Skyrim: Character Building
So far I’ve logged 48 hours into Skyrim. That’s actually less than most people I know. This game is practically overflowing with content, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It’s a very pleasant surprise, since I wasn’t expecting much out of it to begin with. Skyrim is a vast improvement upon Oblivion in many ways, and I’ll probably be talking about those in the next few weeks.
One thing that intrigued me right away is how you build your character; or rather, how you don’t, at first. Oblivion and Morrowind both use a fairly standard method of character creation; you can level up any skills you want throughout the game, but at the beginning you have to choose which abilities are going to be most prominent in your character. Very similar to the Fallout formula.
This was at its absolute worst in Morrowind and Fallout 1, where you didn’t even get a taste for the gameplay before you had to choose your primaries. This would be like forcing a child to choose his future career before he’s had any schooling. We don’t know what we want to do yet. Sure, I can make blanket assumptions like “I like stealth, so I’ll probably end up leveling Sneak” or “I’m going to travel a lot, so I guess I’ll go with Outdoorsman” but those depend heavily on the game mechanics.
The only way to figure it out ultimately is to create a character, play enough of the game to figure out what you want to do, and then create another character and make the right choices. That test run ends up being a whole lot of wasted time.
Skyrim takes a different approach. You don’t pick a class, or primary skills, or really anything that affects your character at the start. The only stat-affecting choice you make is in your race, and that really doesn’t affect things as much as you might expect. You do end up specializing, but that happens organically; as you use each skill, that skill levels up.
This system allows players to experiment and see what play style suits them before they start to focus themselves and specialize. I got to try out pretty much every method of combat before I concluded that dual-wielding daggers fit me best. I was planning on specializing in Destruction magic before I started playing, but once I realized that it doesn’t really fit my sneaky ninja playstyle, I pretty much stopped using it. Conversely, I never would have guessed that Restoration would have been my favorite field of magic, but it’s hugely helpful when I’m low on health in dragon fights, so it’s one of my highest skills now.
It’s also important to note that they’ve completely removed ability stats from the equation. There’s no more Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence or any of that jargon. Instead, when you level up, you simply choose whether to increase Magicka, Health or Stamina. That’s a very straightforward and obvious choice, but it still makes you feel like your character is growing and developing.
Ultimately this all forms an experience where you’re never forced to make a decision that might punish you if you pick the “wrong” choice. I’m sure this will upset the old-school CRPG fans who want number-crunching, min-maxing and build planning. So if you’re craving a good spreadsheet, you won’t get much out of Skyrim. But for those of you who don’t want that needless complexity mucking up your immersive experience (i.e. for people like me), Skyrim passes with flying colors.
And that’s the bottom line. Bethesda has identified their target audience and made a game fit just for them. They’re not pussying around and trying to appeal to everyone here. Skyrim’s sales suggest that there’s quite a substantial demographic that wants to explore, kill, loot, level-up, and conquer. Bethesda has observed what contributes to that and what distracts from it, and they’ve cut out the fluff and delivered the goods.
And I applaud them.