Thursday, December 15, 2011

more Skyrim musings

I was disappointed that the new Elder Scrolls game didn't have a Hardcore difficulty setting to activate. This means that I attempted to play the game with my own self-imposed restrictions. I never used the fast travel ability to select an already-visited location and magically teleport there. I tried to sleep at regular intervals, even though dungeon delving sometimes meant that I wasn't keeping track of the world clock. I tried to eat food items regularly, whenever I found a leg of roast goat or a slice of cheese I would consume it, regardless of whether I would recover health from it or not.

These self-imposed restrictions extended to my extra characters as well. In fact, I constructed my third character believing that I would be making the game incredibly more difficult for myself, and I ended up stumbling upon the most powerful way of playing a character.

This is Nelra Olim, an Altmer (the Tamriel word for high elf) from the country of Cyrodiil. His primary goal is to join the College of Magic in Winterhold. He is loyal to the Empire despite it's rather impersonal bureaucracy, and upon entering Skyrim he is quickly caught up in local politics by being mistaken for a rebel during a nighttime skirmish. Almost executed at Helgen keep, he is freed by an Imperial soldier named Hadvar when a dragon attacks the town, and is led to the town of Riverwood where Hadvar's uncle gives him food, shelter and a lesson in leatherworking.

Annoyed by the rebels he was almost executed with, Nelra decides to use his magic to support the Imperial Legion in quelling the Stormcloak rebellion and heads off to Whiterun, the Hold capital. Along the way he spies a giant attacking a farmstead and quickly rushes the field to assist the few armed souls fighting it off. As the frosty chill of his magic defrosts off the corpse of the giant, their leader compliments his deft fighting ability and tells him to seek out the Companions, a guild of honorable mercenaries. Nelra politely declines and continues on to the court of Whiterun.

In the hall of Jarl Balgruuf, Nelra explains the dragon attack at Helgen and asks for aid at the town of Riverwood. The Jarl senses Nelra's good intentions and asks him to assist his court wizard, Farengar Secret-Fire, with a special task that might help them understand where this dragon came from, and why.

Farengar explains that there is a stone tablet in Bleak Falls Barrow that he believes contains a map of ancient dragon burial sites. He hopes this will help him understand how and why dragons are returning to Tamriel. He is reluctant to send a soldier after such a precious artifact and is pleased that he is sending somebody with an apparent interest and competence with magic. After using Farengar's Arcane Enchanter as much as he is able, Nelra purchases a room at the local inn and sets off for Bleak Falls Barrow early the next morning.
Along the way he encounters another giant on the road, this one seems lonely and contemplative, like he's looking for something, and Nelra wonders if this giant is looking for the one he helped slay the previous day.

Though the giant doesn't seem hostile, Nelra moves quickly along and puts as much distance between them as he can. As he climbs higher into the mountains it begins to snow, and soon he can see the tower on the bluff just below Bleak Falls Barrow. He crouches to help conceal himself in the flurry of wind and snow, and spies movement amidst the tower. He readies a spell and unslings his long bow, and slowly begins to crouch forward. His adventure is only just beginning...

I had just finished playing through the game with an orc who never read any books, only used a Flames spell twice in all of his travels, and had nearly perfected his skills in hand-to-hand combat. In other words, a pure fighter. Because of this playthrough experience I believed beforehand that making a character who would "only use magic" would be harder. I worried a little that I might not be able to finish some of the bigger fights later in the game. In truth, being a pure wizard means I kill opponents faster but simply level up my skills slower.

There are a few challenges. Dragons are considerably tougher, I'm quaffing potions during tense combats like never before, and beginning a new combat is sometimes disorienting depending on what spells I last had active. Overall, the challenges aren't greater but they're certainly different. It's more fun this time around, and I'm enjoying playing through as Nelra Olim more than my previous characters.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

from Oblivion to Skyrim

Since my tabletop role-playing group has been stuttering along with infrequent sessions, I've been playing a lot of Skyrim, the latest entry in the Elder Scrolls series. I've adopted my friend Vince's storytelling technique of crafting my own internal story for the character I am playing within the video game, and my first character was undoubtedly a rogue.

My preferred playing style is to sneak, to backstab, to thieve. Throughout my time with Oblivion, the last Elder Scrolls game, I played an Argonian named Max who became the leader of the Thieves' Guild, took control of the Dark Brotherhood, even journeyed into one of Mehrunes Dagon's dungeons and slew his avatar in order to steal the infamous dagger, Mehrunes Razor. It became my favorite weapon. Max'es favorite weapon. And rarely was anything else used to dispatch my enemies.

When I started up Skyrim for the first time and was brought to the introductory character creation screen, I immediately fell upon the Argonian option and began tweaking the look of my character. Red scales. Smooth head. Slender body. Before I accepted my alterations I realized "I shouldn't play the same guy! I should play his descendant."
I switched the gender to female. I added feathers to the top of her head. I made her scales darker, and kept her body slender. And so Rasha, the great-granddaughter of Max, was born in a moment of frantic impulse as impromptu and clumsy as Max'es amorous encounters with Argonian women might have been. He was an assassin, after all, and not a lover.

As I played Rasha, I wondered why she was in the region of Skyrim. She never took sides in the civil war, it was of no concern to her. She consumed a dragon's soul and was called 'Dragonborn' but had no interest in such a strange and ancient power. She joined the College of Magic in Winterhold, looking for the secrets of arcane arts which constantly eluded her. She scoured the land for the Thieves' Guild, and found them lacking in strength and leadership, so she rebuilt their order in her image. She had made her own suit of armor, fashioned from the skins of the many dragons she had slain, as they seemed to follow her footsteps across Skyrim like dogs trailing for scraps. Finally, after taking so many jobs as a mercenary, after delving into so many Dwemer ruins, after recovering so many bounties on bandits, on giants, on dragons, she found what she was looking for: the dagger whom her great-grandfather had wielded so viciously, Mehrunes' Razor.

There was nothing left for her. More importantly, there was nothing left that I wanted to do. Her story was done.

So I made a new character.