The Altered Scrolls: Q&A, Part 3

By Rutskarn Posted Wednesday Mar 2, 2016

Filed under: Elder Scrolls 43 comments

This is the second-to-last one of these. This weekend, we’ll polish it off and start bringing the series to its conclusion.

falselordzalzabar asked:

Ruts: you get the lead position and $100 million budget (just for nice round numbers) to remake/upgrade 1 Elder Scrolls game for the current console generation/computer level. Which game do you remake, and how do you spend your money?

My knee-jerk response is Morrowind, but lackluster combat aside, that game’s fine the way it is. The visuals and text aren’t harmed by their presentation. Revamping it would only make it accessible to a generation that a.) could play it anytime they want and b.) probably don’t care all that much.

The most commercially and artistically interesting avenue would be a modern and very selective updating of Daggerfall. The core principles would be preserved: a simulationist rather than theme-parky world, character builds that give a variety of tools the player has to find applications for, endless buffets of quests and dungeons. Most of the budget would be allocated to creating a procedural, appealing, varied, and plausible gameworld; only a few instances (walled cities, specific dungeons) would be individually crafted.

All being well, the end result would be a relaxing game experience rather than an actively engaging one; a tremendous natural wilderness full of peaceful, quiet little towns to stumble over and nooks and crannies to explore. With modern graphics and a budget bigger than Skyrim (hopefully enough to find applications for all the skills), the result would unquestionably surpass the original game and might be a neat understated take on the open world.

Ysen asked:

Destruction magic â€" or magic in general, some might say â€" was a bit rubbish in Skyrim. What do you think Bethesda could do to improve it in the next installment without having to deviate too far from their design goals?

It’s an old quandary in RPGs, particularly computer RPGs: how do you create meaningful, rewarding differences between combat types without making any of them objectively better? The answer is always the same: figure out who’s picking that build and what they want.

Traditionally magic requires care, planning, and attention while physical combat requires one to be brave and in-the-moment. Someone who uses weapons wants a straightforward test of strength or agility; someone who uses magic wants to approach it academically, a problem to be solved using available resources. This difference was held up in TES games as late as Morrowind; back then a fighter needed only click the attack button and drink the occasional health potion. Mages had to specialize in schools, assemble a vast library of magics, craft their own spells, study strengths and weaknesses of some enemy types, and supply themselves both health and non-regenerating spell-fueling magicka . All this planning had to be done before even entering the same room as an enemy. Once in a fight, combat was less like pulling a lever and more like operating a tank. The trade-off was that magic users were ultimately capable of delivering much more pain, and suffering much less of it, than relatively straightforward and simple fighters.

Since Oblivion, the series’ increasingly complicated melee mechanics, simplification of the mage’s magicka (spells now use a resource that regenerates in combat) and complication of fighter’s fatigue (good attacks now use a resource that regenerates in combat) blurred the line between tactical mages and impetuous fighters. Destruction has gotten easier relative to physical violence and by Skyrim, has gone from “ultimately always better” to “almost always slightly worse.”

To generalize, the people who always play mages don’t just expect Destruction to be as good as using a big hammer. They expect it to be harder and better. They want to spend more time picking out good spells, getting a rhythm down, loading up on the right potions, buffing themselves, and picking out an angle of attack, and when they bring all that preparation together they want to make a tough fight much more easy. It’s an advantage you purchase in time and system mastery. Bethesda wouldn’t want to make all this necessary to play a mage–and that’s fine. But allowing players to maximize magic through clever optimization would do a lot to quell dedicated mages without making the system inaccessible to laymen.

Matt Downie asked:

Stormcloaks or Imperials?

One thing people sometimes get wrong: Bethesda’s TES team hasn’t lost interest in lore, they’ve just lost interest in centering it. Most of Skyrim‘s conflicts are approachable and delivered in sound bites, true, but buried in written documents and aggregated conversation there’s much more for interested players to uncover.

I can’t give an informed thesis on who is more morally justified in Skyrim. I made my character’s decision for emotional rather than intelligent reasons, but the cool thing is, the game gives you obvious emotional reasons to support either side–and intelligent reasons to do so as well.

I’ll say that I supported the Imperials, but like most of the Imperial characters in the game, my heart’s not really in it. The real root problem is that neither the Imperials nor the Nords are strong enough to beat the Thalmor, a faction who are currently a.) objectively evil and b.) the most powerful empire in the world. The Imperials reasonably want to stall direct conflict until they’ve got enough military leverage to make demands; doing so means caving in to some Thalmor requests, which means backing an oppression of Nord worship in a way that’s both unconscionable and probably necessary. As legislature goes, it’s a tactically-minded obscenity that nobody should be proud of. As for Stormcloak racism–the easy emotional reason to hate them–that’s undeniably grotesque, but there’s nothing a half-assed irritated Imperial occupation’s going to do to reverse it either. Whatever long excruciating battles have to be fought there, adding the indignity of Imperial occupation is unlikely to help. The point of backing either side and ending the war isn’t to make sure the good guys win and the bad guys lose, it’s to make sure they don’t both throw away all their young strong warriors and economic capital and make the Thalmor power imbalance ever worse.

