Returning to Skyrim
Dust off your dragonbone armour and take one more arrow to the knee, for old times’ sake
Few games of the 21st century have shouted their way into the collective consciousness more loudly than Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I can’t quite believe it was released nearly eight long years ago. Remember those TV spots accompanied by the gravelly-Swedishness of Max Von Sydow? And who can forget the contribution that Skyrim made to online meme culture? I mean, I remembered right up ‘till I took an arrow to the knee…
Oh, then there were those YouTube videos of penguins and evangelical preachers collapsing to the mighty sound of ‘FUS-RO-DAH!!’. Skyrim even spawned that most niche of controversies: when my fellow geeks and I complained that the in-game ‘shout’ didn’t match the really epic one in the TV trailer — HOW COULD YOU BETHESDA!
Skyrim perfectly captures the gaming zeitgeist of the early ’00s. The ultimate geeky, bloated, endless, glitchy, epic, meaty action role-playing game. The game achieved that holy grail of the fantasy game genre— broad popular appeal. My friends talked about it. My students talked to teachers about it.
Hell, I still have the Skyrim map up in my office. I have a spare copy, too. You know, just in case…
And sure, let’s acknowledge that there were plenty of flaws — the now-dated aesthetics, the clunky control system that was probably already dated at its inception, and the endless glitches. Despite all of these issues — and before The Elder Scrolls VI graces our lives — I want to persuade you to dust off your Daedric armour and give the old dear one final, glorious, goodbye spin.
Massive fucking dragons
Anyone who has played Skyrim will remember strolling towards the Western Watchtower after first being teased by the Alduin fight in the opening act.
I thought this game had dragons, dammit!
Finally, you encounter your first dragon in the main storyline. Tell me, honestly, who wasn’t impressed by that fight back in the day? I remember running around like a maniac in my first play through, spamming my sword-slashes like an excited toddler as my Nord barbarian cowered behind some rocks. It was a riot. My underpowered fighter was juicing-up on enough potions to feed a small country. Every time I poked my head out from behind the rocks I was torched by dragon fire. I’m sure an NPC did the dirty work for me in the end. I consider myself slightly more skilled now in my third play through. My latest Nord incarnation (don’t judge) now has a little more finesse in his swordplay. And a shield, which probably helps.
The epic dragon fights were — and still are — one of the biggest draws in Skyrim. True, they can’t match, say, the God of War franchise for sheer beauty. Nevertheless, dragon-based battles are worth more than the sum of their individual parts. Your controller growls and rumbles as the appropriately cheesy-named beasts land with a crash and roar in your face. The stirring soundtrack provides the ideal accompaniment to a dragon about to taste the pointy end of your might iron greatsword.
Then there’s the pang of Skyrim-rage when you remember that dragons drop a lot of heavy shit. So heavy, in fact, that you need to make three trips just to carry all the random paraphernalia that they apparently carry.
Dragons always felt like a special bonus — a way of breaking the monotony of your 1,000th dagger-smithing operation, undertaken in some backwater village forge.
Of course, in the final act, you’ll probably have the Daedric Armour and you should be able to finish off a dragon with a single arrow to the gonads — still, dragons always added something truly unique and exciting to an already-special game.
If, like me, you bought Skyrim on the day it came out — then retreated into your gaming dungeon, only to emerge a week later having completed every side quest — then it’s possible the expansion might just have passed you by. The appeal of the expansions will vary greatly depending on your perspective and what you liked or didn’t like about the core experience.
This is definitely the stunted weakling of the three expansions. Although it does provide ways to play house in ever more extreme ways compared to the base game.
For example, you can build your own Skyrim-style medieval mansion. Really, you could probably sink more hours into this expansion than the main game itself. Simply arranging your dressers so that they’re in exactly the right spots (and collecting enough damn wood and steel) can occupy an awful lot of time.
Is it any good, though? Possibly.
It really depends what you’re into. Sure, there is something obviously enjoyable about finally depositing all your hard-earned loot into one easy-to-access location. If you played Skyrim with a burning desire to do some nesting, then Hearthfire may just be the ticket. But if you’re more about exploring, and getting down-and-dirty with some old-fashioned questing-and-slaying, being anchored to one place might not be your thing.
Mind you, it’s possible that you might spend so much time fucking around in your in-game pleasure palace that a random dragon will appear at your front door — which, I guess, means a short walk to store those valuable dragon bones.
I hadn’t played Dawnguard when it was first released. I finally encountered it upon my third play through. And, in short, I’d say it’s the “vampire expansion”. This expansion wants so much to be Blade meets Underworld. But in reality, it ends up being more like 1950s Hammer horror-camp meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
So, what’s on offer here? Well, you do get a fancy new cinematic where you transform into a ‘Vampire Lord’ — think the bad guys from Blade II with a pinch of Max Schreck.
And like any good vampire romp, you’ll come across plenty of cheesy vampire banter and clothes from an 18th century brothel. Oh, and lots of hissing at each other. If you’re like me (that is, your a 21 year old mind is trapped in a middle-aged gamer’s body), you’re likely to at least be mildly entertained as you run around with your internal monologue screaming “I vant to suck your bluuuuuud.”
If you’re a quest junkie and you’ve annihilated the rest of the in-game offerings, this new storyline lets you milk your existing playthrough for all it has. You may not want to save afterward (to avoid the insane bounty) — this will give you the freedom to go ahead and transform into a Vampire Lord in a town or village and go on a blood-sucking, Trevor-from-GTA-style killing spree.
You know, just for shits and giggles.
Now this is what a Skyrim expansion should be called. Just imagine the legendary Max Von Sydow saying it — gives you chills, right? Oh, and let’s start by getting the next-most-important bit out of the way: you get to ride a dragon!
Anyone who completed the main quest way back when knows (minor spoiler ahead) that once you reach the final game area, you’re able to hitch a ride on one of these beasts while wearing one of his friends. If, at the time, you thought to yourself “man, that would be cool to do in-game!”, well, now you can! With the ‘tame dragon’ shout, you can hop on a dragon’s back and fly around using the might of said dragon to smite your enemies with aerial attacks.
Also, some named in-game dragons can also be tamed (not Paarthurnax, sorry).
Sure, the controls are clunky — nothing new there. And there are indeed some downright ugly textures and glitches where dragons appear to jerk at crazy angles mid-air and land with wings and feet halfway inside the snowy mountains. But if you even vaguely enjoyed Skyrim the first time around, these niggles shouldn’t shock you too much.
Then there’s the new pseudo-Nordic sounding area of Solstheim. It consists of a northern snowy island that you can reach by boat (or wait until you beat the loot out of some funky-mask-wearing cultists).
In summary, what you have here is more armour, more loot, more shouts, and dragons as personal taxis.
I find joy in giving elderly and ageing games the Lazarus treatment; especially when they whet your appetite for the next long-awaited instalment (hopefully something with a better engine, improved graphics, and smoother controls — but also a game that owes much to its predecessor).
If you haven’t played Skyrim — especially if you think you hate those kinds of games — I urge you to give it a shot. Embrace your inner geek and discover the awesomeness that sinking 50 hours of your life into the world of Tamriel can give you.
One of the best qualities of Skyrim is that it never really takes itself too seriously. Enjoy it one final time for what it is —a clunky, glitchy, dragon-slaying, loot-hoarding, blood-sucking, villager-slaughtering, dagger-smithing world of mayhem.
It was a privilege playing Skyrim one last time. Actually, who am I kidding? There’s always time for a fourth playthrough, right?