Tag Archives: skyrim

Things are distinct not in their essence but in their appearance.

April 10th is just around the corner, and I’ve been dabbling in Guild Wars: The Original Series.

During my initial foray I was very pleased to see that ArenaNet can indeed make splendid-looking female armour without it needing to include a mini-skirt, bra, nipple tassels, thong, fishnets, Lycra leotard or nothing but a small strategically placed fig leaf.

Of course, if you want it, you have to buy it from the Guild Wars store.

I’ve also found a new lease of life in Skyrim, with various mods which improve character appearance, as well as the addition of cloaks and other cosmetic niceties, providing a new reason to go adventuring in Tamriel’s wintry province.

All of which is free, and makes me feel somewhat guilty, because I’m happy to give a little extra to ArenaNet seeing as their game and its series of expansions seems worth more than the box prices alone. With all the good will shown towards recent gaming Kickstarter projects, I wonder if players would also pay for mods to their favourite games, especially since services such as Steamworks support it.

Regardless, I’m cosmetically content, and perfectly happy pottering around in DDO, Guild Wars and Skyrim for the time being. In addition, I’m somewhat more hopeful now of being able to create a sensibly attired character in Guild Wars 2 – always nice for someone who enjoys playing female characters for more than the beholding of butt, and who doesn’t want to get hit around the head with a frying pan when their wife witnesses the buxom burlesque dancer in a chainmail thong with which the game has lumbered them.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

The broken road wound its serpentine coil between tall fir trees, wrapped itself around hills lush with vegetation, before stopping to drink at the bank of a wide fast-running river, deep in the forest valley below. The warrior stood at the top of the road’s descent, an index finger curled against her lips formed the question mark that punctuated her thoughts – ‘Where do I go?’

A glance behind at the path already travelled, hand sweeping up through thick red locks to scratch thoughtfully, only to find a scabbed scalp amid the matted mass of hair, tongue instinctively feeling for the ragged edges of a split lip in sympathetic accord – she winced slightly at that, spat the metallic taste onto the cobbled road.

No insight came to her. She wasn’t a ranger, couldn’t read any of the natural signs posted in the wild; her forests were found among the fields of battle, where she would fell thorny trees of metal along the banks of rivers that ran red. She shrugged the ache from her shield arm, subconsciously felt for the pommel of the sword which hung at her side, then dragged heavy hide boots one after the other down the hill.

The road dropped sharply around the next bend and plunged into the depths of the forest, trees loomed over the warrior as she trudged on into that verdant primeval hall, the testudo of the high canopy blocking much of the sun’s assault, casting the forest in a fay half-light. The place was utterly alien to her – she may as well have been walking on the surface of Vaklavia, green goddess, hanging always low in the sky to the west; although she could not see the moon now. She was used to the nature of the city, rigid and formal, where the chaos was in the people who lived there; she could deal with people. But the forest… the forest was chaos, it both oppressed and liberated, was ancient and young, raucous and silent. Her head began to spin – the remnants of a concussion? No, she didn’t believe that, she could feel the primal fear waking deep within her chest, could feel its brumal maw closing around her heart.

She knelt then, pressed her fevered brow to the cool earth at the side of the road, tried to focus her thoughts on home – on Marisha, golden hair and marble skin, waiting for her there. She prayed, not to the Gods, for she did not hold court with them; instead she prayed to the forest. She acknowledged the ancient power there, unknowable, yet in evidence all around her, asked it –pleaded with it– for a sign. She opened her eyes. Her gaze fell across the road onto something which was not of the forest. But she knew it. Steps hewn vandalously into the bank, bones littering a path lined by trees which had been hacked and scorched and broken, weeping sap from their fresh wounds. The whole place was a wound. She did not know the forest, but the forest knew her.

Head clear, heart singing, she drew her sword and smiled, and the forest showed her where to go.

I’ve been playing with mods in Skyrim recently. Despite an inordinate number of them being aimed at turning Skyrim into a cross between Conan and Barbarella (you just wouldn’t believe the painstaking effort that can go into modelling a set of three foot long nipples…), I’ve managed to filter things with the help of sites such as the deeply inspirational Dead End Thrills.

