Alright, fair warning: this isn't an overly-analytical review. For those of you who enjoyed my last blog, "Skyrim's Smorgasbord of Shortcomings", I hope to make a Dawnguard review, if Bethesda decides to grace the PS3 with it. This blog is intended to be a bit of a respite from the last one, so expect a bit more silliness. I've already written about where Skyrim went wrong, so I also wanted to make up a wishlist of all the tiny titbits that would make Skyrim an even better game.
One thing I really enjoyed about Skyrim was how active the taverns and inns felt. It's part of what makes this game so damn enjoyable: being able to actually live in the game world, instead of just exploring it. However, instead of a room full of a few drunk Vikings and one bard, I think the inns and taverns of the world could make for a fun hub for our adventures.
Ever play the drinking mini-game in Grand Theft Auto IV? You fumble around like an idiot all night, struggling to find a taxi. Your vision blurred and moving was somewhere betwixt difficult and impossible. As it turns out, this is pretty close to the effects booze has on you in the real world. This is great, because it makes you really feel like your drunk, which is a plus if you're actually playing the game drunk. What it doesn't do however, is give us more energy. We need more wacky, alcohol-fuelled adventures like A Night to Remember! Right now, all alcohol does is give you more stamina, but causes you to have less later. So, it's really more of an energy drink... I think.
Here's another crazy idea, brought to you by Wolfishtail. There's one thing I really loved doing in Oblivion: taking enough Skooma to kill a Khajiit and running wild! However, I think drinking Skooma could be a bit more of an... experience for the player. Down one or two bottles, and you start hallucinating. Take several, and you could pass out, only to wake up naked in the Solitude Stables. This tiny drink could be an adventure in itself, and possibly a source of Radiant goodness a la "A Night To Remember".
Regardless of how you feel about mini-games, they can always be a fun distraction, so long as they are not forced upon the player. Wouldn't it be great if we could gamble our gold away on card and dice games? Also, whilst I really enjoyed the brawling feature, I think it would be cool to see more of it. Instead of fighting someone one time, how about being able to get into a friendly fisticuffs fight with a few familiar friends? Like the Radiant quests, I think brawling is something you should be able to do repeatedly. On that note, how cool would it be if we could get into a chaotic, full-on bar brawl? Imagine how crazy it would if all the patrons in the tavern started attacking each other, similar to how Frenzy works. Of course, instead of dying, everyone just wakes up the next evening with a few bruises and a hangover.
Home Sweet Home
Another thing that left me wanting more in Skyrim was player housing. The houses we have are fine, barring the occasional catastrophic glitch that sucks up all your loot through a wormhole into Oblivion.
Now, I'm not saying we didn't get any good homes, I just feel we didn't get enough. Currently, all of the homes available for purchase require you to be a noble hero with wealthy piles of gold at your disposal. Most of these houses are fairly high-end, so those wishing to live modestly are shit out of luck. This may be a bit subjective, but all the places I wish my character could live are the small albeit cosy abodes. One thing I prefer about Oblivion was that there was a variety of different homes available in each city, with varying displays of status. The shack on the Imperial City Waterfront is cheap, and provided the player a very humble space to store their stuff. You don't need a lot of fame to buy it, and you certainly get what you pay for. This is a great house for roughish adventures who need a simple place to store their hard-earned (i.e. stolen) loot and rest their head.
On the flip side, Rosethorn Hall is an expensive and majestic manor with all the available status symbols: display cases, treasure, multiple stories, and even a a maid. For more famous, heroic characters, you're covered. For people who enjoy roleplaying, a wide range of living conditions makes each playthrough feel unique and interesting.
In Skyrim, opportunities abound for wilderness homes, with all the amenities of one in the city. The various Shacks that dot the wild make me envious of those with simpler housing. A tiny home such as Riverside Shack or even our own personal farm, similar to Sarethi Farm, would make me very happy. Or, instead of simply moving into an abandoned home (or evicting the previous owner, preferentially with an axe) we could build our own little place in the world, far from the reaches of civilisation. Mods have done this, and we even saw a taste at the DICE panel. Here's hoping home improvement and building makes its way into the game.
A House in Every Hold
Going back to Oblivion, it was great that every city in Cyrodiil had a house for sale, each with their own unique architecture. In Skyrim, the number of very large cities has been cut down quite a bit, which is fine, but I still wish we could purchase a player home in those other cities as well. The smaller Hold capitals and smaller settlements are fun to visit, but it would be a great change of pace to actually live in one of these places. Falkreath, Dawnstar, Winterhold, and Morthal would all make for great places to live. Being able to join and contribute to those communities would be an interesting dynamic in the world of Skyrim. In addition to those places, small villages such as Dragon Bridge, Rorikstead and Ivarstead would also be great communities to join. Being able to own a wide variety of homes means more accomodation for roleplayeing and for players short on coin.
