Skyrim: Books And Wolf-Copters.

*** SPOILERS BELOW***

After hearing, “You know, if you have the aptitude, you should join the Mage’s Guild in Winterhold.” about 100+ times during my first play-through/character of Skyrim, I finally did so. My second character, Kegels Grip, made the journey to the Mage’s College as an aspiring young destruction mage, with delusions of grandeur and plenty of aptitude. Upon his arrival to Winterhold, the importance of books became abundantly clear. In the world of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, books are almost as important as gold.

In Skyrim, books are a source of lore that dates back to previous Elder Scroll games and provide a historical perspective of key individuals, guilds and locations. They also have the potential to provide details to a location that could contain untold riches and most importantly, the ability to increase your talent in one of the 18 skills that are tied to leveling up. Books are a pretty big deal, they are also fairly well written and interesting. Those familiar with the series will enjoy a bit of nostalgia while browsing the, at most, 10 page books. Books in Skyrim can also provide you with clues on how to unlock a tomb and provide the player with a bit more immersion to his virtual surroundings.

No other guild puts as much focus and care to their books like the Mage’s Guild. It was during the Mage’s Guild main quest line that I was introduced to new areas (Fellglow Keep) and encounters. Even after 160+ hours with Randy Stardust, my first Skyrim character, I was still being awed by the vastness of Skyrim through Kegels Grip’s eyes. What better reason to be tasked with a quest in Skyrim, a world of dragons and literature, then by the Mage Guild’s librarian and his need to have some books “returned”.

Fellglow Keep, not much to look at from the outside.

Fellglow Keep was a fortress that I had never visited, despite its close proximity to Whiterun and other key locations in Skyrim. Fellglow Keep’s exterior is by no means as architecturally amazing as many of Skyrim’s other fortresses and ancient tombs, but its contents were. There were obviously wolfs lurking within the keep’s rooms for howling could be heard bouncing off the stone walls.Also within this fortress were a magnitude of rooms, jail cells and villains. Who would be interested in books from the Mage’s College? Mages of course! Fellglow was like an alternative school for mages. It housed conjurers, raising skeletal dead, and each kind of elemental mage you can think of. Interspersed within the alternative learning center that is Fellglow Keep, were imprisoned vampires used for experimentation and most entertainingly, target practice. One thing Skyrim gets right, that everyone can agree with, is how it properly mistreats the Twilight kind improperly. In Skyrim, everyone hates vampires.

How all those who "sparkle" are treated in Skyrim.

So after killing mages in vast numbers and freeing, then killing vampires, I ran into a memorable occurrence. After 170 hours of playing through Skyrim I still have moments that cause me to laugh out loud and Fellglow Keep was not a disappointment. Upon entering a dungeon, with levers controlling the jail cell doors setting dead center, I caught a mage off guard and unleashed a unrelenting spurt of electricity his way. As he fell just short of the levers I realized his intentions. The howling I heard for the last five minutes were originating behind the cell doors the unfortunate mage was attempting to open. Behind those bars were two wolves, who would of gladly ran distraction as their master shredded me with magic.

With the opportunity to toy with my would be killers, I placed a lightning rune in front of their cell door, prepped my most powerful fire spell and then, “Open sesame.” Almost at the exact moment that the first wolf tripped the lightning rune I unleashed my dual wielded fireball, hilarity ensued. The lightning rune lifted both the wolves off their feet and my fireball  propelled them even further, causing them both to spin like howling helicopters, right at me. I had the best seat in the house and just as the flaming wolves careened towards Kegels’ face the flame killed them and they slid across the floor, still rotating.

The wolf-copters alone made the journey worth it but after defeating a conjuration mage in a hard fought magic battle, were I cheated by ending it with a sword (that’s the punishment for overdue books), I was rewarded back at the mage college with… more books. These books however, all increased magic skills after reading them. In Skyrim, books are a pretty big deal and it pays to be well read.

