Skyrim Journals: Welcome to Skyrim

A column article by: Amelia Ramstead

While Nick is busy exploring Skyrim as an existential dilemma, Amelia Ramstead is new to The Elder Scrolls, with Skyrim being her inaugural foray into the world of Tamriel. So we asked her to write about her experiences playing in the world of The Elder Scrolls with a handful of journal entries .


Skyrim Journal: Week One

Day 1-

Welcome to Skyrim

I picked up the game about 10 am. After ripping off the wrapping, inspecting the massive map included in the package and a cursory glance at the manual, I popped the disc in and made myself comfortable. I also attempted to ignore my daughter, who was in the process of throwing a fit because there would be no more Diego today.

Right away I realized I was going to have a problem. I love my Xbox 360, and I love my games, but I hate my TV. It's old. It's a 27-inch, glass screen, CRT. Practically prehistoric. Newer games are devised for those with glorious 46-inch, LED, flat screen, HDTVs. The printing is practically impossible for me to read, it is so small. And there's a LOT of printing. I squint my eyes and sigh.

The opening sequence unfolds. I am in a cart with a number of other prisoners, preparing to meet my doom. During this sequence, I am allowed to create my character. The character creation options here are astounding. You can change everything from the shape of your eyes to the length of your nose. I opted to play a Khajit female that I named Pratha. Khajit are the feline-humanoid race in Tamriel. Why a cat? Because cats are bad-ass. You know it.

The first foray into actual gameplay was pretty cut and dried. Follow a guy around, kill some baddies, try to figure out what the hell I'm doing since I can't read any of the instructions or see which button I'm supposed to mash to make things happen. Consult the manual several times to no avail. After some trial and error, I've figured out how to loot dead things, change my clothes, equip a weapon, equip a spell and so forth.

I'm doing pretty good until the guy leaves and I am on my own. He says he'll catch up to me in Solitude. Um, okay. I wander around, trying to follow the directions I've been given. To earn money for my ride to Solitude, I figure out how to sell my junk I've been gathering. This is when I learn that if you aren't careful, you can sell the clothes off your back. I discover that I've done just this when I leave the inn and an NPC informs me of my utter lack of shame. Back to the inn to purchase back my armor and weapons.

I finally made it to Solitude, but the guy I'm supposed to meet is nowhere to be found. Did I miss a crucial step somewhere? I'm picking up quests left and right, but I haven't figured out the map and tracking system yet. After many hours of wandering around Solitude and getting my ass handed to me as I attempt a number of quests, I decide to call it a day.

Today was an exercise in frustration. I hope tomorrow goes better. Oh, and if anyone wants to start a charity drive called "Buy Amelia a new TV" – you know where to find me!


Day 2 –

A Begrudging Purchase and a Sigh of Relief

 

No, I didn't buy a new TV. I am not made of money, and I have yet to receive any contributions to my "Buy Amelia a New TV" charity.

After a somewhat hectic morning, I settled in around 1:00 in the afternoon to try to figure out where I was going wrong. I pored over the manual, again, to look for hints. I flipped through screens trying to read my quests and figure out the map. Eventually, I decided to head back to Riverwood to see if I could backtrack and figure out what the heck I was supposed to do.  

After listening to me whine and gripe for the next hour, my poor, beleaguered husband picked up the phone and began calling every game store, book store and major retailer in the area to try to find a copy of the Skyrim Strategy Guide. This was a much taller order than he had anticipated. He soon spoke with every location in a 10-mile radius.

In the meantime, I was actually starting to get it. A few things clicked and I figured out some pieces of the map, enough to embark on one of the quests. The phone battery died and the Strategy Guide quest was put on hold, but I spent the next couple hours happily working my way through a dungeon, blasting the crap out of zombie-like creatures.  

Eventually, we had a victory. A GameStop was located (thirty minutes away) with one remaining copy of the strategy guide. We piled in the car and were on our way. I was a bit shocked when I got my hands on the thing. It's at least an inch thick, with nearly 700 pages of teeny tiny print.  

I started flipping through and was finally able to figure out what was going on! I swear to you, the angels sang. I rearranged a bunch of stats on my character, played with some skills, placed my perk points and began to level alchemy. 

I was also able to begin following the master questline (which I had already started, unknowingly, when I headed up to that dungeon). The game is flowing much more smoothly for me now, and I'm finally enjoying myself. I got to kill a dragon tonight! Score! I'm looking forward to tackling it again tomorrow. I can actually lose myself in the story a bit now.

I still want to replace that stupid TV though.


Day 3 –

Moving Up and a Sudden Halt

Things are clicking into place and I enjoyed myself uninterrupted for several hours today. I've determined that the best part of this game is KILLING DRAGONS. The remote starts shaking and you start hearing the shrieks. Look up and there's a freaking dragon swooping in the sky, coming straight at you. Quick! Switch to your bow! I make myself dizzy, swinging the camera around to get a lead on the dragon. Dragon lands, run in for the kill with my battle axe and flames. I love this game.

According to the strategy guide, I have completed Act I of the main quest. I've also completed a few side quests when I can. I was cruising right along until I ran into a major roadblock.

I'm on a quest where I'm supposed to infiltrate a party and find out damning evidence about a particular faction. The problem? I take two steps into the hallway and get my ass handed to me. Over and over and over. So what's happening here? I think I've figured out the problem, but it's going to involve some backtracking. I'm just hoping that's possible.

Earlier in the quest line, I was supposed to give the stuff I "couldn't live without" to my contact at the party. Thinking I was supposed to be sneaking, I just gave him a dagger and some potions. I see now that I've made a major error. Despite being a cat, I can't sneak worth a damn. I consulted my guide once again and confirmed. Yup, being a khajit means the guards are pretty much always going to notice me (whereas a high elf would practically be escorted by them). I'm pretty much going to have to hack and slash my way through. That's a problem.

