Play by Play - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Part 2

By Brian • 29 June 2023

Nintendo Switch
We own this game on three different platforms, so it feels REALLY neglectful that this is my first playthrough.

Looks like somebody hasn’t been a bad enough dude to keep up with his bad enough blogging!

To be fair, child number two arrived about three and a half months ago, and my previous entry was my last hurrah before diving headlong into that newborn delirium. So really, I’m still bad enough, but as a father, as opposed to setting high scores and saving the universe, at least for the time being.

While I was away from the internet, I am pleased to report that my adventures in Skyrim continued! No, I haven’t been burned to cinders by a divebombing dragon, entombed by the restless Draugr, or had my head stuck on a pike at the entrance to some bandit hideaway. I mean, not yet, anyway. It could happen. I have apparently made a lot of enemies.

Most importantly, I haven’t gotten bored with the game or utterly consumed by familial duties, either! Since the birth of our second little one, the last 45 minutes of my days (prior to collapse by exhaustion, of course) have been spent in gleeful, delirious exploration of an unreasonable number of crypts, caves, snow-capped peaks, dragon aeries, and more. (There’s not enough time in the day for blogging, though. Obviously.) I’ve surmounted the learning curve and finally feel like a competent player, able to maintain my poise when fights go awry or when wily brigands get the jump on me. Word of my deeds reaches from Whiterun to Falkreath to Solitude to, most recently, Winterhold and Riften. All manner of adversaries lie at my feet, having tasted bow and blade. Dragons? Skeletons? Mudcrabs?! None are safe. Beware, evildoers! Scholtz, ranger of the northlands, stalks you even now—well, between tasks on my endless list of sidequests, anyway. Gotta ignore the plight of Tamriel for some sweet XP and the accolades of the locals, am I right?

All of that being said, I kind of dread how little of Skyrim I have actually seen. Despite my many escapades, all my accomplishments, all my hours of playtime, have I experienced even a quarter of the game’s content? Highly unlikely. It’s a thought as intimidating as it is exhilarating. It’s the same feeling that, despite my love for roleplaying games, makes me hesitant to start any new ones these days, which is a separate topic that might be worth exploring another day. Somehow, Skyrim managed to crack the code—I think I’m in this one for the long haul.

The telltale sign of a boss battle: one sarcophagus surrounded by burning candles at the end of a long room.

One of Skyrim’s systems that drives me to keep playing is the skill progression. Characters get better at skills as they use them. The more locks Scholtz picks, the more his lockpicking skill improves, and so on. In addition to this skill gain, when he levels up, he also gets one perk that affords a further bonus in a selected skill. I dictate Scholtz’s character class by focusing on certain skills and perks. I prefer this system to getting a bunch of points on a level-up and trying to suss out the skills in which to distribute them, potentially dumping a bunch of points into an unwanted or unneeded skill. Skyrim’s system feels more logical, not to mention more thrilling. Planting an arrow in a scumbag’s head from 150 yards and seeing that archery skill tick up a notch? Delightful. This is also one of the reasons I liked Ultima Online so much. In UO, skills increase as characters use them, and skill gain gets so slow as it reaches the upper echelons that every 0.1 percent gained offers a hefty dopamine hit. I get the same feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment in Skyrim.

Of course, all this sweet virtual skill gain accumulates at the cost of my real-life writing skill. Let us pay no further attention to that as we continue our discussion.

Speaking of archery, as my adventures continue, I now depend almost exclusively on stealth archery for combat. I approach it like solving a puzzle, systematically dismantling enemy strongholds from the shadows, picking off my foes one by one, inciting horror and panic in their compadres. Sometimes, it goes horribly awry, and I must flee or brawl my way out of trouble, but when it works out, it really works out. My best showing was at the end of the “Lights Out!” quest, battling Jaree-Ra’s forces in Broken Oar Grotto. While it took some trial and error, I managed to eliminate all of his men at range without detection, leaving the two of us to engage in a final showdown. I feel like it made for a much more compelling, cinematic climax to the quest, rather than an oafish brouhaha with twelve pirates at once, pausing to gulp health potions all the while.

Artist depiction of me arrowing my foes to death. Screenshot courtesy of Homestar Runner.

However, on the topic of close-quarters combat, I’d like to believe I’m competent, at last, which is really helpful on those biffed stealth checks. As I tackled the Saints and Seducers questline, I found myself getting surrounded frequently as I raided their various camps. Per my thought in my previous entry, I shifted to third-person perspective, and it helped me better line up my attacks and keep track of the bandits attempting to surround me. I still have occasional moments of panicked, directionless sword-swinging, but I feel more in control and confident during melee combat.

Shortly after my previous entry, I had a brief period of frustration in which I didn’t really know what to do next. I was overwhelmed by the number of quests on my list, and no matter what I attempted, enemies were getting the better of me. I spoke to my adventuring advisor/spouse, and she told me to just pick a quest, focus my attention on it, and see it through. Then do another, and so on, and that I would find my way. She was correct, unsurprisingly.

She also suggested turning down the difficulty if the game became unfun. What sacrilege. I would never. But then, I did. What insolence! What arrogance! I’m gonna get kicked out of the Bad Enough Dudes!