Neko asked:

Did you like the spellcrafting mechanic? I loved it, it made me feel I was doing actual wizardry, attempting to break the rules of the world using magic. Having to use off-the-shelf magic felt too restrictive â€" all the really cool magic was done by NPCs only.

Spellcrafting is key to making magic feel like a tactically rich and rewarding option, not to mention making mages feel empowered–like more than artillery. The question is not whether the game needs it, but what can be done to expand it and make it even better. I hope features are added rather than subtracted in subsequent entries.


From The Archives:

43 thoughts on “The Altered Scrolls: Q&A, Part 3

  1. VaporWare says:

    It’s also worth noting re: Stormcloaks vs. Imperials that the specific outcome of the civil war is very likely to be little more than a footnote in Tamriel’s history, overshadowed by what amounts to the second coming of Talos: the Dragonborn soaring down out of Skyrim on a flight of Dragons to stomp a fresh mudhole out of the Summerset Isles and likely rebuilding the Empire in the process.

    I mean, it wouldn’t necessarily be that /simple/, I’m sure the Thalmor have plenty of shit up their sleeves, but I rather imagine that’ll be the Cliff’s Notes as far as history is concerned.

    1. Pizza_Boy says:

      My take is to the oposite end, meaning, regardless who wins the civil war it will have made skyrim weaker and open to the aldmeri power to establish itself. Fuck Ulfric.

  2. Alan says:

    For me the Stormcloaks vs. Imperials question was easy: Stormcloaks. They were jackasses, but I can live with that. (Racism would be something else entirely, but I simply don’t remember seeing it. Perhaps that I didn’t see it says something about me. :-/ ) However, the supression of local religion infuriated me. I’m an atheist, but freedom of religion is still important for me.

    I wonder if the American culture’s emphasis on freedom of religion makes American players more likely to support the Stormcloaks?

    1. Tvtim says:

      I picked the Stormcloaks for this reason as well actually; not a religious follower myself, but I believe you should be free to worship who/what you want (as long as it doesn’t involve murder, etc). The only real Nord racism I remember seeing is when you first enter Windhelm and see the two nords talking to the dunmer about not helping the rebellion.

      I don’t think I could really support the Thalmor either for the fact that they’re such stuck up assholes. Their whole ‘elves are better than everyone’ thing just made me angry…that and selling their looted gear got higher profits than the shitty stormcloak armor.

      1. Mhoff says:

        Iirc Windhelm also had a district that the elves lived in separately, and they had battle cries about skyrim being for the birds.

        The religious and racial persecution were sort of undercut by the fact that the world was so static. Talos worship is outlawed, except for the open talos worshipper in whiterun who never faced any repercussions because Bethesda didn’t have any systems for the world changing without your direct interaction.

        1. MichaelGC says:

          I think that’s an autocorrect you have there; pretty sure it was: “Skyrim belongs to the Nerds!”

          1. Lachlan the Mad says:

            No, no, no, it’s “Skyrim belongs to the Fords!”

        2. Felblood says:

          There was a lot of shouting about how Skyrim belongs to the Nords (who are understandably concerned that all these southerners are coming in and taking their land, just like they did with the Forsaken), and some occasional comments about making my scaley skin into a belt, but those mainly came from bandits.

          It seems like a significant percentage of Nords overall are racists, but the Stormcloak vs. Empire war isn’t really about that, and anyone (NPC or otherwise) who disputes that is just trying to cloud the issue.

          Ulfric seems just as happy to hire Nords with skinhead haircuts as he is beastmen or even elves, so long as they will stab the servants of the Empire.

          1. evileeyore says:

            Am I the only one who wished we could have actually fought for the Forsaken?

            1. MelTorefas says:

              I played a high elf and I wanted to join the Thalmor. >.>

              1. Content Consumer says:

                Me too.

                I wish there was more stuff like the alternate path in the Dark Brotherhood questline in the game.

                Like, I want to join the Forsworn, and conquer the Reach. Maybe form an alliance with the Imperials or Stormcloaks as part of that questline.

                Or maybe destroy the Thieves Guild instead of joining them (I seem to remember there being a mod on the Nexus that did just that).

                Why can’t I join a bandit faction? Or become a real Necromancer? Or an agent of the Thalmor? Or maybe what I really want to do is become Potema’s slave and conquer the world for her, putting her on the throne in Cyrodiil instead of this upstart pretender who let half the empire slip from his grasp.

