Alarrah Playthrough

Yeah okay Skyrim IS pretty awesome

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve turned into a console gamer thanks to Paul giving me a Switch!

And I gotta say, while Animal Crossing continues to be highly entertaining, I’m getting just as much enjoyment out of playing Skyrim. I’ve been doing play by plays of my progress on both Facebook and Twitter, since multiple people are telling me they’re highly enjoying experiencing Skyrim again through my first-time eyes.

So I’m not going to go into the play by plays here, but what I will do is talk some about overall things I’m really enjoying about the game play experience.

Graphical Experience

I already knew from the number of times that Dara and Paul have played this thing that I loved the world and the immersive depth and breadth of the storyline. Just from the number of options you have in character creation, and the huge number of side quests you can do aside from the main storyline, you can literally play this game half a dozen times and have it be a different experience each time. This appeals to me very strongly from my history of love of Nethack, which is also a game you can play a lot of times and have a different experience each time!

And certainly, even though I’m playing on the tiny Switch, I’m still finding the experience immersive. I’ve had only a couple of small problems with that, both of them graphical:

  1. When travelling along roads, I’ve noticed certain graphical glitches like cobblestones on the edge of the road flickering. I spotted this on the road coming west out of Whiterun, and also on the less well-paved roads heading east towards Mortal.
  2. When I’m in a dungeon trying to kill draugr or other critters, the darkest parts of the dungeon are ridiculously difficult to see in. I’m apparently not the only player who’s observed this, either. Paul, watching me play, found the dark dungeon bits too dark as well, and a quick search shows me posts by a bunch of other players who have lamented the same problem. There appear to be no controls to manage this, either. The best solution I have at the moment is one I’ve found in-game, finally: the Candlelight spell. I expect to be making extensive use of that.

Other than that, though, holy crap this game is gorgeous. Anybody who’s already played this game in the last six years, you know that already. Hell, I knew that already, after all the times I’ve seen Dara and Paul play it on the bigger consoles in the house. But this time it’s me playing it, so I’m experiencing it directly and I really kind of love it.

I mean, I can run across auroras like this, which I saw on my way up the mountain to Bleak Falls Barrows:

Bleak Falls Barrow Aurora
Bleak Falls Barrow Aurora

And I’m also enjoying periodically grabbing screencaps in third person, just so I can see how my character is currently outfitted. Grabbed this one at the main entrance in front of Dragonsreach, so I could see what Alarrah looked like in the new leather armor I’d just made:

Alarrah in Leather Armor
Alarrah in Leather Armor

(I do like that leather helmet better than its predecessor, which was an iron helmet with horns sticking out of it and which was not really helping the whole “let’s not have the Wood Elf look completely like a barbarian, mmkay?” plan.)

Roleplay Experience

I always did like the character creation sequence in Skyrim when I watched Dara and Paul play it. It’s the start of a rich array of options you have for how you’re going to proceed through the game, and all of your choices do eventually have impact down the line.

For me so far, as a Bosmer (Wood Elf), I’ve found that it makes certain human characters crankier at me. Some guards are more distrustful, and some human hostiles yell commentary at me about how I have no place in Skyrim.

But as y’all know I’ve always been partial to elves (thanks, Elfquest and Tolkien!), so there was no way I wasn’t going to play some kind of elf on my first jaunt through this game. And I gotta say, with how my Alarrah’s general facial structure turned out, she keeps reminding me of Jolene Blalock, the actress who played T’Pol in Star Trek: Enterprise. I kind of hear her voice in my head for Alarrah’s lines, and I keep feeling like I have a bit of a Vulcan-like detachment with the plot just because so much of the side plots are all about Nord political drama. And I figure Alarrah, as a Bosmer not in her home territory, only has so many fucks to give about Nord political drama. 😉

And I’m having great fun just imagining the interplay between Alarrah and housecarl Lydia as the two of them tromp hither and yon all over Skyrim. The game really helps aid this, too, with the number of lines Lydia periodically throws out. Not only her famous snarky “I’m sworn to carry your burdens”, but all her other lines as well. I’m given to understand that more recent iterations of the game really upped her personality and presence, and if that’s true, it certainly shows!

