The Trials and Tribulations of Pursuing Perfection

***WARNING - THERE MAY BE SPOILERS DOWN YONDER***

No matter where you go on the internet, you are going to find plenty of people that will take something great (in this case, Skyrim) and try to nitpick it to death in order to bring it down a notch or two. Why wouldn't you? After five years of waiting and promises of lessons learned alongside new technology, you come to expect the game to be something akin to perfection. It's a silly expectation to have.

However, there's something that whittles at you as minutes turn to hours while roaming and exploring the world of Skyrim. For every sweeping vista presented to us, we are presented with a bug; for every dragon encounter, there's a glitch somewhere else. It's the curse of the open world game, maybe even mathematic formula - ambition and innovation comes with a price. It's a price we happily pay...isn't it? Maybe not, if you look at the myriad of players out there who are complaining about every little thing here and there that comes up. It's perfectly acceptable to bring these things up, as low-res textures rear their ugly head and giants pummel us...into the sky?

There are greater concerns, though. For instance, how much further does Skyrim honestly push the genre forward? Its play-forever quest system seems pretty well built, and while one can feel like they are incapable of telling the difference within the first ten hours or so of playtime, you eventually see where the system is at play. When you make your way into a town like Solitude and the first thing that happens is a guard telling you to pay a tax to enter (only to persuade him otherwise through speech), it makes the world feel a bit more alive...even if you can see the seams of where it is all stitched together.

Yes, Skyrim pushes things further when it comes to general creating a world of minutia and detail. What about choice? Do we have choices in the game? It would make you think so. To kill or not to kill; to steal or not to steal; we have choices all around us. What about when we want to join The Circle? Can we choose to find a way into The Circle without taking in the blood of the Lycan? Through all the errands you run and speechcraft you improve... With all the dragons and spriggans and bandits you've slain, is there a way to persuade Skjor to let you into The Circle...to trust you...without having to subside and become a creature of the night?

No.

You have no choice. If you wish to continue the questline, please drink from this fountain of blood and move onward. That's when you realize "nope, it's still just a game".

It is something that is understandable when trying to join the Thieves' Guild: if you can't pickpocket someone or steal from someone worth a shit, why should you join that guild? However, a precedent is set with The Companions early on that there are members that aren't werewolves. Sure, they also aren't part of The Circle itself, but progressing through the story, you find your leader talking about how great an addition you've been and how he hopes to groom you to become the next leader. You try to find another way to be in The Circle. Even the old man sitting at the Skyforge says that he will not become a werewolf, but he offers no alternate questline. If there is a questline that doesn't involve ripping your clothes off and becoming a beast, it's not easily presented as an option to you. That's fine, but it also means the player doesn't feel like there is a choice.

Going into the game, my character had a certain set of principles and morals that I personally wanted to follow: always dual wield, never use magic that isn't resto or alter, never become a creature like a vampire or a werewolf due to your own free will, and always act the role of a berserker. It had worked perfectly fine...until now. There is a roadblock, and I unfortunately passed it.

I don't feel like this is "my" character anymore. I now feel like I'm a byproduct of a linear pathway.

Has Skyrim pushed the genre forward? The definitive answer amongst the crowd is "yes, it has". However, there are times where it feels like the game is still so far away.

I hope everyone is enjoying the game as much as I genuinely am, but I hope you get to stand true to your character more than I have.

23 Comments
24 Comments
Posted by jakob187

***WARNING - THERE MAY BE SPOILERS DOWN YONDER***

No matter where you go on the internet, you are going to find plenty of people that will take something great (in this case, Skyrim) and try to nitpick it to death in order to bring it down a notch or two. Why wouldn't you? After five years of waiting and promises of lessons learned alongside new technology, you come to expect the game to be something akin to perfection. It's a silly expectation to have.

However, there's something that whittles at you as minutes turn to hours while roaming and exploring the world of Skyrim. For every sweeping vista presented to us, we are presented with a bug; for every dragon encounter, there's a glitch somewhere else. It's the curse of the open world game, maybe even mathematic formula - ambition and innovation comes with a price. It's a price we happily pay...isn't it? Maybe not, if you look at the myriad of players out there who are complaining about every little thing here and there that comes up. It's perfectly acceptable to bring these things up, as low-res textures rear their ugly head and giants pummel us...into the sky?