Having ‘splungthrust my mods’ as I believe the cool kids say, I tested them out by creating a new character and running through the early content of the game. I have to say, the improvements that these free community-generated tweaks and tune-ups provide are, frankly, astonishing. There’s a lot of untapped talent out there, and games like Skyrim and World of Warcraft demonstrate the level of ingenuity and creativity which can be harnessed when a game is opened up to the community of modders. Admittedly it also reveals the obsession with breasts and butts, but sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth. Or the unfeasibly large breasts with the beautiful realistic water textures.

What surprised me most, however, was that just a short way out of the tutorial, while wandering down a familiar forest road towards Riverwood, I stumbled upon a path I hadn’t discovered before, and, upon further investigation, a den of bandits. One hundred and fifty-odd hours of play, and I’m still discovering things in this world. Right next to the starter area, even. The path was clearly there to be found, but it wasn’t signposted either by quest or gaudy railroading, I just had to open my eyes to the world, and open my mind to the possibilities of freedom presented by the game of ‘Where do I go?’.

What else have I yet to discover? I may just have to go and find out.

For the loot, honey, for the loot.

I mentioned in a previous post how pleased I was to see that I could instruct my companion in SWTOR to toddle off and sell all my junk loot in order to keep my limited inventory space clear for more important items, such as my fifteenth cosmetic neckerchief – this one will look simply darling in any medium-to-long range combat situation. Of course I imagine that Force users don’t instruct so much as persuade, in what is apparently the Jedi/Sith equivalent of sudo make me a sandwich. I mean, I’d make a rubbish Jedi, because the potential for Force abuse would be far too tempting to resist:

Companion: “But my favourite is green!”
Jedi [making a hand movement]: “Your favourite is yellow.”
Companion: “But my favourite is yellow!”
Jedi: “Well gosh, that *is* most conveniently handy, because that means you can have the yellow wine gums, and I’ll have all the green ones – which are my favourite.”
Companion: “Yay!”
Jedi [makes a subtle hand movement]
Companion: “Ow! Damnit!”
Jedi: “The phantom knicker-elastic snapper again?”
Companion: “It’s, like, every time we’re on the ship.”
Jedi: “It really is most perplexing.”
Companion: “And then there are all those draughts that keep lifting my dress. But we’re on a ship, Jedi! In the vacuum of space! IT’S A VACUUM!”
Jedi: “It is a *terrible* mystery. Truly it is. *monch* *monch* Mmmm, these green wine gums really are delicious.”

In my fresh play through of Skyrim as well, I quickly decided that I will skip the insane levels of inventory juggling and trips to the shops to sell my leftover loot, and instead I would only collect items which would really improve my character immediately, along with any gold coins I stumbled upon.

This is no revelation, just a simple hop skip and a jump along the natural progression of ‘loot leaving’ in an RPG. At first you leave no item unyoinked, twigs, bits of frayed string, fish bones, odd socks, cabbage leaves, cat hairballs, those waffle makers that everyone buys and only ever use once. Heck, it takes half an hour to progress a yard down the first path you encounter while you collect every piece of gravel along the way. After a while you make some money –because in EVERY RPG you start out with no money whatsoever– and you start to feel a little more flush, so that you only feel the need to, say, pick up every other Marmite jar. And you manage to pretty much leave the empty ones alone entirely! A little further in your progress down the Road of Single Player RPG, you find that the weapons and armour your opponents drop are hardly worth enough to warrant collecting, and you barely even look twice at old toenail clippings any more. Yet more time invested sees you leaving even some magical items, recoiling at the thought of having to break off from adventuring in order to traipse all the way back to town to sell them. And it’s not like you’re desperate for the gold now – a little more gold and you can probably buy that really nice castle down by the lake, with the hot tub and the billiard room. You know you’re over the hill of progression and coasting down the other side towards the retirement village of Dunitallnow upon Sea when you start to leave any item that isn’t a legendary artefact, and even then you have to think twice before popping the Holy Invincible Fist of the Almighty into you backpack in order to see if someone will give you some money for it; possibly enough to buy a new gold and diamond pull-chain for your en suite toilet back at the castle. In the end you reach the point where you’re so rich you just abandon cavernous rooms full of wondrous treasure, and when kings offer you dominion over entire regions of their kingdom, you sniff haughtily and give them such a look, as though they’d just rubbed themselves all over with dog poo and asked for a hug.

