Skyrim – Teaching Us How Frail And Weak We Are Through Gaming

When you play an RPG, you’re constantly told that you’re the chosen one, but still made to feel weak, even though you have incredible powers. It’s a constant contradiction. Look, in the Breath of Fire games, you can change into A FUCKING DRAGON, but often there are forces far more powerful than you and your dragon shapeshifting abilities are often nerfed to compensate for this.

One of the biggest drawbacks of level scaling is feeling like you’ve been punished for leveling up. Not that the developers have compensated by having the enemies be a liiiiiiiittle bit tougher, oh no no. Instead, the enemies often feel WAY tougher and the only way to compensate is to make your character tougher, not a better speaker, locksmith, haggler, etc.

So when I found that Skyrim took a cue from both New Vegas and various elder RPGs, allowing for minor level scaling, but mostly offering the ability to accidentally wander into areas you shouldn’t be going to yet, well…I got giddy. Then I got annihilated. Over and over again. I guess I expected it to be as easy as Oblivion because, I mean come on, I only died in Oblivion if I stayed out in the sun too long as a vampire.

Oblivion was ridiculously easy, Fallout 3 had its moments but it wasn’t that difficult, New Vegas was pretty well on point…and Skyrim can be tough. It can be especially tough if you want to be a master thief, so you pick a khajiit because they seem to be well suited, then opt for the werewolf transformation which, surprise surprise, is actually a bad idea…at least if you deal with magic, which you always do, especially with dragons, which are a main enemy.

Before I hit level 10, I came across a giant. Now, he didn’t pop up as a red blip, so I figured he was just an NPC. I walked up to talk to him and proceeded to get booted into oblivion. It was hilarious. So I reloaded and decided to try to kill him. I whacked him with a couple of fireballs, he proceeded to club me so hard it was like it was homerun derby. Again, hilarious.

I’ve finally hit level 50, but I still feel underpowered in many situations. Sure, there are still weakass enemies like skeletons and various wildlife, but even bandits often pose problems depending on what type of bandit they are. Sometimes a couple of whacks from a spell and they’re down. Now, you might be wondering if I’m supposed to be some sort of master thief, why am I fighting so much and why is it I’m using magic?

This right here’s a pretty good reason.

Well, I’ll tell you. I don’t get into the whole archery thing in these games. It’s an interesting option, but it’s never really appealed to me. Assassination, thievery, and general stealth are usually the ways I play, but in games like this, it forces you to fight as well. So when I fight, I like to be a little good at everything. I’ll select a main weapon to be good with, usually one-handed, and be proficient in light armor since I want to be a thief.

Problem is I still like my character to be a little good at everything, so often what I do is if I can’t get a sneak attack, I’ll blast the enemies with spells until I’m almost out, then wail on them with my mace. And if they get me good? That’s okay. I’m super proficient in restoration. In fact, I encourage getting knocked around because it increases my light armor skill.

I guess my problem is there’s so much choice I almost don’t know what I want to do, so I end up with a character where the things I KNOW I don’t want to do, I absolutely do not train in (heavy armor, archery, two-handed, etc.), but the things I originally set out to be aren’t necessary the highest skill (my light armor skill is actually higher than sneak now).

“Whaddaya mean she’s not wearing any armor? That’s 10 times stronger than any heavy armor I could pick up because of my stats!” – Me attempting to discuss why RPGs make sense.

The other problem is a situation I had recently. So I was attempting, as a level 48 thief, to approach a location with an escort. Suddenly TWO dragons appear…with wildlife. At first, I tried to fight. I managed to take one out, but then I was running low on…well, everything. I was out of potions, magicka, stamina, and nearly out of health. I had to hide. The escort died, then I did as well.

So how did I get past them when I reloaded? Well, I didn’t fast travel. That way, in the event there really were two of them again, hopefully I could single them out. That didn’t happen. They weren’t there. So while it was a longer journey (and completely full of sneaking), I did get to the location, the mission was successful, and it was all thanks to my sneaking skills as well as patience.

The irony is I was trying to get somewhere quick out of convenience and was seemingly punished as a result…so when I just did what my class would’ve done instead, there were no problems whatsoever. I almost don’t even know what to say about this. I’ve had stranger things happen in this game than I had happen wandering deserts in Red Dead Redemption. And goddamn did some strange things happen in that game.

