Monday, November 21, 2011

WoW Has Spoiled Me for Skyrim

It looks peaceful enough, but a dragon is about to drop out of the sky, and your
housecarl will run right in your way when you try to attack it. No orcs will be
harmed during the duration of the event.

I, like much of the rest of fantasy nerd-dom, recently shelled out the cash to play Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim on my X-Box this past weekend.

Most of what they say about the game is true: that it is a wide open beautiful expanse of game full of nooks and crannies for exploring, interesting stories to learn and ridiculous amounts of game to play.  Really, it's pretty neat.

But, there are aspects of the game I find frustrating and I realize, in part that this is largely because I have become so accustomed to gameplay in Azeroth.  There are things, in Skyrim, that can be kind of frustrating at times. Things like...

Not knowing if I can kill a mob or not.
I am so used to being able to get a measure of myself against the Mobs in WoW that I desperately miss it in Skyrim. For example, creeping over the plains near Whiterun and seeing what looks like an ogre or a giant or something-- a tall lanky dude dressed in a loincloth and with a club over his shoulder.  "He can't see me," I think. "So I'll go backstab his butt!"   Only I do that, and it barely scratches his health bar, and he turns around and knocks me with his club so hard that the display times out long before my corpse has completed sailing through the air.

Similarly, climbing a mountain towards a temple and this white yeti-looking troll thing rushes out to get me. "There's only one of them," I think, so I get off my horse and the thing tears me to shreds in two blows before I have managed to even unsheath my weapons. I try sneaking up on him and it doesn't work. I try perching on a rock directly over his head where he ought not be able to hit me and he tears me several new orifices. Finally, I make a long circle around that spot on the map and keep going.

It's nice to see WoW's Elite and Skull markers so that you know what NOT to pick a fight with. I wonder if Skyrim might patch this feature in?

Where did I leave my horse?
This one is becoming epic: One thing you have to appreciate about WoW is that the way they have us summon our mounts solves a lot of trouble. There is no such luck in Skyrim.

I'll be running away from some ruined fortress, pursued by four or five bandits and can't find where I left my horse so I can jump on him and run away.  The horse, in general, is pretty unpredictable. In the case I just cited, I finally remembered I left him on this bridge nearby and as I approached, he started galloping off in the opposite direction, as if he too were threatened by the bandits behind me.

Other times, I "park" a little too close to the fort and the warhorse charges into battle by himself and totally annihilates all the opposition. I just stand there watching.

Of course, the next time this happens, my horse gets slaughtered, so now I'll have to pay another 1000 gold for a new horse.

In another escapade, I wandered into a bar in Whiterun, got into a drinking game with some guy sitting there, and woke up on the floor of a temple in a city that I had never visited before, clutching a giant's toe in my hands. It's like "The Hangover" in fantasy land.  Where is my horse?

And finally, most recently, me and horse were winding our way through a mountain pass when we came upon another of those trolls. We got stuck in the geometry so I dismounted to try and do something to the troll. That led to several minutes of cat and mouse as I would drive several arrows into the troll and then he would chase me a while and regenerate that lost health. Finally, I took him down... but there was no sign of the horse. I know the troll chased him a while in the fracas too. But I don't know where he went. And I'm literally in the middle of nowhere.

Or my retainer, for that matter?
Gosh, I hate games that use retainers extensively. One key factor in these types of characters is their utterly base stupidity and inability to behave in any sort of a tactical manner.

Skyrim's variety of hired muscle is about as thick and dumb as any other. Retainers run into the line of fire they should be avoiding. They tend to stand in doorways that you would like to pass through unmolested. When I play sneaky and rogue style, it doesn't suit me to have the hired help charging in face-first ahead of me.

So, mostly I skip on hiring retainers. I don't usually need them, and that's OK. But then I got a "housecarl."

For my efforts at bringing the thing from that guy in that place near Whiterun, the local Jarl made me a Thane and assigned Lydia to be my Housecarl.  Lydia followed me around a while, always running while I rode my horse (guilt).  Lydia stopped to fight every wolf that I just blithely rode past (more guilt). And then Lydia sort of disappeared as I rode to meet the Greybeards on Skyrim's tallest mountain. I dunno what happened. I was dodging that yeti I mentioned in the first section and I figure she wasn't so smart.

I should not feel any sort of responsibility to a bundle of pixels with poor AI like Lydia, but dammit... I just can't help myself.  I don't want this follower who has pledged to lay down her life for me to get killed for anything I do. Another key factor, in many games, retainers give you quest opportunities. But they can't do that if they die early on in your service. I want her to live if only because she may be important to the story later on.

Some time later, after returning from Temple Greybeard, I bump into Lydia, who... I swear, waas sitting sullenly at a table in an inn and although unlikely, seems to have accrued a slightly sarcastic edge when she talks of her fealty to me.

When I buy a house (I'm considering which market to buy into. Solitude seems hard to beat, but um... I don't know where that is yet), I'll drop off the Housecarl in the house. In the meantime, I left her sitting in the inn.

Questing is Stretched Far and Wide
This one is not my biggest gripe as I sort of liked the old WoW quests for which you might have to travel from Un'Goro crater to Winterspring and back again to do something. Yah, they were not fast but then they were more epic as a result.

Skyrim quests do this too. However, finding your way through the photo-realistic landscape can be a hassle too. I spent most of an hour this morning trying to find my way up a mountain to the goal on top. And I didn't find a route.

The Difficult Intersection of Multiple Problems
During one play session, my main couse of action was to bring this guy to a shrine I was tasked to visit. But as we approach the shrine, a dragon swooped out of the sky and liquified my guy in one frost breath.  And then some strange woman ran up to me and said something about being held prisoner nearby and could I help her other friends?  So, I was stuck in conversation with this strange woman while Lydia was running all over hassling with the dragon. And my escort was lying dead on the ground. Reload.

This time, I come at it from a different direction. The dragon swoops down and starts fighting with me, but as dragons are wont to do, he takes off again, circles around and then comes back down and chomps my escort guy in half and then turns back to fight with me. Reload. I try this tactic a couple of other times and reload, reload. It is clear that I cannot hold aggro on this dragon. Reload, reload, reload.

I get on my horse and wear out its stamina running as fast as I can to where the dragon is going to be, hoping that I can get there far enough ahead of my escort (who doesn't have a horse) that I can keep the dragon very interested in only fighting with me. When my horse is out of stamina, I jump off and sprint the rest of the way on foot. The dragon swoops at me, we trade blows. I'm doing well! The dragon is probably one or two arrow shots from death.  And then the escort, in a move only a stupid computer-game AI can do, runs around, directly between me and the dragon at the same time that I shoot my arrow and the dragon breathes.  So, ultimately, I'm not sure if he died of my arrow in his back or from the dragon. Regardless, he is dead. Again. This time, I just turn off the machine.

Say what you will about WoW, but this sort of thing just doesn't happen. You might pull a few adds a the same time you're conducting another operation, but I can think of almost no time that major quests crashed into one another like this.  I think I'm going to have to go back to a much earlier save, before I start the escort quest, travel out, kill the dragon, and then go back and pick up the guy.


  1. Ok, but are you sure the dragon won't regen in the time it takes to go back & pick up your escort?

  2. No, I don't know that. But things don't seem to regen in this game. Sometimes, I come back to a place I visited days before and there are dead bodies scattered everywhere.