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Mountains Of Change: Skyrim’s Ability To Vary.

For over 153 hours my Wood Elf, Randy Stardust, picked locks, sneaked and killed from afar in the world of Skyrim. Randy took the reins of both the Thieves’ and Assassins’ guild, conquered Alduin (the main foe of the main quest line) and crushed the Stormcloak rebellion as an Imperial Legate. In short, Randy was a bad ass. There was no foe, nor group of foes, in the world of Skyrim that could best him. Randy saw the blood of his enemies and sadly, many of his friends run underneath his Dragonskin boots. His heart had grown cold and dead due to the amount of death that followed in his Dragonborn wake. He had quietly been searching for an end and this week, he embraced his death.

Randy was not defeated by any virtual foe. No dragon can clam fame from his demise. Randy just simply lived too long, in my mind. I had grown tired of Randy and his exploits. I had grown tired of killing my foes with an arrow from the shadows. I was tired of serving the Imperials that had almost signed Randy’s death warrant just as he was born onto the Skyrim landscape. No, Randy met his demise because gaming is one of the best deterrents to monotony. Randy died so another could live, and overwrite his saved game files. Born is Kegels Grip.

One of the last pictures of Randy Stardust.

Kegels Grip is almost the antithesis to Randy Stardust. An Imperial with a hatred for his own kind (they were going to hang him for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time) and a thirst for magic – Kegels desires power and an Imperial to use it against. Preferring to stand out in the open rather than skulk in the shadows, Kegels would rather dual wield spells while encased in armor than pepper targets from afar. Kegels is a battlemage and one of the best examples of the amount of variation today’s games can bring to today’s gamer.

A very green Kegels Grip.

Kegels Grip not only represents my inclination towards humorous word play but my appreciation for the level of variance one can pull from well designed games. Entirely new quest lines are at my fingertips because of the path I have chosen for Kegels. Past enemies are now friends and friends are now enemies. New adventures present Kegels and myself with new rewards. Within the first hour of Kegels life new locations, within Skyrim, were highlighted to visit – even after spending 153 hours exploring the world as Randy Stardust, may he rest in peace.

Part Emperor Palpatine, part Dragon, all Kegels Grip.

The ability to reinvent yourself is not unique to PC gaming but the ability to do it so quickly, is. It may be the end of Randy Stardust but in his death, appreciation for creation and change would not be as evident. In many ways Randy’s death helped enable the creation of Kegels avatar. Randy provided a standard to completely run away from so even in his death, parts of him live on in Kegels Grip. Gaming is a platform of constant change that one embraces rather fears. The ability to change with excitement in a virtual world makes it easier to accept change in the real world and embrace it as well. Here’s to change, both virtual and reality based.

Prank Me Hard: Skyrim’s Traps Are to Die For

Pranking, not to be confused with the lame meme planking, could be considered a science, or at least a skill. In your earlier years you start off with simple skill building hijinks that you play on your younger and more gullible cousins. You take that quarter proudly in your hands and roll in down the middle of your forehead to the tip of your nose. You smile with pride as you complete this monumental task and your cousins stare on in amazement and eagerness to prove they too, can pull off such a feat. You give them their own personal, prior prepared, quarter with pencil graphite generously applied to its edges and watch, with an anticipating and encouraging grin. As your overly trusting family member shows his superior quarter rolling skills you smile with him and then laugh hysterically at your marks “mark”.

That quarter prank is similar to the more common traps you see in the early quests of Skyrim. The bait, the untainted quarter, is a shade floating around a corner and your avatar eagerly following, to get that sneak attack bonus. The switch, comes when your avatar tries to round that same corner but fails to realize that shades are ethereal, but your avatar’s armored boots are not. Your boots clip the taut string strung along the ground, triggering the darts from the wall, bringing attention to your presence. As the shade turns you can almost see the younger, cousin teasing, version of yourself in its lifeless grin. You realize your are the over trusting cousin, with a line running down your face. You are the mark.

