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Immersion in Skyrim: Is It Really There?
Back In My Day!
I remember back in the day of the Final Fantasy series (Yes, i'm going there), especially Final Fantasy 7, where getting up early on a saturday morning was the most exciting part of the week. Me and my brothers jumped on the Super Nintendo and got into the wonderful world of Mario, Final Fantasy, and countless other lesser-known RPG's. We were always so excited to journey to the next town, buy the next best weapon, fight the next boss, and learn more of what were the coolest stories we had ever heard of. Years passed, and new adventures opened up every year... And then the stories started to die away. We started caring less for the characters, and even the music in the games didn't draw us in with the awe, wonder, or fear we strived for. JRPG's all but disappeared, to be replaced by computer generated graphics, alongside cheap, generic music. Eventually my brothers just about left the gaming world, while I attempted to seek out where my little niche went.
It has been years since a game has been able to grip me like Final Fantasy 7 did all those years ago, but Skyrim seemed like it. I was so excited to play, and I felt like I was back in an epic world, free from the continuously action-packed simple-mans games (whether FPS or RPG, they all seem to be catering to the new generations these days). The second it was available to play, I was in.
Skyrim opened up familiar enough. A prisoner on his way.... somewhere. I was soon met with an initial challenge to overcome, that was to set up the entire plot - alright, cool. I was excited to find my first mage robes, and hack some people up with my new axe, but what I was really excited for was a new generation of immersion. It's an Elder Scrolls game, so I was betting on it being absolutely awesome.
Journeying through the first couple of towns, however, I noticed something. Dialogue was shallow, straight, and to the point. For those who have played the Mass Effect series, you likely know how oddly fun the fairly expansive dialogue was, whether you went down the intimidate or persuasion route - and it changed how the whole conversation went, and even how that quest and later quests ended up. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I was sure that Skyrim would take that idea... Then inject it with steroids. After quite a few conversations of literally one-choice, one-sided conversations though, I was confused. There are perks for intimidation and persuasion, but if there are hardly any chances to use those perks, why on Earth would I waste hard-earned points on them? Do the new options appear once you get these perks? No. This got be a little scared, but I strode on.
Skyrim has a racism issue. By that I mean the Nords aren't too fond of the other races or outside-factions in their lands. That's understandable, and that obviously means there are more excuses to get into fights, right?... Well, sort of. My first character was a Dark Elf, and I don't know how many times I have heard people bad-mouthing Dark Elves, only to ask me questions or give me statements about how much I should hate my own race, or whether I agree with their disdain. Really? Even the faction that hunts down Daedra worshippers and necromancers don't seem to care that I walk around in full daedric armor, with a dremora lord and zombie thrall following right behind me. I was hoping that citizens would be running in fear, randomly attacking me, or simply not doing business with me - thus forcing me to steal, kill, or intimidate to get what I want. I really don't think that is too much to ask for, but the most I get is "keep that spell away from it, it looks dangerous," or "keep that mace away from me (it was a gift from a Daedric lord)." I felt a little sad that my efforts to be evil weren't working too well.
This game is awesome, don't get me wrong. The landscapes are amazing, save for the glitches and ugly-as-hell snowy textures that I know will - and have already - been fixed by the lovely modding community. I am still impressed when I battle my way up snaking stair-cases up the side of lonely, snowy mountains, to walk out onto a scenic veranda for a boss-battle. Viewing a quarter of the world map while battling a glowing lich, and ultimately sending him flying off the mountain with a dragon-shout is just too awesome (And watching him smack and bounce off rocks on the way down, hehe). My favorite, though, are some of the random dragon appearances.
All of the Elder Scroll games have had lots of random forts to attack, that's nothing new, and not really anything special. But when you're engaged in a fire-ball battle with a fort of necromancers, and a dragon descends out of the clouds while spraying fiery death on your enemies - this is when you can use the word "epic" and not sound like a trend-following dweeb. And it was epic. Watching a dragon toss their rag-dolling bodies against walls, and up into the sky, while they counter-attacked with fire-balls that ripped into the sky like anti aircraft fire, was one of my most favorite moments in Skyrim yet.
If anything was going to ruin my confidence in the game after that, it was going to be the dungeons. I still have flashbacks to Dragon Age 2, where small dungeons were constantly rehashed in the most amateur way, with 'new' routes being made by simply closing off well-traveled ones with a bricked up doorway wherever you might have been tempted to go exploring. Ugh. I was scared for Skyrim, I really was - especially since Oblivion was pretty horrible with it's dungeons as well. My fears were unfounded, however, and I was pleasantly surprised that each and every dungeon in Skyrim is different, and I do believe I read that most of said dungeons, if not all, were hand-made. The way a good game should be! Another relief, and another "my God, this is awesome."
Equipment is so-so in Skyrim. There is not too much new and exciting on that front, besides updated graphics, and a much-needed revamp of mage robes and staffs (though there are still very few varieties of robes and staffs). Again, there will be mods in the future that add more, as well as the DLC that will of course eventually arrive. So i'm not worried about equipment or quests.
The main story isn't as engaging as I would have hoped - not to say it's bad. It's a good story, but as with the other Elder Scrolls, I still feel like the only one dealing with the problems in that world. NPC's mention the dragons now and then, and during certain missions entire towns will react to the specific mission you are playing through, but overall the world stays pretty much consistent throughout. I don't know what I was hoping for, perhaps some real battles between factions, maybe marching armies here and there as they go out to conquer this place or that place, or something. It's not a big deal, and maybe there are good reasons that 'bigger' things weren't added in, perhaps for performance reasons. Whatever the case, it is in no way a game breaker, but it of course takes a bit away from immersion.
My overall impressions of the game are good. I can live in this world with a comfortable degree of immersion, even if most of my 'conversations' and replies to certain NPC's all go on inside my head rather than actually in the game - but most of us who play for immersion already have fairly vivid imaginations. If I play some dark classical or ambient music while my mage blasts his way through dungeons in search of anything that can grant him more power, that's enough to appease me. Mods will continue to develop and grow bigger, and DLC will expand the playing area, and i'm sure there will be some cool stuff in the near future. My biggest gripe thus far is definitely the dialogue and lack of choice because of that dialogue, but that wont stop me from exploring and exploring, where games like Fallout 3 had me bored till I finished the main quest-line for the sake of finishing the bloody game! Bethesda has kept its original fan-base overall pretty happy, and in an age where so many games are simplifying for flashy destruction, Skyrim can still bring a lot of us back to those good old days of D&D, and games where you live the game, rather than play it.