                There’s just not enough of that kind of content… in any game… since Morrowind anyway. I guess that Daggerfall came closest, even though there was no real quest “line” for any of the major guilds/factions… what I want is more like the Imperials/Stormcloaks schism, but with better content than just identical quests cloaked in different colors.

            2. Loonyyy says:

              I did.

              It ends poorly.

              In the quest down in Markarth, everything went really wrong for me.

              When the Forsworn kill Thonar’s wife, things got messed up, it was kind of horrifying. She killed Thonar’s wife, resurected her to fight alongside her, which was pretty horrifying.

              Then you get sent to Cidhna Mine by the guards, which did not put them in my good books. In the mine I went with the Forsworn option, since they convinced me that at the very least, they didn’t deserve to be locked up there, and were basically being screwed over by everyone, just like the PC. We got free and killed every guard in the city, killing the guards outside has left me with a massive bounty in the Reach.

              It’s just disappointing that they’re hostile after, and there’s no further path for them.

      2. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Its worse than that if you get into the lore (which I apologize if I butcher it)

        The Thalmor are actually trying to destroy the world. They believe that this reality is a mistake and is a cage for their beings I think. Destroying the world would free them of it. Talos is one of the remaining supports of the world, we’re down to two and we need both. So they’re trying to kill Talos by stopping his worship.

        There are two ways to do this 1) Wipe out all humans, which is what they were presumably trying to do when they fought the empire or 2) Ban the worship of Talos and make sure you enforce that ban.

        The Empire agreed to the ban not intending to enforce it because they didn’t understand how seriously the Thalmor took it, because the Thalmor didn’t want the Empire to know why they wanted that provision in the treaty.

        1. Kestrellius says:

          Also, it’s important to note that the Thalmor plan won’t actually work re: Talos. They’re operating under the assumption that he’s a normal Aedroth, subject to mythopoeia, or “belief-makes-reality”. The standard eight Divines are part of the structure of the world, and thus mortal belief shapes what they’re capable of (for one thing, this is why Alduin and Akatosh function as separate entities, despite being aspects of the same time-god, the Aka-Tusk — the different beliefs of different races created distinct gods). If everybody stopped believing in, say, Mara, she would stop being able to do anything (although I’m uncertain if the Aedroth of which she’s an aspect would actually stop existing).

          However, this won’t work of Talos because he’s a CHIMster. (Yeah…that’s the term, for some reason.) He’s achieved CHIM, a state of being similar to lucid dreaming — he came to understand that he and everyone else in the Aurbis is only a figment of another person’s imagination (Anu the Godhead), but asserted his own realness anyway. So Talos is a self-sufficient deity, not susceptible to the effects of mythopoeia.

      3. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

        I chose the Stormcloaks because the Imperials bloody well tried to lop my head off!

        Even if they apologised I don’t think you will forgive them for trying to cut off your head for crossing a border.

        1. Harper says:

          This is also part of why I chose the Stormcloaks! The other big reason was I didn’t want to support a decaying empire that didn’t even have the benefit of Dragon soul-having Emperors. Let it die until a new Reman Cyrodil or Talos comes along.

    2. Incunabulum says:

      But you picked the guys who *only* suppressed ONE religion. Really not even one, just one aspect of the one religion that is shared among most of the people of this world over the guys who deliberately and violently suppressed *whole people’s*.

      We’re told we shouldn’t discriminate against people for characteristics they have no control over – skin color, religion, how far their back hair extends. Which is exactly what the Stormcloaks are doing.

      Thalos worship is a *lifestyle choice*!

      In my run throughs I supported the Empire. Not out of any high-faluting notions of fairness or honor but because I figured that the Empire was most likely to win the civil war, offered me access to higher social rank and the power and money that comes with it, was the best solution to dealing with the Thalmor Question, and – most importantly of all – could have landed a cushy gig as a governor of some province that wasn’t full of lice-ridden Vikings and didn’t require you to break the ice off the water in the wash basin every morning – even in the *summer*.

      1. Syal says:

        …Alright, time to test this quote thing because tangential nitpicks must be indulged.

        characteristics they have no control over ““ skin color, religion, how far their back hair extends.

        People have control over one and a half of those things. Saying we don’t have control over our religion is like saying we don’t have control over our political alignment, and while back hair can’t be grown further than the body allows, it can be shaved or trimmed to be made shorter and smoother in accordance with local standards.

      2. Ultrapotassium says:

        The reason why I supported the empire was the same as yours. A unified empire is more likely to defeat the thalmor than a single rebellious province.

    3. Grudgeal says:

      I’m European, and I supported the Stormcloaks.

      Belonging to a culture who spent the best part of a century going overseas and making Johnny Foreigner submit to Our Enlightened Rule with the cunning use of flags (after, I might note, having the same done to us by the Romans a millennia earlier) may have given me some historical issues with world-spanning empires running sharpshod over the desires of the local population. Them trying to lop my character’s head off in the intro with no just cause just reinforced that.

