Dénouement 2011: Skyrim

 By Shamus Dec 23, 2011 290 comments

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I’m still in the throes of my Skyrim playing, so it’s too soon for me to look back on the game with a sense of finality. Instead of a retrospective of the game, I’m going to tear it apart in a bunch of petty ways. You know, like I used to do all the time around here. I want to start by going over a section of the game that I think was masterfully done: The introduction.

There’s a lot going on in Skyrim. There’s a civil war taking place. Ulfric Stormcloak, enraged that the empire has outlawed Talos worship, has gathered a lot of Nords to his side and begun a rebellion. A guy named General Tullius is opposing him. The Stormcloaks are outmatched by the Empire, but they’re tenacious and this is their homeland. The Empire is larger and stronger, but are often undone by their own bureaucracy. They don’t really want to fight at all. They just got done with a war and they’re tired of it. They would much prefer that the Stormcloaks settle down and go away. In the midst of this conflict, Dragons reappear after being extinct for thousands of years.

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Now, that’s a lot of exposition to lay on a player in the first five minutes of a game. On the other hand, the player really needs to know all of this before they exit the tutorial. They will need to understand this before they can begin making informed decisions out in the open world.

As the player is led to the block, we can see the careless abuse of power on the part of the empire when they send you to be executed without giving anyone a trial. In the case of the player, they don’t even bother to charge you with a crime. The commander evidently is bored by all the paperwork, and so you go to the block.

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Then Alduin shows up just in time to ruin your execution before you lose your head. We see the dragon looming over the field where Tullius and Ulfric were bickering just a few seconds ago, perfectly capturing the entire premise of the game in one easy-to-understand image: A dragon setting crap on fire.

The other good thing about this introduction is that it really shows off the gameworld. In Morrowind we began in the belly of a ship, and in Oblivion we were stuck in a dungeon for almost twenty minutes before we saw daylight. But we begin our adventure in Skyrim outdoors, and get a sense for where we are in the world and what this place is like.

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There’s another detail I really like in this section. The priestess gives you your last rites by praying to the “eight divines”. One of the Stormcloaks gets pissed and steps forward, demanding to skip the whole blessing and get right to having his head chopped off. This is a really nice touch. See, there aren’t eight divines in Tamriel. There are Nine. The ninth is Talos, a human who ascended to godhood. This entire war is taking place because the Nords revere him and the empire has banned his worship. By saying eight divines, this priestess is actually giving the condemned a slap in the face. She’s offering the blessings of all the gods except the one they worship. By demanding they take his head, this stormcloak is spitting in the face of this blessing, showing that he’d rather die than accept their false blessing. This moment reveals the careless disrespect the Empire has for the Nords, as well as the depth of the animosity the Stormcloaks have for the Empire.

All of this is depicted within the space of a couple of minutes, without a single line of forced exposition. There’s no narrator feeding you history, no opening text to set the stage. By attending the execution we meet the crucial characters, we see their place in the world, the attitude of their differing forces, we get a hint at the religious conflict that sparked the war, and we see this entire war swept to the wayside as the dragon arrives.

Once you escape your own execution, you get the choice of following either Hadavar or Ralof. I have no idea why you would choose Hadavar. He’s with the empire, the guys who wanted to chop your head off. Ralof is with the Stormcloaks, and is the closest thing you have to a friend at this point.

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Once you and Ralof escape the city, he leads you to a nearby town where you can meet his sister, his brother in law, and his nephew. The ensuing conversation fills in the world even more, and gives you a sense of how the war is affecting the lives of common folk. (It’s also wonderfully optional. Feel free to walk away and go adventuring if that’s what you want. This conversation is here to fill in the details, but by now you already have everything you need to know.) This exchange takes place in a gorgeous little patch of the gameworld. I was worried that this game was going to be “all snow, all the time”, and this stunning little spot was a wonderful way of showing that this world was going to have a lot of rich visual variety.

Now, you might argue that the tutorial occasionally belabors the point, or that it gets a bit tedious in repeated play-throughs. But this is a great introduction to the game and a well-executed bit of storytelling. Really, really nicely done, Bethesda.

Having said that…

All next week I’m going to run a five-part 6,000 word series that will mercilessly deconstruct a section of truly awful, sloppy storytelling. No I am not kidding.


A Hundred!A Hundred!2020202010There are more than 289 comments. But less than 291


  1. Even says:

    Can’t wait. I made the mistake of trying to take this game as a serious RPG only to get slapped on the wrists by the writing at almost every turn. It’s not a bad game, but the game just doesn’t seem to want you to relate to its own world. It really is a shame how things eventually turn out, since the start has so much promise.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      At least they arent pretending this time around,so its refreshing.

    • Sumanai says:

      I’ve kinda given up hope of ever roleplaying a character in a video game. “Kinda” in the sense of “occasionally trying and then getting punished for it by the game mechanics”.

      • Naota says:

        I figure if I’m going to have to imagine around game mechanics and forced choices the way you always will in “open-ended” RPGs until somebody develops an adaptive AI Dungeonmaster able to literally produce content at the same rate you can go through it, I would rather be writing a novel or playing a tabletop game.

        The imagination is fine for expanding on existing information (I always steal things, so maybe my character is a kleptomaniac or comes from a life of poverty, for instance), but I draw the line when I have to use it to retcon the very facts and rules of a game I’m playing just to properly roleplay. At that point I may as well just be making up all the rules and plot developments of a story myself, and there’s no point in tying my ideas down with an uncooperative and limiting game system.

        I’m incredibly weary of blank slate protagonists by this point, considering there pretty much hasn’t been a major Western RPG without one in at least half a decade. Don’t get me wrong, total freedom of character creation is cool, but it’s not so damned revolutionary that it must be roped into every roleplaying game ever created. Sometimes people want to play as a person that already exists with flaws and quirks and an interesting past which will play a proper role in the story rather than creating an empty husk that can only be projected upon by the player and whose invented traits will never be acknowledged or used to dramatic effect by the game world.

        • Kdansky says:

          Ahem, Witcher 2?

          • ps238principal says:

            I haven’t played the second one, and I’ve barely touched the first one because:

            1. The protagonist isn’t compelling or all that interesting, to be frank.
            2. The interface is so clunky I’m amazed I haven’t killed half my comrades in battle.
            3. The game was quite concerned with bouncing breasts. Voice acting? Not so much.

            And this is the “cinematic” or whatever version from Steam a week or so ago.

            • thebigJ_A says:

              It has one of the most compelling protagonists I’ve yet seen, once you get to know him.

              If you play the games, or at least a decent chunk of them, and still feel that way, fine, your prerogative.

              But to say “I’ve barely played the game, so I’ve not found out who the main character is; the main character isn’t interesting” is uninformed, and thus not a valid opinion.

              • ps238principal says:

                If the protagonist is so two-dimensional you think he could be used to mend a moth-eaten bedsheet and it prevents you from enjoying the actual game, then that’s quite a valid opinion.

                “Hold your nose and it might get better” is hardly a ringing endorsement.

                • ACman says:

                  I don’t know about the first game but the in Witcher 2 he’s a pretty decent, standard “superhero with a code” protagonist.

                  Plus the supportng characters are all unbelievably strong for a computer game. Fuck it, they’re strong for a decent show on HBO.

            • Kdansky says:

              The first one was mediocre, the second one is brilliant. And while I don’t think Geralt is the best protagonist ever, he does a better job than Sheperd.

          • Naota says:

            I’ve yet to play it myself, but not for lack of trying. There are just so many blasted games popping up at the moment that it’s hard to keep up with everything. I’ll certainly consider grabbing it before the Steam sale expires, for obvious reasons.

        • an adaptive AI Dungeonmaster able to literally produce content at the same rate you can go through it

          Forget skyrim, who’s making this game? If no one, why not?

          • Kyte says:

            Because it’s ridiculously expensive and it’ll look even more ridiculous because computers are still not that good at generating content? The closest is Dwarf Fortress, and we know how that goes.

            • ps238principal says:

              They’re only as good at generating content as those who program them. And the trouble would be finding a way to have random or decision driven content without hitting a dead end in the plot or having to shoehorn events into an on-the-fly generated story.

              At the moment, nobody’s learned the trick of seamlessly making events mesh, not to mention the problem one would have with voice acting for every possible outcome. At the moment, the best example of a compromise I can think of is Fallout New Vegas’ Mr. House who can be presented with any action you take and say “Yes, I took that into account. It’s of little importance.”

            • Klay F. says:

              We know how it goes because Dwarf Fortress was effectively made by one dude. If someone could put together a team of programmers, all of whom had the talent of the Dwarf Fortress creator, then yes, the world would start seeing emergent content in no time.

              • decius says:

                Except that you can’t put together a team like that. Or even just one programmer; people of that quality must become inspired. If a bunch of competent programmers independently became inspired to work together to create a game that generated content appropriate to the character the player was playing, that would be a different matter.

              • X2Eliah says:

                Then you have 10 individual projects that all still look like your computer crashed, with 0 graphics, art assets, storyboard or appeal.

                I agree that DF is a very advanced, complex framework of implemented rules, it’s just that the actual Implementation of all those mechanics is downright miserable – it’s barely a game, to be honest, just one part of it, still missing a number of crucial components.

          • Jeff R. says:

            This is two steps into the future. Before they can even start working on that one, they need the capacity for on-the-fly voice synthesis with a quality and variety indistinguishable from what they get by hiring a platoon of (mediocre at best, for the most part) actual voice actors. When we have a ‘talkie’ RPG that lets you chose your own name and then has other characters actually address you by it, a system where they don’t need disks full of voice mp3s for each hundred pages of script, then we can start thinking about a serious AI dungeonmaster.

            • Naota says:

              There’s an immediate, contemporary solution to this tech gap available right now, though: don’t use voice actors. Text conveys thoughts and emotions perfectly well on its own, takes up practically no storage space, and can be revised, edited, and rewritten at any time for no cost. Synthesized voices would be great, but they’re hardly mandatory.

              Don’t forget that even with the perfect AI-DM you still would have compelling reasons for a pseudo-directed experience in RPGs, since for all that simulation, generating a compelling plot would be something almost entirely up to random numbers and pre-written modular events. I want more roleplaying games where the story is driven by characters as much as events, which requires skilled writers to craft a branching storyline within which the player acts out a role, but behaves as they see fit within those constraints (see Bastion).

              The day the kind of RPG I described stops being relevant is the day when we teach a machine to plan, research, and write creative fiction… and on that day we’ll have far more interesting problems than a sub-genre of video games going out of style :P.

              • ps238principal says:

                Except the genie is out of the bottle on that one. Like it or not, voice actors are needed to appeal to the majority of gamers. Those of us who don’t need our games to simulate movies to a “T” are fine without it, but asking a AAA-level game like Skyrim to be without voice acting for everyone is like asking why we can’t have a 12-part movie series based on the verbatim adaptation of “Dune” if we cut costs by shooting it in black-and-white.

                What I don’t get is why there isn’t a middle-of-the-road technology adaptation, which I’d call AutoEmote. Much like how Autotune can make a tone-deaf caterwaul sound like a perfect-pitch rendition of the National Anthem, why can’t a similar filter be used to make the same vocal delivery sound sad, happy, angry, annoyed, etc., even just a little bit? Even if it’s the same line you’d hear anyway, adding the appropriate context would go a long way to giving the illusion of scope. There’s also whatever tech they use for robotic phone trees that uses some recorded words, but also syllable parts to form new ones. Coupled with the AutoEmote filter, it shouldn’t be impossible to take what would have been a single-use voice session and turn it into five or six times the applicable use in a given game.

                • Naota says:

                  I don’t think the gaming community is quite so jaded just yet. Minecraft has an enormous user base but doesn’t even have text, let alone voices. Even as late as the original Dragon Age the player character could only speak in text, though everyone else had accompanying voices.

                  You could make an adaptive game that would sell solid amounts without voice acting, but you probably couldn’t market it to absolutely everyone the way a game like Skyrim might. Gamers who would trade voice acting for absolute player freedom are a niche, but I bet they’re a pretty darn big one – big enough to support a game marketed to them.

                  It’s just like how RTS gamers back in the day could put up with tiny sprites and tile-based levels for their gameplay of choice, while at the same time shooter fans had full 3D models with visible facial features(!). Games should target demographics like these or else they’re all going to turn into the same thing, trying to appeal to literally every gamer while satisfying none.

