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A Questline About Thieves Who Never Steal Anything
March 4, 2014 6:39 PM   Subscribe

Shamus Young examines the idea of "story collapse" (the moment where a story reaches a critical point of ridiculousness and causes you to question every other aspect of it) by deconstructing the Thieves Guild quest-line in Skyrim: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5. Entertaining reading for writers, designers and gamers alike.
posted by codacorolla (90 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
This would be Shamus Young of the profoundly hilarious DM Of The Rings.
posted by $0up at 6:57 PM on March 4


I love Shamus Young, but I think perhaps he's asking too much of the Skyrim writing. Although his criticism is entirely correct. Some of the other Skyrim writing is much better; the Dark Brotherhood, also many of the Daedric quests.

He left out the worst part of the Thieves Guild design, though, which is the way you have to also do 20+ randomized quests in order to get to the true ending of the Thieves Guild and become grandmaster. They're unbearably tedious: "sneak into this house in this town and steal the thing". Over and over until you've killed all 10 rats.

Turns out very few people bothered to do all that. A couple of months after Skyrim came I out I analyzed quest completion rates and while the Thieves Guild was one of the more popular factions to join, it had by far the lowest completion rate. After the main story Shamus pulls apart got done you felt like you were finished. But oh no, you had a bunch of errands to run after saving the Thieves Guild and negotiating with a damned Daedra before they'd make you grandmaster.
posted by Nelson at 7:08 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


You can in fact use paralysis poison with a bow, although I never found it particularly useful to do poisons with bows because they're all one-shot deals. So, she spent a year honing a paralysis poison that worked a bit better than other paralysis poisons--I can buy that, since clearly the ordinary ones suck. But that was basically the only quibble I have.
posted by Sequence at 7:08 PM on March 4


Skyrim was a sublimely dumb game, overstuffed with the worst fantasy tropes and stultifyingly bad writing. To call out any one quest as an example of ridiculousness is an insult to the game's creators, who seem to have been singlemindledly focused on creating lazy dreck through and through. I'll never play another Elder Scrolls game. I gave Skyrim to Goodwill.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:12 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


^This.

But there was one morning in the NW corner someplace where I must have spent the night in a cave, and then there was the sunrise, all gorgeous and shimmering copper-pink on the snow!! Plus the thieves have some pretty stupid outfits. And there's that thing about getting into a coffin with what's-her-name.
posted by sneebler at 7:23 PM on March 4


I don't know if I should take writing advice from someone who misspells "Cyrodiil."
posted by Phssthpok at 7:26 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I don't know if I should take writing advice from someone who misspells "Cyrodiil."

Well, to argue the converse, Bethesda's writers spelled it correctly several thousand times, and look at where it got them.
posted by codacorolla at 7:29 PM on March 4 [17 favorites]


Umm. I'm enjoying these but the author loses some authority here:

Dear Bethesda: Do you understand that nightingales are birds, and not usually associated with power, cunning, or even darkness? I mean, I know you’ve got the word “night” in there, but the name actually means “‘night songstress”. As in singing. They are not harbingers of danger, adventure, or secrecy. They’re actually cute, fluffy little birds. It’s a terrible, terrible name for your super-secret cult. You basically named yourselves, “The Adorable Little Songbirds”. It sounds really stupid to hear people talking about “Nightingales” like they’re something insidious, and that’s before we see how completely useless they are. I can’t shake the feeling you were thinking of owls, crows, ravens, or blackbirds.

Anyone familiar with Elder Scrolls lore understands the origin of the name "Nightingale" and why it makes sense.
posted by trunk muffins at 7:43 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Wow, that really is a story or woe(full story telling).
Not wishing to detract from his point (that quest is awful), I'll make a comment about this:

Bethesda, you can do better. The first half hour of this game proves it.

It's possible that they couldn't do better, because super-complex productions like this undertaken in technological-unknown-territory can be kind of a zero-sum game, where immoveable schedules meet unstoppable problems such that resources needed to ensure that that first half hour is good often need to be taken right out of the hide of elsewhere in the game.

Being a game writer is often less about crafting a world and a story that can accommodate and respect the choices and actions of the player, so much as it is about crafting a world and a story which doesn't collapse when the beautiful climatic scene that brings it all together gets cut, but that section of the game only gets cut after the all the voice-actor recording is done so you can't rewrite anything, but you soldier on and you cobble together something out of the ruins, then it gets decided that the key character and the player's sidekick need to get rolled into a single character to bring the game under memory budget, and the artists you need (to rearrange some as-yet-not-cut areas so they could accommodate that rubble-of-your-rubble) just got reassigned to a more important section that is in similar trouble.

You go above and beyond, and dredge something still vaguely story-like out of the mud of the ashes of the rubble of the ruins of something that was beautiful, and it ships and everyone hates it because it's the dumbest story ever and doesn't even make sense and who writes this crap?! Success! :-)
posted by anonymisc at 7:44 PM on March 4 [10 favorites]


This is why I am skeptical anytime someone says they really like Skyrim. To me it's like really enjoying Star Wars Episode 1.

Especially since it came out the same day as Dark Souls, so they probably hate Dark Souls too out of tribal loyalty.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:16 PM on March 4


turn left signs?
posted by oonh at 8:17 PM on March 4


I thought the mage quest-line was way worse. Seriously, when you get named the head of that guild it's feels like they gave Chief of Police, to the guy who was two-weeks out of the academy.
posted by oddman at 8:18 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


It's also weird that they'll make someone who can barely manage to scrape together a single spell Archmage of the Mage's Guild. Seriously, look how little skill with magic you need to have! You can mostly solve the Guild problems by bashing them with an axe. Maybe they decided what they really needed around the Mage's Guild was more axe-bashing?

Bethesda builds wonderful engines. They build mediocre games. I wish they would stick to the engine and let, say, Obsidian do the game. Look at how much better from a world building and quest standpoint Fallout New Vegas was than Fallout 3. It was like night and day.
posted by Justinian at 8:27 PM on March 4 [10 favorites]


I had a distinct feeling that there were multiple writers of different competency working on Skyrim.

[SPOILERS]

There was a moment in the middle of the main quest, where you finally meet up with the Blades, and are talking with them about the possibility that the dragons were brought back to life by the Thalmor as part of a political plot, where I thought that the game was going to take an unexpected and much welcomed turn to a WWII-ish Spy Drama, but that fizzled out. Since then, however, I really would like to play a Great Power-ish Spy Drama set in a fantasy world.
posted by bswinburn at 8:41 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Grandmaster of the Thieves Guild, Archmage of the Mages Guild, hero of the Imperial/Stormcloak civil war, the one who successfully pulled off the biggest job the Dark Brotherhood ever had, possessing the soul and voice of a dragon, even, and still that brat in Dragonsreach keeps confusing me with the servants.
posted by Spatch at 8:43 PM on March 4 [10 favorites]


I finally started this a few months ago. While I have barely begun the main quest line, I've done the Theives, Mage, Brotherhood, Civil War, and Companions. I'm level 43 with one-handed doing around 160 a swipe and an armor rating of 553 with a few of my skills up to 100. I suppose it's time to finish the main story line, but I might not get much challenge out of it given my stats.

