Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Skyrim (or "Where Did the Hours Go?")

Confession: I am very much into Bethesda Games’ The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim video game.

Okay, that’s not really such a shocking statement. Anyone who has played this video game, where you are dropped into a fantasy realm and play a character of your own creation (from their race to their looks to how you decide to build up their many skills and choice of combat techniques), will likely say the same thing to you.

I am, however, very late to the party.

The game was released on 11/11/11 but I just picked it up a few weeks ago. Two factors motivated me to do so. The first was seeing an online video by actress/writer/internet producer/”Queen of the Geeks” Felicia Day about her various acquired dwellings in the game. The second was my teenaged son who kept nudging my waffling decision to plop down the money for the game (he said I would like it and he was right).

Now, this is not my first foray into the The Elder Scrolls gaming series. In 2006, I picked up a copy of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind via their “game of the year edition”. There were, however, a couple factors involved that kept me from getting too into that one. First, my PC at the time was barely equipped to handle the game requirements. Second, the first-person-mode that I was attempting to use (why I did not go third-person was beyond me) was making me really nauseous. And, third, I kept getting either thrown in jail or killed by some wild animals.

Despite that bad experience, I decided to go into Skyrim with an open-mind. Upon start up, I was completely blown away by the graphics and the audio of the game. The look and sounds of this game-world are amazing! The musical score and vocal work is top notch. Water in the rivers flows, plants move as the wind blows, chirping birds fly overhead and cast shadows.

And, wait, what’s the thundering roar in the distance? Is that shadow awful big for a bird? Yes, it is! There are dragons in this game - many, many dragons!

You see, your character is one of the Dragonborn, a rare few who has the ability to use the powerful language of the dragons called Shouts. But, you have to learn them throughout the game and to actually activate them you must face and kill dragons, to gather their soul essences. So, you have a very difficult task ahead of you. So far, I've only been involved in taking down two dragons and both times I had help from the non-player residents of the world.

I am playing a Breton warrior/spellcaster named Syn Kraeger on my first experience with the game. He wears heavy armor (I feel the need for the protection right now) and leans towards one-handed weapons (swords or maces) so that he can toss fireballs, lightning and the much needed healing spells with his other hand. One of my son's friends from school says I should just go straight spellcaster, but I like variety. Maybe next time I do a new character I will go with a light-armor wearing thief/spellcaster (I played a great many thief in table-top role-playing-gaming days of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in college).

Besides the graphics and sound, another thing I love about Skyrim is that you are not completely locked into following the main story arcs. Yes, there is a detailed, sweeping overall narrative that takes you far and wide across the land of Skyrim. It is a story that involves warring factions, powerful enemies and prophetic legacies. However, there are hundreds of smaller side quests and tasks that can be done as well.

Do you like to just scour dungeons, wiping out bandits and undead soldiers? You can do that.

Do you like to hoard as much treasure and goods that your dwelling is bursting to the seams (confession two: I am a Skyrim hoarder)? You can do that too. Or, you can turn a profit by reselling your loot to the local merchants, thus stimulating the Skyrim economy.

Do you want to gather components to craft the best armor and weapons or to mix the most complex of potions? Those aspects are open to you.

Do you like to go around talking to the various residents of the towns and cities to see how you can help them? There are plenty of stories that make up the rich tapestry of the game.

In short, there are numerous ways you can spend time in this game doing things to advance your character without even coming close to completing it. The hours will simply fly by as you find yourself totally immersed into the game-world. This is clearly the "Game of the Year" and I could easily see someone taking an entire year just to explore every locale in the vast world.

The game is available across many platforms. If your choice is console gaming, you can play it on your XBox 360 or Playstation 3. If you are a PC gamer like me, make sure you read the box specs first and confirm your computer is up to the challenge to make it a truly seamless gaming experience.

The Dawnguard expansion was just released for XBox and PC recently. This downloadable content package adds new storyline involving the return of an ancient vampire ruler to the realm. So even if you got the game last fall, there is a new reason to fire this one back up again.

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