on May 15, 2014
I really feel like I’ve failed you here. How it usually works is that once Josh begins a quest the intro will trigger a few memories and the whole thing will come flooding back to me. I’ll recall my initial impressions and be able to talk about the game. But for some reason it didn’t happen here. I remember having a lot of complaints about this quest back in 2011. I remember being annoyed, frustrated, and bored. But now can barely remember any of it aside from the forced-surrender thing.
The stuff Rutskarn said about the horribleness of the Nepos conversation is really important. It’s not that this game sucks. It’s that this game could be so much better if there was even the slightest glimmer of emotional impact. There’s an entire dimension to this game that we’re missing out on because nobody has a character and everybody talks in exposition.
And while we’re here:
Note the contrast between the entrance to Markarth and the entrance to Solitude:
In Solitude, we have a long lead-up to a very public execution that’s just begging for the player to intervene, but inflexible scripting prohibits you from altering events. On the other hand in Markarth there’s a murder you CAN prevent, but it happens so quickly that you can only do so with foreknowledge. The person killed has no build-up, no identity, and their death means nothing. Since this is your first time in town and this is a huge vista, it’s very likely you won’t even be looking when the murder happens. So the game denies you agency when you really want it, but is happy to give you lots of agency when it doesn’t matter and you don’t care.
How much more powerful would this moment be if the victim was someone we knew? Even if we just shared a few lines of dialog and she mentioned that she was really looking forward to X someday, it would at least give us some impact. Something. Anything.
It doesn’t take a lot, either. I know I slag on BioWare a lot, but this is something they’re really good at. In Mass Effect, they managed to set up a small cluster of characters on Feros (the planet with the mind-control plant monster) that set the tone and gave the adventure some emotional heft. I wasn’t turning on the water because I wanted the XP, I was turning on the water because I wanted to help these people. And when I met the corrupt ExoGeni exec, I really hated his guts. I wanted to cave his face in. Compare him to Nepos here in Skyrim. Both are despicable guys, but I really didn’t get any meaning or satisfaction when we settled up with Nepos. He was just another NPC to kill between us and the end of the quest. His servants had the same depth of characterization as the average Drauger.