This is the first I've heard of the Daedra quests. Is that a story line? How do I trigger them.?

I've seen mention of the underground land of Blackreach. When do I go there?

How does Arcadia know I look a little pale when I'm in full armor?
posted by sourwookie at 8:44 PM on March 4


This is why I am skeptical anytime someone says they really like Skyrim

Story aside, it mostly works as a game. I enjoyed the process of playing it, while thinking the storyline was completely braindead. Individual moments are nice, but the story as a whole makes absolutely no sense, in terms of plot or character or any traditional measure of a story.
posted by empath at 8:45 PM on March 4


Yup, Skyrim's a disappointment.

So what's going to be the next CRPG which actually rivals Planescape:Torment in terms of artistic depth? Pillars of Eternity? Tides of Numerara?
posted by shivohum at 8:46 PM on March 4


I've given up on any of faction story lines. Most of my fun involves playing Skyrim/Fallout detective in random encounter areas and trying to put together the story behind their superlative set-dressing tableaus. Just what are they doing with that hideout? What was that dragon perch originally? What was the bad day that left two skeletons embracing on the bed frame? What juicy gossip can I overhear if I cut across that field?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:52 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Bethesda can do very good work. The Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion was fantastic, and Shivering Isles was great. In Fallout 3, Dr Braun was appropriately creepy, Three Dog was fun, and there were cute little bits like the Republic of Dave and the vampire clan. I dunno, maybe the writers of those bits all left before Skyrim.
posted by zompist at 8:56 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


oddman: That was a problem with the Mage's Guild questline in Oblivion as well. I went through that after the Thieves and Assassins guild questlines.

"You know our new archmage only seems to know one spell..."

"The one that kills someone instantly with a wound suspiciously like someone snuck up on them and slit their throat?"

"That's the one."
posted by Grimgrin at 9:00 PM on March 4 [8 favorites]


This is the first I've heard of the Daedra quests. Is that a story line? How do I trigger them.?

There's like 15 or 16 of them...they're somewhat unrelated but you get a cool weapon from every god who sends you on a quest and an achievement for finding them all

I've seen mention of the underground land of Blackreach. When do I go there?

go behind the mages guild all the way north, talk to the crazy guy in the cave. (When you get to blackreach, don't forget to shout at the chandelier)

How does Arcadia know I look a little pale when I'm in full armor?

Duh. X ray vision.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:08 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


He left out the worst part of the Thieves Guild design, though, which is the way you have to also do 20+ randomized quests ... They're unbearably tedious: "sneak into this house in this town and steal the thing". Over and over ...

I wonder if this is part of why the scripted quests described here have you do so little actual theft? They thought they had theft covered in the randomized quests?
posted by RobotHero at 9:11 PM on March 4


Turns out very few people bothered to do all that. A couple of months after Skyrim came I out I analyzed quest completion rates and while the Thieves Guild was one of the more popular factions to join, it had by far the lowest completion rate. After the main story Shamus pulls apart got done you felt like you were finished. But oh no, you had a bunch of errands to run after saving the Thieves Guild and negotiating with a damned Daedra before they'd make you grandmaster.

That might have less to do with the tedium and more to do with the fact that to complete the Thieves Guild quests, you have to give up the Skeleton Key. That's certainly the reason I never finished it. I love that damn key.
posted by Arbac at 9:14 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


still that brat in Dragonsreach keeps confusing me with the servants.

and unfortunately, I am the High King of Skyrim
posted by Nelson at 10:27 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


See, I've played through Skyrim about 4 times so far. My first time through, I played as a kind of fighter/mage, and this was before the DLC's, so the level cap made it so you kind of had to specialize, and there really was no way of going back and respec'ing your character if you decided to go full theif, or full on mage (my second game, I went full magic user). What was really freaking cool was how this affected game play, meaning if you couldn't pick a lock, you ended up needing potions and enchanted rings to help out, and that was pretty cool in some ways.

Then I took a break, and the DLC's all came out. I finally downloaded them and started playing. Man, I absolutely loved the expansions AND the new unlimited level cap (which means you could, in some ways, get every perk in every skill tree, if you worked at it hard enough). So I went Rogue for this new playthrough. Full on stealth, arrows, alchemy for poisons and healing potions, the whole shebang. Then I found out about the Alchemy Leveling. My character is currently level 95, and I've made Alchemy Legendary something like 20 times. During one binge of potion making, I leveled something like 10 times after mixing 1 potion (yes, 10 levels, one potion). Of course, I also ended up with a cache of potions worth several million gold (yes, million). I know this is a "bug" and would likely be considered cheating for a lot of people, but for me, at least, this made playing the game SO MUCH BETTER and it's not even really God mode. It's just someone who finds a secret, one that gives them enormous powers and skills, and it makes the really dumb story lines and stupid actions of the NPC's make so much more sense. None of them know that I can sit in my house, brewing potions that make it so I can forge/improve armor to have an armor rating of somewhere in the range of 4,000,000 (though, even with all these perks, I still take damage). I can also craft enchanted items that do millions of points of elemental damage. Hell yes, I'm the leader of the Wizard's Guild. Recognize my ability to fuck shit up with my enchanted iron dagger that freezes you, sets you on fire, zaps you with lightning AND steals your soul. Oh, and the whole Dragonborn thing? That's just icing on the cake, man. I can shout at you and you will disintegrate.

Oh, but let's keep things interesting and more "fair". Those awesome weapons? I can give them to my sidekick. That armor? Yeah, they're just as invincible. But wait, what about if I drop some armor/weapons in a bandit hideout (hey, I have a ring that boosts my sneak to something like 10,000. I can walk right up to someone and bump into them repeatedly and they never see me) and then leave for a while and come back. Guess what NPC's do with weapons lying around? That's right, they pick them up. So now there are caves of vampires and Falmer with weapons just as boosted as mine. Of course, that doesn't mean I have to let them see me (remember that ring? Yeah, can't hit what you can't see).

Oh, and forget that Skeleton Key, dude. Just enchant a ring with +40,000% to Lockpicking.
Also, if you want people to stop commenting on how pale you are, get an enchanted item with 100% cure disease. You'll never get rockjoint or ataxia again.

I still play Skyrim, and I have a blast. I even still play like something could kill me if they snuck up on me (well, they might, if I left the game on and the pushed me off a cliff or something, maybe). I kill dragons, dude. I explore the Blackreach looking for Dwemer Guardians to punch for practice (there's a perk in Heavy Armor that makes your unarmed punch do damage based on your gauntlets armor rating. I punch for 12,000 damage currently).