    4. Loonyyy says:

      Yeah, I kind of swung Stormcloak as well.

      The Imperials are basically fascists, at the start they’re going to execute you, which just immediately puts them in my black books, and they’re collaborating with the Thalmor. When you talk to the Imperial troops, most of them are professional soldier/bureaucrat types, whereas Ulfric and co are passionate about taking back what they see as their lands and their home, driving out the Imperials and the Thalmor, and allowing Talos worship. And I don’t really have a mind to stomp that down out of pragmatism-hey guys, I’m killing you now because we can’t piss off the Thalmor, we have to wait till we’re stronger, so I have to murder you in the meantime. Sorry, I’m collaborating because we’ll rebel later. Like, jeez, a little bit of negotiation would go a long way there.

      Their reasons for non-aggression with the Thalmor make sense in a big picture way, as nobody really has a chance of defeating the Thalmor as yet, but the Thalmor’s requirements as far as Talos worship goes basically ensure a war with the hardcore Nords, and is rooted in racism of it’s own-they don’t want to believe that a human could rise to godhood, and want to stamp that out, which is also rather petty.

      I think the racism angle is overstated. A lot of Nords are quite racist. There’s the Dunmer slums, and Khajit’s aren’t well looked on, etc, and there’s a few flavour voice lines which indicate their racism, and a few relatively minor characters who mention it, but it doesn’t seem to be a policy thing-Ulfric wants to drive out the Imperials, he doesn’t say he wants to drive out the Dunmer etc. What is clear is that he views the land as theirs, and there is no word that there is definitely a place for the other races in his version of Skyrim, and with Nordic racism, it’s entirely possible he’d overlook their mistreatment. But, the Imperials aren’t really doing much about that either. And they’re collaborating the Thalmor, who view themselves as a superior race, which is all sorts of messed up. There’s no way of talking to those jumped up high elf nazis without wanting to shank them.

      And also Ulfric’s duel was fair according to law, it’s just pretty unsportsmanlike of him to use a Thu’um, but then again, that’s basically what the PC does everywhere, so I can’t really judge them for that.

      So I basically struck a middle line, because I didn’t really like either side enough to put them in charge, but I was creative allocating territory to settle my old scores.

  3. Nidokoenig says:

    The thing about spellcrafting is it’s easy to break the game. Enchanting was exploitable as hell in Skyrim, whereas Enchanting, Alchemy and Spellcrafting were downright legendary in Morrowind. There’s some serious thinking about what limits to put on, things like buffs like Chameleon or Fortify Skill can’t be shorter than ten or twenty seconds. Making the customisation more complex, like adding modifiers to increase damage against certain enemies or under certain conditions like hitting an enemy from the side or in particular weather or wielding a particular weapon or shield in your other hand. Having to redo your hotkeys when the sun comes out doesn’t stop you being deadly, but crafting that many spells at least makes it a big investment.

  4. MichaelGC says:

    This is the second-to-last one of these.

    Shame! – the series has been awesome, and epic. (May 2014 it started, didn’t it?; blimey.) Anyway: 10/10; would and indeed will read again…

    1. Ultrapotassium says:

      The “Altered Scrolls” articles started in August of 2015. Which is still impressive.

  5. Mark says:

    > Stormcloaks or Imperials?

    This is a place where, weirdly, by doing some good writing Bethesda harmed my enjoyment of the game. As was pointed out in the article, both sides have sympathetic and unsympathetic aspects to them; this isn’t the typical “save baby/eat baby” black-and-white moral question seen in a lot of games. But for exactly that reason, I wouldn’t feel very happy about helping one side to thoroughly murder the other. And there isn’t the option to negotiate a peaceful solution. Soooo… I avoided the issue entirely when I played Skyrim. Never did the civil war quest at all.

    I had the same issue with Fallout 4. The three factions of Institute, Brotherhood of Steel, Railroad all have sympathetic characters and understandable viewpoints, and you spend lots of time in the course of the game getting to know them. But to get to the end credits, you have to pick one faction to side with and then brutally murder the other two; again, there’s no peaceful solution in the offing. I was not going to enjoy that, so I bailed on the game at the point where it gets insistent about picking a side.

    1. Incunabulum says:

      The difference between, and the problem with FO4, is that in Skyrim they pretty well nailed it with the Stormcloak/Imperial choice.

      In FO4, once you actually get to know the factions and hear their story – and then contrast it with their in-game actions you realize that

      1. The Institute is, at best, run by bug-fuck insane people who have no idea what anyone else in the bunker are doing. Nothing the Director says matches up with what you’ve seen happening on the surface. NOTHING. Heck, they even consider the Synths to be non-self-aware. They are literally working out the plot to ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ here.

      2. The BoS – are classic BoS. They;ll destroy the Institute? Fine. From what I’ve seen the Institute needs to go. And once its gone there’s not point for the Railroad.