                  • ps238principal says:

                    But Minecraft isn’t a cinematic RPG with character interaction. Why would it need voice acting?

                    And funny you should bring up Dragon Age. Every other RPG (that I’ve played of late) except for Mass Effect has a silent protagonist. DA made it really not work by having cinematics where you could see your character not talking while everyone else did. It would have been better if they’d done a Fallout-style first-person camera on those scenes, which makes you not miss the voice at all for some reason.

                    Your comment about niches is taken, as I made a similar point: AAA-level games like Skyrim can’t go back to silent text-only formats; it’s just not feasible. No Bethesda or Activision or any other major game studio is going to concentrate on the niche, and they’re pretty much going to set the standard. A smaller game could possibly shine through, but if we were talking about movies and not games, you’d be wanting a hundred “Paranormal Activity” films to make it big versus the next “Avatar” or “Lord of the Rings.”

                    Adding another metaphor: I loves me some Doctor Who. I can still happily watch just about any Tom Baker episode and enjoy it. I say this while recognizing that no TV show will ever hit the sci-fi nerd audience at the same level using junkyard parts for sets, the same quarry for every alien planet, and firework-laden spaceships on strings for special effects.

                    • Naota says:

                      I think that’s a fair point, but I’d actually be fairly content if video games had the same spread of niche projects to big blockbusters that Hollywood does. Lately I’ve seen a lot of very competent films with diverse premises that probably didn’t cost all that much to create but were created nonetheless.

                      The movie industry has this wide middle area between the super-artsy niche films and mass-market blockbusters for things like Sweeney Todd, Moon, Hanna, or Submarine. Presently that doesn’t really exist for video games. It seems like modern games must either cost dangerous sums to create and are forced to make it all back by appealing to every gamer out there, or they’re created with bare minimum resources as an indie title and sold for 5-20$.

                      Creativity gets limited on the low end by a crippling lack of resources, and the high end by the need to play it safe on such a huge investment. A lot of the best ideas are getting edged out by this arrangement. Hell, whole genres are disappearing.

                  • glassdirigible says:

                    A note about RTSs using sprites and tiles: Switching to 3d models of the units isn’t an easy technical feat.

                    In an FPS most of the things you have to draw to the screen are moderately large. In an RTS you have to draw tons of tiny crap, but a character model doesn’t demand that many fewer polygons than say a character in an FPS.

                    It took RTSs a long time to recover graphically from switching to 3d. It also didn’t help that we experienced high resolution sprite-based games before the switch occurred.

            • Mistwraithe says:

              Like Naota I really don’t see why this matters. I’ve played plenty of awesome RPGs reading text instead of spoken voice and to be honest I might actually prefer it that way.

              Certainly if someone presented an RPG with ONLY spoken voice and no written text then I wouldn’t be willing to play it. Waiting for people to speak is an order of magnitude slower than reading the text of what they are saying and I just don’t have the time or patience to wait to listen through every single dialog, or even half of them.

        • Phoenix says:

          Sandbox already exists, like dwarf fortress. It doesn’t happen often because, I think, they don’t want to risk it. And probably people prefer story to freedom. Freedom & story, now that’s a challenge. But I would like a sandbox skyrim.

        • Sumanai says:

          I got the impression that you’ve misunderstood. I’m not demanding that a game, let alone every game, should allow me to play a character any way I want. I try to roleplay within the constraints of the dialogue tree and generally have only a couple of basic rules for my character. “Be polite”, “try to help people unless they seem like dicks” etc.

          The problem is, that for instance, playing a “diplomatic character who doesn’t want to cause undue trouble” in Mass Effect will gimp your Renegade and Paragon point gain, which in turn gimps your dialogue choices and therefore feels like a punishment.

          In The Old Republic playing a money grabbing greedy bastard means getting both dark and light side points. Since there are items that require certain levels of one or the other, again you’ll end up punished for it.

          Again in The Old Republic I was trying to play an Imperial Agent that otherwise could act the way she wanted but would always be respectful towards her superiors. But the first companion you get doesn’t like this attitude (she’s a “free spirit” or something), therefore damaging relations. Which is bad, and again I’m getting punished for trying to roleplay instead of being a munchkin (i.e. trying to please my companion despite the image that I have about my character).

          You might notice two things about the above examples:
          1) They’re all within the constraints of the dialogue trees that already exist and therefore are not only very much possible to do but have actually been done and getting the game to work for me would only mean taking out mechanics that are in place.

          2) The ones above are both Bioware games. This isn’t relevant, just thought I should make the observation.

          • dbv says:

            I’m sorry, while I see your point, the fact that you *are* punished is to me, a feature. Why should greedy-money grubbing guy get all the best gear also? He got his “bonuses” by choosing whichever side paid the best. If it takes someone committed to the light side in order to get a particular item, that’s their reward for choosing that style of play, even when it is inconvenient and doesn’t offer immediate rewards.

            Regarding the SWTOR part – if you are roleplaying your character that way, then why would she care about what a “free spirit” thinks – she’s got missions to do, damnit! You aren’t being punished – your actions are influencing your character development. Maybe you will get another companion later on (likely) that will respect your options, and your character will naturally gravitate towards that one, due to your similar outlook.

            • Sumanai says:

              The reward is capability of equipping the item, not gaining it. It feels artificial, which is part of the problem. I understand that behaving like The Perfect Sith (or The Perfect Jedi) would warrant a gift from higher ups.

              The other part of the problem is, that I’m a money grubbing dickhead, why am I getting Light Side Points?

              But until I get that other follower I’m punished by the game system with one that doesn’t work to her full capabilities, because she doesn’t like me. (Unless they changed that mechanic, of course.) It’s still a method for discouraging role-playing your character without any real gain, even if there’s a way for role-playing past it.

              “I’m sorry…” you’re sorry about what now? Think about it. Are you apologizing for having a different opinion? What would be the point of that? Prefacing with that doesn’t make you polite, it just makes you weird. Or rude, since it could be taken as being condescending.
              “I’m sorry you have to hear this world shattering fact.”
              “I’m sorry I have to contradict you and I think that you can’t stand for any kind of a differing opinion.”

  2. MrCompassionate says:

    The story was total nonsense, but the player is distracted from that by all the weird character movements and glitches. Its like the game washes its dandruff off with sewage.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “I have no idea why you would choose Hadavar.”

    In my first playthrough I didnt even notice ralof.After a while though,I embraced my decision of following the empire,despite them trying to murder me.Later,however,I didnt find either faction compelling.

    • acronix says:

      The same happened here. Later on, I noticed Rolof and Hadavar stop briefly some feet in front of each other and exchange words. The first time you are so worried about “I don´t want that dragon to burn my lovely head” that you don´t stop running. And if you start screwing around because “it´s the tutorial, I can´t die!” then Alduin comes down and proves you wrong.

      • Someone says:

        Pretty much this. It’s hard to carefully consider your allegiances when you’re shackled and being attacked by a dragon.

        • Aldowyn says:

          The part I can’t figure out is how you end up with Hadvar or Ralof in the first place. You always start out with Ralof, but sometimes you get separated jumping into that burning building and end up with Hadvar.

          And Hadvar is that one sympathetic Imperial that’s like “we’ll return your body to your homeland” or “At least you’ll die here, in your homeland” or whatever. It’s the captain that’s… well, one of the LPers I watched called her the HBIC. Heh.

    • ACman says:

      MY first play had my devout ax wielding Nord follow Hadavar because I didn’t even see Ralof. But he’s doing the Stormcloak missions.

      My Empire Character followed Hadavar. I’m roleplaying him as an imperial spy. I guess he was going to get executed through a bureaucratic mishap.

    • Museli says:

      I made a point of following Hadavar. He didn’t want to kill me, even if the Empire did. I figured if I helped him get to safety he’d be able to plead on my behalf. I was an Argonian a long way from home, and I figured I could use a friend in an official position.

      • Indy says:

        I picked Hadvar (I swear that’s his name) because I was already convinced that the Stormcloaks wanted “Skyrim for the Nords” and as an Argonian that would become guildmaster of everywhere, that’s not appealing.

        I also picked him because he seemed genuinely sorry that you were going to be tried with the rest of them. He didn’t hate you, just pity about the “wrong place at the wrong time” treatment I was getting. And when he saw that he could be fair, he offered to risk his life to get out us out of the city.

        His relation in the next town is the blacksmith (I think it’s his uncle) and Hadvar even says that he doesn’t want this war. And the blacksmith has an Amulet of Talos to show he’s not entirely convinced that the Empire is right. I don’t see the same kind of regret on the Stormcloak side.

        • Ringwraith says:

          Yeah, it almost seem like he wants to speak up about you getting unjustly executed simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but knows it’s no use. His apologetic manner only reinforces it.

          • Eärlindor says:

            Yeah, Hadvar’s apologetic manner is obviously there to give the player a reason to follow him out of Helgan. Personally, I don’t think it was enough for the player to go on after the horrid treatment from the other Imperials. That sequence frustrated me: they expect you to take sides in a conflict you know almost nothing about within the first five minutes of the game WHILE there’s a dragon flying over your head that CAN kill you.

            If this would’ve been my first TES game with no prior knowledge of the lore or previous games, I probably would’ve chosen the rebels, at least initially. But I know who the Empire is and I felt like I wanted to join them, yet at the same time, for all I knew they could’ve no longer been the Empire I had known in TES IV–so much time had passed. But I was uncertain about the rebels because I knew nothing about them either, because I knew almost NOTHING about what was going on.

            I think they did a very poor job setting up the factions in this game.

            • James Schend says:

              You don’t actually choose sides until you do the “Join the X” quest. And you can play for hours before doing that, visit all the cities, get a good sense for the world.

              • Nick-B says:

                Indeed. This “choice” makes no difference later. I didn’t actually realize until my second playthrough that the game even GAVE you a choice of following one or the other. I just kept following the guy in imperial armor that I was already doing right before. Either way, it just affects who is your best buddy in Riverwood.

                I prefer Hadvar, as you meet a family that is obviously sympathetic to Stormcloaks, but have a friend/family in the Imperial army because a ruler by any other name…

                Another reason I like Hadvar, is that it doesn’t paint the Imperials as some massive evil empire, but just some reluctant empire’s minions.

              • Eärlindor says:

                This is true, but I consider it after-the-fact because it’s not like you actually know this going in for your first time. It is still presented to the player as a choice you are forced to make with little knowledge beforehand.

        • I went with the Imperials too. I am a dark elf, and it struck me that Hadvar was sorry for all of this and then he said he would have tried to send my body back to my relatives.
          But in the dungeons as soon as I met (and accidentally saved) the torturer, I killed him. One thing is being dragged in a institution bigger than you with wich you sometimes disagree, an entirely other thing is to enjoy torturing people.

        • Drew says:

          I also went with the empire. They’re for peace and inclusiveness. My character is a wood elf so the whole nord vs. elf thing is more than a little scary. Also, once you get into the towns it seems like all of the ones held by the imperials are nice and have more merchants while the ones on the stormcloak side are all falling apart and have problems…. It really does seem like Skyrim need the empire and that the thalimor are interested in fueling the civil war.

          • Felblood says:

            Of course the Thalmor want to feed the fires of civil war.

            The great irony of the Stormcloak rebelion is that the more the rebels weaken the Empire, the harder it is for the Empire to resist the Thalmor treaty and its requrement to ban Talos Worship.

            If they really wanted to get anything done, the Stormcloaks should be assassinating Thalmor justicars instead of Imperial officials.

            Kill enough of them to give the Empire a chance to stand up for themselves, and the Empire would probably be glad to relax enforcement of the treaty.

            • thebigJ_A says:

              Except that SPOILER SPOILER

              Ulfric is/was in the pay of the Thalmor. He considers himself independent of them now, but according to the docs you find in the Thalmor embassy, they merely consider him an inactive asset. An asset that should be handled with kid gloves and approached only indirectly, sure, but still their tool.

        • tengokujin says:

          ALL OF THE ABOVE COMMENTS. ALL OF THEM. :3

    • theLameBrain says:

      I do not know which of the two I went with, but I don’t think it matters.
      I have never picked a side. In the first part of the game when you go to Whiteru, I asked Jarl Balgruuf what side he was on. Balgruuf’s answer was that he was “on the side of Whiterun.” I decided that I was too.

      I am Robertson, Nord, Dovakhin, Harbinger of the Companions, and Thane of Whiterun. I say that Whiterun stands free of Stormcloak rebellion or Imperial subservience, and I will kill any man who says differently!

