The Skyrim Journal: Day 3

I’m not sure there’s been a more daunting video game than The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s intimidating to step out into the world, walk around for three hours and open up the map to see that you’ve explored approximately 0.1% of this realm.

Skyrim is perhaps the most involved single player game you can find; the closest you’ll get to an MMO, albeit with a finish line at some point a thousand miles away. There is simply so much to do in Elder Scrolls games between exploration, side quests, leveling and so forth, and Skyrim has done the impossible and expanded the series to a degree never before seen.

In turn, this is going to be the first of probably many, many journal installments. Most games I can review in a single bound, and some require a few journal entries as I progress, usually no more than two or three. But Skyrim? Oh lord.

This was a busier weekend than I thought, so I “only” got to play the game for maybe 15 hours or so. That would be enough to 100% most games, and I could have played the Call of Duty or Battlefield campaigns three times over, but Skyrim laughs in those game’s faces. I’m level 15 I believe, and have completed maybe two or three of the main plotline’s quests. The rest of the time? I’ve been wandering around doing side missions, exploring places I shouldn’t and simply just existing in this colossal world.


As in most of the games in the genre, you start out in Skyrim as a prisoner, crime unknown. Through an immediate threat of danger, this time a dragon attack, you’re set free, and in the process it’s revealed that you’re the hero that’s going to save us all. Not exactly an earth-shattering concept, but hey, it works. In this case, when the dragon was slain, everyone around watched as I absorbed the creature’s soul into my body. Everyone started calling me “dragonborn,” which meant that I’m part of a long lost line of royalty who usually ends up ruling the land. Only a few dragonborn exist in the world at a time, and I might actually be the only one.

I’d love to tell you more about this epic sounding plot, but honestly, that’s all I know. I was summoned to some ancient order of mages called the “Graybeards” who gave me a few new dragon powers and sent me to go find a horn really, really far away. Rather than do that, I decided to keep it local, and have been doing side missions ever since.

Where to start? The first thing you’ll probably notice about Skyrim is the fabulous brand new engine that Bethesda has built for the game. It’s not next-gen graphics or anything that far advanced, but it’s a marked improvement over Oblivion as there is WAY more detail in every aspect of the game. That’s true of the rich environments, which this series has been known for, but more importantly the character models have finally been unfrozen, and you’ll no longer have awkward, fixed-eye conversations with everyone you meet. NPCs, monsters and even yourself in third person view all look stunning, and the level of detail in the armor and weapons is amazing.

After you stop staring, you’ll have to create a character, and choose how you’re going to want to play this game. There are a myriad of options to choose from, and a bunch of playable races that fans of the Elder Scrolls series will know and love. I’m not going to detail them all, but needless to say, you can specialize in magic, melee, ranged, stealth or some combination of a few of them.

Yeah this is me just about. My helmet has more horns.

My character? He’s a Nord named Lukäs, who has a shield and switches between either a mace, axe or sword in his other hand. He’s mostly magic deficient, but is getting quite good at restoration as almost any character will need to make frequent use of the all-purpose healing spell.

Leveling up is definitely an improvement over Oblivion, and there are many more options and paths to be taken. Every time you gain a level, you’ll be asked to raise your magic, health or stamina by ten points. I’ve been alternating evenly between the latter two, and it’s made me a worthwhile fighter most of the time.

In a game this massive, you kind of want to have it all, though I’m not sure if you can. Even if you’re not specialized in a particular skill, you can still level it up easily by using it. The problem is that with my melee focus, I need to devote my skill points to health and stamina, and if I spare much for magic, I’ll fall behind .So I might be able to level up Illumination to 100, but I won’t even be able to afford each high level spell’s mana cost.

It’s going to depend on what the level cap in this game is, and I have to hope it’s high. I understand that you’re supposed to make more than one character in  a game like this, and use other abilities the next time through, but if there are really a few hundred hours of gameplay in one go-round, it would be nice to be able to master most things with one character. Only time will tell if that’s remotely possible.

