High – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
As another console cycle enters its sunset years, we here at Press2Reset thought it would be good to reflect on some of the great (and not so great) games that have graced us during this generation. There are still some great titles coming to the current consoles, but with the impending launch of the XB1 and PS4 on the not-so-distant horizon it may be too soon to call the coroner, but moving them to a retirement community doesn’t seem out of the question. Please join us as each week one of our talented staff will share their thoughts on what constituted the highs and lows of the formative years of HD gaming… but be warned: Spoilers Abound.
One of the more facile comments gamers occasionally level at one another is the instruction to play the game the way the developers intended it to be played. We should resist this command when we hear it and embrace those developers who also eschew it. And no studio rejects this mantra more so than Bethesda.
The developer’s internally made RPGs (Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls series) are underpinned by a freedom of player choice. Go where you want, do what you want. Play the main story, or ignore it. Pursue a widening network of missions across the whole map, or while away your days in a quiet retreat. Ultimately, player agency is a core tenet of the games themselves.
And that’s before you’ve even got to the modding.
It took a PC to reveal to me the true depths of Skyrim. An unashamed console gamer for years, I had enjoyed (but no more than that) the fifth Elder Scrolls title when it released on Xbox 360. I passed a good number of hours in its company and even delved into the first DLC.
However, around this time, a minor domestic accident caused me to upgrade my bog standard laptop (damned cat). I decided to invest a few extra quid and get myself something capable of running some games. It proved to be momentous.
However, Skyrim was not my first purchase on this new, more powerful machine. Nor even my second or tenth. In fact, I thought my time in Tamriel was done so was spending my hard earned cash on games that hadn’t come to console or had inhabited an earlier forgotten generation. But that was soon to change.
Not for the last time, a Steam sale lured me into buying a game I already owned. But it wasn’t just Valve’s commercialism or my financial weakness; no, this time I was lured by new content for Skyrim. But not new content from Bethesda.
I’d read about this process called modding, of course. And P2R’s own Sean Knight had frequently proclaimed the superiority of PCs purely on the strength of the modding scene. But, until I saw the screenshots and descriptions that went with Moonpath to Elsweyr, I hadn’t truly believed.
Moonpath looked incredible and was a hugely ambitious effort, introducing into Skyrim a whole new realm – Elsweyr, home of the catlike Khajiit. Along with the new desert lands, the author (struggling with the moniker MuppetPuppet) had introduced a range of quests, new items, monsters and fully voiced NPCs.
It was as though a light had come on in my head, scales fell from my eyes, a mist cleared… you get the point. In short, I bought Skyrim again, determined to try out this extraordinary new content.
But, it turns out that one does not simply install a single mod.
To get Moonpath, I found myself browsing the vast Skyrim Nexus, a home for more than 30,000 mods. I was overwhelmed. However, not in a catatonic sort of way but rather as a child is overwhelmed when handed the keys to the chocolate factory and told to help themselves.
I gorged myself, forgetting my initial excitement for Moonpath and losing myself in the trove of content.
So much so that I quickly broke my copy of the game. Mod installation has never been easier and Skyrim makes things particularly straightforward with its Steam Workshop integration or via the Nexus’s versatile (but still in beta, fair warning) Mod Manager. However, there are still right and wrong ways of doing things; ways to overload your machine’s abilities, ways for introduced mods to squabble with one another, and ways to destroy or horribly corrupt your save files. These things I have learned.
Nevertheless, as my experience progressed, I found myself exploring the original Skyrim lands to test out the wonderful new ideas that had been expressed by the community. The brilliant (but CPU hungry) Warzones brought the Civil War vibrantly to life, with running skirmishes popping up all over the land.
On a more prosaic but hugely useful level, SKSE added the capacity for greater function (it’s a support program for other mods, really), while SkyUI made the interface more friendly for keyboard/mouse users but without compromising controller use (for old consolers like me), while also adding tons of additional functions.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are body replacers, new followers (oh god, so many of these), rebalancers, texture improvers, climate controllers, light managers, new quests, player homes… really, the list is very nearly endless. Every day, I check the Nexus to see what new wonder someone has dreamed up. Just a few days ago someone worked out how to animate distant waterfalls. Genius.
The community has almost completely reinvented the game to the extent that it is possible to play a detailed quest-driven narrative without touching Bethesda’s own story, to decorate and redesign almost anything in the game, to even visit vast new lands.
And, do you know what? I still haven’t played Moonpath to Elsweyr.