      Its just that once the Institute is gone, what do the BoS offer except another boot to kneel beneath? This isn’t a bad one to go with if you’re playing a selfish character interested in power.

      3. The RR is the second most sympathetic faction, but they’re limited by their focus on freeing synths. Which is pointless, even harmful if Sean is right.

      4. The Minutemen, the least fleshed out faction, the one where you have the least reason to be part of let alone running, the one where you have the least control, the one with the most annoying and persistent questgiver – is the only one that seems like it might be good for the Commonwealth. Assuming that it doesn’t devolve into factionalism and personal power-seeking *again*.

      1. Nixorbo says:

        My summary of the FO4 factions:

        The Minutemen – Why can’t we be friends? Why can’t we be friennnnnnnnnds?
        The Railroad – Synthetic people are people too!
        Brotherhood of Steel – This is mine and that’s mine and this is mine too …
        The Institute – We just kill people, replace them with robotic duplicates for a while and then kill everybody that ever came in contact with them. Why does everybody keep saying we’re evil?

        The Railroad is literally the only faction I could bring myself to join. The Institute and the Brotherhood are both abhorrent in their methods and the Minutemen are too boring and bland.

      2. Kavonde says:

        The most disappointing part of Fallout 4’s ending to me is that there’s no way to actually use your power as the new Chairman of the Institute to free the Synths without helping the Railroad do something incredibly stupid, short-sighted, and arguably just as evil as the Institute’s tactics. I liked the Railroad a lot. I’m a big believer in considering all sentient beings to be equal lifeforms. If we create true artificial intelligence someday, it’s going to be not only morally correct but in our best interests to treat our creation as a fellow sapient. But Fallout 4 railroads (ha) you into either going along with an intensely stupid plan, which, I should note, isn’t revealed until the last possible moment–up until the final mission, I assumed it would be possible to broker a peaceful resolution–or betraying the Railroad and leaving the Institute as the last faction standing.

        Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Not quite “End of Fallout 3” stupid, but stupid.

    2. Matt Downie says:

      The problem is, while neither side in Skyrim is particularly satisfying to murder, you’re the only person in the world who can accomplish anything, so if you don’t support either side, the war will drag on and on, causing more and more death, which benefits no-one but the Thalmor. So you have only three choices, and none of them feel good.

  6. IFS says:

    I honestly didn’t miss spellcrafting being gone in skyrim, but then I hadn’t played Morrowind when I first played Skyrim and I’d found Oblivion’s spellcrafting to be rather boring and pointless (it seemed impossible to make terribly effective destruction spells compared to what you could buy, and conjuration was far more powerful regardless).

    That said there should have been a replacement for it, dual casting was not really enough and neither were the frankly boring spellcasting skill trees. A common suggestion (and one I think would be neat) is to let you blend spells through dual casting, so say combine a fireball and fear spell together by casting them together for example. Adding in a ton of different combinations would undoubtedly be difficult but it would reward mage players for experimenting and specializing. Another idea would be to include more ways for mages to interact with their environment, say creating ice sheets to trip up enemies for example, ways for mages to be clever rather than direct. Skyrim had the occasional oil slick which was ok for that, but everyone starting with the flames spell made that rather underwhelming.

    1. Fizban says:

      The mod Apocalypse Spells has some of these, though also a number of effects that are blatantly OP simply because the game assumes they don’t exist (like featherfall and teleport). It doesn’t fix anything about the lack of damage scaling for skill or ridiculously slow leveling, but I had another simple mod to fix the scaling and. . . should really find something to fix the leveling speed.

  7. Decus says:

    I’ve never really been interested in any post-morrowind elder scrolls combat, magic or melee, beyond insta-kill sneaking. The melee devolves into a boring step-back, swing, repeat dance and most of the time I just equip magic to help with sneaking or utility stuff or support because, well, sneak kills are never less effective than destruction magic.

    Part of that is probably most stages being dungeon/cave corridors made for sneaking rather than open fields made for direct confrontations. From what I can remember, if you didn’t sneak you’d probably have ended up having to fight multiple guys at once too which just has to feel terrible with elder scrolls combat, especially when destruction magic is mechanically wimpy and can’t AoE kill them.

  8. Somniorum says:

    I ultimately didn’t play far enough into Skyrim to choose a side – it’s not unlikely that I would’ve stayed neutral in the end.