    • Joe says:

      I am joining the chorus of people here – I didn’t even notice the stormcloak guy (Ralof, is it?) in the intro. It was a tad hectic what with the dragon and everything :)

      Later on, I thought that the choice between the Empire and the Stormcloaks is rather overcooked. Empire is kind of the ‘bad guys’ here, but if you’re playing a non-Nord the xenophobia among the Stormcloaks is terribly off-putting (albeit strangely impersonal; despite continually raving against the Dark Elves in particular, no-one in Windhelm ever seems to notice my character is one). So the choice between Stormcloaks and the Empire becomes very unappealing…

    • Hitch says:

      It is a bit of a leap of faith to go with the Imperial at that point. But not long afterwards (whichever side you choose) you’ll be encouraged by various people to join up with each side.

      I was intrigued by the reactions of the two leaders to your reappearance. Paraphrasing, Ulfric Stormcloak basically says when reminded that you were about to be executed along side him, “I don’t mind that you’re criminal scum, as long as you’re willing to murder Imperials.” On the other hand General Tullius responds along the lines of, “Sorry about the mix up there. I’m glad you survived.” Spoiler: Whichever escape route you take, the Captain who ordered you dead for no reason dies. At your hand if you go with the Stormcloak, but just as dead if you go the other way. The General doesn’t explicitly say so, but he seems willing to blame her, and good riddance.

      As you play through and talk to people on both sides, there’s a very gray vs. grey morality to the conflict. I just wish I could find an option to unite the two sides in an all out offensive against the Thalmor who really cause all the problems.

      • NihilCredo says:

        I’ve heard many players clamoring for a DLC in which you get to massacre as many Thalmor as possible. And based on how satisfying it was to do precisely that during the Grey-Mane clan’s quest, I would agree.

      • Aldowyn says:

        That second part that’s spoilered? YES SO MUCH! Except weren’t there tons of the nords in the army in the Great War? So Skyrim was pretty much helping the empire fight them but they STILL lost? (Except the Dragonborn could probably take out a 100 or so at once. By himself. Especially with full Daedric armor, a daedric warhammer, and a bunch of ridiculously awesome shouts.)

    • deiseach says:

      Yeah, I adopted a philosophy that you wouldn’t hang around in a dragon fight and ran after the first person I saw running away who happened to be Hadvar. I think you hear Ralof yelling after you denouncing you for the betrayal – jeez, we spent a couple of minutes on a cart together, that does not make us blood brothers!

      • Shamus says:

        Actually, the one yelling traitor is Hadavar.

        Hadavar: Ralof, you traitor! Outta my way!

        Ralof: We’re escaping the city. You’re not stopping us this time!

        (Paraphrase.)

        • deiseach says:

          Gotcha. It was all rather chaotic, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Alas, Hadvar *cough* turns out to be a complete drip, devoid of even a smidgeon of character onto which you can project. Is Ralof any better?

          PS that dialogue you quote brings to mind Harrison Ford’s line about how George, you may able to write this …

    • Johan says:

      On my first playthrough, I got the two desperately confused. See, you start off following Ralof away from the chopping block, then you follow him up the tower and he tells you to jump the gap. Then Hadavar shows up and says “follow me!” But the thing is, I was looking around at the awesome Dragon, and didn’t notice that I was following a new person, I sort of assumed he’d gotten back in front of me (it reminds me of some psych experiments actually). It doesn’t help that they’re both Chris Hemsworth looking fellows, one in pale, reddish armor and one in pale, blueish armor. So they start arguing, I’m still looking at the dragon, and I think I’m following Ralof when I’m following Hadavar.

      My second time I STILL got confused. I knew I was following Hadavar when he shows up, but Ralof’s appearance screwed me up. You see Ralof appears on the left, and Hadavar argues with him from the right. But then Ralof runs across into the rightmost door, and Hadavar goes to the left. I managed to confuse myself again as to which Christ Hemsworth I was following, and once again followed Hadavar.

      I’m sure I’ll get it right on my third run.

  4. Well you do know how to keep me coming back.
    It would’ve been nice to make the ride in skippable, but otherwise I agree – fantastic opening.

    That said, I find it interesting they essentially set you up as working for the Stormcloaks – I didn’t even know there was a choice at the time. It’s particularly interesting as the Stormcloaks will, unless you’re a Nord, spend the game being incredibly racist to you, while the Imperials are nothing but civil. I assume if you are a Nord they just find some other reason to antagonize you for no good reason, but they lost all my sympathy around the first quest of their Civil War storyline, at which point I handed the Jagged crown to Tullius and never looked back.

    • acronix says:

      My Imperial character was a Nord. The imperials didn´t seem to care.
      Though I didn´t notice the Stormcloacks being racist towards the player. Maybe they do that with specific races? I sure didn´t notice anything off with my redguard.

      • Moriarty says:

        The player always is an “exception”, I really wish the game would discriminate more openly against you, according to your race. Khajit are supposed to be banned from entering the nord cities, yet my Khajit didn’t even notice anything like that until that one merchant in Whiterun told me about it.

        • Ringwraith says:

          It could be passed off in some ways by the fact you’re obviously a traveller, so no-one expects you to stay for long. Although it doesn’t explain everything.
          The fact that there are some racist slurs is a nice touch, and is more notable in the more racist areas. I get called a ‘lizard’ by the guards a lot more around Windhelm and Riften then elsewhere.

          • Moriarty says:

            Being a traveler doesn’t help the Khajit trade caravans. Those poor guys are forced to camp outise cities in the snow while I casually stroll through the gate.

            • acronix says:

              It´s probably a case of Gameplay and Story Segregation in order to give all characters “equal opportunities” quest-wise.

              • Moriarty says:

                That’ just the lazy way out, if the game takes the consequences of your race away, why bother with them? You spend most of the time in first person mode or in obscuring armor, so without npc reactions the only thing left to matter are the weak racial boni.

                It’s not as if we couldn’t find ways into the city even if were one of the undesired races. At first you’d have to bribe your way in and later you could use your standing with other holds to convince the guards, or prove you status as dragonborn.
                There are many legitimate reasons for the PC to be allowed into the city, but just ignoring the problem is boring.

                • acronix says:

                  I agree that it´s the lazy way out and that they should have been consistent, but such consistency would have required more hours designing and implementing dialogues and scripting, and for some reason they decided against it (probably the usual “lots of people will miss it” excuse).

                  The reason to bother with races without taking them into account more than aesthetically is…well, aesthetics. Some players like to tune their appareances even if they´ll literally never see theirselves again. There´s also the “for variety´s sake”, or maybe just because not allowing race selection would piss off some of the series fans who are used to be able to play argonians, khajit or whatever the main character´s race wouldn´t have been.

                  • Ringwraith says:

                    Not to mention the fact you’d have to work your way into every single city, and it may even end up making the main quest unavoidable if you need to progress it to get into cities. So it would probably do more harm than good.

                    • Dualhammers says:

                      It isn’t lazy as much as a design choice made because of the limitations of the production cycle pitted against striking a balance that won’t piss too many people off.

                      I bet there are more people out there who would cause a big stink because the stories for one race were cooler than the other races than there are people who would get upset they can go into a town as a Khajit.

                      I’d say when wondering why something happened always look to the fanbase before the developers.

            • Ringwraith says:

              They do set up camp though, they’re not quite travellers the same way you are, as they are merchants while you’re actually outright called an adventurer sometimes.
              Not to mention that you always have to prove yourself before you’re allowed to buy a house in any city.

        • rrgg says:

          I think it’s only the caravans that aren’t allowed in the cities because the nords think they’re skooma dealers (and because they sell skooma). Otherwise I’ve seen kajiit and argonians in almost every town, I think they just aren’t common in skyrim.

      • Dovius says:

        The Imperial Legion doesn’t really care about race. Hell, go to Solitude and you’ll find that Tullius’ second-in-command is Legate Rikke, a Nord!
        It’s a bit of a shame how both of the storylines get rather boring after the first few missions and everything turns to “Kill dudes at a fortress till the dial reaches 0%”, and even the invasions just feel bland.
        I was thinking about walking up and blowing the gate of it’s hinges with a big Fus Roh Da, but NOPE, walk around, take out everyone on the walls by yourself and open the door for the mighty army of about 7 dudes.

        • acronix says:

          The fact that the barricades can only be destroyed by hitting them 3 times is lame, too. One would think your biggest fireball would shred that punny wood away, but nope, you have to hit it three times. Three fireballs or three fistcuffs, they all do the same damage to barricades. /facepalm

        • Hitch says:

          I think at least 50% of the legionnaires you see in Skyrim are Nords. It makes sense, Skyrin is part of the Empire, most of the local forces were recruited locally, it doesn’t make sense to move legionnaires around to distant provinces, far from home, most of the time. Even Nords not in the Legion are pretty evenly divided about which side of the rebellion they should support.

          • Ringwraith says:

            Tullius also mentions that he’s not been given many legions as reinforcements, so the amount of foreigners in the province isn’t that large.

          • rrgg says:

            Apperently nords make up most of the imperial army, even outside skyrim the fact that the emperor surrendered even after so many nords died to protect him is one of the big reasons ulfric decided to rebel in the first place.

      • Kel'Thuzad says:

        I played as a Dunmer joining the Stormcloaks on my 2nd character. A lot of stormcloak officers do ask why an elf would join them and Windhelm is full of extraordinarily racist nords.

    • Zukhramm says:

      Really? Aside for asking my why I wanted to join even though I wasn’t a Nord I don’t remember anything like that.

      • Ringwraith says:

        It’s more to do with the tone with which they ask you, it’s very clearly not polite.

        • Zukhramm says:

          Sure, but the Dunmer in Morrowind were even worse and I prefered them over the Empire anhway. I guess I’m just a fan of empires in general.

          • Aldowyn says:

            Elves in TES are… arrogant, racist jerks. Especially high elves, most dunmer aren’t just because they’re too busy being insulted for being dark elves themselves :D

            The reason I joined the Stormcloaks is because Ulfric really sounded like he actually believed in the cause. Everyone else made me regret it. I really want to try the Imperial storyline now..

            And I want to see what happens to Whiterun.

    • Kdansky says:

      Except that the Thalmor (which are also on the Empire’s side) insult you at every chance, even if you are a High Elf yourself. If found that incredibly weird.

      And I obviously followed the Stormcloaks, only to be treated racist and promptly switched sides, and then made Ulfric really angry at that meeting later on (where there are actually interesting dialog choices).

      • Ringwraith says:

        Ah yes, but they’re the true Altmer.
        Yes, they really are just that bad. Also ‘Thalmor’ refers to the group whom are in power of Sumerset Isle, and doesn’t reflect everyone.

      • X2Eliah says:

        I guess you haven’t caught on the fact that the Thalmor are mercilessly persecuting any High Elf back in Summurset Isles that doesn’t adhere to their political views?

    • Kian says:

      You can skip the ride into Helgen. The game creates the first save when you are creating your character, so if you want to start over you can load the very first save and create a new character without going through the ride again.

      • Aldowyn says:

        This reminds me – I’m really, really surprised they didn’t do what they normally do and have that spot where you can change your character. I know race and looks are all that’s affected, and you don’t change your skills and stuff, but I found it odd. That way you could skip the intro really easily too.

    • Helm says:

      It’s not skippable per se but if you look in your saves there is one auto save just before you choose your race etc etc, curses Kian gots there first

  5. EpsilonNaught says:

    I had a totally different initial impression of the empire. Obviously trying to kill me was kind of unpleasent of them, but as I’d been caught wandering near enough a battle (or however Ulfric etc. were captured) not perhaps surprising, and they were polite and apologetic about it. I followed Hadavar because I honestly didn’t see the option to follow Ralof until after I’d gone through the door. The Stormcloak’s Skyrim-for-the-Nords attitude made them seem somewhat closed minded and unpleasant compared to the apparently organised empire. I honestly didn’t pick up on the Talos worship thing until I went to Markarth after winning the war for the empire, at which point it became clear that the Thalmer were enormous assholes. I wish there was a questline about destabilising the influence of the Thalmer over the empire (though that would probably work better for a game set in Summerset Isle or Cyrodiil).

    • Andrew B says:

      I can’t be the only one to have seen that lack and the suspiciously opened ended comments re the Thalmor in late game sections and thought DLC ahoy, can I?

