Friday, December 17, 2010

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, First Impressions

We've only been waiting four and a half years for it, but we finally got it, and it is phenomenal.  And even though we know hardly anything about it yet, speculation about and anticipation of the new Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim, is going to occupy an unhealthy portion of the next eleven months of my life.

What do we know?  The story sounds epic--and very Morrowind.  The prophesied hero, incarnation of an ancient great power, comes to a remote province of the empire to save the day from a newly-reawakened evil.  Call it Nerevarine or call it Dovahkiin, it's a classic plot within the Elder Scrolls universe, and it's consistently fun to play through.  It's set to involve dragons, and while we know from the lore that dragons are a part of the history of Tamriel and especially Skyrim ("...and then came the northern men to help Kagrenac and they brought Ysmir again," 36 Lessons of Vivec, Sermon 36) we've never seen them in-game.

Much has been made of some comments from the developers, but in reality it's far too early to say anything about what they mean.  In particular, Skyrim has been construed as a "direct sequel" to Oblivion, leading to a lot of speculation about how closely related the two titles will be.  But as a longtime fan of the series, it's intuitive that Skyrim and will be about as closely related to Oblivion as Oblivion was related to Morrowind.  All the games take place in the same setting, and the setting being as lore-intensive as it is, the events in the previous game are naturally going to have some impact on the next game.  But a "direct sequel" to Oblivion would necessarily be set in the Imperial Province, involve the Oblivion gates crisis, and have Mehrunes Dagon as its antagonist.  It's clear already that Skyrim will do none of that.

That said, because this is the Elder Scrolls universe, it is prudent to wonder just how much the events of the previous game are going to change the setting.  A lot of crap went down in Oblivion.  The Imperial City got sacked, a Daedric Prince was defeated, and the Septim line of emperors ended.  At the very least, Tamriel is going to have a new ruling dynasty--and it's entirely possible that the Empire will have collapsed completely.  Is Mehrunes Dagon permanently destroyed, or merely rebuffed from the mortal world?  All this remains to be seen.

Finally, the announcement of Skyrim has re-ignited the senseless debate among Elder Scrolls fans about whether Morrowind or Oblivion was a better game.  I don't know why we can't all agree that Morrowind had a more immersive experience and a better story, Oblivion had a more polished structure and prettier landscapes, and they were both incredibly enjoyable games.  There are people who will insist that Morrowind is better because it has medium armor, the short blade/long blade distinction, and more attractive faces.  On the other side of the coin, Oblivion's diehards protest that Morrowind was too hard and lacked horses.

Micromanagers and effort-averse aside, most Elder Scrolls fans do agree that both Morrowind and Oblivion were excellent.  Even though we don't know much about Skyrim yet, if it builds on their successes, my social life is going to collapse next November.

A few assorted points:

--In the chorus at the end of the trailer video, a figure named "Hrothgar" is mentioned.  I thought that Hrothgar sounded familiar, so I checked him out on the Elder Scrolls Wiki.  Turns out the only mention they have of Mr. Hrothgar is that his name lives on as a mountain in Skyrim.  But!  Hrothgar is an actual mythic figure from Anglo-Saxon myth, most notable as the king in Beowulf.  It wouldn't be the first time that an Elder Scrolls myth has drawn name inspiration from a real-world myth.

--It's probably a hope in vain because level scaling is pretty much de rigeur in RPG design these days, but I really, really hope that Skyrim either eliminates or overhauls Oblivion's approach to level scaling.  Roadside bandits instantly getting tougher the second you do destroys the realism that the Elder Scrolls series tries very hard (and mostly succeeds) to create.

--Bethesda trademarked the name "Skyrim" way back in 2007, suggesting they've been planning this for a very long time indeed.  Of course, suspicion that Skyrim would be the setting for the next Elder Scrolls game started back then, which is why it isn't really a surprise that this game has that setting.  Looking at Tamriel, we've had games set in Hammerfell, High Rock, Morrowind, Cyrodiil, and now Skyrim.  Unless we really want to set a game in Argonian-land or Khajit-land, that leaves Valenwood (Bosmer) and the Summerset Isles (Altmer) as the logical choices for the next Elder Scrolls game.

--So I got to thinking: wouldn't it be totally awesome if there were an Elder Scrolls game set in Summerset, where you could go to Artaeum, visit the Crystal Tower, and join the Psijic Order?  Yes, it would.  You heard it here first: Elder Scrolls VI: Artaeum, summer 2016.

Currently listening: "Letter from an Occupant", the New Pornographers

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