There are greater concerns, though. For instance, how much further does Skyrim honestly push the genre forward? Its play-forever quest system seems pretty well built, and while one can feel like they are incapable of telling the difference within the first ten hours or so of playtime, you eventually see where the system is at play. When you make your way into a town like Solitude and the first thing that happens is a guard telling you to pay a tax to enter (only to persuade him otherwise through speech), it makes the world feel a bit more alive...even if you can see the seams of where it is all stitched together.

Yes, Skyrim pushes things further when it comes to general creating a world of minutia and detail. What about choice? Do we have choices in the game? It would make you think so. To kill or not to kill; to steal or not to steal; we have choices all around us. What about when we want to join The Circle? Can we choose to find a way into The Circle without taking in the blood of the Lycan? Through all the errands you run and speechcraft you improve... With all the dragons and spriggans and bandits you've slain, is there a way to persuade Skjor to let you into The Circle...to trust you...without having to subside and become a creature of the night?

No.

You have no choice. If you wish to continue the questline, please drink from this fountain of blood and move onward. That's when you realize "nope, it's still just a game".

It is something that is understandable when trying to join the Thieves' Guild: if you can't pickpocket someone or steal from someone worth a shit, why should you join that guild? However, a precedent is set with The Companions early on that there are members that aren't werewolves. Sure, they also aren't part of The Circle itself, but progressing through the story, you find your leader talking about how great an addition you've been and how he hopes to groom you to become the next leader. You try to find another way to be in The Circle. Even the old man sitting at the Skyforge says that he will not become a werewolf, but he offers no alternate questline. If there is a questline that doesn't involve ripping your clothes off and becoming a beast, it's not easily presented as an option to you. That's fine, but it also means the player doesn't feel like there is a choice.

Going into the game, my character had a certain set of principles and morals that I personally wanted to follow: always dual wield, never use magic that isn't resto or alter, never become a creature like a vampire or a werewolf due to your own free will, and always act the role of a berserker. It had worked perfectly fine...until now. There is a roadblock, and I unfortunately passed it.

I don't feel like this is "my" character anymore. I now feel like I'm a byproduct of a linear pathway.

Has Skyrim pushed the genre forward? The definitive answer amongst the crowd is "yes, it has". However, there are times where it feels like the game is still so far away.

I hope everyone is enjoying the game as much as I genuinely am, but I hope you get to stand true to your character more than I have.

Posted by RedRoach

Being forced into becoming a werewolf to continue the quest line really irked me. I was no longer the character I wanted to be. I felt badass as a "dragonborn" being connected to the dragons and all. Being a werewolf and having the spirit of a wolf sullied that feeling, even though you can completely ignore the werewolf after that quest, it's still part of my character now. While you can redeem yourself in the end, being a dragonborn will never have the same special feeling it did before even though I did get rid of it at the end of the quest chain.

Posted by Robo

I actually have yet to finish that quest specifically because coming into this I had no intentions of becoming either a vampire or a werewolf.

I'm 37 now and have done quite a bit of other stuff, but i still have that quest sitting there waiting for me to join the circle.

Funny thing is, I hear after you become a werewolf you can't get some rested bonus that makes you gain experience faster...I can't seem to get this bonus now anyway. Been wondering about that,

Posted by tekmojo

Just as with GTA, I don't spend the majority of my time with quests, I make my own game experience out of the tools they have made for me. It requires some imagination, but if all you do is quest after quest after quest etc. you will not gain everything this game has to offer.

Edited by AlisterCat
Posted by AhmadMetallic

I'm not gonna read if there's "spoilers in there".... !

Posted by haggis

Honestly, the choice thing seems as much nitpicky as some of the other issues people have complained about, even if it is a somewhat more substantive one. You chose not to become a werewolf. That was your choice. You can't always get what you want. It doesn't make the game linear. And given how much freedom there is in the rest of the game, the fact that the game has a few limitations like this doesn't make much difference to me.