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Yeah, I actually still haven’t picked the side in the Stormcloak-Empire conflict. I mean, I know that Empire commander was all “off with his head” but one asshole in the army isn’t really enough to make me turn my back on them. This may also be amplified by the fact that the way I’m thinking of my PC… well, he might not have been in the area for all the legal reasons anyway and maybe it’s better they didn’t rightly know every single thing about his story. My main problem with the Empire is the White-Gold Concordat and the resulting ban on Talos worship, you do not abandon a god like that (plus Empire spies fail big time but that’s something I already wrote about three times in these comments). The Stormcloaks on the other hand hold true to the Talos thing, and I respect that, but otherwise they are just such enormous assholes (especially since I don’t play a Nord, extra points because I’m a Dunmer, so one of the elven races). Ulfric in particular seems to be a self serving bastard. And I don’t want to hear that he’s “only going to take the throne if he’s chosen High King according to law,” this means nothing if he’s first going to deal with anyone who might go against because they are “obviously in league with the Empire.”

      • swimon says:

        The back story doesn’t exactly paint Ulfric as a great leader either. When the empire started shifting it’s military away from Skyrim (and all other colonies) to help in the war against the Thalmor the forsworn seized the opportunity to take Markarth. From what I understand they ruled the city relatively peacefully (which I find strange since they attack everyone at sight). Ulfric then decided to take the city back (Nords might be a bit racist against elves but they seem to hate forsworn more) after which he started executing everyone who looked at him funny. So yeah, even if you sympathise with the Nord’s movement, which personally I don’t really, it seems misguided to blame the empire and even if you did this seems like something that could be solved with protests rather than civil war, but even if you do sympathise with them Ulfric is pretty much Robespierre.

        • madflavius says:

          Even worse, in the infiltration of the Thalmor embassy near Solitude quest, if you actually read the Thalmor dossier on Ulric, you learn a loooot more about him. Ahem:

          The Thalmor consider him an asset, having broken him and convincing him that cities fell due to his betrayal, then returning him back to Skyrim, a shell of a man, ready to take direction, if not explicit orders. While a “dormant” asset that the Thalmor consider unapproachable directly, they essentially consider Ulric a resource that they created, and therefore endeavor to perpetuate the war as long as possible–for obvious reasons.

          After reading the dossier, I was so very happy I chose to go with the Empire.

    • Klay F. says:

      Hadavar even flat out says eventually that the last thing the Empire wants to do is fight the Nords and that the real enemy of both the Stormcloaks and the Empire is the Thalmor, but Ulfric is just using Talos worship as a strawman to claim the crown for himself.

    • theLameBrain says:

      +1 to wanting a questline to kick the Thalmer out of Skyrim!

  6. Jarenth says:

    I find it funny that you say “…I have no idea why you would choose Hadavar. He’s with the empire, the guys who wanted to chop your head off. Ralof is with the Stormcloaks, and is the closest thing you have to a friend at this point.” Because in my first (currently only) playthrough, I didn’t even catch that this was a choice. I panicked and ran away from the giant firebreathing dragon, I saw Hadavar beckon and yell GET IN HERE YOU IDIOT, and I did. And that was that.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Same, or rather, I saw this brief moment where Hadavar and Ralof cross each other, run after Hadavar… then kinda looked over my shoulder “where did that other guy go” and noticed him standing there next to another door (I think). I ran over to him but he would just stand there (not sure if he bugged out or already said his lines or what) and Hadavar yelled at me to hurry up… so I hurried up over to him. From what I’ve seen around the net a lot of people actually miss the fact that going with Ralof is an option the first time around. Maybe it would be better to actually have the player follow both of them and have them part ways in an uneasy “we just got away from the dragon, do we really want to kill each other now or do we agree that letting people know about these things is important?” truce…

    • Eruanno says:

      Yeah, same here. Ralof disappeared when you jump from that tower, and I was just panicking not to get eaten by the giant dragon, and I was like “SHIT, DRAGON, COVER ARGH” and ducked into the nearest building.

      Only when playing it through again did I realize that yeah, Ralof comes back, but he must have completely snuck past me the first time.
      Oh well, it’s not like it had any long-term repercussions beyond which house you get to crash in over in Riverwood.

  7. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

    I started my first game following Ralof. Once I realized I had a choice not to, I scrapped that character and never looked back. I don’t think I could make a character that sympathizes with the Stormcloaks and feel okay about it.

    • evileeyore says:

      I could make a Nord that sides completely with the Stormcloaks, but it would be difficult to justify any other choice… unless said character really hated elves.

      My Imperial wanted to side with the Foresworn despite all their obvious flaws.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      I haven’t played Skyrim yet, but I do have one possible answer to the question “I have no idea why you would choose the guys who wanted to chop your head off.”:

      Fixing the problem from the inside. Sure, there’s a dragon right there going nuts, but somewhere else other people are probably getting their heads chopped off because the douchebag in charge is bored. If YOU are in charge, you can fix that. Run towards the problem, and all that. Or failing that, you could at least arrange for a few careless douchebags to meet with unfortunate accidents before deserting.

      So I haven’t played Skyrim, but that would be my first thought.

    • Tizzy says:

      Who you follow was probably meant to be unimportant in the greater scheme of things. I imagine that the designers wanted you to be introduced to the conflict from seeing one side up close, but they could not have meant it as any kind of choice this early in the game. And indeed, you are free to side with whoever you want afterwards… They could have done away with one of the two characters, but why break the symmetry, when the whole point is that each side should be able to make a convincing case.

  8. Reet says:

    I know this shouldn’t be an excuse for bad writing on anyones part but frankly I don’t expect bethesda to ever write good things. I mean, their world is cool and filled with interesting lore but as far as the story and dialogue goes I couldn’t care less. Which is a shame because I feel like most of their games could have been drastically improved by fixing that stuff up. It’s annoying but typical and I’m accustomed to it.

  9. Vegedus says:

    Yeeeeaaahh, I didn’t catch most of that the first OR second time I played the introduction. I didn’t know/remember there was supposed to be nine divines. I thought that guy was in a hurry to die because viki-, uh, nords, are fearless that way. I got the impression the Empire was jerks, but not why, and no hint of what their redeeming features could be (which they actually have a lot of). I didn’t get a proper impression of who the Stormcloaks were, besides generic freedom fighters. When I was done with the introduction, I was itching to go find someone who could actually give me some REAL answers to what this war was about.

    Maybe it works if you’re totally into the TES lore, but as someone who haven’t played Oblivion in three years, and didn’t read many of the ingame books, the whole thing just came off as a bunch of “uh, is there something here I should know that I don’t?” moments.

    • Indy says:

      It’s sad when you don’t understand it the first time through because the second time, you’re not paying attention. You’re trying to skip it and maybe enjoying a sandwich waiting for the scripting to cycle through. On the other hand, if they were blunt about it, you might not feel the same need to explore during your first game.

    • Klay F. says:

      Just so you know, the ancilliary books in the Elder Scrolls series (“The Real Barenziah”, I’m looking at you) are superior in almost every way to the main plot of the games themselves.

      Seriously, The Real Barenziah is just superb.

      • Kana says:

        A lot if video games have this problem. Games (right now) as a whole just aren’t as good at delivering story and narrative as books, so a lot of teams will use books to fill in plot holes or handwave off anything that seems out of place in the game itself.

        Really wish someone higher up would put their foot down and forbid books as a catch all and make the developer team step it up. Something to really take games to the next level in narrative.

      • Dovius says:

        Damnit, The Real Barenziah.
        I remember scouring Oblivion for all the parts and just enjoying reading them every once in a while.
        Didn’t notice they were in Skyrim too, though.
        Time to expand my library and hunt them down again!

        • theLameBrain says:

          The Real Barenziah is one of the few book series to survive all the way from Elder Scrolls II, Daggerfall.

          I suppose it could have been in Arena too, but I never played that one long enough to be sure.

          If you like it, you really should consider playing Daggerfall. It is old, the graphics are crappy, and the controls will make you cry, but that game has some of the best in-game books ever.

          I still share with people the one about the Old Lady and the Banker. Hilarious!

      • Vegedus says:

        Yeah, I’ve been reading more of the books now, mostly because the intro gave me and urge to figure out all the necessary details of the setting. I do think the plot of Skyrim relies more the established lore of the TES universe more so than it’s predecessors, and even more on the non-established (all the stuff that happened on the timeline between Oblivion and Skyrim). There’s a lot of pretty important historical events that are pretty significant to know to get the proper angle on the current situation, and it’s only revealed gradually through talking to some especially informative NPCs and reading books, or just reading up on the timeline on the wiki. I can’t decide if that’s kinda cool annoying. I DO wish more of these things came up in the “Skyrim War” quest line, instead of endless “knock over castle X” quests.

    • I didn’t get any of the lore too and I had the same impression with the guy in a hurry to die and the stormcloacks being generic rebels.
      And for me it was really too soon to make me decide which one to side with.
      Really, I know you for 30 seconds and I have to put my life into the hands of one of you?

      • James Schend says:

        It’s not a permanent decision at that point. The character you choose in the intro gives you a quest, “report to Imperial Legion”. If you ignore that quest, you get the Stormcloaks one also, then can choose at any time which faction to join.

        Once you do join you’re stuck, but you have all the time in the world to choose.

        • Eärlindor says:

          There is no way to know this before hand. A second playthrough is after-the-fact and even then, there’s no way to know that from an in-game perspective. It may not be permanent then regardless, but you are still forced to make that decision (with nothing to go on) then and there, and neither choice is particularly appealing.

          • Aldowyn says:

            Why would it be permanent from an IC perspective? You’re just going with whoever to get the heck out of dodge.

            • Eärlindor says:

              Whether or not it would be permanent is secondary to my main point: the whole situation is poorly set up and they don’t give you enough information or proper development to help you make the decision they’re forcing you to make within five minutes of playing the game.

    • Kana says:

      I had the same problem. Never even thought about that until Shamus brought it up, but now it does make sense. My complainant though, they stick you in a 5 hour cart ride with a bunch of Stormcloaks and none of them thought to get upset enough to mention this fact? Or that guy to actually get upset and say something like “Eight?!” first? To anyone who doesn’t know whats going on, the scene doesn’t work nearly as well.

    • Even says:

      You only really get perspective from dialogue snippets all over the place. It’s a bit sad too since the underlying politics here are one of the better written parts of the game, once you actually find enough info about it (of which a lot of is undermined by the shoddy civil war questline). Neither of them are saints but both have good reasons to be fighting the war.

      The Stormcloak cause only really becomes understandable once you begin to understand the significance of the Talos worship in the Nord culture and how a lot of Nords saw the whole deal with the elves as utter betrayal. They were called off to fight a war on behalf of the Empire and all they got was a slap to the face for a reward. Introduce the presence of Thalmor agents sent to ensure the treaty is enforced and suddenly it all starts to make a lot of sense. They’ve got all the right reasons to be angry and resentful towards the Empire. For them having the right to their way of life is what matters the most and you could probably extrapolate that many of them would have rather kept fighting the war with the Aldmerian Dominion than agree to the terms of the current treaty.

      TL;DR Version: http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=814

      Frank = The Stormcloaks, DM = The Empire

      There’s then of course the reality that regardless of their strife, the whole civil war is playing towards the pockets of the Thalmor and that the Empire is currently only thing standing in the way of the Aldmerian Dominion and it’s dubious at best if either an independent but unified Skyrim or the remnants of the Empire could stand against the Aldmerian Dominion alone.

      The Empire, for all its failings, is still not really the bad guy of the story (nor are the Stormcloaks, for all the reasons I stated above, in spite of their xenophobism) and that’s what gets ignored maybe too much by the Stormcloaks and which all the more makes the whole premise of the civil war to come into question. Both sides are merely concerned of getting rid of the other one, but nowhere in the plot will they nor can you as a character to try to intersect and present the argument that the REAL enemy of both is the Thalmor and their fascist agenda and that perhaps it would be time to figure out a way start dealing with them for real. It just feels like an entire story hook was missed right there and as it stands, the only way to “win” the war for either is the total elimination of the other faction.

    • Hitch says:

      It helps that I spent way too many hours running around Oblivion, reading everything and talking to everybody, but the first thing I thought when I heard “Eight Divines” was “What? Aren’t there nine? What happened?”

