Play by Play - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

By Brian • 27 March 2023

Nintendo Switch
FIVE Elder Scrolls games?! Uh oh....

What am I doing? What am I even doing?

Here I am, coming off a year of not playing anything too demanding of my attention, or anything for more than an hour at a time, really, and I decide to start Skyrim?! All these quick and light diversions, all these arcade games typically over in 10 minutes (or less, if I’m being frank), versus one of these sprawling open-world experiences that could conceivably last me 250 hours or more? And, a handful of weeks before our second child is set to arrive?! It was a decision made against my better judgment, I’ll admit.

But, here we are. Before I knew it, I was hip deep in dragon scales and bandit corpses en route to my next in an avalanche of sidequests, so I guess I’m doing this. Maybe I needed a change of pace. I felt it—that unmistakable urge to get lost in a meaty RPG, with an intimidating breadth and depth of setting and lore and things to do. I know I can’t do it all, but hey, that’s where that all-important replay value kicks in. Our resident Skyrim superfan, my wife, has laced up the adventuring boots and completed this game three or four times now, I think? It must be, at least, a mildly compelling experience, and it was time for me to commit to an honest attempt. These immersive 3D experiences aren’t my forté, but the rest of you apparently had a good time with this one. Why can’t I?

The start of a grand adventure.

So, let’s get to it. If you’re like me and somehow forgot to play Skyrim in the last 11 years and need a brief rundown, our protagonist is a Dragonborn—a humanoid with the ability to absorb dragon souls and use dragon spells, called “shouts,” colloquially—who gets mixed up in a civil conflict between the Empire and the Stormcloak Rebellion and is most assuredly destined to dramatically alter the history and landscape of Skyrim forever. Or, just complete sidequests indefinitely. Or both, depending on a player’s level of dedication! I’m playing on Nintendo Switch, for what it’s worth. I also have Skyrim on my PC, where it would probably run better, but for the time being, my life demands portability over performance.

I’m playing a character that I would consider to be a ranger, or maybe a hunter—you may use a different term altogether. He’s a Breton stealth archer with an emphasis in alteration and restoration magics, for the purposes of casting healing and buffing spells to supplement his hunting and combat abilities. He can melee in a pinch, as well, but is bad at that, so prefers ranged attacks. I’ve been kind of obsessed with this type of character build in RPGs for some time now. The last time I played Ultima Online, my character was an “adventuring lumberjack,” who was basically this same character, but fought with a big axe instead of bows. The one time I played all the way through Pools of Darkness, I ended up with two ranger-mages in my party by the end of the game, which is something I wasn’t expecting at all, but it worked out really well, and proved vital in the final battle. I kept trying to play ninjas, but they never felt as good or as fun as I wanted them to, and I landed on this, instead, which has proven to be a solid and entertaining build. His name is Scholtz, which is one of my go-to RPG character names I’ve used time and again. The first Scholtz was my gnome rogue in World of Warcraft, and the character has gone on to endure many incarnations across the gaming multiverse.

It's still a very pretty game, after all these years.

Now, when I say that Scholtz is bad at melee combat, it’s not so much him. It’s me. I’m bad at melee combat. As soon as an enemy is within four feet, chaos ensues. A casual observer won’t be whistling Duel of the Fates during my close-range engagements. It’s more like watching a dude wearing a blindfold, equipped with a club too heavy to wield. I frequently lose track of my opponents in the fracas, spinning every which way in a panicked attempt to find them while they continue to pound on me unabated. There’s a reason picking off wolves and bandits at range with a bow feels so good to me, and that reason is the genuine need to avoid melee at all costs. Maybe there’s a certain realism to this, but if Skyrim is supposed to be a power fantasy, I think competent melee combat should be a part of that. Maybe I need to switch to third-person perspective specifically for melee? A lock-on feature would be nice, just so I’m not swinging wildly in the complete opposite direction of my bewildered, yet opportunistic opponents.

However, that being said, I’m not particularly good at archery, either! I’m too jittery. I’ll fire the arrow clear over my target’s head, or I’ll accidentally hit my own cover trying to be too fine with my shot. I relished one defining archery moment, however, in a burial chamber full of sarcophagi, in which skeletons and Draugr rose from their graves sequentially as I progressed deeper into the room. This gave me opportunities to meticulously pick them off one at a time from long range. My aim was true, for a change, and I felt really cool and powerful and handsome, as one should when battling the undead!

BRB, vacationing here between sidequests.

On that note, these barrows full of Draugr are terrifying. Having spent much of the early game in them to complete quests or find the words of power for shouts or whatever, I’ve found that not knowing when a batch of dead bodies is going to spring to life in the dark and plunge axes into my skull is rather unnerving. Sometimes there are ghosts, as well, but they don’t seem very good at combat or keeping watch, usually coming off as aloof and shockingly vulnerable to my sneak attacks. Come on, ghosts! You are of an astral realm! Are you telling me you can’t detect my mere mortal presence?!

To be honest, the majority of my experience thus far has been clearing caves and barrows of bandits and Draugr. I’ve collected enough bounties on bandits that the task has lost all meaning. Heck, a dragon picked a fight with me the other evening, and, despite the incredible peril, I practically felt relieved that the battle involved something other than bandits.

I decided I needed to find some more interesting adventures, and boy, did I get one! I went to Falkreath and heard word of a dog hanging around outside of town, so I decided to investigate. Upon locating the dog, I discovered the dog could talk! A talking dog! Why didn’t anybody tell me about this? I would have played Skyrim years ago!

What were you smoking when you came up with that?

Anyway, the talking dog quest took me across multiple locations and regions and pitted me against a couple of vampire nests en route to reuniting the dog with his Daedric companion, Clavicus Vile. Also, for the record, the dog, whose name is Barbas, by the way, fought with the vigor and valiance of Dogmeat from the Fallout series, and proved to be the best adventuring partner I’ve encountered thus far.

Overall, Skyrim has held my interest to an embarrassing degree. I swallowed the hook on this one. I wasn’t expecting it to quite capture my attention to this level, but here we are. I guess I should have taken the hint from my wife playing it so many times. This is only the beginning, as well—I suspect I’ll have enough additional things to say to warrant a Part 2. Until then…or until my next post about something else, whichever happens first.

Thanks for reading!