Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Last month, I broke a six year game hiatus and bought Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I've been playing for about a month now. And I am
finding the playing of it to be incredible. Without being spoilery - The basic set up is that a Roman like power has taken a sudden and increased interest in policing the northernmost edge of their territories, Skyrim, home to a Norse type people called the Nords. This is building towards a civil war, and apparently I'll have to pick a side at some point.

My character started off avoiding both favors and conflicts, just exploring and staying out of the way of big events,  but because of mistreatment at the hands of the "Imperials," I found I didn't mind stealing from them or local Jarls who were obviously in their pocket. Gradually, my character is coming to sympathize with the Nords and tries not to steal from Nords or harm Nords. I say "tries," because I did steal some coins from a table in an inn, only to hear the innkeeper tell a maid that she wishes she could afford to keep her on full time. I felt guilty and spent the a good deal on breakfast there the next morning.

Then, I needed to practice lockpicking. It was night, I was outdoors, and figured I'd pick a stable door. I had no interest in thievery, just saw it as a low risk chance to bone up on my skills. I was spotted, panicked, and stole a horse. I felt guilty, tried to take it back, panicked again, then rode off on it. I stumbled on a bridge and fell in a swift current, was knocked unconscious and the horse was killed, smashed on a rock. Man, I felt bad about that horse.

I've decided I won't back up to the last save. My character lives with their mistakes. So I felt terrible that I'd stolen a horse and killed it a half mile later. But that's what I did.

Then two weeks ago, I entered someone's house, sat at their table, and tried to talk. I accidentally hit the wrong button and stole some food off their table in their view. I put it back, then put back more than I intended, so took my food back again. The woman cried thief and attacked me with a dagger. I ran back, trying to get away and very deliberately not drawing my weapon. But my trigger happy hireling, obviously defending me, whipped out her sword and cut the woman down. At which point a blood curdling shriek to my left made me aware that we had murdered an innocent woman in view of her little boy. He cried "oh my gods know" and ran out into the street. And we rode out of town fast.

So, my "basically good" character has stolen from a poor innkeeper, stolen and killed a horse, and cut down a woman in front of her son. And feels terrible about it.

And yesterday I got my housecarl Lydia killed. The fact that I didn't like her (and she doesn't seem to have liked me) makes the guilt worse.

This is so different from all the sick things you can do in GTA or something. You could play Skyrim as a psychopath and kill everyone (though I suspect you'd be cut down by bounty hunters before you got very far) or you can play it as a white knight and help everyone. But what amazes me is the way I'm playing as someone who is trying, but not always succeeding, in being good, and has done some terrible things. I'm amazed at the way that my intentions combined with the game environment is creating a moral character personal beyond what just I, or just the game, wants for her to have. I've never played a game this nuanced before in my life.

I'm going to be playing it for a long time.


Paul Cornell said...

It had exactly the same effect on me. Wait until you have to turn down a quest because it's just too terrible to contemplate. In other news: Nord scum, the Empire should burn you all.

Lou Anders said...

I can't believe my basically good character is party to a murder of a mother in front of her child!

And yeah - I want to play an essentially Lawful Good orc who helps everyone but sides with the Empire in all things next.

Followed by a complete bastard character whose just out for numero uno.

Paul Weimer said...

Thanks, Lou.

I knew you were playing it thanks to the S&S podcast that you did on SF Signal.

I've played a couple of other Elder Scrolls books, but I fear the time sink that Skyrim might be for me...

Tim said...

The Stormcloaks are so racist I can't side with them, that said I am all in favour of slaughtering all the Thalmore I meet.

Also! you HAVE to do the thieves guild questline, some great moments and D&D tributes.

Matthew MacNish said...

This is the real beauty of this format of storytelling.

Personally, I don't like getting to deep into the Thieves Guild or Dark Brotherhood storylines, because I want to be a good guy (gal actually, and a cat), but I just can't avoid them. They're far too fascinating.

Have you done the drinking game quest yet? Absolutely hilarious. (Mur Lafferty) said...

You're a better man than I. I've reloaded so many times when a horse or follower has died. Still, have left two followers dead because fighting the fight again proved a worse prospect.

I tried to side with the stormcloaks, cause, you know, the Imperials with the "we're going to cut off your head just cause" opening of the game. Then I realized I'm an elf and damn are those Nords racist! I think I should start a rebellion against them all. Can I do that?

Nathan Major said...

I love games like this, because I create my own stories, and then when I accidentally mess them up I actually feel guilty. But it's a self-made guilt; the game never told me to feel bad.