    THAT SAID, however, I had been considering the Stormcloaks, but for perhaps unorthodox reasons. The way I was looking at it, the Empire had come to be viewed as an oppressive force in Skyrim, and justly I figured they had the right to separate from the Empire if that was the case. I’ve always had that feeling regarding the Empire, that they were fairly oppressive, even though I had to admit they had certain positive aspects (like the opposing of slavery in Morrowind, even if they did allow it to continue as a nod to local custom). I understood their stance, why they had to ban Talos worship, but felt that they lacked the will to properly face the Thalmor (for admittedly understandable reasons). On the other hand, it seemed to me that the Stormcloaks *did* have the will, and that likely various other rebel organisations throughout Tamriel may as well – iirc, the game at least shows some Redguard rebels at one point. What I was envisioning was a situation where Skyrim rebels against the Imperials and the Thalmor, which ultimately emboldens other resistance movements in Tamriel which forces the Thalmor to split their armies and have a presence in just about *every* country, which the Thalmor simply could not hope to do and be militarily effective. Subsequently, they may be forced to concentrate on one place or another, which leaves the door open for certain rebel forces to become increasingly stronger, quite possibly enough to defeat the Thalmor.

    I mean, on the surface you can see how the Thalmor could defeat the centralised army of the Empire (lop off the head of the beast, essentially), but the core supporters of their side are the Altmer and Bosmer. If these two countries alone could manage to defeat the Imperials, I can hardly see why a rebellion made up of multiple other countries couldn’t defeat the Thalmor, at least in theory (and the game doesn’t really suggest any huge technological advantages of the Thalmor, none that I recall anyway).

    Of course, I didn’t even get far enough to see the Stormcloaks hateful attitudes towards other races. That may have soured my opinion a lot if I’d come across it.

    1. Ultrapotassium says:

      That’s a good point that I didn’t think about before; a large amalgamation of local resistance movements might wear the Thalmor down more efficiently than consolidating into a single army. Another benefit to siding with the stormcloaks would be more immediate action, as the imperials are currently just acquiescing to the Thalmor’s demands and aren’t staging a resistance against them.

      However, in-game information suggests that the empire hates the Thalmor almost as much as the Stormcloaks, yet they aren’t currently revolting against them. This to me implies that they are thinking more long term, biding their time while trying to consolidate a bit of power so they can coordinate a larger and more organized resistance/rebellion. (Though this does rely on the assumption that they HAVE a plan). I think that such an empire-spanning coordinated resistance would be more effective than individual resistance efforts. It’s not a huge logic jump to think that they would structure a resistance to be more decentralized than an army, reducing the ability to just “cut off the head”.

      I think choosing the Stormcloaks solely because of a more effective resistance is a bit of a weak argument, as it relies on the assumption that the loss of coordination between resistances is made up for in either immediate action or in greater efficiency. Additionally, I think the probability that the Imperials have a resistance plan is much greater than the probability that a Stormcloak revolt would trigger non-trivial resistances in other territories.
      Choosing the Stormcloaks because the imperials tried to kill you, or you like the stormcloak’s pet dog, etc. are still valid reasons to choose stormcloak, but if you’re going from a purely “defeat the Thalmor” standpoint, I think the Imperials are the way to go.

  9. Alrenous says:

    Had a good stiff think about magic vs. melee, and it turns out I don’t agree, though ‘higher systems mastery skill cap’ is a good starting perspective. I think the core is tradeoffs, especially in a game like Skyrim where hybridization is supposed to be possible. I don’t think ‘anything you can do I can do better’ is a good idea, even in a single player game.

    I think I found a good solution to these constraints. I’m going to describe it and then explain my reasoning.

    Health should rapidly regenerate out of combat, and not at all in combat. The warrior virtue is bravery.
    Melee should be risky, high variance, but have good longevity. A warrior should be able to cut their way from one end of Skyrim to the other without ever stopping to rest…but having to quicksave all the time due to random hilarious deaths. Since the key virtue is bravery, the warrior’s good attacks should consume health, increasing the risk, thus increasing the sternness of player-character required to use them. If the player uses these strong, risky attacks on the wrong enemy, or if luck goes against them, the battle should go south to an amusingly extreme degree. What they get in return is the ability to take on equally-amusingly out-of-depth foes (boo enemy level scaling) and, sometimes, win. Hilarious deaths balanced against god-of-war moments where everything goes their way.
    Health potions should be particularly expensive, as they would essentially grant a warrior, at their pleasure, either immortality or massive burst damage.

    There should be a secondary warrior archetype that is more consistent and more tactical, which uses primarily less-flashy attacks that consume fatigue. In contrast to the health-cost attacks’ raw power, the fatigue-cost attacks should be highly situational. If used wisely, they should lead to a more consistent output, at a higher average, but without the spikes that allow truly heroic performance. It should be called a chi warrior so it can have flashy graphics.

    Magicka should not naturally regenerate at all. The mage virtue is forethought.
    A full mage investment, going into several schools, should be about optimizing for consistency. The full mage should be able to coldly calculate which fights they can take, which fights they can’t, and exactly how much each will cost. In general they should be able to take down a room without taking a single point of damage, but die rapidly and ignominiously if they calculate wrong. They won’t be able to pull off heroism like a warrior, but correctly played, should never die. They should have skills to avoid or change a situation that they can’t deal with. Spells should be very efficient if used correctly, so the mage normally ends a typical dungeon with (say) 30% of their magicka, without using a single potion. There should be a few high-powered but inefficient spells for dealing with e.g. dragons without taking damage.

