Skyrim: Guild Requirements
There’s one major difference between Skyrim and previous Elder Scrolls games that’s been stirring up a lot of controversy. (Note that when I say “controversy” I don’t mean media attention; I mean nerds arguing with one another on forums.)
Bethesda has adopted a mentality that the player should be able to experience all the content on one playthrough without having to worry about min-maxing and stat whoring. We first noticed this in Oblivion, where it was possible to become the leader of every guild (though doing so was a challenge and required some planning in the leveling and stats department).
Now in Skyrim you can basically take command of every guild and complete every questline regardless of your build. The two most notable examples are that you can become Archmage without ever learning more than a few low-level spells, and you can become leader of the Thieves’ Guild without ever having to sneak.
So the big question is, is this a good thing or a bad thing? I’ve heard arguments for both sides. Some people say the fact that any questline is beatable with any build diminishes the point of character building in the first place, and that it breaks immersion when someone who is clearly only a beginner at magic is revered in the Mage’s College as a master of the elements. On the other side, people say that you still have the option not to go into those guilds that don’t make sense for your character, and that withholding content from you because you picked the wrong choice ruins some of the fun.
On one hand I agree that my character should not be Archmage when she’s been spending all her time hiding in shadows and backstabbing, but on the other hand, I think Bethesda’s new philosophy with regards to content is great. The idea that you can’t have access to entire questlines until you reroll a character can be irritating, and I always figured the appeal of differing player builds was having different approaches to the same challenge, not being given different challenges altogether. After all, Deus Ex has a wide variety of play styles, but you go through pretty much the same levels no matter what you do. It’s all about how you play, not what you play.
I read a forum post that I found very convincing on the matter…
I love how I can join every guild and be everything in Skyrim. If I had to remake a character just so I could experience the Mage Guild, I would never have experienced the Mage Guild. Do you know what this encourages? Google searches that ask:
“What class has the best quests in Skyrim?”
There’s a lot of truth to this. If I wasn’t a fan of stealth, I wouldn’t have ever experienced the Thieves’ Guild questline if it required me to be sneaky. It’s supposed to increase playtime by encouraging replays, but instead it decreases playtime by limiting your options. And there’s certainly still replay value, because each play style still feels substantially different.
Then again, it still does break immersion when you can lead the Mage’s College without being a mage. Yes, you can simply refuse to join guilds that wouldn’t make sense for your character, but the fact that the option is still there can break your suspension of disbelief. After all, the reason Bill Gates hasn’t won the Ultimate Fighting Championship isn’t because he’s simply chosen not to; it’s because he can’t.
So here’s my solution, Bethesda. Don’t change your approach to player content. Let everything be open to everyone. Instead, simply take away the guilds that are supposed to be accessible only to certain builds, and replace them with guilds whose defining characteristics don’t involve specific character attributes.
Some of the guilds in Skyrim already work this way. The Bard’s College doesn’t really have anything to do with the skills you unlock in the game, so joining it makes equal sense no matter what build you have. The Dark Brotherhood works, because all you really need to be successful in it is a passion for assassination. Even the Companions sort of work, since despite individual members claiming “we don’t use magic” or “we leave the hiding and backstabbing to the cowards,” ultimately it’s just a group of people who like to fight.
The two problematic guilds are the Thieves’ Guild and the Mage’s College. I’m not sure how to make the Mage’s College work, but the Thieves’ Guilds could absolutely work if it was just tweaked a bit. I mean, they already took away that silly idea from Oblivion of the guild basically being an order of Robin Hoods. Now you’re basically an organization of thugs with ties to an influential corporation. All they’d have to do is ditch the pretense of the guild being sneaky and nonviolent and there you go, any and all are welcome.
With that said, I definitely like Skyrim’s approach more than Oblivion’s and presumably Morrowind’s. If the game isn’t fun enough for me to play through a second time anyway, I’m not going to do so just so I can go through another guild or two that I couldn’t before. And if I do want to do a second playthrough, I’d want to go through all those fun questlines again, not be walled off from them because I picked a different class this time around.