Personally, I would have preferred that not all the major sidequests be doable by any character. You could have a warrior character and still do the thief's guild quests, for instance. I'd have found it more interesting if character choices actually had quest repercussions, such as cutting off entire lines right from the beginning. Bethesda didn't go that route, and that's fine: the game is still great. I've not seen any game fully escape this problem. Maybe next gen.

Posted by Eujin

@Robo:

As a heads up, I didn't see this rested bonus either, but I found out why: you need to sleep 8 hours in a bed you own (at least for me). I ended up buying breezehome, and slept 8 hours in the bed there. After that, I had the Well Rested effect under Active Effects in the magic menu.

Edited by jakob187

@Eujin: I slept for 15 hours in my bed after being forced into the werewolf thing. I have not gotten a Well Rested or Rested bonus.

@haggis: Back when Fallout 3 came out, Jeff had mentioned how much he was pissed by the ending locking you on a very specific path that you shouldn't have had to deal with. Specifically, it was the fact that right before the ending comes around, you could send your super mutant friend into some radiation in order to get some object. In the very end, if that guy is still alive, there is NO option for you to send him into the radiation in order to stop the thing at the Jefferson Memorial, which effectively would've saved your character and everyone else. Instead, you were told that YOU HAD to go in there, that it was your destiny. Hell, he sent me an incredibly lengthy private message venting about that shit. lol

This situation with the werewolf makes me feel that exact same way. This game is all about making MY character the way I want, playing how I want. That's kind of the mantra of Elder Scrolls, right? That was the point of them making all of these decisions to give the player far more freedom...and sure, they did that. However, they still have these moments where you cannot be the character you want to be. Instead, you are told "there is only one way". Why? Why is there only one way to be in The Circle? There's no other way at all...whatsoever...even though I've got 70 Speech and can intimidate/persuade so many others? Even though I can cleave a dragon to death? Even though the leader of this group is going to write in his journal that he wants to groom me to be the new leader when he is finished? DESPITE ALL OF THIS STUFF, I have NO way of not becoming a werewolf to get into The Circle?

That...is bullshit. It's not like the rest of the story in that questline CAN'T happen because I choose not to be a werewolf. I've already had the rest spoiled for me, and in hearing it, choosing to not become a werewolf holds no change to that at all. In turn, it seems like lazy design on that.

It's one of the reasons I'm excited about Kingdoms of Amalur so much. The idea that I'll be able to choose one way or the other...that there are always at least TWO choices... That already gives me the feeling that I want from Skyrim...and that game doesn't hit until February.

Posted by Eujin

@jakob187: Er, if you're a werewolf, you can't get the well rested bonus, ever. that's the drawback of being a werewolf. I thought Robo was stating he couldn't get the bonus even before becoming a werewolf.

Posted by Pinworm45

There was a few quests that force you into things that kind of take away or force things on your character. It's bothered me a little, but you can simply not do them. It's not like the game lacks quests.

I actually have an annoying one right now, though. I was supposed to investigate some cannibal, and I guess I didn't do the quest right because now I'm supposed to be helping her (I think there was a choice between 2 options or something, and I didn't look close enough).

She wants me to kill a priest, which is kinda fucked. I'm just not sure if I can change my mind and help the priest again. I tried killing her but that just fails the quest.
Posted by haggis

@jakob187: There are drawbacks to all the choices in the game. The drawback to not choosing to become a werewolf is not being able to become part of the Circle. I can understand not liking that, but I'm not sure its all that different from any other trade-offs we make in the game. You have to kill people to finish the Dark Brotherhood questline. You can't do those quests passively. If I've chosen to play a character that doesn't kill innocent people ... well, I'm out of luck.

It doesn't strike me at all like the end of Fallout 3, when there really was no good reason not to allow that one option. Here, no one is forcing you to do anything. You don't have to become a werewolf. In Fallout 3, at that point, you couldn't walk away. Here, in Skyrim on this quest, you can. You do have two choices: become a werewolf, or don't. Clearly that decision is hard for you. You don't want to walk away from the quest. Seems to me that the game did its job. It made you care about the choice offered to you. It's not forcing you down that path, but it is making you choose. Just as we can't side with both in the civil war. Going down one path prevents us from going down another.