As for more about the College of Winterhold; there is a know broken quest, one in the same area you have to explore to find the Auger dude. It's this daedric gauntlet and whatnot, but you can't actually finish it correctly from my understanding without console commands (PC version only). I haven't bothered yet. But there's also a really awesome thing called the Atronach Forge, and at higher levels, some of the vampires and enemy magic using NPC's will drop Atronach Forge recipies, which allow you to summon Atronachs AND daedra. And they are not happy to be summoned. So you get XP for summoning them AND you get to kill them. You can also summon magic armor and weapons and all kinds of fun stuff.

When I was sick back in January, I was so weak from the illness that all I could do while I was awake was sit up in bed and play Skyrim. I had a blast and still continue to play. Also, the Dragonborn DLC and the Dawnguard DLC add whole new plot lines (some just as silly and nonsensical as the ones pointed out here), but frankly, I don't expect much from a video game that is this expansive. I think one of the main things you have to realize about Skyrim is that once you get past that first 30 minutes of gameplay (escaping from Helgen), you don't have to follow ANY script. This last time through, I didn't even bother going to Whiterun until I was something like level 30, because I spent the time running over to The Reach and exploring every cave and dungeon I could find, looting like mad, gathering ingredients, making potions, and just leveling, leveling, leveling. I didn't even start on any of the faction quests until level 40. By that time I had learned almost every spell except for the master spells that can only be learned at the College of Winterhold.

As for the limitations of the faction quests, part of the reason they have those grind missions between finishing the story part and truly becoming the Guild Master or whatever is that there are some "special" missions you will receive after you have done 5 missions in one of the 5 main cities. Once you complete those 5 missions, you get to do a special mission for someone in that city, who then becomes a fence for you in that city. After completing all those special missions, then you truly are the Guild Master, and everyone in every major city knows who you are. You also end up refilling the Guild Vault with loot, and make a whole lot of money in the process. Yes, the individual missions are kinda boring and dull. So is actual thieves guild stuff. You go steal stuff and sell it. No real rhyme or reason. Just loot the loot. Thieves aren't all that sophisticated if you think about it.

I agree that the College of Winterhold could have used a lot more build-up and some cool leveling through the faction story missions. Or maybe some special spells or something, but I guess that's what the Master Spell quests are for (you have to be level 90 or above to even start on those quests, and leveling magic can be pretty difficult, especially things like Illusion or Conjuration). Though when you play a pure magic user, it can get pretty fun, especially because magic is really hard to use defensively at low levels.


On preview, I still need to try the High King of Skyrim mod. That looks silly and fun.
posted by daq at 11:16 PM on March 4 [11 favorites]


Yup, Skyrim's a disappointment.

I hope Bethesda disappoint me as badly with Fallout 4 as they did with TES 4, FO3, and TES 5.
posted by alex_reno at 12:04 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


World of Warcraft's quest engine had lowered my expectations so much that I didn't notice how lame these quests were. I long for the days of Grim Fandango. Go Kitty Kitty Kitty!
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:04 AM on March 5


I hope Bethesda disappoint me as badly with Fallout 4 as they did with TES 4, FO3, and TES 5.

Bethesda needs to get around to half-assing Fallout 4 so Obsidian can make another amazing Fallout game.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:36 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


Nelson:
Turns out very few people bothered to do all that. A couple of months after Skyrim came I out I analyzed quest completion rates and while the Thieves Guild was one of the more popular factions to join, it had by far the lowest completion rate. After the main story Shamus pulls apart got done you felt like you were finished. But oh no, you had a bunch of errands to run after saving the Thieves Guild and negotiating with a damned Daedra before they'd make you grandmaster.

One thing might be contaminating your analysis though: If you finish the quest you lose the unbreakable lockpick. My brother *loved* the random quests (no, I don't know why, but he is getting a copy of Thief for his birthday) and would do them for fun, but never became Grandmaster as he didn't want to give up his unbreakable lockpick.
posted by Canageek at 12:40 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Something's probably seriously wrong with me, but I love the Dark Brotherhood assassination quests. I've got these double-damage shanking gloves, the x15 shanking perk, Mehrune's Razor, and an obsidian dagger. Give me somebody to shank and I'll do it.

Like I say. Probably something seriously wrong with me.

I suspect at least part of it is that stealth just plain feels better in Skyrim than it did in Oblivion or Fallout 3/NV.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:46 AM on March 5


Oh, I just thought of a few more interesting things that a lot of people don't bother with in Skyrim. Books. Lots and lots of books. From what I understand, it was part of the job of the game designers to write everyone of them for their section of the game, but if you look at it from the perspective of in game literature, it becomes fascinating, because some books are about theology of Oblivion, some are about the Forsworn and their legends and mythos, some have huge main story implications and tell histories of some of the characters you actual meet and interact with in the game. Stuff about the Nightingales, the Thieves Guild (if you read those books, the quest makes a whole lot more sense, given the understanding that the thieves really are kind of stupid scumbags, and they aren't very bright, either, which makes the whole stupidity of some of their actions seem a little more acceptably real in the sense that they are a bunch of cowards who generally don't fight but sneak in and out of places or pickpocket people or run con jobs). The Assassin's Guild stuff is exciting and full of mystery, and the Night Mother is freaking creepy, and the jester dude is really wacked out crazy like nutters, but they are still just a bunch of murders who kill for hire. The whole thing about the ritual that people perform to call on the Dark Brotherhood is kind of messed up too (requires a human heart and a skeleton among other things and candles and chanting. I guess those messengers don't like dropping off notes at spooky doors in the woods).

Oh, yeah, side quests. Dude, there are so freaking many of them. And some of them are really funky. One dungeon, you walk in on a witch killing another witch, because she wants to quit the coven and her mom is about to be turned into a hagraven because her mom is all really into this whole being a witch thing. So you get to help her storm the tower and kill all the witches in her coven, then kill her freaking mom. And then, if you ask nicely, she'll become your follower (one of the strongest followers in the game, too, and she really kicks ass in battle with both sword and magic). There is another follower you can pick up in the Archery shop in Whiterun who is all about being a sneaky sneaky long range bow wielding bad ass, and she's pretty awesome to have at your back.

Another tower, you get asked by this farmer dude to see if the bandits in the tower are holding his wife prisoner. So you go up the tower, hacking and slashing bandits on your merry way (or sneaking up on them and backstabbing them, or just silently killing them with your bows and arrows, or crossbow and bolts). Then you get to the top of the tower to face the bandit leader, and the leader turns out to be the farmers wife, all bad ass bandit queen. She asks you to tell her husband that she's dead or something. I mean, kind of cool little story lines and plot twists in random locations all over the huge ass map.

On preview:
Canageek, tell your brother to give up the Skeleton Key and just level up his lockpicking skill up to 100 and spend the perks to get the Unbreakable perk. Never break a pick again. Along the way you'll pick up Wax Key, which means never having to pick the same lock twice, Treasure Hunter, which boosts the value of loot you will find. Also, tell him to boost up his Pickpocketing skill and perks, because you can get Extra Pockets, which means you can carry more loot (or you could be silly, and do the alchemy/enchanting thing I did, and enchant your boots to give you 7000+ carrying capacity, which is really freakishly helpful if you want to collect every scrap of Dwemer junk that you can smelt into Dwarven Ingots).