Here are some different varieties of homesteads I think would make excellent additions to the available abodes:
- A small wilderness camp, not unlike the Stormcloak and Imperial camps, but perhaps with other tents and even other inhabitants. Don't forget the bonfire and smores! This could range from one bedroll and a fire to a huge camp like Fisherman's Rock.
- A fort in the vein of Battlehorn Castle. For more epic heroes and heroines, a fortress could come complete with a small garrison of soldiers and all the crafting amenities needed to outfit them. A torture chamber for your enemies would also be a nice touch.
- A small encampment a la Robber's Gorge. Maybe the not-so-noble Dragonborn could join and eventually lead a band of ruffians and highwaymen? Could be fun.
- A boat. Because a boat home would be badass. And no, I don't want some shipwreck, I want an actual boat capable of, you know, sailing and shit. Humble housing and more realistic fast travelling for hardcore roleplayers? Why not?
One more nagging issue. The game isn't always clear as to wear it's safe to drop your loot. Thank the Nine for this wiki, because otherwise I wouldn't know what containers are and aren't safe. However, this is exactly the problem. I shouldn't have to check in here to find out what containers I actaully own. Now, for some places, like Kodlak's quarters that one would think they have full access to, a problem arises: all of your stuff disappears. The same can be said of many other places, and with no way to differentiate between the safe and unsafe containers, simply storing my unique artefacts and valuable loot becomes a gamble.
The most common rhetort to this complaint is usually "Just buy a house." A fair argument, but there's a couple of problems with this. First and foremost, not all houses are even safe. I've come home from more than one grand adventure, only to find my rare, one-of-a-kind, priceless artefacts sucked into a pocket dimension outside time and space. Or maybe I was robbed. I dunno.
Secondly, I shouldn't have to become Thane or buy a house just to store my hard-earned items. Simply adding an additional icon to the HUD when looking at the container or viewing its contents would make my experience a lot less complicated.
Fun with Followers
I've already discussed what I didn't like about followers, but I also have some ideas that could make travelling the icy wastes of Skyrim even more fun with a friend.
Again, we saw some great ideas at the DICE showing, and I hope the followers get some much needed attention. As I've said, the follower system is a bit of a regression from New Vegas. Whilst the actual characterisation of the current comrades are pretty much set, adding a myriad of new features would revitalise the entire system.
The first and foremost thing that irked me about my chums was a lack of control over their actions. Fellow control freaks, back me up here. It's frustrating when you want your follower to wear or wield a specific item, but their selection of weapons to use and armour to wear can be erratic at times. Here's an example from my favourite Dunmer, Erandur.
Erandur normally wears priest robes. However, he will not equip any armour whatsoever, unless he is given some headgear with an armour rating of one or more. If he has no torso apparel in his inventory, he will stand there naked with a Steel Horned Helmet atop his long mane. This gets worse however. If I swap out that helmet for a piece of powerful armour, he goes back to his robes. It's a confusing guessing game just to get him properly outfitted, and it really shouldn't be.
Instead of all this nonsensical hassle, we should be able to give our followers weapons and armour and direct them. The option should be available to give a follower a weapon and tell them not to use it. On the flip side, we should be able to give them armour and clothing and tell them specifically to wear it.
Alright. So now we've got our comrades-in-arms completely outfitted for their next epic adventure. All is well and good it seems, except for one nagging detail. Will they be able to use them properly? Can you teach old dogs new tricks?
My biggest issue with the follower system is how static they all are. Of course, recording new lines of dialogue may be a bit difficult to do for all the actours, but hopefully new DLC followers will be able to respond to just the way Bethesda created the world, but the way I shape it. Getting in and out of crazy situations is a lot less fun when all your sidekick has to say is "I'm right behind you." and "Let's get going." Every single follower in the world is unaware of what's going on around them. They have no beliefs and no opinions. They just kill anything that looks at you funny. Those aren't people, those are robot slaves.
There are some other ways to make the current followers more dynamic, however. One of the developers at Bethesda came up with the idea of "follower training" for the DICE panel, and I think it needs to make its way into the game. I would love if, instead of our followers simply having a few good skills and levelling up one way, we could have a hand in their improvement. Being able to level up followers with different skills to suit your needs would make them more interesting, because it would make each playthrough that more unique.
There is one other thing I'd like to do with followers. Since they have no purpose in life whatsoever except to serve you, why not let them move in with us? I think it would be amazing if we were allowed to have one or two of our favourite followers living in one of our houses at a time. In addition, we should also be able to get one or two animal companions as well. I don't always take Meeko on all my adventures, but when I do, I have to go to Meeko's Shack and recruit him all over again. Wouldn't it be awesome if we could keep our favourite pet in our house, instead of a temporary fighting companion? I think so. I'd like my house to be the central hub for all my exotic exploits, and having my faithful canine companion, my wife, my Housecarl, and my best friend all in one place would be really kickass. Fallout: New Vegas let us send all our companions back to the Lucky 38 Casino, so why can't I have just a couple in my home?
