SKYRIM: Freedom of Character

Skyrim is the game critic’s whipping boy. To show how a game does something really well it’s easy to contrast it with Skyrim’s bad example. I’m even more guilty of this than most. It’s an easy out because Skyrim does everything
poorly. Bland companions, linear questlines, dry combat. It’s an open world game without enough discovery. It’s an immersive sim without things like
multiple solutions to problems. It’s a stealth game without decent stealth
powers, a combat game without good game feel and an arena shooter without the speed or
fun. But I’d rather have just one Skyrim than
all those games I compared it to. Because while it might be true that Skyrim
does everything poorly the most important part of that sentence is Skyrim does everything. Something magical happens when you put all
those other games’ ideas into one single box. It gives you the opportunity to be who you
want to be. It’s Skyrim’s freedom of character that
makes it special that takes its many flawed pieces and turns them into a fantastic game. Ironically Skyrim’s freedom starts with
you in chains. You’re given no reason for your incarceration
and no backstory, it’s all up to your imagination. Even Fallout has a backstory which dictates
if not who you are at least where you’ve come from. The blank slate approach is fairly unique
to the Elder Scrolls and it’s key to opening up the possibilities for your character. Next is genuine character creation, something
few games offer anymore. Each of Tamriel’s ten races launches you
into different options for role playing. You can be an oppressed Khajit or a golden haired warrior fighting for the revenge of the Nords. As usual, this is something that the game
responds to poorly. The racist stormcloaks will accept the help
of that oppressed Khajit and together they can make Skyrim great again. It’s pushing believability and throwing
immersion out the window but like many things with Skyrim those things are kind of the players responsibility to maintain. Skyrim will never really say no to you. In other games I’d hate that, but here I
love it because Skyrim is less about worldbuilding and more about character building. Maybe you have a great story in your head
about being a collaborator or hating your own kind for some reason. Or maybe you just think it’s hilarious and
Skyrim is just a big farce to you. Skyrim’s freedom makes the game whatever
you want it to be and it allows you to be whoever you want right from the get go. Who you are at character creation is expanded
by your choices after it starting with these three stones and which abilities you focus on. Maybe you’ll play a while as a holy restoration
cleric but your skillset throughout the game is reasonably fluid. Nothing is blocked off or restricted due to
your choices way back in character creation, giving you the freedom to evolve and change
your character. So your holy restoration cleric can end up
breaking bad after sliding into stealth and then necromancy. Your use of different skills reflects a changing
identity. In most RPGs as your power grows your identity
remains … static. You can do that in Skyrim too, but I don’t
recommend it. On a smaller timescale, the classless system
lets you adjust to situations on the fly, trying new and interesting things for comedic
effect or that role playing buzz. A weak mage can pick up that giant warhammer
to end a guy. Your sausage-fingers brute can try pickpocketing
the greatest thief in the land. As a “stealthy” assassin you can “walk
up to your target, introduce yourself, melt their skin off, and then run like the wind.” These things can only happen in a game that
has everything and gives you access to all of it, no matter who you started out as. Finally it’s the game’s questlines, and
specifically how optional they all are, that lets you complete the building of your character. Other games give you choice over how to do
things, but not really what you do. Every Shepard saves the galaxy, every Link
defeats Ganon, even every Geralt fights the big bad. Skyrim’s canon protagonist is the unnamed
dragonborn, destined to slay Alduin the world-eater, but that’s only one possible story in Skyrim,
and there are many others to choose from. In fact except for the opening scene, it’s
possible to play Skyrim without any dragons at all, and it’s secretly the best way to
enjoy the game. Don’t ever investigate Bleak Falls Barrow
for the Jarl of Whiterun and the Dovakin questline will never trigger. Dragons will never spawn in the skies, freeing
you to live a more down to earth life. You can be a soldier the wise leader of Skyrim’s
persecuted mages guild a petty thief or even a serial murderer. You have the freedom to be who you choose. The best thing about any of these roles is
that unlike other games you can walk away from them at any time and into new ones. One of my characters was a disturbed Dark
Brotherhood assassin who, inspired by the wise words of the emperor of Tamriel had a sudden change of heart. She abandoned her mission, walked out on the
brotherhood and reformed as an imperial soldier. You see in Skyrim you can build not only your
own character but your own character arc. Some seasons later she retired with her husband
in the house they built together putting her sword down and her misdeeds behind her. Despite unfinished questlines her story had
closure. I may be alone here, but Skyrim is the only
place I can retire characters on my terms. Where I choose the time and place of the ending
instead of reaching the game’s prescribed finale and denouement. You can’t retire most RPG protagonists like
this because you never really have control of their destiny in the first place. Skyrim is flawed but fascinating. It’s a bad game I’ve enjoyed more than
many greater ones. The problem with doing everything is that
even with the mighty Elder Scrolls budget, you can’t possibly do everything well. But precisely because Skyrim offers so much
freedom and never says no to you it’s whatever you want it to be even when that changes over the course of a single playthrough. You can create your own tale of redemption or of a world-saviour’s fall from grace into vampirism and madness. It can be an adventure, a comedy, or a tragedy. Yeah, if you take Skyrim apart and analyze
each piece, it comes up short. Way short. But put it all together and those pieces make
something special. They make the only role playing game in which
your role is really up to you. The next video will be all about Nethack, so subscribe for that. Also check out my podcast with Game Array (not subtitled sorry) and maybe give me a dollar on patreon. Thanks.