And yet, despite being so rich that I could buy the moon and still not have enough real estate to store all my worldly (and moonly) possessions, I *still* can’t walk past a blarmed wardrobe and dresser without having a peak inside, just in case. Just in case?! Just in case what? Just in case this mangled camphor box –inside a decrepit old woman’s rundown house– has, amongst the mouldy long knickers, scarves and the top half of a set of false teeth, the Inevitable Sword of Impossible Greatness? A weapon which could cleave the planet in twain and complete my dominion of time and space! Unlikely as that is, it might be hidden there, I’ll just have a peak… “ah no, it’s just some mouldy long knickers and a dusty long pink rubbery… is that a… ?! A…?! Aaaa…aaahhh! Oh, ugh, I think it is! Ewww! Ewww! I think I touched it!” And then I have to spend the next five minutes flapping around the place, holding my hands as far away from the rest of me as possible, while looking for some soap and running water. Such are the hazards of the ever-looting RPG adventurer.

But why this compulsion to look for that next improbably powerful item on the Fantasy Top 100 Items That Could Destroy A World? I mean, if it can cleave a world in twain, is that good? Can you cleave too much? Can you have too much cleavage? If it has a thirty six times direct damage modifier when cleaving, do I really need that? In RPG terms that would be 36DD Cleavage, and I’ve just no idea if I could even handle something of that magnitude.

In the end, I know who to blame: for, every time I get the urge to search for loot, the devil of temptation and the angel of abstinence are to be found, sat upon either shoulder, giving me advice. The devil whispers in my ear “Go on, loot it, looooot it; you know you want to”. A sweat breaks out on my brow, my hand hovers over the loot key, but with a wince I draw my hand sharply back as though the keys were brands which would burn ‘inveterate looter’ onto my finertips for all to see. I turn with great effort to the angel of abstinence who looks upon me with kind eyes full of understanding. Steepling her hands in front of her mouth, she looks thoughtful for a brief moment, and then shouts “For God’s sake man, what are you waiting for?! Loot the damn handbag, there could be some amazing treasure in there!”

Stupid angel of abstinence.

We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone.

So my time with Star Wars: The Old Republic is coming to an end. There’s no real surprise in this for me: I wasn’t going to buy SWTOR initially, but the breathless blog banter lauding its already much vaunted fourth pillar of storytelling had convinced me that, for the price of the box, it’d be worth a look whether I chose to subscribe to the game afterwards or not. The fact that m’colleague and other friends were also intending to play, however, added much needed girders of reinforcement to the somewhat shaky foundations of my decision, and thus I quickly cemented the whole deal with an order, before the building inspector of common sense could review the plan and tell me that it would never stand the test of time.

Based upon the standard indicators of ‘time played’ and ‘entertainment had’, I certainly got enough out of the game to justify the box price; compared to many games I’ve bought recently, I’d say that SWTOR settled towards the happy end of the value for money scale. Only games such as Dragon Age (89 hours played) and Skyrim (128 hours played, and counting…) can make any sort of impact on the ‘value for money’ assessment, and really those two should be treated as freakish outliers of my recent game time investment.

I have enjoyed my time in SWTOR, but while the story element is certainly entertaining, in wrestling for my continued commitment to the game, it simply wasn’t differentiating enough to be able to overpower and suplex the plodding linear progression and constricting nature which is typical of this type of MMO. This is not a failing of SWTOR – for many this is still as perfectly enjoyable and entertaining as it always was, and for those people SWTOR is surely a fast flowing stream of fresh IP into the rather stagnant pond of fantasy MMOs. My tastes have definitely changed, however; be it through burnout, or having discovered pastures which are richer grazing, better suited to my game-play appetite, I struggle now to find any pleasure in on-rails grind, as well as the hotbar combat, common to MMOs of this sort.

The simple fact is that I like to look into the world when I play a game of this sort, for if it is not –to a greater extent– about the world in which our characters inhabit, why have the world at all? We could easily write games where the player is required to stare at a number of little coloured icons, and press them in optimal order based upon the variable cooldown counters which tick above them, and simulate pretty much everything there is to MMO combat, without the need for a game world. Even UI addons which move these elements of buffs, debuffs and hotbar abilities into the middle of the screen do not alleviate the simple fact that the player’s attention must be, for a disproportionate amount of play time, concentrated on these tiny little UI elements, rather than the world around them. The perceived increase in difficulty of tanking, and to a lesser extent healing, in these games stems from the fact that the situational awareness and positioning that these roles require runs counter to the entire rest of the combat design – to stare at tiny little icons and press them when cooldowns allow, when debuffs require, or when priority demands. The entire combat design of these games, which has barely changed from generation to generation, is akin to a person in a pit spinning a comfortable number of plates on the end of broom handles, and where every now and again an angry wolverine is thrown in such that the plate spinner has to try to frantically beat it away with a spare broom handle while still trying to keep the plates spinning.