The one faction quest line I hate is the Companions. I don't want to be a werewolf, frankly, just like I don't want to be a vampire (though apparently playing as a vampire can be fun in some ways, I guess). At some point I will have to play through the Dawnguard DLC and go the full vampire path (and no, in case you were wondering, you can't be a hybrid vampire/werewolf. If you are a werewolf when they ask you to become a vampire, if you choose to be turned, they take away the werewolf perk).

What I'd really love to see is an expansion pack where the Dwemer return and want to take back all their ruins and places like Markarth, where the humans have taken up living in the ancient Dwemer ruins. The things you could do, story-wise, with them returning, waging war on every other race that lives around their cities and stuff with them re-enslaving the Falmer or returning to "fix" the Falmer and make them back into Snow Elves would be a really fun story line. Of course, you'd have to make it so you could actually completely destroy some of the human cities. I mean like the Dwemer return and unleash hundreds of their Centurions to utterly wipe out anything that gets in their way. That was probably the most disappointing part about the Civil War campaign, was the lack of any real open field battles (though I'm guessing that might have been limited more by hardware limitations and memory more than will to make some real awesome Braveheart-esque charging army battles. I think the most I ever found in game was about 20 total NPC's at one time in an epic melee storming one of the forts, and I can imagine that would get pretty taxing on the system to keep track of that many fighting individuals and things like fireball spells that can do area effect damage and all that). When you defend Whiterun (or attack it, depending on which side you choose), a lot of the terrain made a lot of the action very close quarters for the most part, with a lot of the fighting in semi-cut off areas.

On another preview;
Pope Guilty, stealth is awesome in Skyrim, frankly. I mean, if your sneak is high enough (or boosted beyond high enough), even dragons flying overhead can't see you. Ever backstab a dragon? I swear they should have come up with an animation for that, kind of like the power move/kill where you jump on it's neck and whack at it with your sword, only be something like you creep up on is and just jam your sword up through it's neck or something equally bad ass. My biggest problem these days is doing one shot kills with my bow on a dragon while it is hovering. They'll do this thing where they'll stop fighting, fly around in a big circle, then crash into the ground leaving a crater, pause at the end of the crater, stand up, then do the dying animation. It's kind of stupid sometimes, because if you do it on a mountain, sometimes they'll crash land on the other side of the mountain and then tumble down the mountain and disappear and then you can't loot the body for the precious dragon scales and dragon bones. Another reason to boost carrying capacity as much as you can, because those dragon bones are heavy, and sometimes (at really high levels) you'll get to fight 2 or more dragons at once.

Can you tell I spent a week straight doing nothing but playing Skyrim?
posted by daq at 1:15 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


Bethesda needs to get around to half-assing Fallout 4 so Obsidian can make another amazing Fallout game.

I liked FNV and Fallout: Reno would appeal to me for obvious reasons.
posted by alex_reno at 1:27 AM on March 5


Lockpicking is not hard! There's no reason to keep the Skeleton Key, not when you can get the blessings from Nocturnal. Plus lockpicks are crazy plentiful. Also, I think the random thievery/reestablish the guild in the holds quests are kind of meant to be done before/as you go along with the main guild quest.

I had [number deleted out of shame] of hours worth of fun playing Skyrim. It's aces in my book.
posted by lovecrafty at 1:37 AM on March 5


I have never successfully used Sneak on a dragon once it's landed, not even at 100 Sneak with all the perks and covered in stealth-enhancing gear. I can run around Shadow Warrioring a fort full of bandits, backstabbing them in their stupid bandit faces, but my assassin is useless against dragons.

Also, regarding books, get the Unread Books Glow mod. Basically any book you haven't read on this playthrough glows blue, making it easier to tell at a glance which books you have and haven't read.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:01 AM on March 5


If you're like me and would prefer reading the books away from the game, you can get the books of Skyrim in mobi or epub format.

Even if you haven't played Skyrim or any TES game, if you're the sort of person who eagerly poured over the LOTR appendixes, then you would probably love this collection. In terms of building a detailed, and sometimes contradictory (in the way different historians can disagree about certain events) history of an imagined place, this is excellent.
posted by honestcoyote at 3:19 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


One of the touches I like is that there's the official biography of Queen Barenziah, and then there's the trashy unauthorized supermarket bio.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:09 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


Aren't the Fallouts and TESs all going to be MMOs now? I think single player epics are dead.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 5:23 AM on March 5


There is an Elder Scrolls MMO coming to retail, yes. I... wouldn't bet on its format becoming the primary mode of the series.
posted by trunk muffins at 5:51 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Elder Scrolls MMO is also made by somebody other than the usual TES devs. It's basically Yet Another MMO set in Tamriel.

I don't know what possesses game companies to make subscription MMOs these days. There's all of two successful subscription MMOs on the market, everybody who tries to go up against WoW (as TES is) goes F2P within a year, and the only subscription MMO to compete with WoW and succeed is EVE, which isn't really even a competitor for WoW since it's offering a different kind of game. Take a peek at the Wikipedia page- you pick your class and race, and your race slots you into a particular faction, etc. Then look at this page, with a bunch of info on its features, and this looks pretty unimaginative.

Seriously: don't make an MMO. They're enormous money pits chasing a dwindling audience. Even WoW is slowly bleeding subscriptions. MMOs are not the glorious future of gaming, thank god.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:25 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


It's also weird that they'll make someone who can barely manage to scrape together a single spell Archmage of the Mage's Guild. Seriously, look how little skill with magic you need to have! You can mostly solve the Guild problems by bashing them with an axe. Maybe they decided what they really needed around the Mage's Guild was more axe-bashing?

This is an allegory for how little programming skills you need to be a producer / designer of a AAA video game.
posted by straight at 6:57 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


daq:
What I'd really love to see is an expansion pack where the Dwemer return
Unfortunately the Dwemer didn't just 'leave', they became the divine skin of Numidium. This was speculated for a long time and verified in C0da.
posted by charred husk at 6:58 AM on March 5


My real problem with Skyrim, and I am somewhat disturbed by how much it annoyed me, was the economy. It just made no fucking sense. There just comes a point where looting is just a waste of time; you have more gold than you could ever hope to need, so you only bother picking up various crafting materials... and then you realize, seriously, what the fuck am I going to do with 800 Steel Ingots? I'm not going to forge anything for myself because I'm wearing dragonbone or something, my follower is attired similarly, and there's no point in selling it because I could probably already buy Whiterun outright and put in a reasonable bid for Markarth.

