Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wandering the North

Eh … long time no see. Well, I figured I am usually rereading stuff at the moment, normally playing either The Sims 3, MineCraft or a casual game during the weekend and normally decide ad hoc what to watch on DVD, so I have stopped doing weekend updates lately. That doesn’t mean I am not doing any stuff. For one thing, I have been sight-seeing in Skyrim (with a little fighting on the side).

I managed to get the game for a good price at a local electronic store and have been playing quite a bit of it … albeit replaying the first few quests quite a few times. Currently I play a Kajit (that’s a race of humanoid cats) and I have been looting everything I could get my hands on … because I want a house and a horse and I need a lot of gold (8,000) for it.

Skyrim is not my first fling with the Elder Scrolls series, I have played Oblivion for quite a while and I also played Morrowind. Yet I have to admit I like the setting for Skyrim best, so far. Morrowind is set in a very swampy place and I am not that much of a swamp fan. Oblivion looks very ‘high fantasy’ and that’s the setting of every second RPG around. Skyrim is the cold, far North of the fantasy world of the Elder Scrolls. Not a setting you get all that often.

The game starts out rather traditionally for an Elder Scrolls game: you start as a prisoner and get the chance to create your character during the prologue. This time, though, it’s not a prison cell – it’s you on your way to execution. I mean that, you know, your head is on the block when all in a sudden a dragon turns up. That’s one kind of deus ex machina you don’t see that often…

Within the next few minutes, you’re climbing a tower, jumping into a partially burning house, run across a village while the dragon sets fire to it and diminishes the soldiers and have to decide on a basic side to settle with: the storm coats or the imperial army. Last time I started out new, I chose the storm coats … why settle with an army that was about to execute me, even though I wasn’t even on the list?

It’s the same first dungeon, the inside of the fortress, you enter, but the enemies you fight depend on which side you are on, of course. Once outside, I was really, seriously amazed. The world looks good (even more so with the new high-definition textures pack you can get for free) and is full of life. Granted, quite some of that life, like the wolves, wants to take a chunk out of your body (or the inventory from your cold, dead hands), but you can basically get something from everything you bring down. If you can bring it down … I do not recommend trying to attack the giants that are ambling around the plains herding their mammoths. Butterflies are fluttering through the air, fishes are jumping out of the wild waters, foxes, rabbits, deer and goats are crossing the paths and running away from you. The world of Skyrim is alive.

Soon afterwards someone asks you to see the Jarl in Whiterun, about protection for a small town on the way. And once you are there, things really get moving. You will enter a tomb full of un-dead (and very annoying) warriors (got me at least 4,500 gold, that place) to search for a stone with strange runes on it. You will learn the first Word of Power there. Once you are back, you will go and fight your first dragon. Yes, there’s a lot of dragons in Skyrim … and you will fight them to devour their souls, because you are Dragonkin and your powers will be direly needed. Isn’t there always a catch like that?

Like every Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim does not really make you do things. You have a vast world to explore, can set your own goals, if you want to. The main quests are a red thread you can follow, but when you go on with it is absolutely up to you. You won’t miss something or completely lose the game, just because you decide to first enter every cave you see and make money, money, money with it. Fighting a lot of additional enemies, is good, of course, because you gain experience that way. But you also get it by trading or doing other stuff.

As every Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim does not make you choose, either. You don’t set a class, only a race and a gender (the rest of the settings at the beginning are merely cosmetics). Races have various good and bad points, both in game mechanics (such as a Norse’s ability to withstand cold better or a Kajit’s better sneaking ability) and in interactions (a Norse will have it easier, because that’s where they all live), but you are not forced to choose a class such as warrior, mage or thief. You train your abilities either by doing stuff (fight a lot with a one-handed weapon to get better with it or use a certain school of magic to improve it) or by finding someone to train you with it. You can craft, too, do alchemy, forge weapons and so on.

On the whole, Skyrim surely is a game you will get a lot of fun and gaming time out of. I know I do and I am still very much at the beginning. I am walking the North of the world of the Elder Scrolls and I am enjoying my stroll so far, that much is for sure.

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