Skyrim is easily one of my top 10 RPGs of all time already. Though, it often does feel like all it does is bully me.

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3 Responses to “Skyrim – Teaching Us How Frail And Weak We Are Through Gaming”

  1. Seph Belmont says:

    I found this article interesting as it touched upon a few good points but I do have a rebuttle.

    I understand the frustration of games opting for either scaled leveling or enemies of different difficulties. It seems people have a "glass is half empty" approach to this not realizing that the two common ways to focus an RPG are in fact flawed, and are meant to be worked around.

    Oblivion was in fact too easy, but the intent is fine. The developers want you to feel like nothing is either too hard or too easy, and in that respect they partially failed due to some balancing issues. Like the painfully obvious flaw that though you're level 80 and all enemies around you are on par, your allies in the main quest line are the equivalent of level 5's and go down faster than Saigon whores.

    Difficulty is only as hard as you make it, and unfortunately for The Elder Scrolls series, difficulty is something that MUST be mastered in order to make the leveling coherent. I heavily discourage people playing any Elder Scrolls game against lowering the difficulty to the lowest setting. Most enemies die in one hit, and when that happens you not only barely level your weapon or magic skill, but you level your armor/block skill little to none, as most enemies can't even touch you. It's unsatisfying.

    In Skyrim's case, it opted for a hybrid in order to see if it could solve the problem. I am of the firm belief it did. Enemies remain challenging, whilst also introducing enemies that are either well above your means to defeat, or require more than just run up, stab multiple times, done. The giant may be hard to kill but it's also an enemy that requires actual movement. Some of it's attacks can be dodged. Dragons, the same. If you're fighting melee, it's never a good idea to fight a dragon while in front of it's mouth, as they can eat you.

    Using your Breath of Fire example, in BoF3 your leveling did mean something, you could become more powerful than the usual fare, but the only time all that would be pointless is plot battles where you're meant to lose, and that's not a fault of game design, it's just a cruel prank from the developers. That first time I fought those unicorn twins and quaffed all my potions in what I thought was a hard heated battle, only to find out it was all pointless and I was just meant to throw the fight? I never felt so much rage. But it did it's job as a great story telling tool, in that the entire time you felt like these two fuckers were like super heels, and you're just trying to win cleanly.

    As for your experiences where you felt punished, I'd just attribute that to bad luck. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and even though it feels like punishment after a while, I kind of enjoy the feeling. That at any given time, something completely out of the blue will occur that will wipe the floor with me, and all I am left with is a moment of awe and quiet rage. It's enough to keep me going. Cause I know I can become more powerful than anything this game has to offer.

  2. _G_ says:

    I appreciated this write-up and the criticisms, as well as the thought Seph put into his response. While I have yet to play this title, I can relate to it in regards to the many other RPG based games I have played over the years. However, one thing I found funny was the criticism of archery.

    When I first played through Fable 1, I quite intentionally opted to specialize in that skill because I far too often have played either the ball-to-the-wall warrior or straight-up-wizard. So I read through the manual (I actually do this) and spent the usual hour toggling things and looking at where my character might go. Archery ended up with the win. In all fairness, I did do some play throughs with the cliche choices, but my first win was with the master of the bow. I enjoyed the experience immensely, with exception to the end boss who was very weak against bows. I suspect this was intentional by the developers since they planted a bow right before the battle in case you did not possess one (which in all likelihood, most players did not). Mind you, this was the original release, not the extended version of Fable which continued the story after the battle I refer to.

    I might very well go that route again once I get to Skyrim. Delving off the usual path appeals to me.

    And just so we're clear, I'm not hating on your opinion. 😀

  3. Seph Belmont says:

    On that comment about Archery as well, I'd like to remind you that Archery unlike in previous Elder Scrolls games is now in the Combat tree, NOT Stealth. Making it a Warrior skill. Although, a thief/assassin IS going to have to make use of it, at least for the short term, as a good chunk of Sneak experience is earned via stealth attacks, but even with some bonuses to it early on, you just can't sneak behind enemies and hit them in melee, you gotta shoot them with bows first, it's also probably the only way to get multiple stealth shots on a single enemy which goes a long way towards skyrocketing the skill in general. So think of Archery not as a primary weapon skill, but just a starter to combat, it certainly would make your everyday sneakiness easier.