In Skyrim I have to watch where my enemy is in the world. If the enemy is close, I try to hit him with a big sword. Sometimes the enemy will try to hit me with a big sword, and in this case I have to watch for him swinging at me, at which point I block the attack. After one hundred and twenty eight hours or so of playing, this is still fantastically entertaining to me. I do not have to look down at a UI element and see if my sword is off global cooldown. I do not have to look at another, different, UI element to see if my shield is off its five minute emergency cooldown. I do not have to juggle a number of short duration buffs which, if they drop, will mean the almost guaranteed defeat of my character. The cooldown on weapons is, to some extent, reflected in the length of time it takes to swing them: two-handers feel slow and ponderous compared to their one-hander cousins, but this simply serves to add solidity and texture to the combat, while building in a suitable restraining mechanic to the more potent damage range of the various two-handed weapons. There are no plates to juggle in Skyrim’s game-play, just one big plate, which I must smash over the head of my enemy; this is what I need in a fantasy game, not taking a sixty second ‘day’ and organising my hotbar meeting schedules into this time period.

“Well I’ve got an armour buff telecon in fifteen seconds, maybe we could reconvene the channelled ranged attack best practise seminar until after then; hmmm, but that does leave me with a short window where we could probably leverage a quick value-added primary attack GCD, which would be win-win if we can then schedule for the thirty second self-heal strategic planning afterwards. Of course, we’ll have to be proactive if an off-GCD defeat response occurs in the meantime – we’ll fast track it and bump the rest of the day’s schedule if that happens. I’ll get my people to macro your people. Okay, ciao.”

I could not program an Excel spreadsheet to play my Skyrim character effectively.

That’s the feeling I can’t shake with many of these hotbar-based MMOs – that an Excel spreadsheet could probably be doing it better. The realisation hits that a spreadsheet program should be my gaming idol, that at the next PAX I may well witness an Excel box surrounded by the flickering flashlight of photographers while two scantily clad women lean in from each side, one leg kicked out saucily behind each of them, planting kisses on the sides of this perfect specimen of hardcore MMO player. And then there’ll be the stupid puns in magazine articles, such as How to Excel at MMO Gaming.

Again, I have nothing against SWTOR as a game, I’ve just come to an even more firm conclusion that MMOs “where you play combat primarily in the user interface rather than the game world” are not for me. Which is rather a shame, because that’s most of them, by my current calculations. I’ll be interested to see if games such as TERA have actually made an action-orientated MMO, or whether it’s the same old concession to hotbar plate juggling, only now the rabid wolverine is a permanent fixture; in which case I can’t imagine it will fair terribly well (the game that is, not the wolverine, who I’m sure will have a whale of a time). I’m also somewhat less sure about Guild Wars 2, because on the one hand the game has a vastly restricted hotbar space, such that there are far fewer plates to keep spinning, but on the other hand the hotbar is still there, and I’m just not sure that you can realistically expect to have a hotbar and a true action RPG occupying the same game client.

In the meantime I’ve rolled a new character in Skyrim; having finished the main story and vast swathes of the game, I now want to go exploring with a slightly less accomplished (read: overpowered) character, and discover all the places that my boss keeps telling me about from his play through, but which I’ve yet to discover. I went for my favourite character type the first time around, a female paladin sort, wearing heavy armour, wielding a sword and shield, and well versed in the arts of healing magic. It was tremendous fun, but now I’m going to play an orc barbarian, with a big two-handed axe, and wearing only light armour; I’m going to see if it’s possible to play an in-your-face melee character without relying on heavy armour or healing magic. I’m also happily taking a leaf out of SWTOR’s book and eschewing the quick save option in all but the most game-breaking cases. This has already lead to interesting developments, where, in the first town at which I arrived, my character accidentally (no, really!) stole something from the bar of an inn and –in self defence, Your Honour– killed the innkeeper when he attacked over the inadvertent indiscretion. As a result of which I quickly fled the town, with the grubby wooden plate I had stolen as a somewhat disappointing trophy of this early exploit in my adventuring career. An intriguing, if ignominious, beginning.