As you progress in Skyrim’s main quest line and/or explore more of its open world you start to encounter traps that mimic the pranks from your teens. The first time boulders and stones came crashing down on my avatar, after I walked through a trapped door, I instantly flashed back to my pizzeria pranking heydays. Boulders were replaced with buckets of water and the stones, with cups of flour. Instead of a bloodied Randy Stardust, leader of the Companions, I picture my boss, leader of the pizzeria.

As of this post I will be in the middle of my birthday week. Which, according to my girlfriend, means I will be getting a heavy dose of real world Skyrim traps. Did you know that workout supplements now come with extra steel? In the form of bottle caps? As of this post my girlfriend will also know that I am well trained in the art of pranking. Thanks to growing up devious, and more recently Skyrim, I consider myself a novice prankster – so I can’t wait for her birthday week.

Though the traps in Skyrim are made with the intent to harm, as will the ones to be used during my girlfriends birthday week, each new form of trap elicits laughter and memories from my past. Even when I notice a potential swinging set of spikes and announce “It’s a trap!”, I will save… and trigger the pressure plate anyways. With talk of new expansions to Skyrim already on the press’s and player’s minds, I hope they include the possibility to “fool your cousin”, in game.

One of the most dreaded words in PC gaming…

One of the most dreaded words in PC gaming…PORT. Port, a reference to a game whose target platform and design basis were meant for the console and then ‘transported’ over to the PC. A game whose graphical, processing and control scheme were designed for the limited abilities of the console and then package into a version for play on the computer. Port, a game that does not fully take advantage of the graphical, processing and advance control abilities of even the average computer gaming rig.

The underlying and most hurtful reason this term is so frightening to a computer gamer is because some of the greatest franchises of computer gaming past have eventually become a CPU port rather than CPU focused. Franchises that were developed on the computer, played, moded and improved by the computer gaming community changed focus and dumb themselves down for the consoles.

A topical franchise that has gone through this transition is Bethesda’s (originally a CPU focused developer) The Elder Scrolls series. Prior to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion this game series started and grew out of the computer gaming community. From its first iteration The Elder Scrolls: Arena, in 1994, up to The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon and its expansions, The Elder Scrolls series was about freedom of choice and exploration. It was also about listening to the gaming community and incorporating mods into new games in the series, a virtual evolution. The focus on the computer gaming community changed with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, when Bethesda focused on tapping into the console money pot and putting those who got it there (PC gamers) on the armored horses backside.

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If you were a PC gamer you could be on Bethesda's backside...with armor, for a cost.

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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion had to dumb down its graphics and AI, lower the onscreen animations and later, gouge its players for extras that should have been included in its original release (see above). Needless to say it left a bitter taste in the CPU players’ mouths, like they had just eaten a mud crab they found by the lake – bland, brown and lifeless.

The newest game to this franchise is scheduled to release on a marketer’s day of delight, 11/11/11. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was looking pretty and hopes were high that Bethesda was looking to come back to its roots of the PC. The developer was even talking about improvements made that were moded into Oblivion (i.e. improved archery, improved NPC AI). Then there was E3, then there was Skyrim’s lead producer Craig Lafferty, then there was this interview…

http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/06/08/e3-2011-the-elder-scrolls-v-skyrim-interview-consoles-are-our-lead-skew/

Rich McCormick’s comments below the video on www.pcgamer.com makes some solid points that still gives me hope for a good game but perhaps doesn’t quite squash my port concerns.

“Skyrim’s still looking really good, and will take as long to finish as the PC RPG classics of yore. And, as Lafferty says in the interview, Bethesda are ‘still really big on the ‘go where you want’, play how you want from the very beginning’.”

Hopefully Bethesda hears our ‘Dragon Shouts’ and pays heed to its CPU roots while still tapping into the console’s dragon hoard.