Humble Sky – How Elder Scrolls naysayer Dave Meikleham fell for Skyrim

It may not be a three-part epic starring Ian McKellen, but my tale of humble pastry-eating and tundra-tinged second chances does involve Tolkien’s hairy little ‘uns. While watching Peter Jackson’s recent Middle-earth movie, which involved losing a sock in a Leicester Square cinema (don’t ask), I had a sudden urge to indulge in a eardy action-RPG. One that perhaps boasted the tagline ‘epic fantasy reborn’. There was no way around it: I had to skulk back into Skyrim. Fus Ro d’oh!

Blame God for making New Zealand so dang purdy. If it wasn’t for Jackson’s sweeping shots of Kiwi countryside (that double for The Hobbit’s world) giving me a craving for orcs and elves, I would never have bought Skyrim again after swiftly selling my first copy in late 2011. Subsequently, I wouldn’t have sunk 36 hours and counting into roaming a sprawling world, getting scoffed by dragons and searching tombs of undead hobos looking for something called a Dawnbreaker.

The fifth chapter of The Elder Scrolls does an unbelievably good job of acting as a stand-in for Middle-earth. Its labyrinthine network of craggy mountains is like a snowy Mordor, while most of the caves you stumble upon could pass for a mini Mines Of Moria. With red-eyed visions of Boromir biting it and Legolas offing a supermarket-sized elephant, Bethesda’s vivid open-world gradually made the Rings’ mythology come to life for me.

I only ventured seven hours into my quest
first time around, the prospect of Lagzilla’s borked framerates searching me out was
enough to fry my dragon-slaying ambition

Teary Tolkien memories may have pulled me in, but it was the game’s sheer quality and ever-expanding sense of wonder that kept me playing. When I originally wet my beak in the gargantuan adventure, I gave up much too quickly. This was partly due to me being an impatient prat… but mostly because I’d had to write approximately 17,000 words about lag and patches for the mag. Even though I only ventured seven hours into my quest first time around, the prospect of Lagzilla’s borked framerates searching me out was enough to fry my dragon-slaying ambition.

No doubt monocles are falling into decanters of port at the revelation I gave Skyrim less than ten hours to woo me. Even once lag was mostly eliminated, the prospect of ‘having’ to sink 100 hours in to really appreciate it was just too daunting. I hate the sort of argument reserved for the likes of Assassin’s Creed III that ‘the game comes to life 15 hours in’. In the case of Bethesda’s beast, though, boy does it blossom like the man-eating plant from Little Shop Of Horrors the more you play.

There wasn’t a shining moment when the Daedra bestowed their wisdom upon me and Skyrim suddenly ‘clicked’. Instead, it was the slow realisation that I was playing the game wrong. You don’t merely follow quests… you make your own story by wandering off the beaten track and finding random adventure. It was when I stopped letting mission markers dictate where I should go and let myself be wilfully sidetracked by leisurely exploration that the game gobbled up my life.

Of course the initial lag fiasco and subsequent DLC issues are an inexcusable farce. But when Skyrim’s core qualities are so strong that they can completely rewrite the opinions of a stubborn, RPG-hating man-baby, you know the game is a bit special. Mmm, this humble pie really is just like Mum used to make. Cheers, Bilbo.