I’ll see you all in another hundred and twenty eight hours.

Every true, eternal problem is an equally true, eternal fault; every answer an atonement, every realisation an improvement.

It’s quite astonishing how my attitude to a game can alter through the simple expedience of changing how I approach it. That is, how I approach playing it, not how I approach the game itself, lest any of you were having visions of this author walking stiffly, military fashion, towards the computer from the front; then another time sneaking, hunched-over and on tip toes, before slithering into my computer seat from underneath the desk; another time bombing from atop the arm of the sofa while screaming ‘banzai!’; yet another time slowly crawling, sloth-like, with ponderous arms and improbably dextrous legs, from around the back of the monitor.

Heading into Lord of the Rings Online for the recent Update 5 found me completing about forty minutes of, to my mind, uninspiring epic book content. Even Tolkien’s epic tale had its slow patches, and I suppose I should be thankful that at least there was no sign of melancholy poetry or inapposite singing in the LotRO content. I don’t know, maybe the singing in Tolkien’s work was justified, but I always used to skip over reading it because it always seemed awkward to me, the middle-earthian equivalent of the silent mournful contemplation at a funeral being broken up by one attendee gently tapping their foot and then crooning “Oh baby, baby, how was I suppose’ t’know”. Feel free to add head jiving and hand claps to your own taste.

I’m not sure whether it’s the case that I’m simply tired of the game, or if this latest update –and, indeed, entire expansion– has actually been as lacklustre as I believe. I find myself beginning to wonder whether Turbine are starting to focus a little too much on in-game store items, or if this expansion is a stop-gap while they work on a more impressive Moria-like expansion for Rohan, or indeed if they’re working on another game entirely and have perhaps stretched their development teams too thinly. It certainly doesn’t help that the Warden class, which has been a favourite of mine for some time, has been tweaked and tampered with, presumably to the satisfaction and appeasement of raiders and spreadsheet optimisers, but unfortunately to the detriment of the soul of the class. Such a simple and elegant mechanic has now been twisted and tortured, with new parts bolted on, such that it has become a warped image of its former beauty, it is the Hollywood star unable to accept their aging gracefully, undergoing plastic surgery after plastic surgery until they no longer resemble their former selves, instead appearing more like some poor cousin of Gollum, one who has stood for too long in a wind tunnel while orange paint and superglue were fired with great force at their face.

I had dipped my toe back into the frosty unappealing waters of LotRO because I found the fire of my enthusiasm for Skyrim starting to flicker and diminish. Where before had been a roaring inferno of gaming passion, a veritable burning city of desire, there now stood a small camp fire: warm, safe, comforting, but without the flare, fervour or fascination of that former passion. The game had not changed, and I estimated that I had discovered but half of what its vast and ranging lands had to offer, so why had my view of the game changed so? I contemplated that perhaps I had changed the position from which I viewed the game. I took a step back and looked at how I was playing the game now, comparing it to how I had approached it when I first started out, back when it was fresh and I was unaware of how the world operated. It soon became obvious that I had, in the finest MMO tradition, begun to optimise the way I played the game. Instead of heading out from town and adventuring in the world, I had become a slave to the Quest Shopping List. When I wanted to adventure, I realised, I now immediately opened my quest log and looked at which items I could tick off, preferably those which were the quickest. Then… THEN (for shame) I would open the map and fast travel to the nearest location to my destination, so as to cut out any of that messy running around business. It was I who had devolved the wondrous emergent discovery-based game-play of the world of Skyrim into a simple MMO quest pipeline; I was a cog in die MMO Schleifen-Maschine once again, crushing content with maximum ruthless efficiency. All of a sudden, just like that, the game had become utterly bland, it was the bleak whiteout monotony of Skyrim’s storm-thrashed barren ice flats realised in game-play form.

Thus, last night, after achieving this minor epiphany, I logged-in to the game. I checked my equipment was in good order, headed out of the main gate of the city, picked a direction, and began to walk.