      • Aldowyn says:

        I don’t remember where I heard about Talos being outlawed first. Pretty sure I found that out in Riverwood talking to Alvor. Or possibly Gerdur. ANYWAYS, it seems so fundamental to the game to me. And then there’s Heimskr. How the heck can you not notice Heimskr railing against the outlawing of Talos and the Thalmor?

  10. Wolverine says:

    Looking back at it like this, there really are some nice touches to it, but when I first started Skyrim, I was very confused.
    First, I needed to learn how to control the game, turn on the subtitles and so on, so I could not really pay attention to all the things that were said during the cart ride and execution scenes (which were most important to the story). You cannot set this kind of things up before you start the game, and when I finally went to menu, set things up to my liking and returned to the game, I forgot everything I heard during the cart ride.
    Second, there really is a lot of exposition and names to remember and no one bothers to explain to you anything. I would have expected Ralof or Hadavar (I went with him the second time I started the game just to see what would happen) to give you sales pitch about Stormcloaks/Empire and why you should join them but they really don’t.
    Overall, I think that this intro must be very confusing to players new to The Elder Scrolls series or RPG games in general.
    Fortunately, you can learn the backstory from books and from playing the game…

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      I’ll be honest, I know it’s kinda difficult to expect people to play all the way back from the Arena but I have problems with gaming series that try to establish a universe and have to re-establish it every time they release a new instalment.
      Myself I really like that I can play Skyrim and find a book where the author speculates about the events of Daggerfall or otherwise catch a reference and immediately know what people are talking about. Kinda selfish, I know.
      One thing that wasn’t immediately obvious to me (might have missed it if it was mentioned early) was that 200 years have passed since the events of Oblivion. Once I got that part of the puzzle I was able to ascribe a few of the issues that bugged me to “well, it’s been 200 years, some things might have changed.”

      • Klay F. says:

        One of the things that invariably happens when I’m playing an Elder Scrolls game is for some reason, at some point in the game, I suddenly lose all interest in the region I’m in and gain a new sudden interest in some other region I can’t go to.

        In Morrowind I wanted to be in Black Marsh instead, in Oblivion I wanted to be…well anywhere else, the Summerset Isle in particular, and now in Skyrim I want to be back in Morrowind again.

        • swimon says:

          Or Elseweyr! Seriously it’s a desert filled with cat people living in the leavings of countless lost civilisations how is this game not already made? Also it’s called Elseweyr, that’s like the greatest weird fantasy name ever.

          • Varil says:

            That’s what he said, that he’d rather be else where.

            • theLameBrain says:

              I really would like Someone to pick up the “Elder Scrolls Adventures” Franchise and reboot Redguard. Seriously, how has this not happened already? Its like Elderscrolls meets Pirates of the Caribbean.

              I envision a game using the Frostbite2 engine, borrowing heavily from Sid Meier’s Pirates! and set in the elderscrolls universe. Oh yes.

              • Eärlindor says:

                Back when I was playing TES IV, I stumbled upon “Mysterious Akavir” and also heard a rumor of some hero who went there and never returned. Now I really want to go to Akavir.

                • Sleeping Dragon says:

                  AFAIK the Nerevarine, as in the PC of Morrowind, went on an expedition to Akavir after the events of the game.

                  You know what else they’ve been kinda building up for the last couple of games? Dwemer. For better or worse something tells me someone will eventually want to tackle the disappearance and possibly return of the Dwemer in one of the games.

      • Dovius says:

        I thought the timeskip was both interesting and rather disappointing.
        Because on one hand, you have thise massive world war that has completely changed the political landscape of the entire world, for better or for worse.
        On the other hand, at some points in Skyrim’s main story you’ll suddenly start asking yourself why you don’t get to play a game about that.

        • Klay F. says:

          I asked myself that question, then I remembered the NPCs in Oblivion and it automatically answers my question.

          Thats one of the biggest failings of Bethesda, the lore and the game world are so different from each other, they might as well be different universes.

      • Dev Null says:

        Its been a long time since I played any of the Elder Scrolls games, but does this cross-game continuity actually work? I seem to remember murdering every single god in the world in Morrowind (and its expansion), and having some pretty epic impacts on the universe in Oblivion too. If anyone talks about history in Skyrim, why would they talk about anyone but me?

        • acronix says:

          The previous heros in the series don´t seem to be spoke of anywhere in each subsequent game, really. I´m quite sure the solution they use is to stick to a “canon” version of each hero, defined by Bethesda. So basically you each hero you play isn´t on the same universe as your previous playthroughs, but on a paralel one were Bethesda decides all previous history.

          • thebigJ_A says:

            Actually no. What they often do is far more interesting than that. Look up, or find in-game, the book The Warp in the West.

            Daggerfall had seven possible endings, and they are all explained in-game as having all happened simultaneously.

            There are also books about “the Dragon Break”. The dragon is Akatosh, time. And the dragon breaking is the player changing things by saving/reloading.

            It’s all incredibly deep, and fascinating. People have been spending years debating this stuff. Try here: http://fallingawkwardly.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/the-metaphysics-of-morrowind-part-1/

            It’s about Morrowind, but it applies to the whole series.

            • Sleeping Dragon says:

              I’ll be honest, it may not be everybody’s thing but for me personally the Warp in the West and related phenomena are one of the greatest things in the TES lore. I really like what they did with the multiple endings thing.

        • Klay F. says:

          Because its two hundred years. The stuff you did in the previous game becomes academic at that point. And the history education isn’t that great in Tamriel.

          • Aldowyn says:

            There’s mentions of “the oblivion crisis” occasionally, mostly in the tips on the loading screens. And the non-continuation of the emperor’s line is mentioned a couple times, when talking about history of the dragonborn and the blades.

        • silver Harloe says:

          Between Morrowind and Oblivion, the writers wiped out Morrowind with a massive volcanic cataclysm, making the question of whether you killed or didn’t kill Vivec and Almalexia moot. And, if you followed the story-line, making everything you fought for in Morrowind moot as well. So, that’s their answer to cross-game continuity – just black hole the previous games actions.

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            The Red Mountain explosion was kinda cheap and frankly I don’t see why it was even necessary. I don’t think the events in Morrowind, either at the time of Morrowind the game or 200+ years later would seriously affect present day Skyrim, I guess there would be fewer Dunmer, and if they just wanted to make it clear that Morrowind wasn’t of much use to the Empire they might have put in a huge civil war between the houses or some such. The entire Dagoth Ur thing was, thanks to the PC, contained to that one province, similarly the influence, worship and eventual destruction of the Tribunal probably didn’t have much significance on the rest of the Empire.

  11. Raygereio says:

    This entire war is taking place because the Nords revere him and the empire has banned his (red: Talos) worship.

    What? I’m waiting for the inevitable GotY-edition of Skyrim, so excuse my ignorance.
    But isn’t Talos a big deal for the empire? It’s frigging Tiber Septim deified; the guy who founded the empire itself and the dynasty – whose last member sacrificed himself to end the Oblivion-crisis-thingy – that ruled for the whole third age.

    What the hell happened to make the empire decide that they don’t like the guy anymore?

    • Lesquille says:

      The Thalmor (who just kicked their ass in the Great War) gave them a choice: Outlaw Talos worship or die. The Empire was in no position to keep fighting, so they went along with it. Both sides know the war will resume soon anyway, but the Empire needed to buy some time to rebuild.

      • Entropy says:

        And that there is my problem with the Stormcloaks. They are incredibly short-sighted? Do they really think Skyrim can take the Thalmor alone, when the Empire barely managed to hold them off, with Skyrims assistance?

        The only realistic hope of ever seeing the Thalmor gone is to help those Empire milk-drinkers.

        • Aulayan says:

          Considering the Redguards fought the Thalmor out of Hammerfell AFTER the Empire made peace with them. Yes, the Nords think they can.

          Also the Nordic history is full of Nords v Elven Oppressors. They think it’s their birthright to go to elven homelands and kill them. And given their love of ancestors and living up to their ancestors standards…once again, they think they can take on the Thalmor.

          Also, honestly? Their God got outlawed. That kinda thing pisses people off.

          • Klay F. says:

            Except before the Thalmor invaded the Redguard were very divided. The Thalmor made the Redguard unite. Its the exact opposite for the Nords. Before the Great War the Nords were united, now the banning of Talos has them killing each other instead of the Thalmor.

            • theLameBrain says:

              Consider that by all accounts in game, Talos was worshiped in Skyrim without hinderence, just quietly. It wasn’t until Ulfric started making a big deal about it that people started getting riled up.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          This will be the third time I’m making this spoiler in these comments but still:

          Skyrim is naturally defensible and Nords have a long tradition of battle, when defending they also have the advantage of home ground, being used to the climate and a few other that a defending army usually has. On top of that during the game you can get access to Thalmor documents stating that they are in fact stretched as thin as the Empire and needed the truce just as badly. I am about 90% sure that there is a paper literally stating that the Thalmor must not allow the Skyrim to unify (whether under Imperial rule or as an independent land) because they wouldn’t be able to handle it at this point.

          • Lesquille says:

            Yeah, there’s a document in the embassy that basically says a definitive Stormcloak OR Imperial victory must be avoided at all costs. They want the civil war in Skyrim to continue indefinitely, with both sides wasting resources and manpower.

            • Aldowyn says:

              So, basically, the Dragonborn screws up EVERYONE’s plans. Whoever s/he goes with automatically wins.

              And that actually sets up a DLC nicely. You have to do the civil war quests, but after that you get to help them kick the thalmor out.

              Besides, I wiped out an entire fort with a couple dozen of them by myself (Well, Lydia helped, a bit). Can’t be too hard.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Despite the fact that the White-Gold Concordat is pretty much a strategic move on the side of the Empire this is my main beef with them. I generally play more of a Daedra worshipping type but still, you do not just abandon a god to get a bit of a break in battle (that’s even putting aside the fact that there are documents stating the Thalmor needed the time to regroup and resupply just as badly as the Empire did and pretty much bluffed about giving the Empire a reprieve. They threw in the ban on Talos worship precisely in the hopes of causing internal strife. Where the hell is Empire’s intelligence at a time like this?!).

        I probably wouldn’t mind it that much if I got a feeling that the Empire was just bluffing and there was a strong undercurrent of secret Talos worship which is going to resurface as soon as they don’t have a knife pressing against their collective throat (you know, stuff like “Oh, those Talos worshippers, yes, we boarded up the temple but it seems they got away just in time with their scriptures and relics. I honestly don’t know how it could have happened.”) but while playing it felt as if most everybody but the Nords was cool with this. There is even a book that could be titles “Why we made a mistake by worshipping Talos all these centuries and how grateful we are to the Thalmor, who are so much wiser and prettier than us, for showing it to us.”

        • Aulayan says:

          The Empire’s intelligence died with Uriel Septim VII in the dungeons of the Imperial Prisons. The Empire’s falling apart 200 years later. Elseweyr, Morrowind, Black Marshes, Hammerfell, Summerset Isles all long seceded from it.

          I fully expect TES6 to actually have a fallen empire.

          • Ringwraith says:

            Yup, as the Blades stopped being the Emperor’s bodyguards and all-round intelligence service after the last of the Septim bloodline died, as protecting emperor’s wasn’t technically in their job description, it just happened to coincide with their actual job.

            Also, Morrowind didn’t secede, and Valenwood was brought under the control of the Thalmor after reign of Summerset Isle. Morrowind is simply wrecked as Red Mountain finally erupted and is now being invaded by some very angry Argonians, probably as payback for such prolonged slavery of their kind.

        • Klay F. says:

          The empire’s intelligence died when the head of every Blades agent in Summerset and Valenwood was brought to the Imperial City in a cart and tipped over. That was pretty much the start of the Great War.

        • swimon says:

          Well that book is pretty transparantly propaganda from the Thalmor so I don’t know if it really shows you the common sentiment shared amongst the rest of the empire. That said there is a distinct lack of covert Talos worship from the non-nordic races.

          • Hitch says:

            Among the Nine Divines each province seems to have their own local favorite. Anywhere but Skyrim Talos is just “one of the others.” But to a Nord “Nine Divines” means “Talos and his eight underlings.”

            • Aldowyn says:

              Ya know, I get the impression Talos should be important to all men. I mean, he WAS Tiber friggin’ Septim, who made the empire what it was, right? He was a nord, too, so of course they honor him more, but… sheesh.

  12. Lesquille says:

    Another reason to follow Ralof – you get to kill that smug Imperial lady who orders you to be killed because she’s tired of paperwork.

