For those of you who don’t know the Elder Scroll series I assure you, it doesn’t require much background knowledge. It’s high fantasy people, there are Elves, Not-Elves ™, magic and an ambiguously aligned Empire. Also swords. Big. Crazy. Swords.
Each rendition of the Elder Scrolls series has carried with it the same feel of epic adventure, which allows for numerous flaws, but also many triumphs.. It’s a RPG fan’s dream come true: there are dungeons, low-bodiced women, men with big, muscles, bigger beards, and even bigger swords. As always, there’s the cryptic nonsense that passes for a storyline in which you are “the one” who must find “the macguffin” which solves “the problem”.
Buoyed by the success of Oblivion (Elder Scrolls IV) Skyrim has been made, and all I can say is: by god look at how pretty this is. For god’s sake it’s like I stepped into Peter Jackson’s wet dream. The world that you’re introduced to in the scripted opener gives a sense of grandness in classic Elder Scrolls fashion. What I mean by that is this: you’ve been convicted of a non-specific crime which you have little to no memory of and are about to be executed.
Remember in Oblivion that wonderful moment when you were called over for verbal abuse by a grimy dark elf who you secretly swore vengeance to? Remember being called in for readjustment when you first arrived in Morrowind after being deported? These moments allowed tension to build, to get used to the feel of your own stiff, “you probably should never go out of first-person mode”, skin. Skyrim’s opener feels like the awkward lovechild between Metal Gear Solid 4 and Fable. You don’t actually move for at least ten minutes, merely turning your head trying desperately to understand what’s going on. And what is going on, apparently, is that in Skyrim the penalty for your crime (defined as essentially jumping the border) is death. Glory to the Empire!
The world you are introduced to is one of incredible depth and immersion as is expected by the Elder Scrolls series, a fantasy universe that probably has more written about it than there is Aragorn/Legolas slash fiction. From the snowy landscape to the rickety cart you’re being hauled around in to the dirt meter in character creation you understand that you are in a harsh world where only the tough survive.
After you’ve been introduced to the important players and the famous voice actor du jour has gotten his screen time you finally are allowed to move about and run for your life. A dragon has apparently heard the cry of help from a voiceless protagonist and has decided to ruin everybody’s day but your own.
It is at this point that you are allowed to play the game for the first time and well, it certainly is an Elder Scrolls game. Sure, you feel much more like you’re swinging a giant piece of metal towards your enemy’s squishy abdomen than you did before, and the magic system has been given a major upgrade, but other than that the main changes to the game are those of aesthetics. And honestly, it didn’t need much more than that. The dialogue now has a bit less of the uncanny valley about it, the combat feels smoother and the world itself is gorgeous.
So why is half the campus ignoring their conference work to play this game? Well, simply put, immersion. That’s what it comes down to. In Skyrim you can adopt a persona and then once you’ve chosen your custom dirt-settings you are let loose upon an unsuspecting world in which to muck about in. The world feels huge; everything about it has a place and a reason. The mechanics occasionally will align in just the right way to give you a sense of total immersion that makes all the hours of watching mastodons getting stuck underneath invisible bridge textures worth while.
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