I ended up killing Lydia as part of a quest to get a unique weapon, and I felt AWFUL about it, even though I always just left her guarding my house. When I went home and her bed had gone from "Owned" to "Not Owned" I put the weapon I'd gotten on the bed and left it there the rest of the game.

My character was an assassin who only ever served himself and his friends, and I knew I'd done wrong by my morals in a moment of greed.

Such a great, great game.

Lou Anders said...

Paul, I love that you said "book" not game.
Mur, I really like having to live with the consequences. No backups.
Matthew, I haven't found the drinking quest. Want to.
Tim and a matthew, I might save the dark brotherhood for a different character.
Nathan, what a great story!
That's what this game is to me-- a huge classic S&S series made up of "episodic novels" like zconan or Elric.

Ian said...

It's the equal opportunities violence that triubles me, somehow I feel much worse cleanly beheading a female NPC with my daedric sword Mr Choppy than a man. They will both try to kill me with equal enthusiasm but I still feel bad about it. Don't like the Thieves and Dark Brotherhood arenas because my character does tru to be honourable but the I done dirty deeds dirt cheap. Great game, though I find myself going through phases of manic playing followed by almost post-coital tristesses...

Bill said...

I hope you don't mind I was laughing the whole time I read this, Lou. I loved Oblivion, and I knew Skyrim was going to be 100% better, and.. it is.

I use RPG's to field test novel characters and there's no better game than Skyrim for this. From the combat and magic mechanics to how quests are handled... what a time sink.

You nailed the analysis - the environment is so nuanced, that the moral choices become shades of grey. It's exactly this sort of considerations that fuels and inspires my creative writing.

It's playing Elder Scrolls that convinces me that an assassin can wear heavy armor. :-)

Lou Anders said...

Ian, yes I think I will leave those quests for a darker character than my current one.

Bill, laugh away! I am tempted to go back to Oblivion, but it will be a good many moons before I exhaust Skyrim. I will probably play the current character for much of the year, and then I want to play some other characters too. By that time, I'm sure there will be something new. I'd rather move forward with game technology than go back.

And yes, one of the reasons I don't like fast travel (though I did break down and do it yesterday) is because I like getting the sense of how far even the next town is when you don't have a car. I felt really bad when my horse died, but you better believe I took some horse meat. You don't meet wolves or bears or bandits fast traveling. I think for a writer especially Skyrim is good to reinforce these realities of pre-industrial life that we don't deal with.

Michael said...

Hey Lou,

I got Skyrim for the PS3 for XMas and played it until my PS3 died. :( I immediately purchased a PC copy. Now I have a horrible case of tendentious, I don't sleep, and I haven't written for months.

I'm cultivating an assassin, and I don't care much for either side of the conflict. I steal from everyone and abuse my followers. I kill dragons, not to save Skyrim, but for their scales which make the best light armor in the game (Blacksmithing FTW).

I like your idea of living with consequences. When I finish with my current character, I'll play through it again and be Karma's bitch.

Lou Anders said...

Michael, I want to play characters on both sides of the good/evil spectrum after finishing this character in the middle. I'm curious to see how the game again reacts with my initial intentions to prevent me entirely playing it as I intend. No back ups is part of this interaction.

When you play something like GTR (or I'm guessing Arkham City, which I haven't unwrapped yet), even though its open you are really being funneled down one path and it's just a question of all roads leading to whatever Rome they have in mind. With Skyrim, I really feel two characters could have completely different narratives.

Michael Kingswood said...

Darn it, Lou!

I was all set to wait my normal 6 to 12 months for the game price to come down before buying this one (plus I still haven't finished Fallout 3 and Uncharted 2...yes I know Uncharted 3 just came out).

Then I read this post and could not stop myself from going to the Skyrim website and watching the demos.


I went to Gamestop today. Got a copy. Came home. And the PS3 immediately died. Now I'm in a holding pattern for a week or two until Sony replaces it. It's horribly frustrating. :)

I blame you. :)

Lou Anders said...

Blaming me is the first step on the road o recovery.

Lou Anders said...

Blaming me is the first step on the road o recovery.

ediFanoB said...

Our whole family (mother, 51, father, 52 and daughter, 21) plays Skyrim.

And we all play it different.
My wife has been surprised how back-stabbing and cattily I can be - in the game.

This one of the best games I played ever. I appreciate that everyone can play his own style and I like that there are consequences.

After more than 130 hours game play there is still so much to discover.

Lou Anders said...

I suspect it will be a very, very long time before I play anything else.

Lou Anders said...

I suspect it will be a very, very long time before I play anything else.