    Funny thing, if that first Nord who gets executed didn’t tell them to skip their last rites, he probably would have escaped like the others.

    My main gripe with Skyrim is that the story of the Thalmor and the crumbling Empire is more of a subplot, when I found it much more interesting than the Dragonborn “save the world” stuff.

    • Phoenix says:

      Yes me too, Thalmor bastards, I usually kill them on sight.

    • acronix says:

      Actually, you don´t get to kill her then. You killl her much, much earlier if you join Rolof on the escape part. If you pay attention, you´ll notice the first enemies you come across are a couple of imperials. One of them is the captain from the intro. It´s just that the officer armor makes them look alike…and they have the same skin tone and facial structure…um…

  13. Phoenix says:

    I followed Hadavar because it was the one I saw there, I must have missed the other one. Anyway later I never went for one side or another, the war is wrong because is what those damn dominion elves wants. The empire to fight with skyrim, to weaken both. Stormcloacks are lead by hatred. Also there are other reasons.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Interestingly enough I’ve seen the discussion where people claimed this to be pretty much the worst choice as far as the big picture. There are documents in game that suggest that (not a huge spoiler since you can’t really do much about it) the Thalmor are largely bluffing their military might, the war with the Empire has been very costly to them and they are (somewhat bigger spoiler) in fact secretly sending aid to the Stormcloaks (without the Nords knowledge of course) to keep the war going. In short, the war going is what the Thalmor want, it bleeds the Empire, doesn’t let it regroup and prepare for a second round. Which is what the Thalmor are doing. The game tries to create the image that the thing is at an impasse and without the PC to tip the scales it could go on for Akatosh knows how long. Whoever wins it is harmful to the Thalmor, I think there is even a bit of writing that directly states that a unified Skyrim alone would be enough to hold them back.

  14. tengokujin says:

    One side is a bunch of officious bastards with no stake in anything. The other group is a bunch of assholes that hate everything. Which side to choose, which side to choose?

    I choose me! :p

    Seriously, I did my best to kill members of both sides whenever possible. Of course, thinking about it now, I was helping the Thalmor… the side I hate the most. But that’s ok! I killed them, too. And the bandits. And the Forsworn. And everyone that isn’t an average NPC, just trying to get through their Skyrim lives.

    >.>

  15. Eruanno says:

    All next week I’m going to run a five-part 6,000 word series that will mercilessly deconstruct a section of truly awful, sloppy storytelling. No I am not kidding.

    …Awesome!

  16. Lazlo says:

    First, I think you said “without giving anyone a trail.” when you meant “trial”. That’s one of those typos that’s just plausible enough that it’s confusing.

    Now, I haven’t played Skyrim yet, so I don’t know the answer to this, but… while the whole thing with the eight divines being prayed to as an insult to the stormcloaks and Talos and them getting rightfully annoyed does sound like good drama and storytelling and such, how did you know that backstory without any exposition?

    • Aulayan says:

      … I can’t speak for Shamus buuuuut me? I took a look at the lore online just before I bought the game.

      Now not everyone is as much a lore junkie as me, no. So instead, think of it as foreshadowing. You may not *know* what’s going on. But when you find out, assuming you remember what you saw in the opening, it becomes brilliant. an “Ah ha” moment. Or if you don’t remember, you may do a second playthrough and it’ll hit you then.

    • Shamus says:

      It’s true, I knew there were nine divines. (One of the Oblivion DLC’s was “Knights of the Nine.”) But yeah, if you’re not up on your TES lore I guess that would go right by you, or only make sense later.

      • I guess that if you didn’t point it out I would have surely missed that part.
        I played oblivion, but don’t remember any of the lore, nor I get anything about Thalos from the introduction, so I guess that for a new comer that’s rather unhelpful as introduction.

        • Ringwraith says:

          It’s one of those nice references to the lore that can fairly safely go over your head if you don’t know it without you feeling as though you missed anything, but adds some nice depth to ones who do know.

      • Dovius says:

        To be fair, it’s easy to miss if your not paying attention, even if you ARE a TES lore junkie.
        I thought it was just typical Nord bravado, “yada-yada-yada, I don’t care. Get it over with so I can go to boozed-up, feasting Viking heaven!”

        • theLameBrain says:

          To me the fact that this intro was so lore-heavy is a nod to people replaying the game. It is like the creators said, “yeah, we know this is a long cart ride and you can’t skip or do anything while it is happening, here is some lore.”

          the thing is, I am REALLY into TES Lore and I still missed most of this the first time through. I think I really got the whole impact on my third or fourth time through, after exploring the world a bit, seeing how it had changed in 200 years, and seeing some of the places they mention. It really does a pretty good job of keeping me interested even after I have seen it three or four times, just because I keep discovering something new.

          What bugs me is Helgen itself. Where was Helgen supposed to be? It has no Jarl, no Hold, no place in the overall political atmosphere of Skyrim. It really feels like it was tacked on as “a place to be destroyed at the beginning of the game.”

          Wouldn’t it be cool if Helgen had more place? Like what if they had their own brand of Mead that was super valuable now because the Meadery was toast? Or something like that…

          • Dovius says:

            I always got the feeling that Helgen was kind of a secondary main base for the Imperial Legion so that they’ve got good coverage of the entire province.
            Also, due to the relatively small distance, it can be assumed to fall under the Whiterun Hold.

            • Hitch says:

              It’s actually in the Falkreath Hold. It was a town on the order of Rorickstead or Ivarstead. Not quite big enough for it’s own Jarl. Interesting, if not unique, in being walled, but that could be because it’s so closer to the border. You were arrested for crossing the border.

              • Aldowyn says:

                yeah, but it’s a border with CYRODIIL. why would the border with cyrodiil be that important to guard?

                And it’s bigger than Winterhold. That place has like… 4 buildings. More are burnt than standing >.> (they explained that it’s kind of down on its luck…)

      • Myth says:

        It still is somewhat obvious that something along those lines is going on. Entering the game without even the slightest knowledge the setting, and no prior experience with any other Elder Scroll games, I still got the sense that the “prayer to the 8 Divines” was the Empire pushing an unwanted religion on the Nords, and the rebel not wanting to put up with it.

        In my case, I simply assumed that the 8 Divines were the gods of the Empire, and that the Nords presumably worshipped some other set of gods. But the scene still stuck in my mind, and when I got to Whiterun and really got exposed to the situation with Talos, it all became clear.

        I think, in many ways, this is really a strength of it – rather than a pile of exposition that tries to cover every detail, we instead are given a broad sketch of the story, with more and more details filled in as we travel, as we converse, as we quest, etc.

  17. Tobias says:

    I initially intended to wait for the GotY edition. So I watched a lot of LPs of skyrim. Then (around 2-3 weeks after release I decided to buy it ).
    So I saw: Most people never notice that you can choose side in the tutorial.
    Similarly I had watched more then 6 players (and played myself) until I saw that you get led to the guardian stones by the tutorial guy. When he said we should split up I (and many others) went into the forest ended up at the mine, then I saw the strange compass marking and found the stones through that.

    For the civil war: I ran into 3 quests where you go directly against the thalmor.
    1) The Embassy on the main quest (neutral)
    2) The old woman from Whiterun (neural)
    3) Elsif sending you for a secret sacrifice to thalos ( pro-imperial )

    When I did the peace treaty, I checked makarath to see if I bugged anything interesting out. And there were thalmor justicars talking about elven supremacy being protected by stormcloaks.

    But the real reason I went imperial is that all the likeable jarls (Balgruf,Elsif,Ravencrone) were pro-imperial. In fact I also liked the emperor himself, he was a fairly sympathetic character.

    In the End the only thing I really hated about this game was the thiefs guild. Especially if you first meet them on main or the brotherhood quest. They are all assholes, the guild going downhill is clearly entirely their own fault, and too many of them are unkilable ( I tried several times). They are the little lamplight of skyrim.

    • Aldowyn says:

      Hmm. I’m not actually looking forward to doing the thieves’ guild. Riften and the Ratway looks like a pain to do, and the few that I met were a pain. No Grey Fox and time-honored traditions here.

  18. Dwip says:

    This is easily the best intro ever in a TES game (though I do actually like them all), and if you spent enough time with TES lore (I have), that Eight Divines thing is really, really shocking. As is pretty much the whole main plot. That said, it would be nice if I could skip the cart ride for guy #3.

    (That said, my first thought on seeing the cart was “I’m in a moving cart! This is amazing! You couldn’t do that in Oblivion! Where’s the Construction Kit so I can see how they did this! Modding’s going to absolutely amazing!” I may have been at this too long…)

    As to why anyone would join the Imperials? I went Imperial with my first guy, granted by accidentally following Hadavar, and never really looked back. Yeah, they tried to chop my head off, but…

    - It’s pretty clear that the Stormcloaks cross the line from being plain old nationalists to straight up racists. The fact they have a Dunmer ghetto is pretty vile.

    - It’s not clear as to if Tullius or Ulfric is the bigger jerk, but insofar as Ulfric is a self-aggrandizing regicide who started a war pretty much because he could, I’ve got to go with disliking Ulfric more.

    - The whole “The Empire is lazy” thing actually isn’t all that bad for Skyrim. Yeah, they tried to chop my head off, but by and large they don’t seem to put their foot down really hard (a few taxes, and people actually like signing up with the Legion), and the benefits of inter-Empire trade seem pretty good. The Imperial cities are by and large pretty prosperous and pretty nice places (uh, hi, Markarth. Not you. Sorry), whereas the Stormcloak cities are pretty messed up (even the NICE parts of Windhelm are a slum). So if you can let bygones be bygones…

    - The biggest thing for me was actually figuring out that this whole civil war was a complete sideshow. It becomes pretty clear pretty fast that the Thalmor are the real enemy (they win the jerk race by miles and miles), and they’re out to mess up everybody. You’re going to need a united Empire to stop that, which means that Ulfric is actively working for the detriment of everybody including Skyrim.

    Which is all why my current guy, who runs the Thieves’ Guild and the Dark Brotherhood went Stormcloak half because the Empire DID try to kill him, but mostly because causing chaos is good for business, and if Ulfric wins there’s going to be lots and lots of that sooner or later.

    I do kind of wish I could join up with the Forsworn. That would be cool.

    • tengokujin says:

      Need to ask around after the “Thalmor conspiracy”, get thrown into Cidhna, and escape with Madanach. :p

      This, unfortunately, also kills off a good portion of Markarth, so your mileage may vary.

      Follow the note from Elysif, or whatever his name was, when he hands you “your” note after first entering Markarth.

      Spoilerriffic post is spoilerriffic! :p

      • Irridium says:

        Funny story I have with the whole Markarth/prison thing.

        So, I do all the consipiricy stuff and get thrown in Cidha mine. Well after going through everything, my first action was to kill Madanoch, and escape. Well eventually I ended up face to face with those Dwemer guards, and they proceeded to whoop my ass since I had none of my items on me. So I fell back to plan B, which was to help him and everyone escape, and then kill them all/turn them it. Well I did that, but apparently the devs never accounted for anyone doing this, so after we escaped I was apparently their new super awesome friend. So when they started killing, I started killing them, and they didn’t do anything to stop me. Managed to save everyone in Markarth, but now they keep talking about how the Forsworn busted out of Cidha and killed many people. So yeah, I guess I broke whatever quest chain was planned, if there was one. But seriously, how the hell am I supposed to beat two Dwemer rollerguards with nothing but a damn shiv and some crappy spells to fight them off with?

        So yeah, that’s my fun story.

      • Dwip says:

        Yeah, I had fun with that quest, and was definitely ok with the bodycount ’cause I hate that town, but the Forsworn would be kind of a fun “Heh heh, let’s mess everything up!” faction.

        I was also kind of sad that you can’t get away with killing all the guards when they come to arrest you at the shrine. My ludicrously OP two-handed axe orc had such a fun time slaughtering them all, too. :(

        • acronix says:

          I think the developers hated it too. If you do both the conspiracy quest and doing the good path on the Hall of the Dead one almost transform the place into a ghost town.

    • Robert Maguire says:

      You can skip the cart ride. The game makes a permanent save right before you create your character. Just load up “Save 001 – Prisoner Nord, Level 1″.

