Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Skyrim and Freeform Gameplay

I know I posted here a few times about my love for Skyrim. As much fun as I had, and as much time as I spent in the game - 199.2 hours - I didn't really appreciate just how great an experience Skyrim was until I'd put 20 levels into Star Wars: The Old Republic.

In SWTOR, you have A Story. You will go to Dromund Kaas. You will go to Balmorra. You will go to Nar Shaddaa. And along the way, you will make a lot of choices, yes. But they really only pertain to how big of an asshole you are about going down the path that's been legislated for you. You can't choose to, say, not go to Balmorra. Not if you want to succeed at the game.

All that's okay. There are plenty of linear storyline games out there and they are pretty fun, provided it's a good story. So far, the Bounty Hunter storyline is good in SWTOR. I'm enjoying it. It's exciting tracking down my prey and trying to figure out who the rival bounty hunter is - so I can kill them both. Murder is delicious. Double murder is double delicious. Especially where there are credits involved!

I have to admit, however, that I miss the complete freedom of choice that Skyrim gave me. Skyrim was like, "Hey! You're the Dragonborn! But, you know, do whatever." If I had A Story, it would be whatever I made of it. I was doing the early quests in a fairly standard fashion when I got lost looking for some remote outpost. Night fell and my (stolen) horse and I were still wandering the roads. I hopped off my horse to pick some flowers (red mountain flowers! medicinal properties!) and suddenly a vampire stepped out of the shadows and attacked my horse. I managed to fight the vampire off but by that time my horse was dead and I was lost somewhere in the ass end of the frozen tundra of Skyrim. On foot.

In any other game, this would just be A Bad Thing That Happened. In Skyrim, it was an inspiring experience. I was pretty choked at that stupid vampire because I'd had to be pretty creative to steal that horse. Lord knows I was too broke to buy one. I wanted some payback, so I decided to become a vampire hunter. For about 15 levels, all I did was hunt vampires. I stalked the roads at night, hoping to come across more vampires. I looked in every cave and ruin and I burned the damn things out wherever I found them. I kept the resulting vampire dust in a special container in my laboratory, where I then would experiment with its alchemical properties. I collected rare books about vampires and put them in a special book case. I even became a werewolf so I'd have a better chance against those hellaciously tough master vampires.

None of this vampire hunting was scripted. It was just a thing I wanted to do and Skyrim gracefully supported my ability to do it. It was also a valid way to advance in the game. My combat, thief, and alchemy skills went up, and I also worked my blacksmithing so I could have a better chance of living. Vampires are tough. Everything I did during those 15 levels was with a single goal in mind, and it had nothing to do with any pre-written storyline.  It was mine.

One night, early on in my vampire hunter days, while I was coursing the roads for the fiendish undead, I ran into these guys called the Vigilants of Stendarr. They were Daedra hunters and I learned a great deal about killing Daedra from them. They were pretty nice to me, when a lot of other travelers just attacked on sight. I ran into them a few times in that area of the world and they were always doing something heroic like saving a village from giant spiders. When I was nearly finished with the game, I was travelling by night in that area of Skyrim and I heard a battle going on. I rushed over there and found that the Vigilants had been ambushed by a pack of vampires! I managed to kill the vampires, but not before they'd killed the Vigilants and made them into thralls. I had to put them down. I felt like I had failed them and hadn't done enough vampire hunting in that part of the Skyrim due to being distracted by my own affairs (i.e. saving the world).

I can't imagine creating that sort of story for yourself in a linear game. Or if you did, it'd be something detrimental to your progress in the game. A game where I can roleplay (something I usually hate) and get ahead thereby? It's pretty great. It also makes going back to a one-way storyline feel very constricting.

Maybe I'll replay Skyrim, but this time I'll become a vampire who hunts werewolves. I'll get my own private Underworld on. Excellent.
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1 comment:

  1. My son's been trying to get me to play Skyrim for months and I haven't been sucked in (I'm used to UO and WOW, so I want people to play with) but I think you just convinced me!