is that you create a character, and then you play that character. You decide who he is. What is he good at? What is he bad at?

Let’s look at Fallout: New Vegas, shall we?

The character creation in New Vegas is made in 5 steps.

First you pick your Name.

Then you pick your Appearance. Gender, Race, Face (how you look) and Hair (hairstyle, colour, beard etc).

Then there’s your basic Stats. In Fallout, they’re referred to as S.P.E.C.I.A.L.

Strength determines how strong you are (duh). How much you can carry without being slowed down, how hard you hit, and so on.

Perception means how observant you are. Apart from skill checks, this determines how far away an enemy is before they appear on your radar.

Endurance means how healthy you are. How much your body can endure, how much damage you can take before you become crippled, which may impact your mobility, your aim or your hearing and vision.

Charisma determines how good you are at charming, intimidating or bluffing people.

Intelligence decides your reasoning and common sense. it also affects how many skill points you get when leveling up.

Agility means how fast and limber you are. This has an impact on your action points, draw speed etc.

Luck determines how fortunate you are. How likely are you to get a critical hit in battle or how well you do when you gamble. It also gives a minor bonus to all skills

You get 33 stat points to assign to the stat you want. You can have 1-10 in a single stat. The higher the stat, the better that stat is. Nothing complicated.

All stats also affect certain skills. Strength affects the Unarmed and Melee skills, Charisma affects the Speech and Barter skills, and so on.

Next come the Skills themselves. You’re given three “tags” to assign to skills. Whatever skill you tag instantly gets 15 points towards the maximum of 100. You use skills for skill checks, of course. The higher the skill, the easier it is to do.

And finally, you get to pick Traits. For example, you might shoot slower, but more accurately, you’re harder to hit, but easier to cripple or you get +1 perception when you’re wearing glasses, but -1 perception when you’re not.

After that, you’re given a set of clothes, a gun, a wrist computer and go out in the world.

There you go. 5 steps, and you’ve got a character fit for a role playing game.

Now let’s compare that to Skyrim.

Skyrim as 2 steps.

Name, appearance, and that’s it.

What’s that? What about how strong, fast, smart or tough you are? Skyrim says “Fuck you. That’s not necessary in a role playing game”.

And you don’t get to pick what skills you’re good at.
Ok, that’s not strictly true. That’s all determined when you pick your race. Every race gets racial traits and a bonus to certain skills.

Wood elves, for example, get a bonus to the archery skill. The Khajiit get a bonus to sneaking. Nords get a bonus to two handed combat.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there a word for when you take an entire race and say “This race is good at this thing and that race is good at that”? Can you recall what that word is?

Here, let me make it clearer, in case you can’t think of it,

This is like if, in Fallout New Vegas, you said that Caucasians get a bonus on speech, Hispanics get a bonus on sneak and Asians get a bonus to science. There is no difference.

Now, the traits they have, I don’t mind as much. The Argonians are immune to poison and breathe under water. The khajit have low-light vision. The Dunmer have a resistance to fire.

And there is nothing wrong with that. You cannot LEARN to breathe underwater. You cannot LEARN not to catch fire. Those are anatomical facts, distinct to their physiology.

But surely you can have that, without having to remove stats and skills in some ludicrous attempt to streamline the character creation?

And here’s the big problem.

Let’s say I sit down to play Skyrim. I scour websites and books, looking for a good name.

I go “Hmm.. I’m going to name him… Laertes, after the Shakesperian character.

I decide that Laertes is going to be a Dunmer, since they have a natural resistance to fire and get a bonus to destruction spells.

Then I spend HOURS configuring and changing the appearance of the character. The nose should be a bit longer, the hair should be jet black, I’ll give him one red eye and one clear white, with a scar over it. I’ll make him tall, but not too muscular, and a tattoo in bright orange under his left eye… Perfect! *Enter*!

I have now created a character.

Then you sit down, start the game and go “ Name? Uhm…. I don’t know. Bob. Race? hm… Dark elves look pretty cool… appearance? What do I care?! Standard type 1. there.” *Enter*

You have now created the same character I have. There is NO difference. You’re not smarter, stronger or faster than me. You’re not better or worse than my character in any way.

SO WHAT IS THE FUCKING POINT OF THE CHARACTER CREATION?!

The character creation is a joke! You just get the Illusion of choice. You THINK you’re creating a character when, in fact, your choices make no difference.

The point of an RPG is Choice.

And if there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that Skyrim doesn’t like giving you a choice.

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