Also unclear is if romance is remotely possible.

Past inserting stat points, you now get one perk allotment per level that you can use in a rather cool constellation-themed ability tree in the menu. While Oblivion just had bonuses for each skill at levels 25, 50 , 75 and 100, there are about a dozen or so abilities you can choose from here. Some are simple, like increasing damage or armor, but there are cool things you can unlock like power shield bashing, slow-motion archery, decreased mana cost and a host of others that will make you want every single one.

One bonus that I’m looking for and haven’t been able to find is increased stamina regeneration time. I’m sure that’s a perk on an item or two, or the after effect of a spell, but it’s a bit annoying to be able to sprint for five seconds, then wait twenty to have your meter slowly recharge. It’s gotten a little better over time, but I would really like to find  an upgrade for it soon.

I can mostly speak to melee combat, as that’s my specialty, and not too terribly much as changed there. There are still power attacks, and shield bashing is quite useful, as is the good old “hit them and run away while healing maneuver” that was a staple of my play in the last game. There’s also a cool effect now obviously stolen from Fallout that has you doing a slow motion finishing move when you finish off the last opponent in the room. It’s not quite as jarring as it was in that game, because it’s not jerking the camera 500 feet away to an enemy you’ve taken down with bullets, rather it will just zoom out to third person quickly as you implode their skull with your sword.

Magic I’ve used a tiny bit of, and I’ve noticed that most spells let you hold down the trigger to make them prolonged effects. Useful for healing, which I do all the time, but also for something like Flames, which makes your hand into a literal flamethrower for as much mana as you have.

We’re eating troll BBQ tonight!

I still think magic is the easier route to go, because like the last game, if you want to you can stand and use most of your passive spells as many times as you want to wait for you mana to recharge. You can stand in a room, or sprint to your next objective and be leveling the whole time by simply pulling the trigger. There is no such equivalent for melee, as the game doesn’t give you credit for swinging at air, nor does it let you practice your skill on unsuspecting cows. It tells you that it only increases when fighting “legitimate opponents.” Clever bastards.

One thing about weapons I really don’t like that’s been carried over for far too long are magical “charges” that wear out with use. It’s awesome to find an axe that can electrocute or a sword that can freeze, but once you use it to kill like 10 people, the charge is depleted, and you have to feed it expensive and rare soul gems in order to keep it juiced. I haven’t known many other games like this to have this system, and I really just wish they’d let us have cool magic weapons that we didn’t have to worry about becoming useless. I picked melee over ranged because I didn’t want to have to worry about ammo damnit!

As any class, you do have the ability to use a bit of magic however in the form of “dragon words” that you acquire through runes on quests, and unlock the use of by absorbing dragon souls like I mentioned earlier. So far they seem to be fairly typical spells. I’ve unlocked a “force push” move, a dash sprint and finally flame-breath, which is the only one that seems to be explicitly dragon related. It’s cool that these exist so everyone can use magic, but I’m hoping the spells get a bit cooler as time goes on, and aren’t just different color rings being shot out of my mouth every time. The battle with a roaming dragon in order to unlock each of these abilities? Definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced in any game in this genre, and I wonder how the battles will evolve over time.

Much has been said of how big the world is, and that’s a huge plus for exploration and unlimited play time. It does, however, make navigation a bit of challenge at times. I was told to find some wizards on a mountain pass, and it took me no less than an hour to even get on the right path that would lead me there. Navigating is exceptionally difficult in the mountains, as it’s almost impossible to climb the way you’d like to. This is due to the age-old Elder Scrolls problem of not being able to A) jump at all on anything resembling a sloped surface and B) the inability to climb chest high walls. It always amazes me how you can be an all powerful barbarian with rippling muscles who can’t reach a ledge a foot above his head, or a magical wizard shooting fireballs and tornados but with no ability to cast something to add six inches to his vertical. For a game that prides itself on rich environments and realism, you would think they’d figure out this climbing and jumping problem by now.

