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Skyrim: the good, the bad, the shades of gray

Oh, Skyrim.

I finally played you. There’s so much to like. It’s pretty, the voice acting is solid (and some very familiar voices!), and the quests are never ending. Some of the storylines are very well done. Rich, meaningful crafting. Cool skill-based advancement. Player housing. Stuff changing in reaction to what you do.

Oh, this beats Ultima for actual impact. No, seriously. I love Ultima, but other than going from game to game, the worlds are generally very static.

Well, OK, not that much changes. Some blocks are removed, if you participate in the civil war, you can change the rulership and guard type for the cities, and you can build your houses (and decorate them, with a fixed set of decorations). You can marry and adopt kids.

But then there are the choices.

If Ultima taught me anything, it’s that I enjoyed the whole “be the virtuous good guy” vibe. You can do that in Skyrim, to a point, but there are some plotlines and quests which seem (or are) incompatible. Maybe joining the Thieves’ Guild lets you infiltrate it from within, I dunno, but I didn’t relish the idea of being a mob “heavy” to find out. And there seems to be something with an Assassin’s Guild type structure, not sure. I mean, at least the Dawnguard seems to (mostly) be good guys(tm) relative to the vampires… And what’s this with becoming a werewolf, anyway?

But the one that ticked me off? The civil war and the Dragonborn quest line.

Maybe the problem was I got so distracted by all the other separate storylines, and it took forever to return to that one, that caused me to be irritated. I’d already visited all the cities and gotten a feel for the rulers and the people. I’d earned a house in a couple of them, too. (Oh, boy, don’t get me started on the Markarth jailbreak!)

If there’s a way to avoid trading a city for a city in the diplomatic conference, I couldn’t figure it out. It seemed heavily scripted to a point where it was unavoidable. It… was a choice.

Look, the Empire is a bunch of colonists and they stomp all over the locals belief and power structures. But the rebel faction is exclusionary and racist. I mean, c’mon. There’s “shades of gray” where both sides have validity and one can be comfortable choosing to side with one or the other, and then there’s “both sides are bad guys”.

Maybe my moral compass is just screwy.

But trading a city for a city between two sucky people? EWWWW. Unfortunately, it was the only way to get to the fun “kill the world-threatening dragon” part of the storyline. And I did want to see how the main story played out.

Now: from a game play point of view, being able to join or not join the thieves guild is a nice, rich, play-it-your-way thing. I love that.

But, in the end, it’s about choices.

Skyrim (and, when I finally returned to it, Ultima VII: Part Two) showed me that one of the most important aspects of an enjoyable game experience to me is being able to make choices I find acceptable.

Trading peoples’ lives ain’t a great one. Missing chunks of story because there’s no acceptable way through, kinda sucky. Not having a way to bypass those and still see those parts of the world does feel like I missed out.

This is relevant for a couple reasons.

One, I’ve got this funny kind of a game idea in the back of my mind, and I want to explore it. So figuring out what I like and what works for me is important. Especially since it’s very sandbox and very world-reacts-to-actions.

Two, what works in narrative fiction for me. I’ll likely explore this some other time. I don’t mind the protagonists being put through the wringer, but please give me the ending that’s worth the pain. (There’s an author I will never read again, and have never reread, after he betrayed my expectations wildly in the middle of a book. Trust for an enjoyable read was irrevocably broken.) There are authors I trust will give me a satisfying conclusion, and I’ll put up with pretty much anything they hit me with in the middle because it’ll be okay in the end.

In some ways, this is learning about my preferences, and in solidifying that, it gives me a guide on what I want to create for others.

In others, it’s a way of figuring out why this worked for me, and that didn’t.

There’s a lot I liked about Skyrim. And I might even eventually decide to play a Bad Guy and check out those other questlines. It’ll get a replay, some day. But I would have liked a little more Virtuous Hero in it.

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