So all my gear is now being held by another character and I can't get it back. I shut the game down for the night to decide what to do next. I'm going to have to see if I can load an old save. I hope so. Otherwise I'm pretty much screwed.  

I have several deadlines this week that I need to get done so Monday is going to be an actual work day. Bummer. I'm going to try to get some screen time later in the evening.  Hopefully I can get past this hold up.  


Days 4 through 7-

One Night in Blackreach

 

I was pleased to figure out that I could load an earlier game, so I was able to backtrack and solve my problem. The hell with sneaking. I bashed the rest of the way through that particular quest and kicked it square in the nuts.  

Since making that delightful discovery, I have made liberal use of the "load previous game" function. Pretty much anytime something goes wrong, I backtrack. Stuck in an area that's too hard? Reload. Stupid follower keeps getting in the way and runs into my sword too many times? Reload. Wind up hated by one of the major cities? Reload.  

Life continues to get in the way of my gaming time, so I spent the rest of this week sneaking in an hour here and an hour there. By the end of the week, I had traveled through Act II to the point where it was time for me to go find an Elder Scroll. I've mostly weaned myself off the Strategy Guide by now, so that's a good feeling.

I loaded up Lydia and my horse and traveled across a glacier (I actually feel the need to wrap myself in a blanket while playing this game, the blizzards are just that realistic) to find the entry way to Blackreach. After struggling through knee deep slow and backtracking until I found the way down, I arrived at the entrance.  

If for nothing else, purchase this game so you can explore this area. It's incredible.  According to the little trivia notes that run while the game is loading, this area was built by the dwarves, which are also known as Dwemer and are a type of elf. They vanished millennia ago, and this underground city is one of their legacies.  

The place is full of little traps. Step in the wrong spot and you get pelted with poisoned arrows or blasted by flames. You have to watch the floor carefully to avoid the triggers. I love that everything in this game moves. You can trip over junk on the floor. Move one item and it might trigger a cascade of stuff.  

And considering who lives in this area, that could be a very bad thing…

 


Skyrim Week 2:  I Hate Falmer

 

The beginning of this week found me delving deeper into Blackreach. Did I mention how big this place is? A few steps in and my pockets are bulging with soul stones and dwarven machinery. I constantly had to drop items to make room for more valuable ones.  

Progress in Blackreach was slow. Eventually I hit a stuck point. I hung out for two days, trying to get around a corner guarded by three Falmer. No matter what I tried, I just couldn't get past them. Once, I managed to kill them all, but my buddy Lydia died in the fracas. I attempted to push on without her, but quickly figured out this was going to be a no-go.

After scouring the Internet, I finally had the solution. I backtracked and hightailed it back to Whiterun where Lydia and I had ourselves some quality girl time in the form of a shopping spree. I picked up a ton of healing potions and she received some lovely presents of new clothing and weapons. (Although her response of "I am sworn to carry your burdens" every time I tried to give her something nice got a little old…) Apparently running around with a half-naked follower who can only stab things with a dagger is fairly ineffective. Who knew?

Armed to the teeth with upgraded armor and a shiny new sword, we headed back to Blackreach. While the Falmer didn't exactly crumble before us, we were finally able to make some decent headway. I found that there was almost a rhythm to getting through Blackreach. Press forward until you can't anymore, head back out, sell off your junk, upgrade your gear, and try to gain another level. In between assaults on Blackreach, I found myself working on other quests, including the College of Winterhold quest line and the Companions quest line.  

I've gained about three levels since my last attempt at Blackreach, and I should probably head back, but I'm kind of caught up in the Companions quests currently.  Traveling with Farkas gave me the opportunity to significantly increase my armor rating, so I should have quite a bit more survivability. I get the feeling that when I head back in there, I might be able to just plow right through it. Rotating through quest chains has been fun, and I'll probably keep using this technique.  

I decided to stay out of the civil war for the time being, since I don't want areas locked off to me. I might join a side eventually, but I haven't decided where. Although I know people who have completed the game (or at least the main quest line), I've settled into my usual style of gaming: wandering around, exploring everything, testing out skills and leveling slowly.  

So what's my Skyrim takeaway? If you're in it just to plow through the main quest line, you're missing the point. The world is so deep and detailed; you would be doing yourself a serious disservice. If you get in over your head, back it up and work on something else. The side quests are countless. I love that my "class" depends on what I actually use. My character is now level 14, and her primary skills are heavy armor, one-handed weapons and alchemy. A bit different from how I thought she would appear when I set out, but apparently that's how I'm playing her. It's fine with me. 

I love the dungeons. You can explore and pick up pretty much everything. Books with information about the world are scattered everywhere, and everything has value. Enemies lurk behind every corner and the fights are intense. Don't get the idea that traveling cross-country is any safer – you never know when you're going to be assaulted by a dragon pinwheeling across the sky.  

One last note:  My brother asked me to bring Skyrim with me when I went to his place on Thanksgiving, so I could see what it looked like on a "real TV."  It absolutely blew my mind. I have never seen backgrounds this detailed and realistic. It kind of sucks to know what I'm missing. The good news is that my sister is giving me a sweet deal on her TV, so there's hope for me after all. 


Amelia Ramstead has been playing games since her family first received an Atari 2600, lo these many years ago. She continues to play, primarily on PC these days. An avid World of Warcraft player, Amelia writes about WoW topics for her blog and as a guest poster on WoW Insider. Especially interested in how gamer culture reflects in family dynamics, Amelia herself has two kids, one of whom has two WoW characters and can barely keep his nose out of his DS. Find Amelia on Steam as ameeramstead

 

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