Quite possibly the most in-depth video game experience I’ve ever had has finally come to a close. Last night, I reached the point of completion for myself in Skyrim. For those who are interested: that point is having collected each and every achievement.
I know what you’re thinking, and I am well aware that the achievements only cover a small fraction of what Skyrim has to offer. Don’t you worry, I saw much, much more of that game than my gamerscore would let on. The first few months that I had the game was spent learning about exactly what an Elder Scrolls game is all about. Immediately after escaping Helgen, I set the main story aside and decided to go gallivanting. A couple caves and a small bounty (how did I know someone owned that chicken?) later, I decided it was time to hit Whiterun.
Of course, after meeting the Jarl and unlocking my shout ability, I set off on my own again. I started with the field West of Whiterun, and eventually travelled South to Falkreath. For hours and hours I played in this small pocket of the game’s world, and it was all good. Quests eventually dragged me to Markarth and Dawnstar, but I did very little exploring within those holds. In that time, I completed copious amounts of quests and sub-quests, and raised several of my skills to stand out above the rest. My character was a pro at smithing with a penchant for sneaking around and dispatching foes from afar with her bow. She learned how to enchant her light armor and toyed around a little with illusion magic. Basically, she ended up being an expert at stealth and avoiding any real combat. Generally, close combat would result in my death.
I set Skyrim aside for most of the summer months to focus on other games (Re: Xenoblade Chronicles), because variety is the spice of life. I did give it a spin now and then just to try to make a little headway against the veritable torrent of things to do and find within the game. It wasn’t until October that I picked it back up in earnest, and with a short exception for the Wii U launch, my free time on weekends has been singularly devoted to getting Skyrim out of my pile of shame.
The last few months have been a decidedly more focused affair. While my playstyle before was to wander the countryside and explore and caves, towers, or the like as I found them, more recently I’ve been narrowing my focus to achievement-bearing pursuits. The Companions/Dark Brotherhood/Thieves’ Guild/College of Winterhold quest lines were neat, and kept me entertained enough that they didn’t feel like a slog (I find it much more entertaining to explore on my own, rather than be told where to go), but I can’t help being bothered by the fact that they all had the exact same structure. Find group > prove yourself > join group > achievement quest > learn group’s terrible secret > leader dies > final quest > become new leader. It works for all four. It’s a bit of a nitpick, so whatever.
The only exception to this rule was the Thieves’ Guild, which tasks you with doing several dozen little, repetitive jobs over and over before it lets you play the actual quests. It’s stupid and annoying and why can’t I just warp into the Ragged Flagon? There are two doors between the quest-givers and the outside, where you have to be to fast travel. I’d wager that during these dumb little quests I spent more time on loading screens than actually playing.
And man, what’s up with the load times? I know it’s a huge game but eeeuuuuuggghhhh…
Getting the Oblivion Walker achievement is a story that I could probably stretch into its own blog post, but I won’t. The idea here is to gather 15 Daedric artifacts, of which there are 17 in the game, and one doesn’t count. The rub is that almost half of them are lost-forevers, and since I’m playing the 360 version, I don’t have a convenient command console to hack those I missed into my inventory. Of course, I only learned of the missable ones after I’d hunted down six or seven of the ones I was missing.
What this resulted in was me loading the only viable save I had, which was made right at the beginning of the game. I was at level 2 and sitting in Riverwood without a single completed quest to my name. So off I went, in my alternate reality, to do a whole bunch of quests over again, and with armor and supplies much less suited to the task. I tried to get the Oghma Infinium first (because it’s a quick game-breaker), but the ruins of Alftand are not kind to level 2 adventurers that only have iron armor. I struggled my way through, and then learned that you can’t start the second half of the quest until you’re level 15. So I went off to collect the other Daedric artifacts while I waited for my levels to rise.
The Oblivion Walker achievement took two weekends on its own to obtain, and I feel very little satisfaction for having earned it. My hatred for lost-forevers had grown even stronger than it ever was before. At least in Final Fantasy XII the copious amount of them didn’t really affect you; it just meant you had to play the game without some really broken equipment.
The only other big issue (the third, for the record) I had with Skyrim is that it can get to feel really padded. The tiny, random miscellaneous quests you get are usually stupid and boring, and don’t often reward you with anything you’d ever need. And then there’s the dungeon design. Technically the design is not terrible (though a little repetitive), but nine times out of ten your reward for forging your way to the end of a dungeon is… another dungeon. Another level of the same dungeon, usually, but still. Most of these places aren’t small to begin with, but when I got to the third or fourth stratum of a dungeon, I would generally feel like I was ready to leave and not care what was at the end. Because the actual reward generally wasn’t much better. a lump of gold and maybe an enchanted piece of armor two grades down from what you’re carrying.
No, I found much more pleasure in simply exploring the overworld of Skyrim. The endless green fields and forests, the snow-covered mountain ranges, and the rocky cliffs of the western holds. I could wander around discovering things in Skyrim forever, and be just as happy to never actually find out what’s in that cave. Well, the caves aren’t usually too bad, but those Dwemer ruins quickly became landmarks that I actively avoided. Trying to make my way out of the bounds of Skyrim was its own reward too. I don’t know how far you can swim to the north, but I did find an escapable area on the eastern border that let me walk far enough that the world became one flat mass covered with a single repeating texture. It was pretty cool.
I think the most rewarding part of the game was building my character though. From the literal character creator at the beginning of the game to placing those last few perks, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Olivia the Wood Elf grow from a rag-wearing nobody to an unstoppable force of nature whom even the toughest dragons could barely slow down. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t buy every single perk, but I guess that’s part of the process. If your character just ended up with all the same abilities as everyone else’s characters, the whole point would be lost. Kinda like how it doesn’t really matter who’s in your party in most Final Fantasy games; the only defining aspect of the characters are their Limit Breaks and what kind of weapons they use. I would love to roll up a new character and play a different style, but it just takes so long to make any sort of progress in Skyrim.
In the end, I’m a fan of Skyrim. There are some things about it that bother me, but nothing so bad that I’d give up on it. I’ll just skip the Thieves’ Guild story next time I play it. Well, if I ever play it again. It’s not likely that I’ll ever give Skyrim so much attention again, but you just never know. I pretty much went straight from Fallout 3 into Skyrim, so I think I’m going to need a big long Bethesda break. Five or six years should do it.
Oh, and to Hell with the Dawnguard and Dragonborn DLC packs. They’re way too expensive (about $25 each!) and I just feel like I need to be done with this game for now. I know that technically I don’t have all the cheevos because of them, but I’ve got my 1000/1000 (plus 50 for Hearthfire) and that’s all that matters to me. That was my goal, and I’m going to take the win for what it’s worth.