I think these games offer just enough freedom that we sometimes forget that freedom is still very clearly confined within a set of rules. So when we're denied an option, it feels like a disappointment. But it really only varies slightly compared to other paths we're funneled down in these games. The freedom is mostly an illusion. We can't do anything. We can do quite a bit. And the game can't (and probably even shouldn't) indulge every whim.

I haven't heard all that much about Kingdoms of Amalur, but I imagine it will have examples of this problem as well, at least with how some people play the game. It's in the nature of these games to disappoint in detail, even as they generally gets things right.

Posted by jakob187

@haggis: I didn't want to walk away from the quest because I felt there were plenty of reasons, ways, and options that permitted me the capability of being a member of The Circle without having to take on lycanthropy. This isn't like the Thieves' Guild, where you have to have sneak and pickpocketing skills in order to join up with them. Yes, you can say that forces you to PLAY a specific way, but if you don't play that way on that character, then start a new character and you'll see it.

I'm not going to say I don't agree with your point of view on this. I thoroughly understand it and find it valid, but I don't find my side to be invalid because of it. There were other ways and other options, but they were not explored. That's just a bit infuriating, and like I said in the blog, it makes you step back and realize "it's just a game". It's a small piece of immersion that I lost because the option just wasn't made for the player to choose. In a game based on the idea of choice, that's quite a bummer.

I'm still going to play the fuck out of the game. I may just have to realize that I am not allowed to play the way I want if I want to see the content in the game. It means I have to be like everyone else unless I want my entire adventure to be limited at some point...and I would rather be as unlimited as possible.

Posted by haggis

@jakob187: I'm not saying your point of view is invalid, I'm just explaining my perspective. I think it's inevitable that we bump into these arbitrary walls in these games. It's impossible for there not to be moments where the immersion is occasionally broken, because these are in fact games. Like I said, this is a particular problem with open world games because we become accustomed to doing what we want, for the most part, without limits.

Bounds do have to be drawn by the developers, though, and I think each of us will rub up against those bounds at least once in the game. In other genres it's not as much an issue: we settle into the rules, and that's fine. We don't complain when arbitrary boundaries in the environment, for instance, keep us on a linear path. It's expected. It's only when expectations are raised that it becomes a problem.

It's sort of like the uncanny valley in that there's a point of diminishing returns in the amount of freedom granted. At some point we're given just enough freedom to realize that we don't have as much freedom as we thought. It's easy to forget that we're playing a game, and when we're reminded it can be jarring. But insofar as this is a result of the profound freedom we have in the game compared to just about any other, I refuse to become infuriated with it and instead take it for what it is: a sign that the developers have succeeded in doing something that few games ever do. They've given me 95% freedom. I can't be upset too much about being denied the other 5%.

Posted by supermike6

You want unlimited choice while confining your character to a specific set of morals and principles? That sounds kind of contradictory to me. If you don't like the idea of being a werewolf, then being part of The Circle doesn't seem like it would be your cup of tea :\. I don't see why we should blame the developers for the fact that in this very large game with tons of quests and storylines, this one doesn't cater exactly to how you chose to play out your character. I honestly don't even understand how you can get agitated about this, you're the one restricting yourself. If you don't want to become a werewolf, then you can't do the quests that require you to become a werewolf. If you don't want to go to Whiterun because you don't like cities that start with W, then you're shit out of luck. The game offers a variety of choices to you, but it doesn't give you the choice to complete a quest without performing an action that is mandatory to completing the quest! It's like complaining about not being able to complete a single level in Doom because you gave your character a set of principles and one of them is "Never pick up keycards." "Hey, I can choose to run and shoot rockets over here or over there, but I can't progress without picking up a keycard! What the fuck!?"

Sorry if this comes across as incredibly pissy, but it's 4am and I'm sick so I may not be in the best position to express my point of view without the use of extreme pissiness.

Posted by fetchfox

My character will turn to evil as a tool, but not to hurt innocents, so joining the Dark Brothas might pose a problem for me. But that's part of the fun of Skyrim in that you'll get a quest that will test your morals and make you rethink how you play your character. You think you see many ways of joining the inner circle of the Companions, but the only way to do so is to become a werewolf. They say so themselves, all in the inner circle are werewolfs. So you either make the choice of joining them or move on. But you have to deal with the fact that Skyrim holds the ropes and that you can't always decide the means of transportation to the the final goal.