Also, as a somewhat minor complaint, would it ever be possible to let our companions ride with us on our mount? What's the point of having a horse and a follower, when they can't keep up? It's annoyingly convienent how my followers show up right after I slay a dragon. Also, why can't I just ride my follower?
Well, to be fair, I did get to ride Lydia. I think. Is that what Lover's Comfort means?
This one is a bit more specific, but it needs to be fixed. So, I've stopped the Stormcloak uprising and restored peace (relatively speaking) to Skyrim. When I ask if there's anything else I can do for the Legion, I'm told to clear out any Stormcloak camps I see. So naturally, I do just that. Or at least, I try.
This is where the amount of essential characters gets a little ridiculous. Despite having no bearing on any plot whatsoever, the camp leaders are marked essential. This is either a mistake or an oversight, but regardless of what it is, it needs to be rectified. These characters don't do anything. They serve no purpose except for dialogue and backdrop. It's annoying when I go into a rebel camp, slaughter everyone there, including the wounded soldiers, only to be stopped short by an immortal demigod. He can't be killed, and he's always hostile to me. Who thought this was a good idea?
Don't Fuck With Nature
Why should the Companions get all the shape-shifting fun? Now, I love being were/mer/whatever-wolf as much as the next guy, but there are plenty of awesome creatures to become. The first that springs to mind of course, is the fearsome Bear. Maybe a little gift from Kynereth to aid the Dragonborn? Seems fair. Would also be nice to summon a couple of bears to my side instead of wolves.
Maybe the more bestial races could get some exclusive options? Perhaps an Argonian could become a badass crocodile or a serpent? And who wouldn't want a Khajiit leopard, lion, or puma? It would certainly make massacres more interesting.
There's more to it than simply going beast mode. We need more animal companions! Dawnguard added some good pets you can hire, but I'd like to find/adopt/enslave an animal on my adventures so he can join my cause. It'd be great to have a non-humanoid companion as loyal as Dogmeat or ED-E at our side when the shit inevitably hits the fan.
So we can become a beast and befriend beasts, what else is there? Glad you asked. We can also ride the beasts.
Horses are, for the most part, pretty damn cool. They give zero fucks about anything when you're riding them, and when you're hoofing it on foot, they're more than happy to hunt down and destroy anything that looks even remotely threatening to you. Strange behaviour for horses, but hey, it's Skyrim. This does lead to some problems however. There should be an option to hitch your horse somewhere, or just some way of preventing my faithful steed from dying when he tries to kick a dragon in the mouth.
So what else do the horses need to make them better? Well, other than armour, I'd say nothing. However, I do think some more mounts would be pretty cool. Those sabre cats are badass, why can't we ride one too? It was pretty damn cool in this game! They could be a faster, more furious, and more ferocious alternative to horses. Of course, the list could go on. For convenience sake, here's a few, sorted from reasonable to ridiculous.
- Bears. A werebear riding a bear? Shut up and take my money!
- Cows. Because they produce Milk. Also, they have cool horns.
- Giant Frostbite Spiders. They may not be fast, but always having giant insect at your side would be cool.
- Dragons. What better way to enjoy the sweeping landscape of Skyrim? Might be a bit game-breaking, but it's still something to think about.
- Mammoths. You know you want to.
- Horker. Neither fast nor practical, but riding one would be epic.
Of course, we're going to need a place for all these mounts. It would be a great boon if we could save our mounts for later. Why should a man have to choose between Arvak, Shadowmere, and Frost? Why can't we save our horses for later and swap them out at the stables? Another small but nice touch would be the ability to name our mounts. Skulvar Sable-Hilt says I can, so why can't I?
Hardest of the Core
This is just something I'm throwing out there, so bear with me. Or don't, whatever.
If I may refer back to Fallout: New Vegas (I know, I've been doing a lot of that lately), I'd like to recall its hardcore mode. This was for players looking for a bit more challenge in less conventional ways. Real challenge in a game isn't defined by hit points. Skyrim is a harsh place, so why is it so forgiving? Money and loot can be found everywhere, even in places where it would be technically impossible. Arrows weigh nothing, and it's possible for me to get an army's worth of adventure-ending knee-busters by picking up every one I see. Save for the weight limit on your loot, the game never makes you take pause; you rarely have to make any kind of real sacrifice.