Six hours later I tore myself away, but only so that I could give this weak human shell the sleep it deems necessary to function. I still haven’t finished the main quest line, or many of the quests sitting in my journal, and now once again, I’m very pleased to say, I don’t care to.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring.

[A Skyrim quest spoiler follows]

We join our heroine after she has awoken to find herself having been drugged and transported from her bedroom to an abandoned shack in the middle of a Skyrim swamp. The leader of the Dark Brotherhood stands before her, and tells our heroine that the organisation is interested in recruiting her, having followed her impressive progress in the world to date. But first, a test…

Three people kneel before our heroine, their hands bound, hoods over their heads. There is a contract on the life of one of these villains, and –the leader of the Dark Brotherhood informs her– our heroine must decide for herself which one it is. And then she must execute that person.

An entry is added to our heroine’s quest log in this regard.

Our heroine tries to leave the shack, but the way is barred to her; so she speaks to each of the three captives in turn, determining their crimes and judging the reasons for their being here in this place. She makes her decision.

Unfortunately for the leader of the Dark Brotherhood, our heroine has decided to take a path through life which falls not in the shadows. She is a servant of light. No specific deity commands this respect or offers guidance along this path. It is a path she forges of her own accord, a hard path, overgrown with the moral intricacies and complexities of a harsh and unforgiving world. Nevertheless, she follows the light as best she may.

She kills the leader of the Dark Brotherhood and releases the prisoners.

A message appears to the player of our heroine, ‘Failed: Join the Dark Brotherhood’. “Ah well”, thinks he, “I did what I felt was right for my character”. More importantly he felt that he had the choice to do what was right, and that nobody had told him to do so. No quest compelled him to do what he did, it was his decision, and he is therefore happy to live with the consequences, as well as the mild disappointment of having failed the quest.

Suddenly a new message appears to the player ‘New quest: Destroy the Dark Brotherhood!’

A smile appears on the faces of player and character alike.

Time to bring a little light to the shadows.

Moving on is a simple thing. What it leaves behind is hard.

Having spent an entire evening in Skyrim shuffling inventory between my basic starter house in Whiterun and my new super duper, top of the line, ‘oh look at them aren’t they doing well, bet they drive a high-spec German saloon car and wear pink shirts with jeans too’ house in Solitude, I’d like to make a brief appeal on behalf of the This Bit Isn’t Fun party, and ask if some kind soul would like to write a removalist mod. for the game.

Bonus points if, as m’colleague pointed out, the mod. keeps the immersion of the game intact by having a couple of blokes turn up, drop a load of your stuff, bang the rest into various door frames on the way out, chuck it all in the back of a horse and cart, then empty it onto the pavement at the other end and go “nah, was like that when it went in mate”.

Still, kudos to the continued realism of Bethesda’s game: they say moving house is one of the most stressful things a person can do, and that’s as true in Skyrim as it is in the real world.

Accursed inventory weight limit, you win again!

On midriffs and maturity.

Any bets on whether the male version of that battleframe is fully sealed?

I also love the attempt at subliminal sexual innuendo word highlighting and phrase choice in the Firefall advert. Subtle.

And we’re still debating why Skyrim is a runaway success while the reputation of the MMO genre goes from bad to worse?

No respect for a huge section of your paying customer base, garners no respect in return.

When it snows, you have two choices: shovel or make snow angels.

My greatest joy in Skyrim comes from the fact that the game doesn’t make me feel as though I’m doing something for the sake of it. Each and every task I perform is its own justification, and many of the trials and tribulations that I endure have been conjured up by my own sense of adventure and exploration. I didn’t need to delve deep into the dwarven ruins I discovered last night, there was no importunate question mark floating above a head, or in a quest log; no expectation haunted my every step, no imperious demand that I perform such and such a feat, in this manner, at this time, in this place, with these tools, and where all other endeavours would be considered void. I felt no quester’s compunction at my failure to follow the stringent MMO method: ticking off lines on a clipboard as each step is performed to exacting specifications in order to observe the inevitable outcome. Nevertheless, I was richly rewarded for my endeavours.