    Some basic staple spells should use fatigue instead, partly so the mage can lean even harder on them for greater efficiency, and partly for hybrids. Also so there can be a spell that halts fatigue regeneration in exchange for magicka regeneration, as a risk/reward emergency button. Or at least a run speed/reward trade. E.g, “I need 300 magicka to clear this last room. I have 280. And no potions. Uhhh….”

    There should be a secondary mage archetype which is about channeling raw power for bursts of raw destruction and/or chaos, depending on school. Again, highly consistent, but without any longevity at all. Basically think ‘this is a way to deal with That One Boss.’ When the designers unintentially create a difficulty spike, this kind of mage comes into their own.

    The first kind will find magicka potions hardly help at all. They can cover for mistakes, or allow them to do another dungeon without returning to town.
    The second kind will find magicka potions basically give them coin toss from final fantasy. They can clear more rooms, but it’s almost as expensive as a warrior’s immortality-style health potions. Healing spells should be about recovering from minor mistakes without paying the exorbitant warrior-potion fees.

    I’ve thought less about the rogue, but it seems, given the longevity/consistency/tactics trifecta, there’s a natural third option – pick two. Perhaps have rogues be a natural hybrid.

    Fatigue should not regenerate while stealthed. The rogue has two virtues – cunning and boldness.
    The rogue can pick their battles like a mage, using stealth. The ambush rogue is about spatial tactics instead of skill choice and combination, and wins or fails consistently. However, they can drop into an inconsistent warrior-like swashbuckler mode if the mood strikes them. Swashbucklers should have a harder execution challenge than warriors do, but it should be more consistent if they pull it off. E.g. they have to end the fight quickly due to having no room for error in the health bar, but moving efficiently and attacking with good timing will let them do that. Occasionally they should be required to avoid a fight. Give them a dark souls-style i-frame roll or other dodge, so they can trade fatigue for health.

    Rogues should have to occasionally use a fatigue potion, but should have a scrounger skill that occasionally provides fatigue potions. Among other bonuses, so the rogue skills directly make you richer.

    Hybridization should sacrifice raw power for versatility. So, the mage can drop some power to pick up warrior skills for longevity. The warrior can drop peak performance for some room-clearing madness or minor ambushes. (E.g. ambush once, no good re-stealth option.) A rogue could invest in health instead of fatigue, so they can use a warrior health-cost move to blat a particularly troublesome group member. Alternatively, sacrifice some situations, so I can play the character I want to play.

    I want a mage that channels room-clearing madness, then runs out of magicka and has to rely on warrior skills. Or, alternatively, I rely on warrior skills to save my room-clearing madness for later. I wouldn’t go into all the mage schools, so I wouldn’t be able to magick my way out of every situation, and without a full warrior set I wouldn’t be able to heroism my way into as many places as early.

    What I want out of a mage is actually to roleplay a character, who approaches combat in a certain way. In Skyrim I can’t play that character without suspending belief in my own gameplay knowledge…which I can’t do. While generally viable, I always know this approach would be simply easier if I used melee instead.
    Higher difficulties are especially irksome. I run out of magicka, thus either having to spend money a warrior or rogue doesn’t have to spend, or I have to finish every fight with melee anyway, meaning I might as well start with melee and have done with it.

    I traditionally play mages because ‘hit button, receive loot’ is repetitive and tactically sterile. Modern games are getting better at this, and it was this that made me think of having a fatigue/health distinction within warriors. There’s no particular reason to avoid having tactical warrior play, as long as there’s still some tradeoff. Indeed it gives more options for hybrids.
    Second, mage attacks can be artistically impressive, whereas it’s hard to make ‘swing sharpened metal hunk’ non-repetitive. This one swings side to side instead of up and down, hooray. Hence the chi warrior. Perhaps, also hence the fatality animations in Skyrim.

    The bravery angle helped a lot. Being brave means taking risks. It has to be at least theoretically scary to be a warrior so that the player can overcome it, and thus be brave. Risk means reward, else mages are just better. This means variance. Hence, your tradeoff is consistency. This gives a place for rewarding deep systems mastery. Not only can the mage get perfectly consistent, it must know which fights it just can’t take. They will get through the game quicker, which is like having more power, but at any particular moment the warrior will have more viable options, which is also like power. It’s then a choice about how you want to approach the game, rather than sacrificing efficiency for pretty colours…and tactical depth. That latter part is flat-out bad game design.

    Having magicka regenerate quickly is a terrible idea. It makes it blue fatigue. Might as well go full Diablo 3 style if you’re going to do that. But that’s fine, since there’s a good set of three – regenerates all the time, regenerates out of combat, and regenerates very slowly if at all.

