Steam Shovel is a series in which I attempt to play through my backlog of PC games I’ve purchased over the years. Some of them haven’t been finished, some I’ve never installed, and some I don’t even recall buying in the first place. Join me as I try to dig my way out of this pit of poor impulse control and credit card access.
Every now and then, a game comes along that pretty much everybody you know is playing at release. Bioshock Infinite, The Walking Dead, and GTA V are a couple of notable titles from the past year or so. Well, in November 2011, the game everybody was talking about was The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
I’ll bet just about everybody has at least one Elder Scrolls game on his/her backlog. I’ve played every one of them including Arena and Daggerfall. I never got far beyond the first dungeon and town in either one however owing to them being pretty much unplayable due to bugs, crippling difficulty, and the sheer ugliness of the world. This series relies on spectacle — the discovery of a majestic waterfall or seeing the Aurora Borealis on a clear night — and those first two games simply can’t give you that.
I beat Morrowind straight away about 8 years ago. I enjoyed the oddness of its world, but, to be honest, the only reason I didn’t abandon it was because I had a low-end laptop and I could barely run anything else at the time. For all that people gush about Morrowind these days, its combat was pretty awful, and management of resources and quests were an exercise in constant frustration.
In 2011, I figured I should suck it up and beat Oblivion (on my list since 2009) to justify starting the new game. It was decent enough, although Cyrodiil looked just like every other fantasy RPG world, thus not leaving much of a distinct impression. Additionally, I got turned into a vampire and couldn’t be bothered to seek out the cure, so I could only go out at night which caused me endless amounts of frustration especially in the end-game which takes place largely outside and during the day. After beating that game, I felt I wasn’t quite ready to pick up Skyrim right away so I decided to wait for at least a few months.
Well, I don’t know if it was the knowledge that I was pretty much the only one of my friends not playing this game, that it was Christmas holidays AND a Steam sale, or that it was -25 outside, but I decided to take the plunge and throw down $40 and get into Skyrim. I immediately dove into it, spent a lot of time wandering around trying to fight different kinds of things. After about 20 hours, I set it aside because frankly I got a little freaked out by the sheer amount of quests that accrued. It was uninstalled shortly thereafter and remained unfinished. Until this summer.
Fortuitously, my wife and daughter were heading out of town for a few days to visit friends, so I had nothing but free time to do what I wanted. While I wasn’t averse to wandering into side missions, and I definitely did quite a few, my real goal was to see the main quest through. Regardless of how much or little content I got through in the periphery, I could at least close the book on Skyrim knowing that I beat the game Bethesda intended me to play.
Combat is… well, it’s an Elder Scrolls game. To the developer’s credit, with each title in the series, combat does get incrementally easier and more accessible. There’s certainly nothing wrong with it in Skyrim, and I’ll admit I did enjoy the kill animations. For the most part, however, it is unchanged from previous iterations in that you hack away at enemies while running backwards and spamming the ‘heal’ command. Piece of cake.
With that in mind, I’d argue it’s not the battles themselves that make interactions memorable in Skyrim. The thrill comes from wandering around in the wilderness, seeing a dragon flying in the distance, finding a good vantage point in which to make a stance, and firing off that first arrow that sends chills up the spine. In a way, combat in this game reminds me of classic Hitman; scoping out the environment and planning an attack however you want yields a greater payoff than the action itself.
The thing that pisses me off the most about all Bethesda games is the weight encumbrance limit, and that’s something still present. There is nothing more frustrating to me than being in the middle of an amazing dungeon run, discovering all sorts of cool sights, only to be hamstrung and forced to move at a crawl until I drop some items. To that, I say “Hell no,” go into the console commands, and bump up my encumbrance limit from 200 pounds to 2000 pounds. I’ll carry as much as I want, thank you very much. After all, I’m Dovakhiin!
Was It Worth It?
Oh yeah, and more so. Consider that I played the game for 83 hours, completed the main quest, and did a decent amount of exploring, and there are at least two major cities I still haven’t set foot in yet. That’s just ridiculous. As for the story, I have to admit it ended up being about at least as good as any in the series. The Elder Scrolls titles regularly aim for the stars by trying to tell an epic saga, and by my estimation Skyrim marks the first time they actually nailed it, for the most part. Granted, it’s always more fun to create your own scenarios in this type of game, but I commend the work they put into it this time around. Sometimes I wish this were the only game I owned because there’s a part of me that just wants to lose myself in this gigantic world.
So, Skyrim has been once again uninstalled and sits on my Steam list nestled between Oblivion and Fallout 3, completing my collection of Bethesda titles (although Fallout: New Vegas is certain to show up in this project one of these days). Now that the story has been completed, I feel much better about someday jumping back in and creating my own stories. Maybe I’ll finally visit some of those unexplored cities, maybe I’ll learn to be a mage, maybe I’ll just buy a house and settle down to be a blacksmith. The road is open, the prophecy has been fulfilled, and I have a long time before I will be returning to Sovngarde.