Edited by Robo

@Eujin: Yeah that's what I was saying. It apparently doesn't stack with the experience bonus from the lover's stone (i think thats the one) but does stack with the bonus from one of the three other exp bonus stones (thief, warrior, mage) because as soon as I went back to the thief stone to level up some skills I found I could get the bonus again.

Still haven't gone back to become a werewolf yet. Wondering if I'm missing anything.

Posted by jakob187

Well, I have full legendary Daedric now. In turn, I've decided that my character's soul has been corrupted by the forces of the Daedra, meaning that I can be evil and even turn into a werewolf. Therefore, all this shit is invalid now.

Also, becoming a werewolf is kind of stupid. I can't use a fucking lever? I still have hands. Meh, oh well.

Posted by Dagbiker

I thought this was going to be a post about Phenox Write.

Posted by Ravenlight

@jakob187 said:

Well, I have full legendary Daedric now. In turn, I've decided that my character's soul has been corrupted by the forces of the Daedra, meaning that I can be evil and even turn into a werewolf. Therefore, all this shit is invalid now.

Also, becoming a werewolf is kind of stupid. I can't use a fucking lever? I still have hands. Meh, oh well.

I justified my character's actions in the same way. I really wanted to roleplay in a specific way but there's just too much awesome content written to only have one outcome.

I wish being a werewolf was more badass, I can do more DPS just running around normally plus I can heal and manipulate objects and stuff.

Posted by yoshimitz707
@jakob187 Your complaint about the circle is stupid. The circle is all about being a werewolf. Why would they let you join the werewolf club without being a werewolf?
Posted by ColinWright

I think forcing you to become a Werewolf makes the rest of their quests resonate more. You would have no reason to attack the Silver Hand if you rejected lycanthropy. Also, he explains why the Companions have done this for years. And they give you a way out of being a Werewolf later.

Posted by wambam

The way I see it is - there is no such thing as a totally non-linear game. Every choice has already been planned with at least one effect as a result of that choice.

The main quest may be followed along only one course of action (totally linear) or along several courses of action, each of which will eventually end in the one appropriate victory or in a victory relative to the particular course initially decided upon.

Skyrim contains a main course, broadly speaking, but several alternative-choice paths or "life-styles" which relate either directly or indirectly to that main course.

The different life-style choices relate to different type gamers. (Different strokes for different folks?)

So you want to whack people and not lose any sleep? Join the Dark Brotherhood. You want to steal etc., without compunction? Join the Thieves Guild.

You want to join the Companions and rise in the ranks? Werewolf is the price.You feel like sucking blood. Become a Vampire.

You feel like pitching in with the Imperials for a while? No-one stopping you as long as you accept the consequences.

Each major decision will open up its own special stuff and will also debar you from other stuff. Choices. . . choices. . . but each and all bringing advantages and disadvantages, just like in RL.

Nothng in RL is totally open-ended but some things give the impression they are, e.g. when a guy wins the lottery he assumes he can do whatever he wants and whenever. NOT SO.

More choices will be open to him. That's true. But not even all of them will necessarily turn out to his advantage. It can be a crap-shoot.

Skyrim has simply made available more diverse courses to choose, more diverse side quests, thrown in a mess of "random" encounters and NPC comments coming out of left field which overwhelm the player and give the emotional impression that "open-endedness" is the name of the game It isn't.

However, there are enough continually changing actions and reactions written into most chosen courses to occupy the player with the impression that anything can happen. That is clever.

So - we need to suspend our critical faculties for a while. Admit that the brains behind Skyrim have worked hard to dazzle us with a plethora of choices which will steer us down completely different paths whilst also creating quite a decent story-line, AND, there are enough twists and turns as the game progresses to allow for "second chances" on occasion.

Does that sound about right?

Posted by Phoenix778m

Is this more of a complaint about having unfinished quests in your Journal? I'm fine with not being able to do a quest or turning them down because it goes against my characters class or nature. I'll go at it in another playthrough. That is the choice..