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Skyrim, Dragons and Lemmings, Oh My!

Every man and his dog is playing Skyrim, to the sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth of spouses/girlfriends, howling in impotent rage as their man is sucked into a strange world. A world where the less armour a lady wears, the better her armour rating. A world where people don’t freeze to death standing in the middle of a stone courtyard being blasted by horizontal snow dressed in a vest and sackcloth trousers. A world inhabited by mammoths, trolls, bears, snow wolves and giant rats, all of whom want to nibble on your groinal regions.

A world where physics don’t always apply
Also there are dragons.

If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard about Skyrim, then just accept that there are. The whole story sort of hinges upon the return of the Dragons as being a cataclysmic, pivotal event in the world of Skyrim.

And yet, people are more afraid of them than they have any right to be.

The problem is that the dragons in Skyrim: The Game, as opposed to Skyrim: The Story are two different things entirely. In Skyrim: The Game, they dragons are undoubtedly powerful. They do fairly serious damage and take a while to kill, owing to massive amounts of HP and being able to fly.

Oh and they breathe fire.
Unfortunately, they possess the tactical ability of a baked potato. They will stay and fight to the death until their carcass lies at your feet and you’re looting it for dragon testicles to use in your latest alchemical experiments.

This is not how I would expect a race of nightmarish terrors, who haunt men’s nightmares and are the stuff of hushed legend, to behave. After I noticed this, having fought the ‘storyline dragon’, I couldn’t stop noticing it.

It’s present in pretty much any game where there are antagonists. They will all, without exception, run screaming at you and try to give you a steel-and-sorcery wedgie. It’s not noticeable for the most part, as in most games, there is a pre-determined path that the designers have chosen to have the player follow. You accept that you’re going to go through the game, murder tons of dudes, gain levels, become more powerful and eventually, anything that breathes in a vaguely querulous tone in your direction gets to die. That’s fine.

It doesn’t work as well in an open world like that of Oblivion and now Skyrim. Think about it. Imagine you are a bandit inhabiting the wildlands, eating diced rabbit and gravel pudding to survive and preying upon the occasional unwary passer-by. Self-preservation is going to be foremost in your mind. Ergo, you will not run to your death waving your cheap iron sword at a bloke who is kitted out in full armour and is carrying a blade that appears, ostensibly, to be made of the souls of the damned.

Would you fuck with this guy? Didn’t think so…
OK, you’d consider it if you had some mates with bows and arrows and maybe a spellcaster or two, but not alone and certainly not toe-to-toe.

Yet this is exactly what every computer-controlled angry thing de jour does in every encounter. I will discount, for the sake of argument, the mutant rats, spiders and other critters considered to be too stupid to realise that they’re rushing head/snout/mandible-first into a major physiological reconfiguration by way of axe.

However, there is no excuse for developers not to write  *some* self-preservation functions into the AI that governs the ‘higher’ lifeforms, like the human enemies and packs of wolves. Having wolves hunt as a pack, wearing you down, flanking you and minimising their own risk while harrying you would make an already good game downright amazing. The immersion factor which is already fairly hight, would skyrocket.

Imagine if while fighting a dragon with a squad of soldiers, the dragon, now wounded, half flies, half limps away crushing trees and setting fire to the countryside as it does so. Your task now is to track it to its lair and finish it off. It’s now desperate and it has nowhere to run. It’ll fight you till the bitter end and not give up until either it or you are dead because it has no other choice. In the wild, the option is always there to retreat and re-group. When you fight a group of enemies, often you will find yourself backtracking down narrow corridors to spread your enemies out and give yourself the advantage.

It would help the game feel that much more thought-out if the hostile AI did the same – pull you into a hall or room where their friends were waiting with sharpened kebab skewers and fireballs.



Itinerant photographer, firespinner, poly feminist, he/him.