Skyrim: Seriously Great Game, Serious Style Shortcomings
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world fashion
Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim has entranced me for over 100 hours so far (maybe longer than any other single player game I've played), so it's safe to say I'm enjoying it. If you're a regular reader, it shouldn't surprise you that I've spent many of those hours dressing and accessorizing my avatar, my companions, and even my houses, and in that time I've noticed a few issues that just keep getting in my way: For all the game's flexibility and open-ended gameplay, Skyrim has some serious shortcomings when it comes to style.
Allow me to explain with a few examples:
Character creation in Skyrim is a frustrating experience for gamers who are picky about their character's look.
I don't want a character who looked like some sort of medieval supermodel, but I do want someone a bit pretty, maybe with a couple interesting scars, and a practical yet flattering hairstyle. I think I did okay (see above), but I don't beam with pride over the face of my hero as much as I did over my pretty LadyHawkes for Dragon Age 2 and FemSheps for Mass Effect. In the wrong lighting, my Skyrim hero even looks bit like a a young Roseanne Barr, and it drives me crazy. While there aren't as many options for tweaking your avatar's physical appearance as there are in Second Life or The Sims 3, Skyrim still offers a respectable number of variables to play with. I like to think I'm pretty competent with avatar modification at this point, so when I couldn't quite get what I wanted out of this system, I was rather disheartened. Though not enough to make me give up (even the lacklustre hairstyles aren't enough to ruin this game for me, no matter how shallow I may be.)
Ultimately, the absence of that potential for perfection adds some realism to the game. All the characters look very realistic and human (or non-human as the case may be) on top of being as filthy as anyone crawling through monster-filled ruins would be, and if you come across any truly ethereal beauties... well, they're probably demons... and although I still sort of want to be a pretty pretty princess, I can't help but think that it's as much a clever approach to character design as it is an obstacle.
Skyrim has some beautiful looking armor and gear -- that isn't very powerful.
The gorgeous Nightingale Armor above is a good example of my problem with Skyrim gear. There are a fair number of special items that you come across in the world that have unique and gorgeous meshes... and then there's everything else. The Nightingale Armor doesn't have the best stats for my character build, but I wear it anyway, because it just looks so badass compared to what I "should" be wearing. If I could craft or add my own enchantments to pieces using the same mesh as this armor, then my problems would be solved. Only now, I can't.
This comes up even more often with necklaces. I give this game credit for showing jewelry on your avatar at all, but the necklaces have been driving me crazy. Unique necklaces come from quests or are representative of certain in-game gods, and these necklaces are gorgeous but generally have terrible stats. Meanwhile necklaces with amazing stats, or ones that you are able craft and enchant yourself, all look essentially identical. As with the avatar limitations, this is another case of design reinforcing what is normal and what is exceptional, but nevertheless, I'm watching the modding community very closely for the user-generated content that I know will eventually save me from a powerfully bland wardrobe.
Skyrim's house customization options are often a mess.
In Second Life, The Sims 3, and in Skyrim, part of customizing a character is customizing their surroundings. You can buy and upgrade any or all of five distinct properties in Skyrim, and because the whole world is persistent, there's no reason that you couldn't clear out a watchtower and claim it for yourself too.
Houses that you buy come with display cases and racks for favorite weapons, mannequins to show off your old gear, chests and cupboards for storage, and even bookshelves for you to collect and arrange the dozens of books and journals you find in the game. Homes also come pre-decorated with a variety of clutter, with room for you to set out your own. In each of my houses, for example, I have an insect in a jar (like the bee pictured above) and a statue of the goddess Dibella.
Which brings me to my problem: While weapon racks, mannequins, and storage are all easy to use, setting anything out can be hit or miss. It took a lot of practice and a few minor meltdowns to get that statue in place, but the same can't be said for the display case I tried to fill with jewels in my other house. I meticulously placed a couple dozen colorful gems in the case, closed the lid and went off to kill some bad/good guys. When I came back, my jewels were scattered all across the floor... and the case was still closed. The same thing has happened with carefully stacked scrolls, baskets of scrap metal, and bowls of herbs-- small annoyances that really add up. No doubt this is the notoriously fickle physics of the game at play, so aspiring decorators beware.
As I mentioned, user-generated mods should solve many of my problems with Skyrim style soon. Until then, I'll have to make do with my fine objects strewn on the floor, adventuring in beautiful armor that makes me more vulnerable, and defeating dragons while looking a little bit like Roseanne Barr.
Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.