Thursday, November 29, 2012

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Love it or Leave it, Skyrim Edition: One Year Later, What's Still Great About Elder Scrolls 5 -- and What Isn't

Skyrim Dryad Spriggan Companion
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Skyrim celebrated the first anniversary of its release this month, and even one year later it's still a hot topic. It has it's own subreddit forum that gets new material posted as often as every couple hours from the community, and modding sites like Skyrim Nexus are still teeming with innovative new content.

Skyrim has proven that it has the same staying power that of previous games in the series (namely Morrowind and Oblivion) had... Maybe even more. But what exactly is it that keeps it going strong, and what parts of it have we outgrown in the past year? Here's my take:

Love it:


Open-World Exploration: I love that more games are opening up their worlds for players to roam around in freely while they play (rather than keeping you on a fairly linear path), but the Elder Scrolls games have been doing it for ages, and they have it down to an art. The world of Skyrim extends even beyond the fringes of the map, and it's absolutely littered with secrets and unique locations even beyond what's marked. A seemingly endless array of sites to see means that truly "finishing" it seems like an inhuman feat.

Alts: Because the world is so open, no two characters need to have the same experiences. A simple choice like deciding to travel east instead of west can change a vast amount of the content a character experiences, so having a couple alts can be a fun way to see much more of what Skyrim has to offer.

2012-10-10_00050Wreak Havoc, Restore Order, or Both: It's not just the moral choice of deciding to be good or evil which so many games like to offer. In Skyrim you can choose good, evil, and every shade of grey in between. It's a much more realistic system where morality can be situational, and there is not necessarily an advantage to gaming the system or min-maxing. This experience makes characters feel less like archetypes and more like people (unless you want them to be archetypes, of course!)

Modding: Call me a mod addict, because I love to load my game up with the latest and greatest mods from the Steam Workshop and  Skyrim Nexus (here's a complete list of my favorites). The game is great on its own, but the ability to personalize it and make it exactly what you yourself want it to be makes it even better.

Playing with Friends: One of the most enjoyable things as a fan is reading the perspectives and experiences of other fans. When the game first came out, I loved talking about it with other friends who were playing, hearing about the crazy things they had found that I'd completely missed and vice versa. For a game to still be interesting in that way one year later is an impressive feat.

Leave it:

Skyrim Photography 4

Not Being Able to ACTUALLY Play With Friends: You don't want to know the horrible, horrible things I would do to get the same kind of drop-in drop-out multiplayer that games like Dead Island or Diablo III have. I suspect one of the reasons that feelings are so mixed about The Elder Scrolls Online is because what people want most is an Elder Scrolls game with a taste of an MMO, not an MMO with a taste of Elder Scrolls. Multiplayer doesn't belong in every game, but it definitely belongs in games with worlds as open, expansive, and explorable as Skyrim.

Lydia: Lydia was the first companion for many players, and even the first wife in some cases. You never forget your first I suppose, but the truth is... Lydia's just not very good. The default AI in Skyrim is not exactly perfect (though there are mods for that too), but if you want to roll with a companion it's better to roll with one you can make the most of; I prefer companions that specialize in ranged combat (so they're less likely to get caught with friendly fire), for example. Self-healing mage Aranea is my top pick, but there are plenty of others to choose from. Just let Lydia retire, she's earned it.


Vanilla Lighting/Textures: Textures were one of the first things I upgraded when I got into modding Skyrim, and even if you haven't gotten in to modding there's an official HD Texture DLC up on Steam for free that's an absolute must-have. I also installed an ENB lighting mod a few months ago with depth of field and I haven't looked back since. There was zero impact on performance, and now my game looks absolutely breathtaking. Seriously, take the time to mod these elements of Skyrim if nothing else and you'll be glad you did.

Skyrim for Consoles: This is a sensitive subject, but put down the pitchforks for just a second. I have no real position on the console wars, but to me Skyrim just isn't Skyrim without the mods, and the mods just aren't an option if you aren't playing on PC. It also doesn't help that PS3 users are still waiting for the first Skyrim DLC expansion, Dawnguard, to come to their platform-- all they have are promises of "soon" going all the way back to August. Yikes. So when it comes to Skyrim I'm sad to say that it's really PC or bust for me.

"I used to be a ________ like you, then I took an arrow to the knee": Stop it. Seriously. Shut up forever.

Mixed_reality_iris2010 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.


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Emperor Norton

Multi player Skyrim would be awesome. Everyone I have talk to who plays Skyrim say it is begging to be a shared gaming experience. But you are right, ruining it as some WoW clone with juvenile PvPers whining about who's cheating would be totally useless. It would just shut the game down into the same kind of joyless grind that all MMORGs are.

Alicia Chenaux

The fact that it's NOT a game that I have to play with other people is what makes me love Skyrim. I don't consider myself much of a gamer, but I've played enough games to know that I enjoy playing something wonderful like Skyrim without random people coming by to take my kills or hide behind me. I can lose myself in the world for an hour and not have to put up with young teens acting like fools.


Never liked the vanilla human textures and hairstyles on Skyrim. Animations still could use a bit of work. Bethesda mostly depend on the modding community to improve their games including past titles like Fallout 3 and Oblivion. Also console gamers will have a major disadvantage without the ability to mod.

Iris Ophelia

@Alicia That's sort of why I mentioned Diablo and Dead Island as good examples of the kind of multiplayer that would be ideal. those games allow you to open up a few slots in your game for random people if that's what you want, but they also let you limit it to friends or invite-only, which is the option I would prefer so I could share my experience directly with friends who are playing at the same time. Good co-op multiplayer with friends can add a whole new level of fun to games like this.

Seven Paragorn

This makes me want to dust off Skyrim and start playing it again. I totally agree with your take on the multi-player aspect. I'm not too excited for the Elder Scrolls online for the same reason. I would love to be able to invite a select few people to play with me. I don't dislike mmos but I'm kind of burned out on that genre at this point. I think there might be a couple problems with adding even limited multi-player to Skyrim tho. First, it's not really designed for more than one player. A lot of the dungeons are really claustrophobic as is. Especially if you bring a companion, I can imagine bringing another player into that mix might be a problem. Second, the mods. How would that work in multi-player? Would you have to have the guest players download all your mods to play with you? That might be a problem considering how many mods some people have. Anyway, I think it's possible. I remember someone making a multi-player mod for Oblivion at one point. It was more of a proof of concept than anything, but it worked. I wonder if this is something the modding community could do.

Stephen Venkman

i would like the see the multi player skyrim set up like Borderlands.. where you play with some friends, but you don't have to deal with moron's running amok in the game being asshats.

Great post btw.

Stephen Venkman

laughs.. I just read your post about Diablo and Dead Island.. neither of which I play but perhaps I will now that I now how it's set up. Thanks Iris.

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