    • Dwip says:

      It occurs to me that I was going to make a couple other points and forgot, so:

      - Re: Talos and re: spitting in the face of false blessings at your execution, I didn’t actually get that feeling at all, so much as “We’d have a priest there anyway, and we kind of have to say it this way now.” I never got the sense that anybody in the Empire (especially the Empire up in Skyrim) was really all that particularly thrilled about ditching Talos, so much as the Thalmor took down the Imperial City and kind of made them do it just to create precisely this kind of civil war situation.

      Basically seemed to me that the Empire was keeping Talos gone not because they wanted to (he IS the first Septim emperor, after all), but because they can’t afford the war reinstating him and chucking the White-Gold Concordat would mean. It’s just that Ulfric and the Stormcloaks chose to force the issue, which gets back to the “Ulfric is a shortsighted jerk” thing.

      - Despite my not liking the Stormcloaks, I do think Bethesda did a pretty good job of making two imperfect but relatively sympathetic factions. I mean, I get Ulfric’s point, and if I didn’t know what I know about the Thalmor I’d probably be a lot more prone to believing him. And Dunmer ghetto or no, the Stormcloaks definitely aren’t KAI-sarrrrrr’s Legion level of supervillainy where why wouldn’t you pick NCR or anybody else. Though, come to think of it, I habitually pick NCR, too for a lot of the same reasons, so I guess that tells you what you need to know about me.

    • Kel'Thuzad says:

      They’re not just racist against Dunmer. The argonians all work at the docks in Windhelm and there’s a quest about them being paid half (or a tenth, it’s difficult to remember) the wages of a proper nord worker.

    • Aldowyn says:

      I actually liked Markarth. It’s style seemed pretty cool. Of course, I’m a sucker for stone dwarf-style buildings and cities.

      • Dwip says:

        Oh, the city itself has mad style. Really unique. Which is cool. Probably my favorite aesthetics of any city in Skyrim. Also some of the coolest settlement quests, which is fun.

        It’s also a festering pit of evil and corruption, possibly even worse than Riften in that regard. So, you know. In the sense of “pretty prosperous and pretty nice places to live”, it’s got the first down well, but between the runaway Daedra lords, Forsworn terrorists, Silver-Blood thugs, and what else am I forgetting, not so much on the second.

      • rrgg says:

        I hated markarth at first on account of everyone being evil, but once I killed prisoner spoiler and got pardoned and a ring as soon as I stepped out I thought “you know what, this is actually an awesome town.”

    • rrgg says:

      That last part is the big cincher even if you don’t like both sides you have to chose anyways or else the thalmor win.

      Your chioce basically boils down to
      a. A Unified Empire which might have a chance at defeating the thalmor (even though they couldn’t in the previous war)
      or b. A Unified skyrim which historically has never been successfully invaded and will likely remain so without its men and resouces being siphoned off by the empire, but cyrodil will almost certainly fall.

  19. Galad says:

    “There’s another detail I really like in this section. The priestess gives you your last rites by praying to the “eight divines”….. ”

    Now that you explain it so eloquently I see how well-made this opening segment of the game is, but since I never knew much, if any of the Elder Scrolls world, how was I supposed to figure this out from the intro? All I saw was me going to get killed right at the start of the game until a dragon sets fire to places..

  20. Mathias says:

    I hope you get to the companions (as in the characters that can follow you, not the paper-thin Fighters Guild expy). Oh God, the companions.

    Is there a single companion in the game who has more than one line of dialogue in which they must confer their -entire- personality? That’s probably what annoyed me the greatest, you have such a wide catalogue of characters that can follow you that all have different skills, but none of them have -any- personality. I would trade all of the companions in Skyrim for just one character with the same personality as a BioWare or Obsidian companion, all day, every day. Having these paper-thin characters around me just feels annoying and forced, as if the game doesn’t want me to ask them about this whole affair.

    Also, the quest in Markarth where you have to free the leader of the Forsworn and you’re given no choice but to do it pissed me right the hell off. That quest will go down in history as the sloppiest piece of storytelling Bethesda has ever slipped. The whole thing was so forced and annoying.

    • Indy says:

      Maybe not every companion needs a story but surely the housecarls should have one. I’m probably not the only one who tried to translate them to New Vegas companions, right? Lydia, with her sarcastic tone, would make a perfect Cass.

      • acronix says:

        The problem of the housecarls is that they share every SINGLE line. From their explanation of what a housecarl is to their “I am sworn to carry your burdens”, the only difference being tone. And they all have different voice actors, so there´s NO reason for them to not have recorded different lines of dialogue. The dialogue writers just were friggin´ lazy.

    • pffh says:

      You do know you can kill the forsworn leader and escape on your own right?

      Hell you don’t even have to get arrested you can just kill the guards that try to arrest you.

    • tengokujin says:

      Actually, you can choose to kill Madanach and escape on your own… or go with the Forsworn until you start escaping into the Dwemer ruins and run ahead of them, allowing you to collect the “- of the Gods” gear and your own, whereupon you can go ahead and kill them as they trek in, one at a time, in your gear that Madanach’s assistant hands over to you at the same time you get your quest “rewards”. Best of all? You also get the Silver-Blood family ring for killing them, once you exit out of the ruins.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      The guy you help clear the Daedric Shrine in Dawnstar has TONS of lines. He has this interesting life story told over many different comments (ofc, they do eventually repeat, but still) and he’ll comment on all different new places/cities you go. Also, he’s voiced by The Burned Man, so he’s awesome!

      Then there’s your Dark Brotherhood summon (awesome nod to Oblivion!). He’ll talk about every city, and every step of the DB questline as you do it. He does talk a bit too frequently, though.

      There are a few other followers that have relatively more lines, like that Slayer guy from Rorikstead.

    • rrgg says:

      Some have interesting quests you have to complete beforehand. I highered the darklight tower witch as soon as I could because of her quest.

  21. andy_k says:

    Yay! Looking forward to the series like… well like christmas – this will be fun :)

  22. Joush says:

    Dwip said it darn well, but it bares repeating: The stormcloak rebellion’s plan is to break away from the Empire, making them the smallest nation on Tamriel and the only one openly worshiping Telos. The time between driving the Empire out and getting ground into the dust by the Dominion could be measured in months.

    That said, for all the reasons you have to dislike the Empire in general when you are asked who to go with in the prelude, the person that calls to you has been kind to you and gone out of his way to see to your safety. He makes it clear he’s unhappy with the idea you will be killed and, if you go with him, tries to talk to the Stormcloaks rather then fight them. They did a good job of making a likable guy among the people trying to kill you.

  23. Dys says:

    It amuses me that I either missed or ignored everything that you wrote about. The main thing I took away from that intro sequence was that I was not allowed to move. The entire sequence rolls on iron rails, and you didn’t even mention it. Those rails annoyed me, though only mildly since it’s only the intro sequence. The mentality that holds you in place before providing narrow avenues for you to walk down is symptomatic of the plot armoured frustrations that dog the entire game.

    I like Skyrim, I’ve ploughed vast swathes of time into it, but by damn I wish I could walk into Windhelm and kill Ulfric. Why can I not do that? I see no valid reason.

    Please, please tell me the rant is going to focus on the Thieves’ Guild quest line. I hate it, I hate it so very much it almost made me quit the game for good. It’s the prime example of plot doors, plot armour, all in the service of a story that only makes sense when told backwards.

    • Indy says:

      I liked the Thieve’s Guild quests but I did wish that I could do all the amazing fantastical things with the Key. Collapse towers, open Dragon doors, flood a statue. Saying that, I also wish I could keep the Key. And maybe that I didn’t have to do 40 miscellaneous quests to finish the quest line.

      I’ve started to dislike the Thieve’s Guild since starting this post.

      • acronix says:

        You can keep the key forever if you don´t mind never getting the Nithingale daily powers and the guild´s leadership. Now, should you keep that or the awesome unbreakeable lockpick that will allow you to open every lock in the game without having to spend a single perk on lockpicking? The choice for me was clear.

        • Ringwraith says:

          I’ve not spent a single perk in lockpicking, currently have it at over 80, and have broken the lockpick counter, so I don’t really need any help with lockpicking right now, all it takes is some patience.

          • acronix says:

            The fact that you can easily get to the hundreds lockpicks in your backpack sure makes the skeleton key seem useless.

            • Ringwraith says:

              It was much more of a convenience item in Oblivion as well, as you could simply mash ‘atuo-attempt’ with it until the lock cracked open.
              Although it also prevented you from training your security above 60.

          • Kdansky says:

            My thoughts exactly. I can pick the most difficult locks in less than 10 picks, and I have a few hundred of them. I don’t actually need that perk.

          • Dys says:

            I don’t think I have ever, in my numerous playthroughs on various characters, put a single point in lockpicking. Seriously, that whole tree is worthless.

            To be fair, what you get from lockpicking perks is convenience. But when the choice is convenience vs power, I never have to think too long.

  24. rayen says:

    Another Fable 2 destruction? awesome, i’ve missed those.

  25. Irridium says:

    I went with the Empire at the beginning because… I just couldn’t find the other guy. So much crap was happening I lost track of him, followed the quest market I had, and ended up with the Imperial dude.

    I didn’t even know you had a choice in the matter :/

    • James says:

      I did the same, but as i know my lore, and then learnt what the adverage stormcloak (not all but alot including all the command staff) think of anyone who isn’t a nord, i will always side with the empire, i dont care what you say about defending culture and they’re religion the stormcloaks are racist.
      (stopping now talk about religion even a fictitious one is bad for the Internets)
      plus the imperial look like Romans (much better then New Vegas Romans too) i love Romans :)

  26. Maryam says:

    Why would we think you are kidding? That’s what we come here for!

  27. Well, you already gave away the Golden Riter award this year, so it can’t be that bad!
    I have chosen to not play Skyrim (for various reasons) but with everyone talking about it I feel like I’ve gotten a decent feel for what it’s like. Looking forward to your thoughts and impressions.

  28. Jeff says:

    “This moment reveals the careless disrespect the Empire has for the Nords, as well as the depth of the animosity the Stormcloaks have for the Empire.”

    If that’s what’s portrayed, then it’s essentially deception at the beginning since that’s not what’s actually happening.

  29. guy says:

    Of course, the thing about the Empire vs. the Stormcloaks is that the Stormcloaks are all racists and are undermining the Empire’s odds of winning the next round against the nazi elves who forced the Empire to stop worshipping Talos in the first place. In fact, the Legion commanders also worship Talos whenever they can get away with it.

    So yeah, screw those guys even though they aren’t going to chop your head off for no reason.

  30. James Schend says:

    You follow Hadvar if you’re not a human race, since the Nords are incredible racist. (Something you didn’t mention before.) Argonians, Khajit, Dunmer, etc. have a place in the Empire. Skyrim would just kick them all out if they had the choice.

  31. theLameBrain says:

    I have to say, I have played this game quite a bit. I haven’t done anything, but I brought the game to the point that I killed Alduin, a reasonable ending place at least.

    I have become leader of the Companions, Thieves Guild, and Mage’s College with a single character. I have reached a point that I can go toe-to-toe with giants and win…

    I have never had even a single issue with the quality of the writing. I have never had one with any other Bethseda games either, so maybe I am just not picky…

    • Aldowyn says:

      Giants are easy, I can kill them in like two hits. I got a bounty quest to go kill one in the 20′s. So not that impressive.

      I had characters in Oblivion that were head of all four guilds…

  32. Zombie says:

    The Whole “I didnt know I could follow either person” thing reminds me of F:NV Honest Hearts where you could shoot that guy on the ridge and ruin the quest if you didnt pay attention. Like I said when we got to that part during Spoiler Warning, thats pretty bad design choice. Like, does it flash on you screen “Choose one of these two guys”? Also, in Oblivion they keep talking about “The Nine”. Is that what there talking about here too?

    • acronix says:

      Yes, the Nine are the nine gods of the setting (or the nine good gods, there´s also another batch of evil demon-gods that also are worshipped but are mostly evil). Eight of them were gods since forever (or close to it), while the ninth, Talos, is just a human who ascended to godhood at some point in the past.

    • Klay F. says:

      The quest update tells you something to the effect of “Follow Hadavar or Rolof” but the quest marker points to Hadavar and completely ignores Rolof. At least this is what happened in my playthrough.

      • guy says:

        On the other hand, following Rolof involves continuing your desperate dragon-avoiding wind sprint instead of turning, IIRC.

        • Jeff says:

          That’s not true. When you walk/run into the courtyard, Hadavar confronts Rolof. The quest objective updates to the choice, and you get two quest markers, one on each door.