So the only reason is to grind up levels. Fine. But by not-terribly-far into the game, only rarer materials really give enough XP to be much help, so you're just stuck with all this inventory that you can't really use for anything except the most horribly tedious grinding ever. A neat mod, I think, would be one that allows you to actually set up as a merchant (perhaps with quests even) and buy/sell useless inventory--run a whole questline about wanting to corner the market in whatever. Use up all that money and all that inventory. Would be much fun wow for me but then again I spent an inordinate amount of time setting up my houses, trying to complete book sets (and shelve them together obviously), just silly things like that.

Which also annoyed me; trying to move large amounts of stuff from one house to another just sucked everything. There should be a special Trunk of Holding somewhere in each house that you can just use as a central inventory pool. Make things a bit less tedious if that sort of RP is fun to you.

You also get kind of ridiculously overpowered after a while. I had an archer, can't remember her level now, but wasn't that high. Sneak 100 and archery skills high up I think. Any quest after that point turned into sneak-oneshot-sneak-oneshot-sneak-oneshot-sneak-ohitsabossthreeshots-quest over. I mean sure it was kinda fun in a way but it just got tedious.

What I'd really love to see is an iterative openworld game that changes subtly as you play through it. Not even major "you pissed me off I'm going to kill you" stuff, but like.. your character is seen hitting someone by an NPC, who doesn't see that the other character hit first. Later on you need that NPC to give you information, but they've been spreading rumours about you so nobody in the village will talk to you at all. Or whatever. And on the flipside, maybe some villagers think you're awesome and bust you out of jail when the Local Bad Guy imprisons you on some pretext.

Maybe you're like me and you walk around obsessively picking every kind of flower, and gossip around town is worried about the flower shortage. I guess what I'm saying is I'd like to see network effects, unintended consequences. The jail system in Skyrim sort of started along those lines, but didn't go far enough, and again as soon as you start completing regional quests jail is irrelevant to you anyway.

Don't get me wrong I liked Skyrim a lot, a hell of a lot more than DA, I just feel it may have needed another six months of fine tuning and gametesting to iron out the rougher bits.

Agreed on the Companions questline though. So annoying. I didn't want to be a werewolf but if I want to experience the game I'm railroaded into it.

As for MMOs, I think the world of Skyrim (or a world like) Skyrim could be an MMO, but only if people basically treated it as the Holodeck. In a group situation some people are going to be Robin Hood and some are going to be redshirts. So you'd need people wanting to play all sorts of different kinds of characters. Maybe you're (to vaguely borrow from Skyrim) a small honeybee farmer who sells some mead, and has the opportunity to buy neighbouring property and expand his operations. So that's your char, and you're interacting with all the other players in their own characters--some will be heroes some won't. It could be really interesting I think, much like what I understand of Eve, in a way.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:00 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


One of the most annoying things about the Thieves Guild line (at least before the expansions, I don't know if they fixed this in one, but I doubt it) is that there's that lady who is running around the town wanting to bring the Thieves Guild to justice... but you cannot help her or join her in any way. She's just sort of there for no goddamn reason, even though it seems really pretty likely that a lot of players would be playing characters who would be much more interested in a "break the Thieves Guild" questline rather than one where you join them.
posted by Caduceus at 7:11 AM on March 5


What I'd really love to see is an iterative openworld game that changes subtly as you play through it. Not even major "you pissed me off I'm going to kill you" stuff, but like.. your character is seen hitting someone by an NPC, who doesn't see that the other character hit first. Later on you need that NPC to give you information, but they've been spreading rumours about you so nobody in the village will talk to you at all. Or whatever. And on the flipside, maybe some villagers think you're awesome and bust you out of jail when the Local Bad Guy imprisons you on some pretext.

This sounds like the Reputation system from New Vegas, only far more granular and extensive.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:42 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah and the food system was beyond stupid after level 2. Just useless.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:43 AM on March 5


To clarify my point about the Thieves Guild design, I have data for that. At the time I did the survey, about 2 months after game release, 59% of Skyrim Xbox players joined the Thieves' Guild. 33% completed "Darkness Returns" which requires you hand in the Skeleton Key. And 17% completed "One with the Shadows" which requires the twenty randomized quests to unlock. That completion rate is significantly worse than any other faction. The 59% to 33% drop-off may be partly people holding on to the Skeleton Key, sure, but half the folks who got that far then didn't finish all the way to the end. I speculate it's because of the tediousness of the grind. Also there's no hints in-game that if you keep doing those something interesting will eventually happen, so maybe a lot of folks missed it.

Just checking the data today, 69% join the Thieves guild, 50% complete Darkness Returns, 31% complete One with the Shadows. Still a big falloff. (Compare 78/58/57 for mages.)

The Daedric Quests are really fun for their variety and humor. I've always liked the malign god trope and the Daedra indulge that with great glee. Each is a one-off: grab the spoiler list and have some fun. The House of Horrors quest for Molag Bal, for instance, is completely evil. It also dovetails nicely into the general design of Markarth, a dark city of bad people.

The Elder Scrolls MMO is imminent, the beta is easy to get into now. I played it for a few hours and was disappointed. It's definitely much more of a standard MMO than an Elder Scrolls game. For instance there are books lying on tables, but they're not interactive. You can't read them, you can't pick them up, you can't obsessively collect all 8 volumes of The Wolf Queen and meticulously organize them on a bookshelf in your house. I've always loved that density of objects in TES games.
posted by Nelson at 7:48 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah and the food system was beyond stupid after level 2. Just useless.

I know I keep bringing up New Vegas, but look at food in New Vegas. You get ingredients by shooting animals, picking them from plants, or purchasing from merchants. You then cook with them, based on your Survival skill- the higher your Survival skill, the better the food you can make (also, as your Survival skill rises, your food gets slightly better, restoring more health/hunger). Instead of being instant health, New Vegas food gives X health once per second for Y seconds. So something that gives 5 health for 10 seconds restores 50 health in total. Eating multiples of the same food item increases the duration of the effect, while eating multiple food items makes their effects run concurrently- so if you eat something that's 5 health/10 seconds and something that's 4 health/6 seconds, you'll regain 9 health per second for the first six seconds, then 5 health per second for the following 4 seconds.

This is great for carrying around a variety of foods. Eat five or six different things just before you charge into a fight and you'll be regenerating your health while people shoot at you. And if you need health RIGHT NOW, there's always stimpacks.

Anyway, it's weird that Obsidian makes that system for New Vegas, and then Bethesda for Skyrim, makes the incredibly shitty food system that Skyrim has.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:58 AM on March 5


The random Thieves Guild quests are both a fantastic idea but also used in a bad way.

Back in Daggerfall (Elder Scrolls II) when you joined a faction there were an endless number of quests you could take for them. They all followed a number of set templates but had randomized particulars. For example the Mage's Guild had you defending the guild from attack, going to X dungeon to fetch X macguffin, etc. It wasn't exactly high drama but it made sense in that if you're in a guild then they're gonna have stuff for you to do. As you did more jobs you rose higher in rank and different jobs became available.

This was brought back with Skyrim's "Radiant Quest AI", which was really just Daggerfall's old quest system of "find random X macguffin in random X dungeon". Unfortunately they worked them in to the scripted quests in the most ham-handed ways.

