Death of the Critic

Skyrim and Individual Experiences

Written by: Tom Blaich

I want to talk about Skyrim. Well, I guess not just Skyrim, but I recently dove back into the game and it really started to make me think. When I first played the game back in 2011, I had an experience similar to many others who picked up the game. I ran through the giant world, stealing everything I could lay my hands on, murdering everything in sight, and grabbing every piece of loot I could find before finally putting it down, 200 some odd hours later without ever having completed the title.

I didn’t feel bad about not finishing it. To me I had wrung out my enjoyment from the game, and continuing on the main story just simply didn’t entertain me. I could slap dragons to death with my bare hands, so why would I want to run errands for a lieutenant in an army. It’s a problem that I find in a lot of role playing games. The second I have access to the world I don’t want to be confined to low level quests. I want to explore and find cool things and become strong.

And I drain those games of every drop of enjoyment before the main quest is out of the starting town. And if I do try to advance the main quest, I’m so over-leveled and over-powered that the tasks feel more like a chore than an enjoyment.

But for some reason, I recently found myself diving back into
Skyrim on the PC, equipped with a few dozen mods, mostly to make the world more realistic. More foliage in towns, increased guard dialogue, an option for recycling of items at a forge. Simple stuff, nothing crazy. And when I started to play, I, for some reason, thought I would throw my difficulty up to legendary and try to do a full game run.

Never had I regretted a decision so fast. I wouldn’t have made it out of the first cave if it wasn’t for the partner with me, and as soon as I was out I was dumped into the big and harsh world of Skyrim.

All of a sudden it was an entirely different experience for me. A wolf could kill me in two or three bites. Every single aspect of the world wanted to murder me with the fury of a thousand suns. It felt inhospitable and dirty and rough. When I finally managed to make it to town I tried to stock up on potions with the gold I had, before grinding out levels of archery and smithing to raise my health so I could survive tougher confrontations.

It was fifteen hours before I went to Whiterun and attempted to fight the dragon. An hour later, 10 deaths, and a harshly beating heart as I ran all over the area to try to dodge the dragon as I fired arrows. But that moment of accomplishment when it was defeated was amazing. The same as when I beat my first Draugr Deathlord. Or my first Giant, 20 hours later. I’ve been playing for 50 hours and there are still enemies that can 2 shot me with a full set of elven armor that I’ve managed to scrounge together and upgrade. I killed my second dragon a few hours ago and it was like I beat a boss in
Dark Souls. It was amazing.

It’s really made me think about the way in which difficulty is used in games, but also in the ways that your experience can change so simply. I wasn’t that impressed with
Skyrim initially. It was a lot of fun, but it quickly became a grind for me, of running through caves that were too easy and looking for enchanted items that were worse than I already had. It was fun, but it didn’t manage to become something outstanding to me, and I put it down long before I was done.

But this is different. All I did was raise the difficulty. It didn’t make enemies smarter. Just gave them more health and me less. It was a basic change. But it completely changed the game for me, and despite my friends telling me that I was dumb for doing it, it’s been night and day different than when I first played it. To the point that they seem like different games to me.

Running away from a troll because you are doing less damage than its base health regeneration is terrifying. It is literally impossible for you to kill it, as it regenerates faster than you can nock your next arrow. But when you go back to that cave, and manage to push it back, to stagger it and finally defeat it, it gives you an immense sense of satisfaction. Running away from the sounds of dragons while you hope that a cloud of fire doesn’t engulf you, until you can finally stand toe to toe with the huge beasts is awesome.

How does this change the way that I talk about games when I talk about them? Games are about the experience that you have when you play them. But as a reviewer it’s an interesting experience to think about how my experience with a game can change so fundamentally that I might miss out. It brings up important questions of how I should review a game. Can I claim to be objective about a game if I can change my opinion about it this radically?

This isn’t the first time that I’ve looked at this question, but I think it is different when we are talking about games because games are based on your interactions with them. Everyone listening to an album or watching a movie will have the same basic experience with the movie. There is no room for them to influence the way that it turns out. But with a player, we add a crucial x factor of our interactivity. How are we going to perform in an environment that will give us different experiences?

And if I was going to review
Skyrim now, how would I do it? Would I talk about the standard experience that many players have, of playing it on the normal difficulty and running through the game? Should I change the way I play the game to follow the main quest? Or should I talk about my unique experience with the game and explain why it is special to me? Because I am enjoying the game because of the way in which I am playing it. It is an important caveat to my discussion of the game, but it is not something that I can simply brush aside.

And I’m trying to reflect that in the way in which I’m writing about games now.


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

You Might Also Like:
Left 4 Dead - A Love Story

Let's Talk About Fallout 4

Kentucky Route Zero

blog comments powered by Disqus