Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How I Lost 200 Hours of my a Woman.

Who's that girl?
That's right, a woman.

Let me tell you about her.  Her name is Ceolairah (you would say it Solara).  She is a working girl who does odd jobs all across the country, so, naturally she travels a lot.  She isn't particularly wealthy, but she does own property in some major cities.  I cannot really tell you too much about her past, but from what I understand things weren't always as good as they are now (there may have been some jail time early on, but for what is not clear).  She was born and raised in an arid climate near a desert and as a result rarely gets sick, which is a good thing.  She has no particular religious or political affiliations; she just kind of does what she feels is right based on the situation at hand.  Perhaps because of this, she is quick to make new friends and rarely comes into town without someone waiting to see her about something or other.  That being said, she has always kind of been a loner, not really needing or asking too much from her friends or her family (if she has any, I don't really know).  And yet, I get the sense that she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders sometimes.  Not to get melodramatic, but it is almost like she has some bigger destiny or purpose out there that she is chasing. I certainly think she is destined for great things!

Ceolairah is a complex and amazing woman with more depth and subtlety than one might expect when they first meet her. She is strong and fearless, she is noble and yet cunning at times, and no matter what, she always comes out on top of the situation.  Maybe that is why I have been so enraptured with her for the past several months.  Maybe that is why I have done everything in my power to spend time with her at every opportunity since I met her.  Maybe that is why as soon as I am done typing this, I am going to go meet her again.

But Ceolairah is not like other girls, my friends.  Oh no indeed.  Ceolairah hails from a world not like ours, for Ceolairah is a child of Skyrim.  Yeah, that's right, I took two whole paragraphs to rope you in for that big, super nerdy payoff.  And now you have to live with it (sadly so do I because I wrote it and took about 3 times as long to write it as you took to read it).
Ceolairah at home in Riften, ready for battle

200 freaking hours of my life (and counting...) I have sunk into this ridiculous game.  200 hours.  If someone sentenced you to 200 hours of community service, you would just pay the fine or take the jail time.  And yet willingly, no, eagerly, I have spent 200 hours completely engrossed in this absolutely incredible world...errr... I mean game.  And when I say engrossed, I mean like basement dwelling nerd level engrossed. It is sad. Really really sad.  I have not been pulled into a game like this since way back in the days of Might and Magic VI (during which my girlfriend and I literally pulled the couch up to the PC and took turns playing while the other would sleep).  Maybe I am a sucker for deep RPG's like this, but boy did this game zero right in on what appeals to the big fat nerd inside of me.  And as before, I will blame it on a woman, but this time that woman is my wife.

It's her fault.  She's the one that said, "that Elder Scrolls game looks really good and everyone is going nuts over it, can we please buy an XBOX360 so I can play it?"  I wondered if any one game would be worth buying an entire system for, particularly in an era when the XBOX360 stands for everything that I feel is wrong with modern video games.  But, she insisted and I relented.  At the time I was busy wrapping up LoZ:Skyward Sword (probably the most epic Zelda game ever and contender for best Wii game ever and maybe best adventure game ever), so I didn't have time to get involved with this new Skyrim game.  But the wife played it and she got sucked into it, big time.  She was playing Skyrim on the living room TV and I was playing Zelda on the gameroom TV and we were two huge losers that rarely saw each other for about 3 weeks. I am just thankful I married a video game geek like myself, otherwise I have a feeling I would have been packing my bags for Skyrim in the near future...

Finally, I began my Skyrim adventure.  Trust me, I was entirely ready for this to be a disappointment.  Modern video games on the power systems always make me nervous because I don't really buy into the philosophy that gave birth to the power systems.  I am not a graphics whore and I don't dig online play. But the response from the wife was good and the game looked very interesting.  Kids, I had no idea...

Maybe I am new to modern gaming, but this game is incredible.  It is the best RPG I have ever played.  The game is huge, the world is immersive and the adventure feels endless.  This game offers the fantasy RPG nerd pretty much everything they want.  Open exploration is the name of the game.  Even though the game starts you off with the foundation of the game's two major quests, one political and one epic, after you escape your pending execution you are pretty much free to roam.  You can make your choice and follow the faction of your choice, you can head for the nearest town, or you can just strike out on your own and see what the world has to offer.
How freaking cool is this???

And oh my, what the game has to offer.  There are dungeon crawling quests, heroic quests, good deeds, evil deeds, assassinations, thefts, and general bitch work.  In addition to all of that you can learn all kinds of skills from blacksmithing and weapon enchanting to alchemy and pickpocketing.  There is so much to do and so much to learn that it can be a little daunting at first.  But fear not, just pick the first quest in front of you and let the good times roll.  You do have to be careful, however, because there are a lot of quests out there; one estimate put it up there in the four digits.  If you are not careful your quest log can get so full you'll have a hard time figuring out just what to do or where to go next!
While some of the quests can feel a bit repetitive, particularly if you complete a series of barrow quests, which are basically dungeon crawlers where you are seeking an object, back-to-back with noting else in between, but if you mix up your experience you can almost entirely avoid quest burn out.  Quest burn out won't set in for a while, though, because the game manages to keep the level of newness and fun very high and there are cool new things to see and find around pretty much every corner.
More than just Tundra, baby!