There are all sorts of Radiant quests for you to go on when you're in the Companions... unless you meet the requisite requirements to move on to the next plot point. And since you level so quickly you never get sent out to hunt animals or rough people up, you just move on to the next plot point.

The Mage's Guild has all voluntary Radiant quests like fetching magic items or finding lost books. But they aren't needed for the main story at all which results in being able to go from zero to Archmage in a matter of hours.

The Thieves Guild REQUIRES you to go on these Radiant quests which makes sense... but you can't choose which city to hit so you end up doing these random jobs for no benefit eventually. And there are so many...

What Skyrim really needed was reputation system like back in Morrowind. Require a little bit of Radiant guild busywork between storyline quests. Enough to make it feel like you're actually working your way through a guild without making it a grind. Maybe throw in some skill requirements, too just to prevent Bubba the Barbarian from become an Archmage who only knows three spells.
posted by charred husk at 8:11 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Anyway, it's weird that Obsidian makes that system for New Vegas, and then Bethesda for Skyrim, makes the incredibly shitty food system that Skyrim has.

You know you can cook things in Skyrim? And make far better food items than just raw cabbages/etc? And with Hearthfire, you can grow your food. You collect ingredients and cook things like Elsweyr Fondue, Venison Stew, Beef Stew, and Vegetable Soup (and others I'm sure I've forgotten) all of which provide good bonuses/regens to stats.
posted by lovecrafty at 9:54 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


My hunter has had the same stack of ten venison stews in his backpack for over a month now without any refrigeration. Do you think it's safe to eat?
posted by charred husk at 10:02 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]


"...so you end up doing these random jobs for no benefit eventually..."

I'd argue otherwise. Almost every job required lock picking, sneaking, and/or pickpocketing, the main skills of a thief, and while it might have seemed like you weren't gaining XP for it, you actually were, for every successful action, you get XP.

Also, for people who get "bored" once they've got 100 in whatever skill, go get the Dragonborn DLC, seriously. It allows you to do something called "Legendary" skills, where basically you reset your skill level in whatever back to 15, but with the advantage that all your perk points that you've spent in that skill get put back into your pool, and you can re-assign them however you'd like. Like I said in my first post, I've made my Alchemy skill reset something like 20 times now. It is so definitely worth it, too, because you can re-assign those perk point into rarely used skill trees, like heavy armor, or some of the magic skill trees, making things much more fun to blow up.

Also, Pope Guilty, there are a ton of potions you can craft with alchemy that act exactly how you described the food in New Vegas. Depending on the ingredients, your skill level in alchemy, and your perks, the better the potion (also great for making money, as well, because with certain ingredients, you end up with rather stupid potions that sell for massive profit compared to the cost of purchasing the ingredients from shops, or just randomly finding those ingredients while exploring). I will warn you, though, Giant's really like their toes.
posted by daq at 10:08 AM on March 5


I think single player epics are dead.

Not necessarily. There's a lot of really exciting stuff coming out of Kickstarter projects in the near future. To name a few of the ones I backed, there's Wasteland 2, Pillars of Eternity, and Torment: Tides of Numenera, all of which have pretty outstanding names behind them. For instance, Torment has Chris Avellone (from Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment) and Brian Mitsoda (from Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines) working on it.

Granted, these are all isometric-view-style games and not 3D first-person games like Skyrim, but I think the deep and involving RPG is about to make a comeback.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:22 AM on March 5


Skyrim cooking still makes crap that you need to scarf down a dozen of at a time. I haven't played Hearthfire.

Also adding to the single-player RPGs is Dead State, Brian Mitsoda's interpersonal conflict also there are zombies and basebuilding RPG.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:25 AM on March 5


To a certain extent I agree that Skyrim is an entertaining game in the sense that it's fun to make numbers go up, and it's fun to dress your character and spec out their build. There were some problems that mods fixed (limited armor options, bland perk system, poorly balanced combat systems), but even the vanilla game provides an enjoyable experience in that regard.

The reason that I liked the article series and decided to post it was that every aspect of the game which gave these choices meaning beyond just increasing numbers in a database was so poorly written and doesn't withstand a few seconds of reflection upon it.

A large part of this has to do with scale. Developers always seem to go for designing an entire country that's the size of an amusement park instead of focusing on a realistically scaled city, because that's what every Elder Scrolls game (aside from Battlespire and Redguard) have been about. They always make you advance through guilds to become leader because that's what every ES game has done. You're always saving the world because that's what every ES game has done.

Unfortunately as development costs keep increasing due to full voice acting and high res art assets it becomes harder and harder to do this stuff at scale. Coherent writing for dialog trees is comparatively easier since changes and revisions are a few keystrokes. For full-voiced dialog it's much harder.

In many ways the conflicting scale of what players desire, and what a AAA studio is feasibly able to deliver are at odds with one another. I would personally be willing to no longer have voice acting in exchange for better scenario writing, or to have a scaled down environment in exchange for hand-crafted world building, but I question if gamers considered as a mass market are so accepting.
posted by codacorolla at 10:28 AM on March 5 [7 favorites]


Developers always seem to go for designing an entire country that's the size of an amusement park instead of focusing on a realistically scaled city

A game the size of Skyrim but set in a sprawling, varied fantasy city would rule.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:36 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


codacorolla:
I would personally be willing to no longer have voice acting in exchange for better scenario writing
Definitely this. If you didn't have to worry about voice acting you'd be able to do all sorts of crazy stuff with dialogue and make the game so much deeper.
posted by charred husk at 10:39 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Venetica isn't a great game, but it sorta does that. It mostly takes place in a city that's more the size of one from Assassins' Creed, except with actual characters in it instead of crowds of people you can only interact with physically.
posted by straight at 10:39 AM on March 5


You go above and beyond, and dredge something still vaguely story-like out of the mud of the ashes of the rubble of the ruins of something that was beautiful, and it ships and everyone hates it because it's the dumbest story ever and doesn't even make sense and who writes this crap?!

Wow. I've always been baffled by the crappiness of the stories and writing in games in contrast with the astounding quality of the visuals. I figured it was a combination of customers not caring and developers who genuinely don't know whether or not they are any good at writing (as opposed to visual artists where there's much more consensus about what does and doesn't look good). But I keep forgetting how much of game writing involves trying to stitch together whatever environments, situations, characters, and game mechanics the rest of the team has managed to implement when the shipping date arrives.

Even so, I think there have to be writers out there who could do a much better job of it. The problem is how to figure out who those people are.
posted by straight at 10:48 AM on March 5


Get the Deadly Dragons mod. You will not be one-shotting a whole lot.
posted by rahnefan at 11:32 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


One annoying aspect of TES is that sometime it undoes its own good work. Morrowind had a great central storyline, but the next two were cookie-cutter. I like Oblivion's Mage Guild quests because, as far as I remember, mages were dying all around you and you became Archmage because you completed missions that others couldn't deal with and evil Whatsisname was propped up sufficiently both in lore and action (killing the Archmage). In contrast, Skyrim's Mage Guild was underwhelming. In general, I thought Oblivion was too generic for its own good and Skyrim tried to combat blandness even though it often failed, especially when it came to dungeons and consequences of monumental events. However, it was a great exploration game.