This isn't a complaint in itself per se. The game isn't entirely unbalanced, although there are some hair-pulling difficulty spikes, and a travesty of a final boss fight. However, once our Dragonborn wearing the hat with badass horns levels up enough, they are unstoppable. Understanably, that is what an RPG should feel like, but there should always be another hurdle. I'm fine with being able to one-shot half the enemies in Skyrim, but what about the other half? In an RPG, you should always feel like you're advancing and improving. However, once you reach that next level, there needs to be another challenger right there at your level, lest the player gets complacent. I'm not saying I want to see bandits outfitted in Elven and glass armour, but there should be something just as powerful as you on the horizon.
An Iron Man Mode would have to be exactly like New Vegas; I don't expect Dovahkiin to die of thirst any time soon. However, here are a few suggestions:
- Weighted arrows. With my roughish Dark Elf adventurer, I have at least one hundred of every type of arrow, and I'll likely never run out. For players who want to turn a hardcore mode on, these arrows could now become weighted, making survival a bit more of a struggle.
- Food and potions that heal over time, a la New Vegas.
- Weapons that degrade over time, requiring occassional repair at the workbench. I can see Bethesda's reason for taking out repair hammers, but having to stock up on supplies, lest you end up in a dungeon naked with nothing but your fists, added a bit of strategy to the game.
- Hunger. Hunting and living off the land would seem a lot less like senseless slaughter if it had a purpose. If you don't like the idea of death via starvation, some inanition in the form of stat deductions could be fun. It would certainly make bunny slaughtering and cooking feel less like a waste of time.
- Disease recovery. Instead of being instantaneously healed at the local Talos shrine (and the Thalmor want to ban worship of this guy?) or with a potion, the player's convalescence could be much more gradual, with each day seeing the active effect's detriment growing lower, slowly restoring the player back to full strength. When you're out and about, this means a bit more challenge. Or, maybe Dovahkiin could take a sick day and sleep in.
This are a list of miscellany ideas that I couldn't stretch out into a couple of paragraphs or more. Don't be fooled however, they are still super important. Because the Milkman said so.
- Bigger, better marriage ceremonies! It should be a party, complete with gifts! Don't forget the honeymoon!
- Sex! I should be able to sleep with my spouse, shouldn't I? The fact that I have to catch her when she's sleeping just to get the Lover's Comfort bonus makes me feel like a rapist.
- Journals in which the player can write. Whether they want to create a journal, a list, a reminder, or random inane dribble, it would a nice touch.
- Sparring. Basically like brawling, but with weapons also. It would be a great way to train with our followers.
- Reverse Crafting. It would be most excellent if we could break down certain items for crafting components. Have a steel sword you don't want? Melt it down and re-purpose the metal! The obvious detriment to this would be that it could be used for players to boost, so some safeguards or drawbacks would likely be needed.
- Show both our weapons whilst dual-wielding. Another small aesthetic touch, but those are the best kind.
- Using lanterns as alternatives to torches, a la Dragon's Dogma. For non-magic users, this could be a light source that doesn't take up a free hand. Of course, we could also use some dark dungeons to use them in....
- Mercy! Bandits and other enemies will fall down and beg for mercy, but you can't give them any. They just get right back up and decide dying isn't so bad after all. This should have been given more depth; imagine being able to recruit a highwaymen to fight by your side (sort of like Zevran) or simply being able to let them go in an act of altruism. Also, slaughtering a defenceless bandit, knowing you could let him live would be so much more satisfying.
- Item inheritance. Money is cool, but let's face facts: you can't tax an axe. For example, if Mjoll the Lioness died, she could bequeath Grimsever to you. The best part about this is that absolutely no dialogue would have to be recorded. This could be done entirely through text!
- Allow us to equip more than one ring. I have ten fingers; why can I only wear a ring one?
- Dragons that breath lightning instead of fire and ice.
- More extreme weather conditions. Blizzards, heavy thunderstorms, and strong winds would make our epic adventures in Skyrim even more epic.
- Housecarls can shut the fuck up in my house. If I need them, I'll talk to them.
- More Bard College quests, and the ability to be an actual bard. Who doesn't want a Guitar Hero minigame in every tavern? Lute Hero any one?
- Throwing weapons! For cunning thieves and assassins, throwing knives could be an effective way of... silencing complications. The more variety to combat the better. I can't even describe how satisfying it would be to tomahawk a Forsworn! Titbit courtesy of The Crimson Eagle.
- Arena battles! Now, a huge arena like the one in the Imperial City would be unlikely, but how about some underground pit fights we can bet on and fight in? Just as long as no one talks about it....
- Cow tipping! We got to push Brahmin over in Fallout 3, but we can't push over cows in Skyrim. This is ridiculous. It was the single most disappointing thing about the game.
- Spears. Forget everything I just wrote. Forget all the words you just read above. Bethesda, if you can see this, give us spears. We all want it, and we know you can, so please, give us this one tiny titbit. I am willing to forgive everything else if you just give us spears.
Yes, I'll even forgive you for the horse armour.