But, listen. Let me explain! There was one cadre of mages I just couldn’t overcome. I turned the difficulty down a notch, and I finished them off with nary a scratch. It definitely skewed too easy, but I stuck with the new setting a bit longer, fought a frost troll with the same result, and decided to turn the difficulty back up and haven’t looked back. Knowing what I know now, as a more experienced player, I probably could have finished those mages without turning down the difficulty, but at the time, it got me over a frustrating hump and kept me from giving up, so I’m okay with having done it in the moment. Maybe I’ll have to turn it down (or maybe up?) again sometime later in my adventures, but for now, the levels of fun and challenge are perfect.

Also on the topic of fun, Skyrim has been much more fun since I stopped doing bandit hunts. I still fight them here and there, but usually for a bigger reason than collecting a paltry bounty from the local Jarl. For instance, I went after two groups of notorious bandits, the Saints and the Seducers, at the request of the merchant, Ri’saad, which ended up being a fairly long and involved quest line. I defeated both groups, but was later ambushed in Whiterun by a group of four Saints and four Seducers simultaneously, all trying to avenge their respective leaders. It was a nasty fight, with Whiterun guards and other warriors hanging around the town gate all getting involved. One Whiterun guard was killed, and I barely made it out of the encounter alive.

I’m sure this joke is old, but the bears in this game are otherworldly in their power and fury. There is nothing more terrifying than rounding a tree to see a charging bear about to deliver a crushing blow to my skull. From the safety of a distant precipice, I watched a snow bear go toe to toe with a dragon and hold its own way longer than I predicted. It wasn’t quite King Kong versus Godzilla, but it was a much more heated battle than it had any business being.

More terrifying than getting jumped by a Draugr in a dark crypt.

I’m largely ignoring the main quest for the time being, but here are some of my other recent quest highlights (and by recent, I mean over the last three months, because collecting my thoughts on this odyssey of a game has been nothing short of overwhelming):

  • I reclaimed the Temple of Meridia from a necromancer and his abominations, winning the sword Dawnbreaker in the process.
  • I reassembled the Gauldur Amulet, trekking through four different ancient burial grounds and defeating the restless spirits of Gauldur’s three greedy sons, not to mention their hordes of Draugr.
In a scrap with one of them ol' Gauldurson boys.
  • I accidentally indulged in a night of drinking with the Daedric Prince, Sanguine, ending up in a temple in Markarth (halfway across the map from where I was), and having to retrace my steps to find out what happened, and making amends with a number of folks along the way. Whoops. My wife tricked me into doing this quest, but it was ultimately worth it for the entertainment value and absurdity of the situation.
  • I also accidentally got roped into doing some dirty work for another Daedric Prince named Molog Bol. I thought I was locked into the quest and no longer had a save game handy to load from before I got involved, so I ended up murdering some poor dude on behalf of Bol for the purposes of petty revenge. Ugh. I felt gross in real life. Get bent, Molog Bol. I’m here to shoot arrows in people’s backs, not murder them in cold blood.
  • A ton of fetch quests. Like, to no end. Skyrim is people losing stuff in random caves halfway across the map. But hey, I gotchu. Your class ring you accidentally dropped in a mine fifteen years ago? Sure. I’ll put everything on hold to go get that for you right now. Nevermind these dragon attacks or whatever. Man, what a sucker I am.
  • I joined the Mage’s College in Winterhold and became arch-mage of the college after finishing its questline. I initially went in hoping to increase all of my relevant magic skills. They ultimately didn’t improve that much, but I did take part in one of the better stories I’ve encountered in the game thus far, culminating in the retrieval of the Staff of Magnus from Labyrinthian to defeat Ancano, a Thalmor lackey whose power grew out of control, threatening both the Mage’s College and the neighboring city of Winterhold.
Ah, memories of my college days.
  • I also joined the Thieves’ Guild, and ooh boy. These quests are nothing but heart-pounding exhilaration and adrenaline rushes, what with all the sneaking around. I’m trying to play a morally centered character (except for that nasty bit of Molog Bol business mentioned above), but between the allure of the guild, and the fact that most of the targets are super rich or otherwise deserving of being knocked down a peg, I couldn’t resist. My affinity for thieves’ guilds in video games dates back to Quest for Glory I, in which the thief class and thieves’ guild-related activities were some of the most compelling (and funniest!) pieces of content in the game. These are the quests that stretch play sessions intended to be around 45 minutes to a couple of hours, and have made getting out of bed rather difficult on certain mornings.
The ominous entrance to the Twilight Sepulcher, the thrilling conclusion to a major Thieves Guild story arc.

So, that’s roughly where things stand with Skyrim! The sheer amount of content still overwhelms me, but I can’t deny that I’m having a blast. The immersiveness impresses me, despite being such an “old” game, and I love feeling my character grow in skill and stature as his adventure continues in this living, breathing world. It has come at the right time in my life—while it has been a joyous three months, the stress levels in this household have been otherworldly, as well, and I have welcomed the opportunities to unwind at my own pace in this big beautiful realm, even when those opportunities are brief and spread thin.

Since I can’t put in time to play every day, and rarely for long sessions, I still have plenty to do, so I’m sure there will be a third entry concerning my final thoughts and any big stuff that happens between now and then. Perhaps I can talk about some other games, in the meantime? Or will Skyrim continue to dominate every moment of my available gaming time?!

Until then, take care and thanks for reading!