Indeed, the game specifically doesn’t punish the player for avoiding that plodding plotted path, it gives the players a canvas and paint but does not require the use of a brush if you prefer to use your fingers. And although it provides an outline of your character’s existence, it stops well short of putting little numbers across the page to dictate precisely which colour each shape should be. You are free to fill in the bigger picture as the game outlines, but you are equally free to paint over those lines. Therefore, you are able to make a mess of things as much as you are able to make something entirely unique to you. What is important, however, is that the game rewards you however you play. Exploring and experiencing the world, experimenting with it, these things will reward the player’s efforts as much as joining the dotted path of quests.

The upshot of this experience is a phenomenon which many have embraced, while others have railed against it – pointing out the many failings in the game which can also be found in MMOs and elsewhere, and which people are now seemingly happy to ignore, where they complained before.

It is simply the difference between friendship and enmity. In Skyrim I feel as though we are friends, we share similar outlooks and opinions, and we work well together. We don’t often stumble over one another, but when we do we can often resolve the issue amicably. As such, I am aware of Skyrim’s failings but find myself far more willing to forgive them, not least of which because Skyrim has highlighted many of my own failings as a player, and yet continues to reward me regardless. With many MMOs, where I have often found myself railing against them even as I played them, I feel as though we are enemies. The game is out for my money –as much of it as it can gather– and everything I find myself doing in the game is built around the tenet that the more time I have to spend with the game the more money the game earns. As such, I am aware of an MMO’s failings and I find myself less willing to forgive them because I can relate most of them to obstructions, barriers and hardships which are unnecessary outside of the context of this MMO model; more though, even those failings which I could happily otherwise ignore are dispersed by that parsimonious prism of experience, until a single complaint spreads into a spectrum of baser issues.

So Skyrim does indeed cause the player to suffer many of the limits and ludicrosities which have plagued RPGs since gaming began, but it is with these failings accepted that the review scores have been so high. A high score does not reflect a perfect game, it reflects a game which, on balance, has highs which far outweigh the lows. The impression that Skyrim’s positives have left upon me compared to its negatives are as to compare the size of the universe to a grain of sand. Skyrim is not a perfect game, but a game does not have to be perfect and devoid of faults to score highly in the opinion of players and reviewers, what it has to be is a stunning example in its genre.

Skyrim is a stunning example of an RPG, not in the sense of stats and grinding loot for advancement, but in the old sense –one would argue the true sense– of playing a role in a game. It is, ultimately, a game of choice.

Choose grind. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose dailies. Choose fucking big shoulder pads. Choose stats, pots, mats, and tokens. Choose fed ex, low drop rates and kill ten rats. Choose monthly subscription repayments. Choose a raiding guild. Choose your fleeting guild mates. Choose purple gear and matching weapons. Choose a three piece set bonus in a range of fucking tiers. Choose rep grinds and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that chair watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game-play, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, giving away your stuff to strangers, nothing more than a relic to the selfish, fucked-up brats that have spawned in General Chat to replace you. Choose your future. Choose grind. . . But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose grind: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got Skyrim?

Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.

The city of Whiterun, Skyrim.

Spoke to an innocuous looking priest standing at the bar of an inn, because he seemed merry.

Got into a drinking competition.

Woke up the next morning halfway across the country.

In a temple for a female only sect who worship the goddess of beauty.

And ‘persuasion’ [waggles eyebrows]

Paid for the damage caused to the temple the previous night.

Apparently a goat was involved.

Don’t ask.

Agreed to undertake a penance, once the other priestesses had all returned.

From their private gathering to ‘worship’ their goddess. [waggles eyebrows]

Snuck to the back of the temple.

Picked the lock to their secret chamber.

Gained a skill level in Freudian Imagery.

Covertly observed the ceremony.

It was far less exciting than my skill level in Freudian Imagery demanded.

Decided to steal the expensive gold idol of their deity in recompense for the lack of ‘entertainment’.

Got caught.

Agreed to do yet another more arduous and treacherous penance.

Will be given the gift of ‘persuasion’ when the penance is completed. [waggles eyebrows]

Have been playing for an hour and half at least, and still haven’t opened the map.

Or quest journal.

Or had to kill ten small rodents.

Was in danger of strangling a snake there at one point, however.

Such organic quest development is another reason why Skyrim is simply marvellous.

It’s not just the prospect of getting drunk and waking up after a wild night to find myself in a temple full of lesbian priestesses willing to teach me the art of ‘persuasion’.

That would be orgasmic quest development, which is another thing entirely.