The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim -- putting the "fan" back in "fantasy."
Oedipus has survived for millenia as a dramatic figure, because the story of his life is so compelling. In Oedipus's search for a cure to the plague of Thebes, we see our own compulsion to uproot the evil and misery in life. In Oedipus's discovery of the horrible truth that he killed his own father (ANCIENT GREEK THEATRE SPOILER ALERT), we recall every time we've accidentally brought ruin upon ourselves. And when Oedipus leaves town, once a beloved king, now a blind exile, we recognize that even the mighty may fall.
As a gamer, the Nintendo 64 Kid holds a similar place in my psyche -- he is an archetype, a figure who reflects my own thoughts, emotions and dreams. When I see N64 Kid's complete rapturous meltdown because he's received a gaming system, I understand the yardstick by which my excitement about future video game releases can be measured.
I was pretty stoked about LA Noire, maybe 0.4 N64Ks (if one N64K denotes a level of excitement equal to that of Nintendo 64 Kid). And I clocked in at about 0.65 N64Ks in the days leading up to the release of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. But I think now I may be approaching 0.8, 0.9 N64Ks of exhiliration... I may even pull a full-on 1.0.
Guys, I'm really excited for Skyrim. And I'm not alone -- fans and reviewers not lucky enough to have snagged an advance look at Bethesda's newest Action-RPG smorgasbord are wildly speculating about what the game will be like. And so, here's my own speculation -- five things that, Nine Divines willing, we will learn from Skyrim.
1.) The world doesn't revolve around you.
I wonder if this lady has any news of the other provinces?
The goal of every immersive sandbox video game world is to trick us into thinking that the world of the game is a full, functioning, complete social system that exists beyond the actions of the player character. When an RPG seems like it's nothing more than people waiting around for you to talk to them so they can tell you to kill the rats infesting their dungeon, the sense of being a part of a dynamic universe falls apart.
Oblivion boasted townspeople that wouldn't just stand in one place waiting for their turn to talk to you -- they would walk around to different places throughout the day, sleep at night and even have conversations with each other. It was a great step forward in making Tamriel a convincing world.
But not all of the conversations the NPCs have in Oblivion sound authentic. They begin and end abruptly and often have to do with mudcrabs. If current events are mentioned, it is in an awkward and stunted manner.
There has been advance press about Skyrim's AI system and emphasis on how alive the cities will look. Not much has been said about NPC conversations, however. Here's hoping that mudcrabs are less of a conversation topic to the north of Cyrodiil.
2.) Old feuds die hard.
Hopefully, sustained hatred will be a game mechanic in Skyrim.
Skyrim's engine also is said to include something called Radiant Storytelling, which compiles a summary of all player actions and then manipulates game circumstances so that appropriate quests emerge based on who your character is and what your character has done. Used in a limited capacity in Oblivion and more in the latest Fallout entries, hopefully Skyrim will use this system in a bold and advanced way.
One thing that has been said about Radiant Storytelling is that it uses information on relationships the player character has in order to formulate quests. Friends will help you or ask favors of you. And, likewise, people who grow to dislike you will oppose you.
Imagine if, while playing Oblivion, you intentionally pissed off Honditar, the useless, douchey Altmer woodsman of Chorrol. And then imagine if later in the game quests started popping up where Honditar tries to foil you at every turn. Hilarious! Is that what Skyrim is going to be like?
3.) Justice never sleeps.
Will there be anyone in Skyrim who refuses to let the law be broken on his watch?
There has been limited information released about Skyrim's system of crime and punishment. While it would be interesting to see a different culture's take on penance (perhaps the Nords would demand labor of their prisoners? Perhaps torture would be involved?), we do kind of hope that our old buddy the Imperial Guardsman is back with his unique brand of hard-line justice. Or he doesn't even have to be there personally, it could be just an artifact, like an enchanted Imperial Guard Helm you get at some point that gives you a 50% damage boost against criminal scum.
And yeah, if anyone's keeping track, I know that it probably isn't good that this is the second time in as many weeks that this column is prominently featuring the "STOP RIGHT THERE CRIMINAL SCUM" meme. I may have to pay the court a fine.
4.) Big fights happen in stages.
The major bad guys of Skyrim are not the grim cultists and dremora lords of Oblivion, but a legion of dragons that comprise the army of a long-dormant Nordic god. Dragons, usually a mainstay of fantasy games, have only been seen a little in the past few Elder Scrolls games. Those annoying fucking pterodactyl assholes in Morrowind don't count.
And, what's cooler, according to new information, the dragons of Skyrim will not be the usual "shoot at it until it dies" Action-RPG baddies who can be stabbed forty times and show no trace of injury but then keel over and expire on the forty-first blow. Apparently these dragons can be crippled by battle, forcing them to give up flight and engage you on land. This portends a lot of epic dragon battles where, by the end, both the PC and the dragon are haggard, crippled and fiercely hanging on to the last threads of life.
5.) The spirit of adventure can be summed up in words or in other ways.
Pretty much everything we hope Skyrim will be is communicated by the theme song. If you listen to this and you don't feel the irresistable urge to shove two dual-wielded longswords up a dragon's ass then you should check with your doctor to see if you are dead.