Outside of jumping, my second issue with control is a more profound one. After playing games like Torchlight and Dragon Age on the Xbox which allow for extremely quick selection and use of multiple powers and weapons, I’m a bit disappointed that Skyrim’s combat system doesn’t seem to be operating at peak efficiency. Rather than the D-pad being a radial menu that can have you quickly select spells or weapons if you press up, down, sideways or what have you, all you can do is mark items or spells in your inventory as “favorites.” After that, they come up in an alphabetical list and you have to flick through with the stick and hit A or RT or LT to select which one you want to use in a given moment.

It makes you pause in combat more often than you’d like, and I really wish there was some way to say, switch between healing and my shield on the fly, or my melee weapons to my bow at moment’s notice. The way forward would seem pretty easy here. Right now, the B button is used as a menu, which for any other game would be exceedingly strange as that would normally be mapped to Select or Start. It’s how you look at the map, your items, your spells, and your level. The B button. The melee combat, reload, crouch, or what have you button in most games. If they didn’t want to make it an active ability, the least they could do is make that the quick select button. If they didn’t want to give the D-pad that ability, you could hold down B and then quickly flick your stick on a pop-up radial menu that selects what you want to use. The static menu which forces you to manually select  and equip breaks the flow of combat a lot more than it should, and there really should have been a better way to do this. If I’m missing some really easy trick to quickly switch weapons and spells on the fly, please, let me know.

I’m not trying to be overly critical of a great game, but I do want to point out things I notice as being off. I’m happy to report my game seems to be mostly glitch free, other than the bandit leader I was supposed to assassinate once who was stuck unreachable in a ceiling until I shot an arrow in his general direction after twenty minutes of head-scratching and he teleported down to me.

There are a great many small changes that improve the game, many more of which I’ll probably find as I go. The best one is probably the map which marks locations as “cleared” once you kill all enemies there. This is great 95% of the time, until there’s that one enemy that simply doesn’t exist, and you’ll drive yourself mad looking for him. One time I was missing a pet wolf that was locked in a remote cage somewhere. Really? I feel they should have a one to two enemy leeway for “cleared” to take effect.

I’ve just finished up a series of quests for the equivalent of the Fighter’s Guild in Whitehaven, the first town. They’re called Companions (as a Firefly fan, I found this exceedingly humorous), and they have a bit of a twist to them I’ll leave a secret. But needless to say, their entire quest line took me about four hours by itself, and I’m not even sure I’m done yet. And fifteen hours in, I’ve still only discovered one major city, as I’ve been wandering around the countryside. It’s insane how much more there is to discover, and I’ll look forward to sharing my journey with you as I go.

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  1. I’m not sure if there is a console equivalent for this, but on the PC you can hotkey items, spells and skills that you’ve added to your favorites menu.

    When you pull up the favorites menu, you simply select an ability and then click a number. Then, to activate that ability you click the assinged number. Shift+click equips to the right hand, a simple click for the left.

    I have to believe there is something similar for the console, so open up your favorites menu and play around with the buttons.

  2. How about those load times Paul? I’ve been playing on 360 and they are pretty brutal. Like sometimes I get a black pre-loading screen before the loading screen. Am I alone on this?

  3. I love this game, I’m playing as a Redguard mage who also specializes in one handed blades. I love the feeling of putting my hands together for a dual flamethrower 🙂

  4. I completely agree on the issue with switching spells/weapons. Such a pain in the ass! Don’t get me wrong I absolutely love the game but damn it throw me some hot keys!

    It makes sense to start off as a warrior it’s the way I was going to go. Until I started just fooling around with magic a little bit that is. The spell mechanics are absolutely amazing in this game. So, I had to start taking some Magicka. I’ve never been so amazed by a spell as simple as Magelight. I seriously just spent 15 minutes running around casting it into dark corners.

