The Society of Skyrim: Dragons Are On, War Drags On
The idea for this piece of writing popped into my skull whilst I was surveying the damage caused by the not-so-happy communist hippies, freshly integrated into the Hartarian Dominion of Stellaris. (You bomb the crap out of me, for bombing the crap out of others? Hypocrites!)
It was then when I realised just how masterfully Paradox Interactive made the various dictatorships, democracies and oligarchies seem believable; not a shadow of doubt has befallen me, that there might be a civilisation of space mushrooms making mad money by selling minerals to both sides of a particularly aggressive war between Kraken wannabes. A war which probably erupted because molluscoid ‘A’ purged the hell out of molluscoid ‘B’’s migrants.
Which made me think about one other game I adore which makes an attempt at portraying society. Although it’s an entirely different genre to Stellaris, I think it important to analyse the contents.
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We all know that Skyrim is one of the best RPG games to have ever been devised. If you argue otherwise, well, you have the right to be wrong. It tells us a story of the northern province of Tamriel, where a civil war is taking its toll. Not just that, but friggin’ dragons are coming back to life to annihilate everyone. Oh, and there’s this Dragonborn dude murdering left, right and centre (I like to be stealthy; nobody will see if there isn’t anyone left to see). All-in-all, everything went to hell.
When it comes to the presence of giant flying lizards, the society is visibly shaken, even despite the little discrepancy, which is that every citizen turns into Brock Lesnar when faced with the threat of being treated like a marshmallow over a campfire. Serfs lament over the threat of being eaten, and Jarls worry about the safety of their people. Essentially, Bethesda has nailed portraying a society under the threat of dragons. The momentum is lost, however, through their portrayal of the Stormc
Whilst there are mods to alleviate that, the vanilla game only somewhat manages to stress the impact of the civil war. You get the usual “rescue my son who has been captured” quest, as well as an opportunity to save an escorted prisoner every once in awhile. There are also forts filled with bandits of any and all ilk, often bearing arms much superior to those of soldiers. Makes you wonder why Ulfric makes no attempts to hire them as mercenaries.
Yet, unless you actively engage in the Civil War story missions, there is very little indication of the threat. Peasants and traders mention welcoming or disliking the war, but they make us ask “why?”. Bethesda, here is a plea from a dear fan: improve upon it. Script skirmishes in the no-man’s-land. Place some half-built or burnt siege weapons around holds. Change some of those barren plains into past battlegrounds. Expose me to the distress of civil war, and make me want to end it.
There are highlights, naturally. My personal favourite is the confrontation in Windhelm, where a bunch of Nords are bullying a Dark Elf, accusing her of espionage amongst other evils. It plays into the fact that during troubling times, minorities and outsiders are the first to be scapegoated. A real life example would be the often-questionable treatment of Japanese and other Asian minorities living on United States soil as a result of World War Two. By allowing us to step in to defend the elf, Bethesda reminds us that in dire times, we have to remain united and stop jumping to conclusions, or enforcing vigilante justice.
Be it trolls, spiders or other monstrosities, the tough-as-nails population of Skyrim seems to have gotten entirely used to their presence. The most hate directed at fauna comes from a lumberjack (or, in this case, a lumberjill) from Ivarstead who simply cannot bear…bears. Taking into consideration the presence of gigantic, venomous spiders, it is difficult to consider Nords as having their priorities straight. But hey, maybe I am just a whiney little milk-drinker. The presence of wolves all over Skyrim left me wondering “where in heavens is the generic “kill X wolves” quest to start me off?”. But most of all, I have enormous concerns regarding the dismissal of the Falmer threat.
According to the beloved loading-screen tooltips, they really want to annihilate the world above them. If you ask me, that seems like a cause for concern. But no, they just sit and dwell in their dark, moist caves. Where are the sorties? The brave adventurers clearing out their nests? What I would love to see is a scenario – perhaps in a DLC – where the Falmer prepare and execute an invasion on the world above them; a war to match the civil struggle and the dragon threat. Bethesda, get on it.
What other games have civilizations which left you pondering? Stellar territories of Mass Effect? Toxic junkyards of Fallout? Let us know in the comments if you reckon any other game is worth analysing.