The best experiences we've had in Skyrim have probably been off the main trail, on side quests and just doing random stuff. We're a month into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and thought it high time to share some of our stories and thoughts from the icey cold lands of the Nords.
Mixing and matching... Alchemy is your friend.
Having never really delved too far into the art of creating potions and poisons in previous Elder Scrolls games it felt a bit daunting to get started in Skyrim. But after ten hours or so, we had collected a massive amount of ingredients and begun tasting our way to success in the Alchemy labs of Skyrim. It's a bit odd really, tasting ingredients to find out what you can make with them.
The Alchemy labs makes the alchemist a bit less mobile than in other instalments of the series, but there are a lot of Alchemy labs spread throughout Skyrim. And the labs make the process more similar to other crafting in the game.
We actually got quite caught up in the Alchemy side of things and spent hours collecting ingredients and honing our skills. One thing we noted after a while though is that mountain flowers, when in large enough numbers, really take a toll on your carrying capacity. It's funny how much excitement comes out of finding an ingredient you haven't seen before. It's one of those small things that make the Skyrim experience so special.
Now, we only have to conquer enchanting as well. It's not quite as complex as alchemy, and not nearly as time consuming.
You don't look well... take a hint.
We were getting a bit annoyed. Sure we hadn't been getting sleep. But why did everyone keep telling us we looked pale and ill? Turns out we had a slight case of "rockjoint". Cured and we were as new again. It's not always immediately apparent that you are suffering from a disease in Skyrim, so take a look at your magic inventory and active effects from time to time, just to make sure you haven't contracted something - it's easy enough in the midst of battle.
At one point a potion vendor told us we looked pale and that she could sell us some kind of remedy (Potion of Cure Disease most likely). However, upon checking our active effects we found there was nothing wrong. May the Daedra take all the pushy sales clerks of Skyrim.
Killing your Thane... an honest mistake.
If you've gotten a few hours into Skyrim's main story, you've probably picked up a thane named Lydia at Whiterun. She's a bit of a whiner, but equip her well and she's a pack donkey with a punch. Anyway, in combat she's a bit of a loose cannon, and it is sometimes hard to keep track of her... and erm, we accidentally killed her with sparks and flames. Now, our main concern was how to carry all of the loot she had unwillingly taken on, but as we fast-travelled to Whiterun we realised that was just the start of our troubles.
Whiterun guards were less than amused with our honest mistake, and we were given the choice of going to the dungeon for a bit, pay them off (a whopping 2000 gold), or fight for our freedom. As we'd invested quite a bit of money in Whiterun (house, decorations, alchemy lab), it seemed like the most prudent thing to do was to be taken to the dungeon.
In retrospect we should never have killed Lydia. If you grow tired of her presence, have her sit in your house or something. Don't set her on fire! Oh well, there are other companions to team up with in Skyrim, and Lydia made a pretty corpse in that cave.
The wild life of Skyrim... Don't mess with the Giants.
One of the very first lessons you will learn in Skyrim is: Don't mess with the Giants. Or they may just send you into the stratosphere!
But there is a lot of wild-life in Skyrim, some more aggressive others delightfully docile. Whether it's the cow hanging over a fence in Whiterun (looked a bit as if he was leaning on a bar looking to order some mead), the walrus-like Harken on the coast near Winterhold, Mammoths, wolves or large rats. For those looking to craft items it may be a good idea to go hunting every once in a while as the hide can be used in crafting many things. But beware, enraged Sabre Cats and Bears can sometimes be more troublesome than mighty dragons.
The sneaky mudcrabs are a favourite of mine - and then we've got the Slaughterfish dying to take a bite out of careless swimmers. Frogs, butterflies, deers, and rabbits - Skyrim may seem cold and desolate at times but it's teeming with life. And the wildlife of Skyrim is so fascinating that sometimes I just feel like employing my sneak ability, pour down an invisibility potion and do my best David Attenborough impression.
While that's all well and fine, this peaceful fellow is taking things a bit too far, don't you think?
Exploring the combat... so many alternatives.
Something that had us restart Oblivion over and over again (and will have us do the same thing, once our first playthrough of Skyrim is in the books), is the wonderfully agile system that allows players to specialise and tailor their combat experience. As exampled from the Youtube clip with the peaceful monk (above), there are always options, and you can mix things up any way you want. For instance, we played with a Nord, mostly using two-handed weapons, but putting a lot of skill points into the destruction school of magic - we also spent a lot of effort on alchemy and some on sneaking. A mixed bag, but it is really up to the player to dictate his experience. Next time around, we would love to be a bit more thief-like, and we'll probably do more one-handed combat and work on our blocking.
The Dark Brotherhood of... Bards?
There is a number of factions and guilds to side with in Skyrim. After all there is a war raging, and everyone wants a piece of the cake. Our first stop was the Bards College in Solitude. Why you ask? Well, given how annoying bards, such as Mikael in Whiterun, are in the game, we figured there must be some massive upside with helping bards. And even though we felt a bit like errand boys, fetching flutes and lutes, the rewards were typically worth the hassle. Oh, and Mikael got the beating he so thoroughly deserved.
After running into three assassins from the Dark Brotherhood and dispatching of them, we thought we might as well dig a little deeper into their guild and sign up for some contracts. Wait a second. Let's not spoil anyone's introduction into the Dark Brotherhood. Suffice to say, this is a quest worthy of Fallout (involves kids), and you will be getting a visitor in the middle of the night at some point. The actual lair of the Brotherhood is a brilliant spot to stock up on mushrooms for alchemy (or just munching), and the quest line is one of the more interesting ones in the entire game.
We also enrolled in the College of Winterhold, a school of magic, completely unlike Hogwarts (thankfully), and a school that has the unfortunate habit of getting regular dragon visits in the courtyard. There is a lot of great characters here, and if you're into magic then you will want to go to acquire more spells at the very least.
As is often the case these quest lines are on par, if not better than the main story line, and we still haven't gotten around to the Stormcloak/Empire situation, the Companions or the Thieves.
While not really a faction or a quest line, the Daedra quests are also some of the more enjoyable side attractions in Skyrim. The rewards are tempting as you pocket Daedra artefacts upon completing tasks for the Daedric lords. There may of course be some sort of moral downside to it, but that mask and that mace sure are nice.
Collected bugs and mishaps
In all honesty we haven't experienced that many issues in Skyrim. There is of course the occasional graphical bug. A shrub growing out of a rock. The ice piles left behind by dead Ice Wraiths suspended in the air.
Is there a secret fox lair on the bottom of a lake? Perhaps. We saw a fox walk tentatively along the beach, to all of a sudden just walk straight down into the water and disappear. It's a mystery we haven't found any answer to.
There once was an incident with two dragons attacking at the same time, that we were not able to repeat - it may just be that we triggered two roaming ones some way, but as we perished and tried to make it happen again we failed. It didn't really feel like a bug, but it sure was challenging.
Overall, given that we've passed the 50 hour mark with some margin, the bug and glitch situation (on Xbox 360, at least), is very favourable for this kind of game.
No end in sight...
We've yet to finish the main quest in Skyrim, but to be honest there is no rush. We're having so much fun with side quests, and the various factions and schools, to worry too much about the fate of the world. We've got shouts to find, dragons to slay, and we just can't get enough of watching giants, beers or trolls fight dragons. How could you ever get enough of that?
Got a story to tell from your travels in Skyrim? Do share in the comments or on the forums.