    Oh and the Companions twist you mention was unexpected and ridiculously awesome in my opinion. Question, did you participate?

  5. I wish I could get into any of the Elder Scrolls games. I tried Oblivion and it didn’t do it for me. I love RPG’s ( FF, Mass effect, Any JRPG) but I couldn’t play Oblivion. Same with Fallout. I think its the camera and the first person view that I don’t care for. But everyone playing is telling me this game is awesome so maybe I can give it a shot again.

  6. I’m playing a wood elf stealth archer. The only time I’ve ever run out of arrows involved trying to kill a mammoth while I was level two. (protip… sucker a fort full of bandits to tank for you and bring a couple hundred arrows)

    There are always archers in the caves/dungeons/keeps that you can loot for arrows.

    I have almost nothing but good things to say about the game. I have two big exceptions… as cool as the skill menu looks, it sucks monkey pubs to navigate. Someone seriously needs to spreadsheet that mess.

    The other big problem? How do you freaking “clear” an area when one dumb bandit goes rogue and runs away into the mountains? Seriously, can’t we just assume he was eaten by those bastard rabbits?

  7. On the PS3 version, you can use on the directional pad to add items (only 2 total) for quick select items on the fly. Bring up your favorites bar, then hold the directional pad to mark a spell/weapon as quick select item 1. or 2. You can push during battle to change weapons or spells. I assume this would be the same for the 360 version. Damn, I miss having 8 quick select items like in Oblivion too bro.

  8. Paul you can ‘hotkey’ 2 items by holding left or right on the d-pad while in the favourites menu (the one where you press up on the d-pad). A little 1 or 2 should pop up when it’s worked. (Not sure if someone’s pointed this out above…)

  9. Question for the masses. If I haven’t played any of the Elder Scrolls before this one, cause I haven’t. Can I pick this game up, have fun with it and not be 100% lost? Or should I go back play some of the earlier Elder Scrolls before diving in to this game? I would guess I could pick up those games on the cheap. I do have a PS3 that is backwards combatable with all PS1 and PS2 games. For that matter I don’t even know what platform the earlier games are on…

  10. @OrangeDot

    You should be fine. Just talk to everyone, get quests, complete those you can. If you run into difficult enemies, don’t get frustrated. You’re not supposed to be able to kill everything from the get-go.

    As for knowing the story? I’ve played two of these games and I am still lost 90% of the time. If you really want to know the history of the series and the land, there are books lying around the world that tell you a lot. But more relevantly, you can just read wikis online that will lay everything out.

    In short, buy it, it’s great. Just mess around and have fun, and you’ll get the hang of it. If you have any questions, come back and ask us.

  11. @Shrikezero

    Mammoths seem to have some serious difficulty turning around. I managed to take one down early on for a quest by just staying on it’s ass and wailing away with a warhammer.

    The Clairvoyance spell is pretty nice for helping guide you to certain quest goals by giving you that Fable-like guiding light. It doesn’t seem to work for Misc. Quests though.

  12. Here’s a pro tip from my friend. If you like using Smithing for armor and weapons, there’s a simple and cheap way of evolving it. Simply buy loads of Iron Ingot and Leather Strips (or Leather) and mass produce Iron Daggers. It’s much cheaper and faster than trying to use the newly unlocked materials (like Malachite or Ebony). You can even sell the Iron Daggers to recover some of the money you spent. I got to 100 Smithing in a riddiculous short time and am now walking around in my Dragonplate Armor (although Draedric Armor is the best armor-stat-wise)

  13. Hey i bought skyrim and i got up to a bit where there were 3 ruin things that gave bonuses on stats . From there i went with the guy i was with to a house , i think i started a quest. But i wandered off so i started again . Can someone tell me what i should do at the beggining as im new to elder scroll games

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