48 thoughts on “SKYRIM: Freedom of Character

  • Skyrim suffered from the same problems Fallout 4 had, but somehow it got away with it while Fallout 4 was heavily criticized. Whether it's the linearity of quests, lack of RPG mechanics, lack of Choice and Consequence, everything is just incredibely bland.

  • I know it's a cliché, but I've never really realized just how bad Skyrim and its quests are until I played The Witcher 3.

    If only Fallout 4 was made with the same depth and competence as Witcher 3.

  • A sham and an empty game. The developers just gave us the sandbox and said "Entertain yourself". No, really. That's cheap. I'd rather buy Mass Effect 1/2 and meet the characters that are dear to me. They will give me emotions, not emptiness, like Skyrim. This is better than roaming the hollow cities of Skyrim surrounded by dead-inside NPCs with arrows in their knees.

  • "It's a bad game I've enjoyed more than many greater ones".

    Hat off, Mr. Wendal. They never will, but they should put that quote on the box.

  • The problem is that if you play more than once you realize how little your character matters. Every quest is the same, every trail is identical no matter who you are.

  • Hi Mr. Wendal, I just wanted you to know that I love your videos and it makes me happy to see you still putting on quality content. <3

  • Every "true gamerz klub" obsesses over Skyrim and its inadequacies while ignoring all it does well. They really underestimate how good ambiance and set dressing cam affect a games impact. Sneaking through a thieves den in skyrim feels a lot more engaging and real than playing a level in dishonored for example. Downing an invisibility potion and waltzing into a room, taking your booty and getting out without conflict is awesome because the movement isn't too polished. Skyrim is pretty cool is what I'm saying, and I'm gonna probably be seeing you all at ES6's release.

  • The reason you praise the game is kind of the reason I hate it.
    Rather than being given the "freedom to choose your own direction," I feel unmotivated to play games that just dump you into a world and tell you to make your own fun. It's why, despite it universally being considered the better game, I don't like Fallout:NV as much as Fallout 3. New Vegas might have a bigger, more in-depth world, but without some kind of tie to the main character, or a strong story hook, I feel like I'm wandering aimlessly; Fallout 3, on the other hand, has a story driven opening that invests you in your character and their past. Some might find it frustrating to have their character's backstory dictated to them, but I'd rather have a backstory forced on me than not have one at all.
    Similarly, after hearing people rave about Pillars of Eternity, I gave it a try, and was left cold after the tutorial section gave me no motivation at all and needlessly killed off all the characters it had just introduced. Tyranny, on the other hand, has a magnificent section tying your character's past to the world. People say it's a worse game, mainly because it's so short, but I'd rather have a good, short experience than a long one that I turned off after four hours because it didn't give me a reason to care.
    Just my thoughts.

  • I wouldn't say that a game is bad if millions upon millions of people are unironically loving it. Skyrim may fall short in some of the pre-described areas that game critics love to harp on, but it succeeds in many more. If this wasn't the case, it wouldn't end up being so well-received by almost everyone who doesn't spend their gaming time complaining about how much they hate Bethesda.

  • Unfortunately for the Elder Scrolls series, it seems to be devolving into a game of no consequences. Like you said, I can pick a khajiit and the racist nords will gladly let me help their cause. Or I can be the head of the most righteous paladin group while also being the head of the Dark Brotherhood. Nothing matters if there are no consequences to my choices.

  • I've played Skyrim so many different ways depending on what I feel like at the time. I completely agree that the game is flawed, but a lot of these issues can be fixed or at least improved with the help of mods. That said, I love your videos and they always leave me with a deep sense of calm and happiness, so I decided to support you on Patreon. Keep it up man!