Which was another concern of mine.  Watching the wife play, I noticed that this game was dark, visually.  Lots of snow and earth tones, I feared the game was going to be drab and dull and monotonous.  Wrong again.  While Skyrim is a cold northern land, the geography is wildly diverse and features a wide variety of landscapes ranging from the obvious snow capped mountain to steamy hot springs.  You can explore everything from forested groves to sunken ships.  Yes, I said it, sunken ships!  There are pirate coves and entire subterranean caverns illuminated by phosphorescent fungus.  Plunge deep into the heart of ancient ruins of the Dwemer (apparently the dwarves of Skyrim long vanished from the face of the realm) and ascend the frozen peaks of the highest mountains to seek out the homes of Ancient Dragons.  It is rarely dull picking your way across the landscape of Skyrim.  So much to see.
Yep, that's a sunken ship.  And it's not the only one...

But all of that isn't just window dressing.  The game is deep and the world is even deeper.  I'll give you the extreme example right off the bat:  there are books, lots and lots of books, in Skyrim. These books are not just quest items or ways to learn spells, these are actual books.  Someone, somewhere at the creative offices of Bethesda sat down and wrote books to include in this game that amplify the stories and lore of the world.  I am not kidding.  You can probably spend 25 game hours just sitting down and reading all of the books.  Some are short, only a few pages deep, but others are virtual novellas.  These books cover pretty much anything you would want to know about Skyrim from history and mythology to treatises on combat and alchemy.  There is an entire library devoted to writings on the aforementioned Dwemer!  The available knowledge about this imaginary land is so deep it borders on Tolkien.  Don't feel obligated, you are only actually required to read maybe a handful of books to fulfill quests, but the knowledge is out there if you want to know more.
And it's not just the literature that fleshes out the world.  The NPCs are much deeper than your standard RPG fare, and even the stock guards will have different things to say based on what is going on with your character progression or the major game quests.  There are nine major towns in the game and many smaller farms, mining colonies, and villages all rich with characters to meet, interact with, do favors for, and possibly even marry! It feels like the game is actually designed with the purpose of absorbing you into its world.  I would wager that it is difficult to play this game for any amount of time and not be drawn into it.  (If you don't believe me, check out Skyrim mom).

Let me give you a sample from an average day in Skyrim.  I start the game in my house in Riften, the lake town in Skyrim known for its connection to the Theives Guild.  Yes, that's right, I said "my house," because in Skyrim you can own property in many of the nine principle towns.  This usually requires a sizable amount of gold and the completion of several quests specific to that town, but once you purchase a house you own it, you can sleep there, store your gear, and even decorate and upgrade your houses to include things like Alchemy Labs and Vegetable Gardens.  I know; it is very cool.
So anyway, I start in my home in Riften and I decide that today I want to explore some Dwarven ruins.  It just so happens that yesterday a woman in town begged me to take a strange artifact from her and return it to a Dwarven ruin located nearby.  So, I take a moment and scout out the local shops to see if anyone has any arrows I can buy, and then I head out for the ruin.  Not too far from town I am stopped on the road by a thief who demands all my gold.  I have the option of fighting him right there, trying to persuade him to leave, or intimidating him into just leaving me alone.  He doesn't take kindly to the intimidation and so I am forced to pull out my warhammer and decapitate him on the spot (yes you can do that and it is very, very cool).  Semi-random encounters like this make up a lot of the ambient charm in Skryim.  Having dispatched the thief, the rest of my journey to the ruin is fairly uneventful.  I run from a few angry bears and wolves, but other than that, no major problems.  I spend the next few hours plunging into the depths of the Dwarven ruin ferreting out the secret of this mysterious artifact.  The end result is that I get a permanent status effect called Ancient Knowledge that improves my Smithing Skill by 15% and gives me a bonus when wearing Dwarven Armor.  Time well spent.  During this time I also improve my lockpicking skill to 98 and find all kinds of goodies in the various chests and on the bodies of my fallen enemies.