          Entering the courtyard and never turning will result your view directly centred on the confrontation. When they split up, again without turning since you’ve walked straight in, Hadavar and the barracks are directly in front of you, while Rolof is to your right and further away.

          You can verify this simply by entering Helgen at any time and retracing your steps.

          I didn’t even notice there was a choice to follow Rolof because the quest marker for Hadavar was directly in front of me. When I replayed it, it took me almost a minute of deliberately looking to follow Rolof to spot him and his quest marker at the other entrance (with my HUD transparency is about 50%).

      • Hitch says:

        Actually, when the Stormcloak reappears, a second quest marker pops up pointing you off to the side. Both doors are highlighted until you open one.

  33. Jokerman says:

    I miss you tearing games down in your reviews :D

  34. Spammy says:

    Eh. I don’t want Skyrim. My experience with Bethesda RPGs has mainly been having all the crappy writing shown to me in detail, which turns me off from them. In addition there’s the comparison to an average-to-crappy buffet that also sounds like something I don’t want.

    Then Bethesda the company has made me angry because of their flagrant lack of QA testing. My friend has Skyrim on the PS3, and playing it is a test of how long it takes before the game becomes unplayable. And this is not an old problem! This is something they KNEW existed from previous games and STILL let happen! No. I don’t want any of their damn RPGs.

    And even without that, watching him play just makes the game feel so average. I never really felt that sense that there’s more brilliant stuff to see, just more average stuff like this. Not to mention the whole “You get to fight dragons!” thing completely underwhelmed me. Not even having seen any gameplay footage, I knew that fighting dragons wouldn’t be half as good as playing Monster Hunter. And then I saw my friend fighting dragons, and was right. Then we did the quest with the murders in that one town that’s all ruins, and that just felt so bland and poorly made. Like every opportunity for investigation was just ignored and every major “clue” is just dangled in front of your face, and with no real resolution of the quest either. I don’t want to say that CSI writers know what makes a crime drama good, but compared to that? I’d rather watch an episode of CSI.

    So I don’t want Skyrim.

    • Hitch says:

      It’s not that the Bethesda writing is universally awful. There are some bits that never work. But for the most part, the problem is the lack of rails interfering with story-telling. There’s a reason a GM will force you into doing things in a certain order, and a well designed (disguised) plot door can be a wonderful aid to story-telling. When you can run off in any direction and do anything to want, you can miss huge, important chunks of the story or pick up all the pieces in the wrong order. Once you find everything and put it together, it makes for a pretty good story. It’s just, all to often, unlikely you’ll get it served up in the right order with decent pacing on your first play-through.

    • Ringwraith says:

      Regarding the PS3 problem, that would be a very difficult thing to test for, as it means they’d have to accumulate a lot of hours on a single test build, and that’s just simply highly unlikely, especially as it has to be a lot of hours on a certain test build for the PS3.
      Also, you say it was an existing problem, but how would they know this? They all but threw out the old engine and built a new one, so why would have expected such an odd, platform-specific quirk to persist?

      • Aldowyn says:

        Heh. The dragons have some fairly entertaining bugs, upon occasion. I haven’t seen some of the really crazy ones, but the dragon you see fighting the forsworn in the main questline didn’t seem to like to fly properly. He’d go really slowly or just hover forever…

  35. madflavius says:

    #1 reason to go with the Imperials (above all the other great reasons articulated above): Tullius is voiced by Col. Tigh from BSG (Michael Hogan). Hearing Tigh/Tullius wearily discuss the strategy of trying to bring peace back to Skyrim so they could focus on the real enemy, those blasted Thalmor, was a beautiful thing. I finished that questline before anything else because I was so eager to help him. For the Emperor!

  36. Daemian Lucifer says:

    After reading all of the comments about how hectic the beginning is,and how confused people got,its a shame that later when you face dragons you are so composed and can simply stand there and blast it with spells/arrows.Its just such a let down.

    Giants,on the other hand,now those are always scary.Unless you have freezing,that is.

    • Aldowyn says:

      Later dragons are scarier than Giants to me. Then, of course, there’s the fact that I always just wait for them to land (or force them) and try to whack them to death. Outlasting a dragon is hard to do, occasionally.

  37. Sucal says:

    Honestly, I intend to never side with the stormcloaks. About the only benefit I cans see to doing so is early access to the best house in the game, and even that doesn’t make it worth it for long. Not to mention playing the stormcloak side forces you to betray the Earl of Whiterun, who is basically the one guy in Skyrim that isn’t looking to screw you over in any way shape or form.

    Heck, hes the only guy at skyrim that was forthright and ready to reward for you for what you did, granting you thaneship without having to run a couple of dozen fetch quests first. Throw in the whole ‘Whitenrun makes an awesome base’ thing, and it certainly doesn’t make sense to betray your closest friend amongst the Jarl’s.

  38. thebigJ_A says:

    Can i just put this here? http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/114910-Skyrim-Fans-Uncover-Insectoid-Conspiracy

    You know those bugs in jars? Follow up on the links in that article, then keep following, and enjoy your mind being blown.

    And if somehow you don’t end up where I did, here: http://www.ulthuan.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=37245&start=30
    and here:
    http://fallingawkwardly.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/the-metaphysics-of-morrowind-part-1/

    (Though the journey that got me there was awesome)

  39. rrgg says:

    You really would only go with Hadvar if you weren’t paying attention or you knew the backstory before hand and were planning on siding with the empire. That said once you get to know him he turns out to be a really nice guy, I’d say even more endearing than Ralof

    • Jeff says:

      I followed Hadvar because it was pretty much like the beginning of Oblivion and Morrowind. Be prisoner, follow the Empire for a bit, which ends up getting you released into the world.

  40. Aldowyn says:

    One interesting thing about that intro is that it does very, very little in setting up the main quest line. Other than, you know, having Alduin attack you. All the atmosphere is setting up the civil war questline.

    Also.. did anyone else think the whole idea of the Companions was really cool? I wasn’t impressed with (Oh, I should use spoilers…) them being werewolves, but it was a lot better once I found out that was a recent development. Oh, and I MET YSGRAMOR. That was awesome. And apparently Sovngarde is full of eternally chanting/singing Nords… cool sequence.

    • Dwip says:

      The IDEA of the Companions was pretty rad. The execution…not so much. I didn’t feel like they told that particular story very well at all (unlike the TG/DB, which I really liked the execution (heh) of quite a bit, dunno about the college, haven’t done it yet). Kodlak spoke like five sentences to me the entire time, and suddenly I’m their epic leader? What?

      Sovngarde was worth price of admission, though. Yeah, I three-hit killed Alduin with my totally OP two-handed axe master smith/enchanter orc, but I got to fight a huge battle with the heroes of ancient legend, and how badass is that really?

      Insofar as I did every single word wall dungeon first, though, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the dungeon right before that, though. Way more of the same there.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        The Thieves Guild is my roadblock at present, as in I’m not that hot on actually continuing to play the game and it’s kinda sitting on my hard drive. To be blunt, I don’t really like the “procedurally generated” jobs much but I already checked that I have to do 4 of those in each major town to be able to complete the questline and they feel generic, I have no use for cash by this point and they just drag me through a ton of loading screens to go and grab a single item then proceed through the same number of loading screens back, blah. I’m curious about the further development of the actual TG questline but I can barely force myself to sit down to the game, do one of these generic jobs and then I go “meh, I’m not feeling like more of this crap.”

        • Dwip says:

          And that’s really the downside, isn’t it. I didn’t mind the various brushes with Radiant guild quests when they weren’t required, but if you’re lucky it takes, what, 25 of those things to advance in the TG? Sure, you can quit them without penalty and kind of guide which towns you’re doing, but it is kind of a drag. Even worse, while you don’t have to do them to do 99% of the main TG questline, you DO have to do them if you want to actually complete it.

          Nothing that can’t be overcome with a little bit of judicious dialogue skipping, fast travel, and running, but yeah, forcing these was lame.

    • rrgg says:

      If his next series of posts isn’t about the thieves guild then it has to be about the companions and their stupid “you must drink buckets of blood to proceed and use the skyforge properly” hangup

    • guy says:

      I got to turn into a werewolf. That covers a multitude of storytelling sins. As in, all of them. Because WEREWOLF!

  41. Bentusi16 says:

    I went with Hadvar, and here’s my reasoning, at least this was my reasoning the first time I did it:

    Hadvar clearly shows that he regrets whats going on, for the first, and there’s a note of protests in his voice when talking to the captain.

    NONE of the stormcloaks tries to say you weren’t involved with what happened. Not one. Not even when your heading to the block. Jerks.

    The first order out of General Tullius’s mouth is “Guards, protect the civilians!’ not “Get the prisoners” or “stop them escaping” or even “kill that thing.”. What does Ulfric and his stormcloaks do? Run into a tower and slam the door shut so no one else can get to safety.

    Hadvar is actively doing what he can to help the civilians. He gets that boy out of the line of fire of Alduin and when he sees you he tells you that you are both getting out of there and to stick close.

    General Tullius rallies his men near the gates of Helgen and has his healers try and treat the wounded citizens. He orders you and Hadvar to make for the keep, and even yells “Run, you idiot!” if you walk up to him and try and talk to him.

    Ulfric Stormcloak is no where to be found, and his mastery of the voice probably could’ve helped drive off Alduin.

    So yeah, that’s what I saw the first time I ran through.

    I think later on it really hits it home: Tullius’ cause seems a bit bad on the surface (No more talos worship, forcing the nords to be in the empire) but Tullius himself seems like a really good man. Then if you go and talk with Ulfric and ask around you learn that Ulfrics cause, while on the surface is good (bring back talos worship, independence and self rule), he’s playing right into Thalmor hands AND he seems to be mostly in it for personal power. “Good cause, bad man” and “bad cause, good man” as my friend said.

  42. Doctor Satan says:

    When the woman said,”eight divines”, i would have calmly said,”Ma’am, you don’t believe Akatosh is a divine? That’s a shame…” Then laugh at her face…

  43. Ryan says:

    I had essentially the same view of the empire vs. Stormcloaks as you hold in this article at the start of my playthrough- then I found out that Ulfric and his toadies are all a bunch of Nord supremacists.

    And people tend to take Talos worship in stride, but give the pages of “The Arcturian Heresy” sometime and see if he’s really all that.

    also, as for your next bit: Is it about Delphine? I’d really like to see someone tear into Delphine

  44. Phoenix says:

    I’ll see if there’s the option “I rule” since I don’t trust them both, like in new vegas!

  45. Alex says:

    I saw the intro on youtube. While I’m not really interested in the game proper, I was a little impressed by the opening scene. Although I imagine it spoils the moment when the horse uh… “breaks character“.

  46. Sumanai says:

    Since I intend to play Skyrim in January at the earliest, I can only comment on one thing:

    The helmet that appears in all promotional material looks silly. It’s the only one I can remember that made me think “that would look better without the horns”. There’s a time and place for being horny, and that’s just the wrong place for me.

  47. I always went with Hadvar. I didn’t like Ralof. I had a certain amount of respect for him due to his lack of fear, but he struck me as a the sort of person who only respects violence and strength. Hadvar is polite and respectful toward you even though you’re in a position of weakness respective to him, and he doesn’t hesitate for a second in helping you get away from Alduin even though you’re theoretically a condemned prisoner. Heck, Hadvar even lets the Stormcloaks go their own way when he runs into them on the way to safety. If you go with him, he attempts to talk the Stormcloaks down. I like him MUCH better than Ralof. I really wish you could have him as a permanent companion/spouse option.

  48. RCN says:

    Interesting. Too bad I just bought Skyrim in Steam’s holiday deal, and won’t get around playing it until february, when I’m back from my trip.

    Till then, I’ll watch your merciless deconstruction of the thieves guild. Since I never join then, I think that’s the best way to experience it.

  49. Rack says:

    Extra Credits just did a writeup of the first half hour, oddly they were significantly less kind. I can’t disagree with either view though I do tend to lean a bit towards it being clumsy in introducing new terms.

  50. [...] that the apparent relationship between Hadvar and Ralof is due to their living in Riverwood. Shamus Young has a post detailing the other strengths of this opening, so I won’t belabor the [...]

One Trackback

  1. By The War That Wasn’t » Ludonarratology on January 17, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    [...] that the apparent relationship between Hadvar and Ralof is due to their living in Riverwood. Shamus Young has a post detailing the other strengths of this opening, so I won’t belabor the [...]

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