    1. Fizban says:

      I always hated non-regenerating magicka in Morrowind, but you’ve provided the solution with reliable basic spells using fatigue. I would be the type who leans on those as much as possible and only uses a real spell a few times per dungeon.

      Somewhat related, It always bugs me how normal weapon swings don’t consume fatigue, making them completely free. Well presumably you’re supposed to be taking damage in return, but shields and armor mean you really aren’t. I assume your system doesn’t give much room for tank builds since it’s all centered around managing risk.

  10. Guile says:

    Isn’t there a way to settle the war peacefully, without murdering your way to victory for one side or the other? I heard that was so, if you get into the Civil War storyline after all the dragon nonsense.

    That would have required me to make it through the main storyline, though, so I’ve never managed to check it.

    1. Sarachim says:

      That happens, but it’s more of a negotiated truce than a proper settlement. Some holds change hands, but the basic issues of Imperial sovereignty and Talos worship aren’t resolved. After you complete the main quest, the war resumes.

  11. Fizban says:

    I don’t fully disagree with the points on destruction magic, but I don’t fully agree either. There is a way to use planning and potions to get more out of destruction in skyrim: you can brew potions of fortify destruction that increase your damage. In fact that is literally the only way to increase your damage, while a weapon user can use sneak attacks, smithing, potions, and magical gear to boost damage. It’s ridiculously easy to overpower your damage with a weapon through preparation, and there is only one single option for doing so with magic. It’s not just that magic is less preparation based, it’s that support is so ridiculously bent away from magic.

    Maybe because magic’s always been so OP in the past? Removing the OP magic support and leaving in only OP weapon support isn’t fixing any problems.

    There’s also the infuriating fact that destruction levels insanely slow. Built right into the mechanics, the “skill xp” for leveling weapons and destruction are both based on damage, but you get waaaaaaaaaaaay less xp per damage with magic. Someone probably thinks “oh hey, magic should take longer to learn than swords,” and then someone else made it so that alteration magic levels automatically just for having an active armor spell when being in the same room as an enemy. So your alteration skill will level faster than destruction because it’s getting xp just for existing, but it’s so hard to learn magic that you have to kill 10x as many guys to get there with destruction. Whoever did that: I hate you.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      If I was making a list of ‘things Bethesda is objectively terrible at’, the speed at which various skills progress in Elder Scrolls games would be near the top.

  12. Content Consumer says:

    “This is the second-to-last one of these.”

    I’d love it if you were to start a Fallout analysis like this, from 1 on up through 4, including Tactics, etc.

  13. Darren says:

    One of the really interesting things about Skyrim’s lore–to me, at least–is the way it involves the gods. Nords have access to the Voice because of Kynareth, who granted them the power out of sympathy for their oppression by the dragons. The Dragonborn have the power of the Voice because Akatosh directly bestows it upon them for his own specific ends. The Greybeards touch upon this–they will train you to use the Voice in the hope you will make the world better, but you are under no obligation to follow their tenets nor are they obligated to associate with you if your deviations from their standards are too great to bear–but the game mostly presents it in the stones on the way up the Throat of the World.

    Akatosh wants Alduin, his once-favored “son,” to be eliminated for his misdeeds and empowers you to do that. Once you’ve accomplished this, he doesn’t particularly care if you, say, wind up under the sway of Hermaeus Mora.

  14. Darren says:

    “As for Stormcloak racism”“the easy emotional reason to hate them”“that's undeniably grotesque, but there's nothing a half-assed irritated Imperial occupation's going to do to reverse it either. Whatever long excruciating battles have to be fought there, adding the indignity of Imperial occupation is unlikely to help.”

    That’s being very ignorant of real-world history. All you have to do is look at the South during Reconstruction. While the federal government effectively occupied the former Confederacy, quality of life for African-Americans dramatically improved. There are records of African-Americans holding positions of government authority–only ever in locales where they were a majority of the population, but still–and even developing something of an upper class. It wasn’t until the federal government ceded any attempt to oversee them that they instituted full-blown Jim Crow, and it wasn’t until the federal government interceded again–remember that they had to use the National Guard to enforce integrated schools–that any progress was made. Once hate is enshrined in law, it is so very hard to erase, as anyone who has ever been the victim of–or read the history of–racism, sexism, homophobia, or whatever else you’d like to name could tell you.

    Furthermore, you say that the only thing that matters is keeping both sides from wasting their soldiers, but that assumes that a racist, nationalist independent state will ultimately ally with a cosmopolitan, top-down empire to fight the Thalmor, when they’re just as likely to spitefully/arrogantly/selfishly remain neutral.

    Finally, siding with the Imperials before defeating Alduin lets you run into important NPCs in the afterlife. Ulfric all but admits he was the wrong side when he finally sees the full scope of what’s been going on.

    I just don’t see any real reason to support the Stormcloaks.

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