At times I think Bethesda has released Daggerfall for free, so that people can see that the bugs of recent TES games aren't the worst that could happen. The console is very useful.

Back to KOTOR.
posted by ersatz at 12:06 PM on March 5


Skyrim's Mage Guild was underwhelming

Skyrim's Mage Guild was a bunch of stoned high school students squabbling over who got to wear the fancy robes.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:13 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


The Thieves Guild questline may be crappy but the quest-giver (Brynjolf) is hella sexy, so how can you resist?

Every time I pass through Riften I stop by Brynjolf's booth just to hear him say "Alright lass, are you ready?"

And I'm like, DAMN RIGHT I'M READY oh wait for that dumb quest? No, but ask me again, just to make sure.
posted by ErikaB at 2:11 PM on March 5 [6 favorites]


On a more serious note, I acknowledge and applaud those who analyze and critique the story being told by a video game. I know it is an important aspect of the game for many players, and that's as it should be.

But speaking just for myself, if I want a great story I will read a novel. If I want to shoot a dragon right in its ugly face with a crossbow loaded with explosive bolts, make a quick buck by looting corpses, or amass a staggering collection of stolen cheese wheels, I play Skyrim.
posted by ErikaB at 2:30 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


Yeah, but that's the argument for dispensing with the story altogether not for making me sit through hours and hours of a bad one.

Just give us an open world and let us make our own stories.
posted by straight at 2:37 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


The Thieves Guild questline may be crappy but the quest-giver (Brynjolf) is hella sexy, so how can you resist?

And then you find out he's not a marriage candidate and he's carrying on with Tonilia! Damn his eyes!
posted by lovecrafty at 2:54 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


One of the touches I like is that there's the official biography of Queen Barenziah, and then there's the trashy unauthorized supermarket bio.

I thought that is one of the places where Bethesda narrative actually shines. Morrowind is one of the few fantasy epics that actually understands history. I don't mean history in the sense of beanplating motorcycle horses, sword weights, and stew. I mean history in terms of trying to reconcile multiple biased and contradictory sources from different cultural traditions and coming out at the end with "maybe this, maybe that, maybe something else." Practically everywhere else in the Fantasy genre they'll throw down a timeline and say, "that happened." A timeline isn't history; it's lazy exposition. I think the ambiguity works best in Morrowind base game where a central conflict of the story, Who are you? Are you Nerevar? is never resolved. Yes, no, maybe, fnord, mu, are all valid answers.

I think that's something that's lost in Oblivion and in my slow playthrough of Skyrim. The only real alternative to the historical narrative of the Blades and Greybeards are Mankhar and the Thalmor.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:31 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


In fact, the main quest of Morrowind is a journey through multiple perspectives on history.

* Empire. "We don't understand this but we're going to throw our man in the ring."
* Temple. "The Tribunal are divine protectors."
* Ashlander. "The Tribunal are murderers, and the Temple heretics."
* Houses. "Scratch our back and we'll scratch yours."
* Dwemer. "I wasn't there, but I can give you some theories."
* Heretics. "The Temple rewrote history, and the Tribunal are scared."
* Vivec. "Here are two contradictory histories. Make up your own mind."
* Dagoth Ur. "We love/hate Nerevar. Are you Nerevar? We'll kill you anyway."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:21 PM on March 5 [5 favorites]


Skyrim's Mage Guild was a bunch of stoned high school students squabbling over who got to wear the fancy robes.

Skyrim's version of Hogwarts was a decent-not-great parody of academic politics and squabbling. When playing it for the first time, I was wondering if the assigned writer was once a disgruntled grad student.

Anyways, the squabbling between the profs makes getting the archmage title logical for almost any character. My meathead warrior, by no means stupid but not very good at book-larnin', shows up at the college because he's heard they're offering Alteration 101 as a night class, which is a skill that might come in handy sometimes. He immediately, and somewhat against his will, gets pulled in to their squabbles and shenanigans, and goes through a long adventure which ends up with the archmage dead.

The various department heads cannot agree on a successor. So they pick the most harmless and obvious choice: the hero who saved them from their own hubris. This was not done as a reward but rather giving the job to the most politically impotent figure they could think of. Someone who would not interfere in the daily business and who would probably never pick a side in their everlasting battle. Furthermore, the new archmage is Dragonborn, which only adds to the college's prestige. The fact that the "archmage" cannot cast a basic firebolt is not really a problem.

Considering how real universities act and sometimes choose unqualified presidents as a political maneuver, I didn't have a problem with this portion of the storyline.
posted by honestcoyote at 6:05 PM on March 5 [7 favorites]


I think that's something that's lost in Oblivion and in my slow playthrough of Skyrim.

It's not entirely lost in Skyrim. One big example is the book about Ulfric's actions in the Reach. According to the tale in the book, Ulfric Stormcloak is guilty of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Based on what we know of the wild tribes of the Reach and what happened to them when they tried to attain some level of autonomy, you know this to be at least partially true. However, the book is authored by someone in the Imperial City, working for the government. So can the account be trusted?

And then there's the conflicting tales about exactly what happened when Ulfric challenged the High King to a duel. Was it a fair nordic fight? Or was it murder and a traitorous assassination? There's plenty of accounts for both sides and this for something considered a "current event" within the game world.

And if your character tries to decide which side has the right of it: Imperials vs. Stormcloaks, there's enough contradictory information to make one's head spin. Is Ulfric dedicated to his people's welfare or a sociopathic monster only in it for Ulfric? Does a free Skyrim only strengthen the Thalmor or would this make the Thalmor's attempt at world conquest of Cyrodil more difficult? Are the Stormcloaks true freedom fighters or a bunch of racist drunken hooligans out for a brawl?

Over in /r/Skyrim, the best way to start a lengthy debate is to ask "Which side are the baddies?" The fact that this question will induce a several hundred comment thread, on a 2.5 year old game most of them have played to death, shows Bethesda did something very very right about the Skyrim Civil War.
posted by honestcoyote at 6:23 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


I chose the Stormcloaks because the Imperials decided at the start of the game that they were just going to go ahead and chop my head off without so much as a trial, so fuck those people.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:04 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Yup. If they wanted me on their side they probably shouldn't have tried to murderize me.
posted by Justinian at 7:37 PM on March 5


I picked Imperial because Ulfric is an unwitting agent of the Thalmor allowed to wage his war and thus weaken Skyrim as a whole. It's all right there in Elenwen's journals. Wake up Sheeple!
posted by lovecrafty at 7:58 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


Spoiler alert it doesn't matter which faction you pick, the quests and outcome are essentially identical. More lazy writing.
posted by Nelson at 8:22 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


I chose Imperials because the layout of Windhelm pissed me off.