Upon leaving the ruin, I immediately find myself in trouble.  The ground is shaking and there is only one (or two I suppose) reason for that:  Dragon.  An Elder Dragon to be exact and he is right over head.  I pull out my Dragonsbane sword, specially enchanted for killing dragons, and get ready for battle, but before I get the blade unsheathed, I notice that the beast is not after me at all.  It has apparently raised the ire of a passing Giant and is engaging him in battle.  Again, this is one of those ambient moments that make you think that maybe you are looking into a window on a real world.  Wild animals, dragons, giants, and other humans (like bandits) are not just enemies to you; they will in turn attack each other and sometimes have particular axes to grind.  There is one Orc stronghold that is relentlessly beset by Giants.  So occasionally you can get someone or something else to do your bitch work and you can reap the benefits.  In this case, the Giant is taking a pretty good chunk out of the Elder Dragon, which is a good thing.  So instead of barging into the fray, which could get me killed by either or both of them.  I decide to wait out the winner and then take on whichever that might be, hoping that the previous battle will have sufficiently weakened the victor.  It takes a minute, but finally the dragon wins, however it has been pretty severely injured by the Giant and cannot fly.  This makes it easy pickings, so I pull out my bow, crouch in the nearby stand of trees and zip a few arrows toward the dragon.  This gets his attention, but does not kill him, so he turns my way and lets out a blast of frozen breath that slows me down and does some damage.  As I am recovering the dragon is now upon me, so I draw the Dragonsbane and let loose with a power attack!  This just happens to be enough to finish the monster and I am treated to an awesome cutscene of me putting the dragon down.
That's me killing a dragon!
 After relieving the dragon of the two arrows I put into its hide (oh yes you can!) as well as few hundred gold he was packing around and several of his bones and scales, I decide to make my way back home to Riften; after all I have treasure to unload.
Back in Riften, I drop by the house first; since I spent so much time fighting dragons and exploring, it is around 10pm when I get back and the shops are all closed.  Once home, I take a few of the items I picked up and place them in one of my storage chests, a couple of others have new enchantments I need to learn so I take them to my Arcane Enchanting table and deconstruct them to learn their enchantments and while I'm there, add a few enchantments to raise the value of a some items I plan to sell.  Finally, I place a really cool helmet I found, but do not currently plan to wear, on my dressing mannequin for display (I know it's nerdy, but trust me this is so cool).  Housekeeping complete, I hit the sack and sleep until morning.
The shops open around 8am, so I take the things I plan to sell around the various vendors and see who can take which items off my hands.  The shopkeepers do not have bottomless wallets nor does every shopkeeper buy or sell every kind of thing (at least not until you master the art of Speech), so you cannot simply unload everything on one guy. I manage to get rid of most everything and now I have enough money to pay one of the warriors who lives in town to train me in the One-Handed Weapon combat.  Once my training is complete (you just pay and it raises your level) I make my way over to the Temple of Mara, a religious institution in town.  The various temples in Skryim can give you temporary status upgrades that offer various benefits.  After receiving the blessing of the temple, one of the acolytes tells me about a ghost who is wandering the prairie seeking out her lost husband.  The acolyte bids me to find this ghost and help reunite her with her lost love.  Before setting out, however, I need to stop by the Blacksmith and craft myself a new pair of Dragon Gauntlets with the bones and scales I collected, and so the day goes on, you get the idea...

There is so much to do in this game it feels like it will never end, and I guess it really doesn't have to until you literally do every single quest that is offered you and max out every single skill available.  You can spend your time crafting weapons, killing ancient Dragon Priests, you can become a vampire or werewolf, you can raid bandit camps and be the hero of the town, or you can lurk the dark passageways as a lethal assassin.  The game is completely wide open.  Completely.  You can do as little or as much of the main quests as you like.  You can pay as much or as little attention to the world as you like.  The little sample given above doesn't even begin to illustrate just how diverse your experience can be.
Breathtaking views of amazing landscapes!!
And therein also lies Skyrim's biggest appeal:  replayability. I have spent well over 200 hours with this game, I have done countless quests, I have explored as much of the map as I think it possible, I have completed the epic quest, and yet I cannot wait to start the whole game all over again and this time be a totally different character.  Ceolairah is a noble, brave warrior who does what is right and does not take sides in the political upheavals of the world.  She pursues her destiny and helps those in need, living and dying by the edge of her blade, the tips of her arrows, and her unmatched Sneak skill.  I have really enjoyed playing the game with her character.  But next time, I am planning to be a devilish Kajiit (cat-man) who is an rebellious assassin who is an unmatched thief and master of the magical arts.  And I as jazzed about that as if I were starting the game for the first time, maybe more so.

200 hours, people!  Two hundred very, very, very nerdy hours.  I came home early from work, I passed on hanging out with friends, I retreated into my inner nerd just to play this game.  It is that good.  Honestly.  If the game has a downfall, it is the absurd load times and buggy nature that I feel are kind of the trade off for a game this deep.  Those things are annoying, but I was having so much fun and in such awe that I was more than willing to forgive these minor grievances.  If anything the long load times were great bathroom breaks and opportunities to refill my water glass.  You know, the essentials.  Look, I played Skyrim so much I literally dreamed about it...more than once.
Ceolairah at home as the Archmage of Winterhold College

So if you wonder why there haven't been many updates to the blog lately and feared that I had given up, fear not!  I have just been distracted by a very intriguing young lady and her adventures in a snow covered land.  And if you love RPG's even just a little bit, you owe to yourself to give Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a long look.  Just remember to pick your kids up from school and pay the electric bill, or things could get really tricky...

No comments:

Post a Comment