I'd previously played an hour of Skyrim to see whether I'm getting too old and too cynical to enjoy gaming anymore. Join me for part two, in which I continue my confused amble through the wilderness, question the hydrology of the game and get repeatedly attacked by nature (you can find part one here).
As predicted, it's been a while since I've found time to continue playing through Skyrim. It's been so long since I started that I've forgotten what I was doing, or even how to play. I fired up my save game from six months ago and found myself standing on a hillside overlooking a river, with no clear objective in sight.
One thing, however, has changed. My new laptop is churning out the graphics at a smooth 60 fps, and the world sparkles in high resolution and anti-aliasing. It really did look very nice. Plants waved in the breeze, distant mountains sparkled in the sun, butterflies flitted, fish leapt continually up waterfalls, and so forth. As it was so nice and I couldn't really remember what I was supposed to be doing quest-wise, I decided to simply go for a walk.
I'd planned this in advance, in honesty. I really like to see just how realistic open world games can be. Too often a little thing can spoil an otherwise immersive experience, but it's always nice to see developers go that little extra way to add a touch of realism to a world. My plan was simple: to follow the river upstream and see where it led. Maybe it would turn into a stream and then get smaller and smaller and finally end with a spring underneath a rock, and I'd turn around and suddenly find myself high on a mountainside, with a spectacular view below me. That could be interesting. Right?
Finding my river was no problem, but I almost immediately ran into a problem - it was flowing out of a huge lake, surrounded by precipitous rocks down one side. Reasoning that the river must continue at the other end of the lake, I crossed to the other shore and set off along the lakeside. Being in a frozen wasteland I expected some kind of penalty for jumping into water, but it turned out that the game is pretty charitable/unrealistic (delete whichever you prefer) in this regard and rather than emerging from the water shivering and frostbitten nothing seemed to happen. Impervious to nature, I travelled along the shoreline by ways of dipping in and out of the water, exploring whatever rocks or islets I came across.
Moments later my exploration yielded something interesting - the foundations of what looked like an old tower, submerged beneath the surface and containing a few gold coins and some kind of old weapon. Treasure! It also yielded sudden pain in the form of fish that attacked me. I couldn't draw my weapon underwater (obviously, just like real life) so rather than let my epitaph read 'killed by a slaughterfish' (which sounds quite dramatic except for the fact that it looked about six inches long) I decided to continue my journey on land, where I was almost immediately attacked by a pair of wolves instead.
Further along the shore I found a more structurally complete ruin and decided to nose inside for an explore. It looked like a pleasant enough place, apart from the ankle deep water, eerie lighting and crucified skeleton that greeted me inside the door. I switched to stealth mode (well, crouching) and continued inside. I was just beginning to marvel at how well lit these abandoned underground ruins were when I blundered into a room containing some kind of wizard and another skeleton, which killed me.
Restarting at the entrance, I realised that I was getting distracted from my river following, so resumed it. I was promptly attacked by some more wolves, and some kind of big rat. I managed to survive and was treated to the sight of a majestic elk, which remarkably did not try to kill me, but ran away into and under the lake. You know, like elk do all the time. Beyond it, I spied the continuation of my river. My quest continued! My joy was quickly dashed when I discovered that it was flowing the wrong way - not into the lake (as expected) but away from it.
I checked, and there were no other rivers or streams or waterfalls or anything that drained into the lake. It was the source of two rivers. That doesn't work. Seriously, if you're going to go to the effort of making this detailed a world, at least get the water right. You can't have a massive lake as the source of two rivers. It at least needs some tiny streams going into it, or something.
My quest was unfulfillable. I wandered aimlessly back down the other side of the lake towards my starting point. On the way I was treated to the sight of more elk running into the lake (some of them can swim underwater, just like real life) and was just enjoying nature again when I was beset by two skeletons that appeared out of nowhere. It was a bit jarring, really. If I'm creeping around a gloomy, underground cavern with mood lighting and occult symbols scrawled on the walls, I expect to run into some undead skeletons. But on a lakeside in lovely sunshine with butterflies flapping around? I think they're as lost as I am.
The only path by the lakeside turned up into the hills where I met an elf. I assumed he would immediately attack me as well, but he was a courteous fellow, in that he didn't attack me until I tried to talk to him. Is it me? Have I accidentally put on some kind of enchanted armour of hatred? I didn't really want to kill him, but it seemed I had no choice.
I thought I was about due for a break from being constantly attacked when I blundered my way into a bandit camp. Three men came at me, swinging axes. I ran away backwards (desperately trying to take a screenshot as evidence of all this unwarranted violence), down the hill and into the lake. It turned out that unlike the elk, they couldn't swim, so I crossed to the other side and sniped poorly at them from a distance with my bow and arrow. Eventually they gave up and disappeared. I crept back across the lake and came across them individually, dispatching them with more ease than I'd expected. Victorious, I made my way back up the hill, looted their camp and slept in it.
During the 'fight' my character levelled up. Apparently. I say that, I have no idea what was going on. There was some kind of abilities tree, with star constellations, and skills, and maybe I added a perk, but I really couldn't tell what was going on. All the rest of the screens had keyboard hints (some of them wrong since I'd rebound most of the keys) but this one didn't. More instructions please software developers. Eventually I just gave up.
In fact, what with the whole river plan not working out and the disappointingly violent consistency of my travels, coupled with the general feeling of no particular attachment to this not entirely convincingly generated world, I stopped playing. So far, Skyrim is not reigniting any dormant gaming urge that may still exist inside my brain. I may give it another go, but at this point, things don't look good.