And how many voice actors did they use for the whole game? Four?
posted by sourwookie at 9:22 PM on March 5


Did you play Oblivion? They used so few voice actors there that sometimes an NPC's voice would change from sentence to sentence.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:58 AM on March 6


I went with the imperials because it was easier to loot the armour I wanted from the stormcloaks that way.

The quest writing was weak in places, yes, and I still have a soft spot for Morrowind, but Morrowind, Skyrim and Oblivion are all great for open world exploration. Daggerfall had its moments, but it wasn't as good at that feeling of exploration.
posted by YAMWAK at 3:20 AM on March 6


In all fairness, Daggerfall is bigger than the sequels, but a lot of the randomised content ended up a bit same-y. Considering it came out in 1996, it's hard to fault their ambition.

Bethesda claims that the scale of the game is the size of Great Britain:[2] around 229,848 square kilometers/ 88,745 sq miles. The game world features over 15,000 towns, cities, villages, and dungeons for the player's character to explore. According to Todd Howard, game director and executive producer for Bethesda, the game's sequel, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, is 0.01% the size of Daggerfall, but most of Daggerfall's terrain was randomly generated. Vvardenfell, the explorable part of Morrowind in the third game has 10 square miles (25.9 square kilometers).[3][4] The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has approximately 16 square miles (41.4 square kilometers) to explore.[5] In Daggerfall, there are 750,000+ non-player characters (NPCs) for the player to interact with, compared to the count of around 1,000 NPCs found in Morrowind and Oblivion. However, the geography and the characters in these later games are much more detailed.


Spoiler alert it doesn't matter which faction you pick, the quests and outcome are essentially identical. More lazy writing.

As I said upthread, I've been playing KOTOR and it's really obvious when NPC dialogue fits multiple answers you can give. Also a lot of the exposition is clumsier than I remembered, but then again it's been a decade.
posted by ersatz at 3:34 AM on March 6


Skyrim with the right mods is a simply amazing game. In preparation for the arrival of my gaming machine in the near future I have gone through the Nexus (and everywhere else) for the best mods out there. My favourites folder for Skyrim mods runs to around 400 links and I've been preparing mentally for the slog of organising, bash patching etc to get the game looking and playing just right.

I'd strongly recommend the Skyrim GEMS site for a list of awesome mods. On top of that Neovalen's Skyrim Revisited : Legendary Edition builds on version 2.2.8 of STEP to create a stunningly beautiful world with massively improved questlines, immersion etc.

Just have a look on the Nexus at mods like Frostfall, Falskaar, Hunterborn, SIC, ASIS and you'll see some amazing creative work. None of the fun associated with these mods would be possible without Bethesda's Skyrim to work from as a base. Mods for Fallout 3 were so popular that they became a part of New Vegas (Hardcore mode and the weapon mod kits for example). I can only imagine what Bethesda will roll out in TESVI after they see what the modders have done with their work this time around.
posted by longbaugh at 3:50 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


lovecrafty:
And then you find out he's not a marriage candidate and he's carrying on with Tonilia! Damn his eyes!
addfac 19809 1

... I might have used this for a particular Dark Elf priestess of Azura.
posted by charred husk at 6:26 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Skyrim with the right mods is a simply amazing game.

Yeah, I waited 2-3 years after Oblivion came out to play it for the first time. It was much cheaper than buying it new and there were mods to fix almost every complaint you could have with the vanilla game (except for the voice acting--I just turned it off--and the blandness of the main story--more than made up for by some of the great user-created quests). It was so good I promised myself I'd wait at least that long to play Skyrim. Haven't done it yet.
posted by straight at 9:19 AM on March 6


On my last (possibly, literally, my final) playthrough of Skyrim I had enough mods between SPERG (my favorite total overhaul mod), immersive weapons and armor, and UI fixes to say that it might finally be up to a certain standard of playing. If you throw in all of the DLC then you definitely have a rewarding game worthy of a hundred hours of play or so.

The problem becomes that as much lipstick as you put on the pig of the engine, you're still doing essentially the same quest-lines. And, as discussed in the above article, these quest-lines have serious problems. They're all fun once or twice, but personally I can't imagine myself playing any more just because I'm sick of the quests and going into my four hundreth Draugr cave to get 40 gold pieces and a copper ring is no longer appealing. This is compared to Morrowind's 10 factions or so, which all have much longer and more satisfying arcs to them.

However, given a 50% off Steam sale I would recommend picking it up and modding out the bad stuff.
posted by codacorolla at 9:24 AM on March 6


They're all fun once or twice, but personally I can't imagine myself playing any more just because I'm sick of the quests

Well, that's the other difference. I can't imagine playing any RPG more than once. That's another reason I liked Oblivion. It didn't limit me to one skill set per character. I was able to play through with a character that had skills in melee, archery, magic, and sneaking. So rather than play through the whole damn game several times, each time doing only one kind of thing over and over, I was able to play though the whole thing once, choosing different kinds of gameplay in different situations: This dungeon I'll sneak, that one I'll hang back and summon a bunch of creatures, this one, I'll pull out my two-handed sword and fight.
posted by straight at 9:55 AM on March 6


One big way I judge an RPG is asking myself whether it is worth playing more than once. I agree with you that I can't imagine playing many of them multiple times but I guess we're drawing different conclusions; to me if you can experience everything a game has to offer on one playthrough it has at least partially failed as a game.

It is true that most RPGs fail as games by this measure.
posted by Justinian at 10:58 AM on March 6


I played the Thieve's Guild quest line and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the gameplay. Why should I care about the "writing" and "story" when the dialog scenes last a few minutes compared to the hours of actual gameplay? Being a thief in Skyrim was a blast.
posted by conrad53 at 2:49 PM on March 6


Well part 5 of the fabulous article talks about how bad the Thieves Guild quests are about being a thief. Specifically the way your thief buddies' AI is not really up to the task of being, well, thieves. Classic escort quest problem.
posted by Nelson at 3:27 PM on March 6


Why should I care about the "writing" and "story"

/deep sigh
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:40 PM on March 6


Because writing and story is what makes it an RPG. If I don't want decent writing and a story I'll play Civilization where I make my own story. Which involves killing everyone and taking their land.
posted by Justinian at 7:57 PM on March 6


They're all fun once or twice, but personally I can't imagine myself playing any more just because I'm sick of the quests and going into my four hundreth Draugr cave to get 40 gold pieces and a copper ring is no longer appealing.

"Skyrim was so bad, I only played it for 90 or 100 hours before I got bored with it."
posted by empath at 1:07 AM on March 7 [6 favorites]


I forgot to mention earlier that the other reason I went with the Stormcloaks is that the Imperials order you around and treat you like a flunky, while Ulfric treats you like a trusted associate and gives you cool names like "Snow-Hammer" and "Stormblade".
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:01 AM on March 7


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