I have to be completely honest at this stage;
I’ve never completed a Bethesda game.
It’s not through lack of trying, I’ve played The Elder Scrolls series, Doom, Brink, RAGE, Wolfenstein… I even played 10 minutes of Rogue Warrior before being hit with a wave of soul crushing angst that I was wasting what little life I had left.
Bethesda, famously, make wonderfully engrossing games set in huge open worlds with a thousand different avenues for adventure. So why can I never be bothered to finish them? And I mean ‘finish’ as in complete the actual story. I am in no way referring to the modern definition of modern video game completion where you have to walk around picking up a billion doorstops for no reason.
Perhaps I suffer from that most 21st century of afflictions; attention deficit. My counterpoint to that is that I sat through 5 unbearably long Harry Potter movies without leaving to go find the nearest wet paint sign.
My latest effort was with Fallout 4 but I inevitably fell into the same pattern:
Start out. ‘Okay opening sequences, I’ll bosh you out in a few minutes and crack on with this mutherflipper’.
*14 hours later*
‘That’s my character design out the way. I like how the scars on his face imply a violent past, that’s some sweet narrative design right there’
*a further interminable amount of time later*
‘See you later, introductory phases. I now know exactly what I’m doing. Time to get out there and make a difference’
‘How the hell did I end up here? The mission waypoint is on the other side of the map and I’m stuck fighting what appears to be Satan himself with a nerf gun’
*Turn game off, never return*
Same exact process (tweak details based on whether Bethesda have the genre context setting switched to ‘Fantasy’ or ‘Future’) every single time.
I think it’s because the developers don’t make a very engaging case for exactly why you should care about your character. In TES: Oblivion, you are freed from prison, watch the Emperor get skewered and eventually get roped into sorting the whole mess out. The problem is, there is nothing stopping you from waltzing out of the front door and mooching about the beautifully rendered countryside for all time. If just one non-playable-character came up to you while you were picking daisies to shout ‘What the bloody hell are you doing?! There’s a gate to hell open in a school playground and you’re here faffing about with flowers?!‘
Now, I know I shouldn’t necessarily need to be reminded I should be protecting the school children from the gathering armies of darkness, but the fact that I can wilfully ignore my destiny in favour of chatting to locals in a pub with zero consequences robs the game of any incentive. It’s very much a case of ‘well there is a potential world ending crisis going on, but it can wait till you’re done climbing to the top of that mountain for no other reason than to satisfy your banal curiosity.’
Speaking of, my fondest memory of TES: Oblivion was in the middle of one such expedition to the top of a mountain. There I was in the middle of a sunny day, happily doing the whole ‘run-sideways-then-jump up’ to reach the tallest peak I could find when I happened upon an abandoned campsite. At least, I thought it was abandoned. I did the only reasonable thing imaginable which was to have a quick kip on one of the rolled out mats, (my climb having exhausted me, I liked to imagine). When I woke up, I was surrounded by a pack of baying creatures. It was dark and I couldn’t make them out, but the music had changed. We all know that means shit is about go down. Go down it did, and the same can be said for the oblivious (sorry) chumps that had threatened to disturb my slumber. The fools were dispatched just as quickly as they had appeared. I stood, steel sword gleaming in the moonlight, my vanquished enemies lying strewn across the grass. I sighed, more blood for the blood god. Yet I was uneasy, the unique nature of the situation had unsettled me. I was wounded so I decided to sleep again and that’s when the game informed me that I had been infected by Porphyric Haemophilia, more commonly known as Vampirism.
‘Sweet’ I thought, ‘I’m a motherfudging vampire. This will add a whole new layer to my character, another delicious slice of narrative to feed into my chronicle.’ At first I was right; I was stronger, quicker, bloody hard to kill and I could cut about in the sunlight with impunity. Up till this point I had already been a murderous swine, but this sent me over the edge. Now my killing had meaning, I was a complex anti-hero, like Spike from Buffy or maybe someone less shit. But then it started to unravel. One day I awoke from a night of needlessly dispatching bandits and innocents alike and as I strode out into the morning sun as I had done so countless times before, my character began to burn. I instinctively sought shelter, as one does when one’s skin is actively setting ablaze. Ducking in to the nearest tavern, I began to ponder my situation. I checked my character screen to see what the hell was going on and I noticed I had become haggered, wrinkled and gaunt. Shit. I also needed to heal so I went to one of the communal rooms to find a bed and that’s when I noticed the option to ‘feed’ on one of the other sleeping guests.
So I did, naturally.
A quick check on my character again and I could see my features had returned to normal. I went back outside to see the extent to which feeding had helped and this time there no sizzling flesh, no screams of agony and no need to go back indoors. A couple of days later, however, the curse returned. Now coming across helpless victims is pretty tough and I couldn’t be faffed wrangling with the city guard every time I needed to feed so I decided I would embrace my dark fate and become a fully fledged creature of the night. Unfortunately for my new-found-Nosferatu, the stages of the infection get worse and eventually leave you as some disfigured nightmare that, somewhat understandably, very few people want anything to do with.
Bloody rich coming from a society that will allow the giant, brutish, ultraviolent orcs to scoot about the place and nobody says a damn thing.
I’m not proud of what followed as it won’t make a great deal of sense to anyone. (Unless you’ve played The Sims in which case you know exactly what it’s like to play a game for hours on end simply to keep your character alive and not actually accomplish anything.) I would do enough to survive, steer clear of inhabited areas and only feed on those foolish enough to stray on to my turf at the dead of night. It took me about 16 hours of this to make me realise what the hell was going on, to turn the game off and literally never play it again. That save game is still on my Xbox 360, it haunts that machine like the very vampire curse itself.
I think that’s what wankers call Emergent Gameplay.
Just once I would love to play a Bethesda (and indeed, any open world game) where the events unfold around you and you can either get stuck in, do your job and save the day or just watch the world go to shit without raising so much as a disinterested eyebrow. If I was merrily shooting the breeze with a fellow daisy picker just to have a demon turn up and cave his head in as part of a larger world-ending cataclysm, I would not only avenge him, I would go on a murderous rampage to kill everything and everyone that demon had ever loved because I am volatile and prone to overreaction. If that rampage coincides with saving the day, then so be it but I would be establishing my own narrative and I might actually give a toss for once.
Seriously, in Fallout 4 essentially every single character you meet gives you a shedload of grief whilst simultaneously asking you for help. It would be incredibly rewarding to just sit and sip radioactive water as their pleas go unheeded, choosing rather to actively end your own life in a slow and excruciatingly painful fashion than help them just because they made some smart comment about your blue and yellow pyjamas.
So Skyrim re-mastered. Yeah I’ve played it. It is excellent. No I haven’t/will never finish it. If you need me, I’ll be picking daisies.