It’s been fun as well to learn from Paul and Dara about how Lydia functions in the game, what her weapons and armor preferences are, and how I can up her chances of staying alive. I wound up giving her a steel greatsword, which she’s now wielding as of this writing. And I got a glimpse of her wearing it from the back, at which point I boggled, because holy crap that thing is huge it’s as tall as she is:

Lydia's Greatsword
Lydia’s Greatsword

Spoilers Experience

I am utterly unrepentant about looking at Elder Scrolls wikis for clues about what to expect, or just to learn more things about the world in general. As with Nethack, there are metric boatloads of information to be had about this world, and I only really got bits and pieces of it watching Dara and Paul play before. I’m enjoying the dive through The Elder Scrolls Wiki, but I’ve also been pointed at The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages.

And I also find that as a novice to console games, I sometimes get just outright stuck and need to look up what to do next. This has happened a couple of times so far, once when I had to solve a puzzle and hadn’t realized that I’d already triggered the thing necessary to proceed to the next part of the dungeon, and once when I did the elements of a side quest out of order and couldn’t figure out how to proceed to the next step.

But that said, I’m trying to be sparing in my use of the wikis. Most of the in-depth reading I’ve been doing is more along the lines of “general worldbuilding” as opposed to “what happens next in this part of the game flow”. I do want to maintain some element of surprise, even though I do already have an idea of the major plot beats of the game just from seeing Dara and Paul do it so many times before.

Novice Console Gameplay Experience

This being the first serious console game I’ve ever played ever, a lot of my previous gaming experience is relevant here only up to a point.

For example: no dungeon crawl type game I’ve ever played before has been one where I’ve had to care about how to aim, because they’ve all been turn-based combat. (This includes not only Nethack, but Nethack-like games as well, such as Moria, Angband, and Slash’em.)

And since Skyrim is decidedly not turn-based combat, I find it a lot more suspenseful and urgent when I’m creeping along through a dungeon just waiting to get attacked any second now, or when I’m smack dab in combat and need to figure out what to do next right the fuck now.

Which has been challenging when in many ways I’m still getting the hang of the console controls. It took me until level 8 to actually learn that “oh hey, that symbol in the middle of the screen? I can actually use that to aim, no wonder my archery has been ass up till now!” And I’m still trying to get down the muscle memory of which button on the JoyCons does what, a thing complicated by how I am also playing a lot of Animal Crossing, and the command sets are not the same. This has resulted in me doing a lot of X to try to see my inventory in Skyrim, and making my character jump instead!

And to date I still have issues bopping in and out of third person in the middle of combat, and remembering that being Dragonborn means I’ve got Shouts I can deploy in a fight as well. I do not just have to hit things with the sword. (Also, I want to get better at hitting things with arrows, too. I always favored distance hits in Nethack, with my favorite character classes being Ranger and Rogue.)

Favorite Things to Do So Far

I’ve been enjoying the following in-game activities the most:

  1. Harvesting ingredients to make potions, and then going and actually making the potions. Experimenting with this has been entertaining as I try to figure out what combo of ingredients makes what potion. This has been one of the things I’ve been specifically not trying to look up on the wikis!
  2. Smithing! I’ve enjoyed playing with building basic weapons and basic armor, and am intrigued by some of the possibilities further down the line as I level up.
  3. The bits of quests that are actual literal dungeon crawls, since that’s the stuff that hearkens back to Nethack for me!
  4. And a couple of the parts of dungeon crawls where I’ve had to solve puzzles feel familiar from playing Hidden Object games.

Favorite Plots So Far

  1. The main “I’m a Dragonborn say what now?!” plot is engaging me pretty solidly, and I’m trying to let that dictate what order I do things in
  2. The “Laid to Rest” plotline in Morthal, where you’re asked to investigate the suspicious circumstances of a house burning down
  3. The “Golden Claw” plotline in Riverwood, which is when I cleared Bleak Falls Barrow (see previous commentary re: enjoying the dungeon crawls)

I have triggered the opening hooks for a lot of other plots, but these are the main ones I’ve done so far. Still thinking about which way I want to go in the overall Skyrim civil war plot.

I’ll be continuing the play by plays on my social media accounts, but I daresay there will be more in-depth blog posts like this one too as I move forward with this game!

As Angela Highland, Angela is the writer of the Rebels of Adalonia epic fantasy series with Carina Press. As Angela Korra'ti, she writes the Free Court of Seattle urban fantasy series. She's also an amateur musician and devoted fan of Newfoundland and Quebecois traditional music.