  • You nailed it. This is why I keep going back to Skyrim and playing so many different characters. Some of my favourite playthroughs were when I wasn't the Dragonborn, but just a regular citizen trying to make a living and letting the game's random encounters determine my character's choices. Of course, mods help a lot to correct some of the game's problems and build immersion, but the freedom to do whatever you want is what makes the game special.

  • I love Skyrim for the reason that you can chose to do all the quests or do none of them. In my Skyrim save I played as a wanderer. I used levels as ageing so the higher he levelled he got the 'older' he got.

    His story went as followed:

    After leaving helgen he travelled to whiterun where he joined the companions guild, getting gold and glory until he got enough gold to buy himself lakeside manor. (1-30)

    upon building the house he remembered Helgen and made his way up to windhelm where he joined his comrades in taking back Skyrim. (30-32)

    Once the war was won and Ulfric on the throne the wanderer settled down with his wife and son, taking the odd companion job here and there…until he had his final battle with the ebony warrior. (32-80)

    Being old now, he gave it the best he could, only just defeating the ebony warrior in combat, upon his final battle he abandoned his sword and shield, discarded his armour. Signalling the end of his life as a wanderer where he lived in his manor till the end of his days…and alduin burned the world to the ground 😂😂(80-??)

  • I don't think this freedom to do whatever is something that is entirely unique to skyrim. Previous elder scrolls did go for some of the same. And while they are by no means flawless, morrowind and at least to some extent, oblivion were ahead of the curve in terms of breadth of content. Skyrim however comes out in a video game landscape saturated with city-sandbox games, and for the most part, compares pretty poorly to the better ones. While i would rather play skyrim than oblivion right now, skyrim still holds the dubious honor of "worst elder scrolls" in my mind, because it doesn't meaningfully advance any aspect of the series or genre. (Then again, i've never played daggerfall or arena.)

  • Absoltuely. The most fun I had in Skyrim (after I put a gazillion graphic and gameplay mods) was to just be a hunter in Whiterun. A mod added a lot of animals, which could be skinned, and bones and skin could be sold or made into stuff. Using flames spell killed & COOKED an animal – how's that for realism! 😀

  • ze skyrim does nothing
    it all went downhill after TES2 with TES3 being only a notch lower and tes4 being on the bottom

  • Personally, I find Skyrim lacks impact for your choices. Yes, you can choose to either do or ignore a questline… but in the end it's all static. The questlines will wait for you if you ignore them at first. All skills can be raised to a high level. In the end, every character will end up being the same – it's a game that gives you lots of choices, but these choices barely have any impact. That's the problem when a game never says no to you: nothing you choose really seems to matter.

  • This is EXACTLY how I play Skyrim! I played a thief who found Merida's beacon and changed his thieving ways to become Merida's holy knight. I also played a cheese stealing nutjob who turned closer and closer to the dark side, killing many innocent people for that sweet sweet cheese, until he found a cool companion who then later died, (I pretended he died since Skyrim doesn't let your companions or important characters die). He got a change of heart, seeing the pain he really caused those innocent people, and threw every last piece of cheese he had stolen into his room at the college of winter hold. Then he simply turned himself in to the white run prison and did his time.

  • I think you inadvertently described why I don't like Skyrim. There's no commitment in Skyrim, no resonance. Everything is so lackadaisical and unengaging that I found it difficult to grow attached to really anything in the game.

  • I would argue that TES V: Skyrim does not have such freedom of character as you describe, atleast not in its vanilla state.

    True that you can go anywhere and do anything upon finishing the tutorial level, however it feels unnatural. To have survived an ordeal with either Havdar or Ralof, only to seperate from him upon leaving the cave seems rushed and unfulfilled. The game gravitates you towards following him to Riverwood and as a result being sent to see Jarl Balgruuf and beginning the dragonborn questline .etc .etc For that reason it feels to me like with the default start your player is always intended to be the dragonborn, which removes some of the freedom to choose ones destiny.

    That being said however, mods such as choosing your start point are a godsend and allow for a much more free and liquid experience / ability to really choose where your story takes you. I feel like this is an important aspect for Bethesda to centralize in TES VI, as giving the player the status of a nobody and the ability to build their character in a extremely diverse set of ways to their choosing (with multiple factions for them to join depending on how they want to be alligned, rather than there being a limited choice to doing x y and z). I really hope that Bethesda can realise this and create a great game you can enjoy more than far lesser ones.

    (Other than that you made a great essay and i enjoyed listening to it)

  • "It gives you the opportunity to be who you want to be…"
    Unless you want to use spears or throwing weapons, make your own spells, use interesting spells, explore, or do anything interesting in the slightest.

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