In my first Skyrim playthrough, my character Frank Zappa was a dark elf bow specialist and conjurer. This might be the easiest combination in the game, and with some proficiency it turns the whole of Skyrim (dragons and all) into target practice. Zappa was also a mean lute player who corrupted the bard’s college by teaching them the licks in “Willie The Pimp.” But he didn’t seem to sully himself much in combat, instead just firing off arrows and letting his summoned firewomen do most of the fighting. At a certain point the game got too easy, and eventually I just put it aside without finishing it. I know I passed over most of the quests with the Companions, a quasi fighters guild who are impossible to take seriously because they all talk like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. And I sided with the rebels against the empire, which actually felt like a narrative mistake as the Nords were quite prejudiced against my dark elf Zappa.
So I’m going back in. This time, I’m changing my strategy. My character is Izabella, an Argonian lizardwoman who fights with swords and axes. She’s a conjurer as well – as much as I want to change my tactics, I just can’t give up summoning a firewoman to blast away at charging Forsworn and sabre cats; later the player can summon the Terminator-like Dremora Lord who chops his way through any target be it bandit or innocent child. (And he won’t turn against you – I seem to recall in Oblivion that these guys were way more tempermental, often turning their greatswords against the player in the middle of a nasty fight.) My plan is to play a bit more deliberately in order to effect more of a story and less of a non-stop bow shootout.
Right from the start, the game feels different enough to be intersting again. A dragon attacked within the first hour, so Izabella just dove under the water for protection. Argonians can breathe underwater, so she spent the whole of the attack catching fish while the dragon decimated a town and killed a bunch of guards (whose corpses she later looted for valuable early cash). Skyrim really works when you immerse yourself into the role playing possibilites, when you treat it not like a game to win but a world to inhabit for a while. Though it’s possible to kill that first dragon that swoops down on the player, it doesn’t seem realistic in terms of storytelling. And dragons are much more difficult without bows – you have to lead them into populated areas where the guards can draw fire and you can sneak in shots from behind. But the dragon fights are always impressive, and one even followed me down a river to breathe fire under a bridge where I was hiding.
I’m also using the dragonborn abilities this time, which are essentially a series of cheats that become available to the player during the main quest. Zappa didn’t have use for that hocus pocus (“Look here brother, who you jiving with that cosmik debris?”) but for a hand-to-hand fighter the abilities are essential. I’ve just acquired the ethereal ability which gives the player invulnerability for a few seconds, so Izabella can get some cheap shots in on a horde of bandits. The combat itself is actually a bit less rewarding – the bow required some skill and strategy while the swordwork amounts to a good bit of button mashing. But there’s more action and danger in diving toward a group of enemies with a sword than picking them off from afar. And I like the occasional death animations, as Izabella will garrote some poor soul in spectacular slow motion.
I had intended to be a bit more cautious with accepting quests this time but that plan has gone awry. I’ve already accumulated a long list of quests and chores – collecting ingredients, killing bandit leaders, investigating caves and shipwrecks. Surely this is what Skyrim is all about, but any attempt to form a singular sort of narrative gets lost as the player is swallowed up by the wants of its world. Many of these quests are actually pretty neat – following down a legend of a charmed sword or investigating a murder mystery. But managing them all can get overwhelming, and I’m trying to keep this playthrough as freeroaming as possible. So Izabella is still just basically wandering, and the sheer amount of quests means that she’ll always stumble onto something during her travels.
The other problem is the amount of stuff in this game. I suppose you don’t have to pick every flower, mushroom, and giant’s toe, or mine every ore deposit, or ransack every unsuspecting farmer’s home – but what’s the fun in that? Skyrim demands that the player become skilled in item management – this is actually more important than fighting or casting spells. Izabella can only carry about 300 pounds at this point, but with armor and necessities like potions she operates at a baseline of about 200. This makes dungeon looting infuriating, as she can only carry so many fancy new swords without getting encumbered. After a few fights or treasure chests, it’s back to a general store to sell off excess loot. What’s the answer to this problem? I suppose she could wear lighter armor, or only carry one weapon. But since I only play this game about an hour at a time, it seems like I spend more than half that time just managing my inventory.
One possible solution – buy a house. I have the Hearthfire add-on, so Izabella has just purchased a deed for a house in the wooded area near Falkreath. It will be some time before she has the cash or materials to build or even begin to furnish it, but I’m hoping the house will solve some of the inventory problems. I also like that you can plant ingredients – I see Izabella as a lizardwoman farmer, who just happens to be able to swing a soul trapping mace. She’s moving up in the thieves guild as well, which is a fine way to earn some extra cash and provides some of the most amusing distractions in the game. I love sneaking into a house and stealing somebody’s valuables while they’re sleeping, and since the NPC’s operate on schedules, the whole process requires some planning and survelliance. Pay no attention to the lizardwoman sneaking around in the shadows of the marketplace.
Will Izabella get married? Will she join the Companions with their silly face tattoos and Triumph-speak? Will I just get sick of this game again? The Skyrim Journal will be continued…