Category: "Analysis"

An Analysis of the Skyrim Civil War, Pt. 2: The Wild Card

  01:13:00 pm, by   , 1503 words  
Viewed 9274 times since 02/25/15
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Author's note: After some feedback, I have decided to make this a three-part analysis instead of a two-part analysis, as was originally planned. This will allow me to address all points I wish to make in an organized fashion without getting too long-winded in any individual post.

The debate between Skyrim players about which side is right and why has been going on since the game's release. Which side is right? The Empire, whose goal of uniting the human races against a greater threat leads them to overzealous oppression? Or the Stormcloaks, a rebel army devoted to a power-hungry racist who cloaks his true motives in the guise of desiring liberty? If you read my last post, you know that I don't believe either of them to be worthy of allegiance. Yet in all of these debates, the one thing that vexes me most is that it's always centered on the Stormcloaks or the Empire, and no mention is made of the most important party in the war, the party without whom the war cannot be won; the party whose exclusion from this debate is all the more surprising considering that it is the one with which players are not only exposed to the most, but are in direct command of.

I am referring of course to the player character in Skyrim: the Dovahkiin, the One True Dragonborn, Herald of the Tyranny of the Sun, et cetera, et cetera. A figure whose involvement in the war is incidental, but no less important for it, a veritable one-man army without whom the war cannot be resolved.


It can be difficult to account for freedom in gameplay choices from a lore perspective, which is why we won't know who really won the civil war until the next game is released. However, there is one constant in the equation, regardless of which side players choose to take in the war: The Dragonborn's allegiance determines the victor. From a lore perspective, we might think of the events in a given playthrough of the game (and in fact, have historically been encouraged to do so by Bethesda) as an Elder Scroll prophecy; one person may see a vision of the Dragonborn leading the Stormcloak invasion of Whiterun and conquering the city, while another may see him repelling the Stormcloaks from the front lines and successfully driving back the siege. A third may see the Dragonborn refusing to take sides and instead focusing on destroying Alduin, in which case the civil war will continue. The text of the Elder Scroll giving these prophecies won't become fixed until the prophecy is enacted (i.e., the next game is released), but in all versions of this prophecy, the Dragonborn's actions decide the outcome. In other words, the Dragonborn holds all the power, not Tullius or Ulfric.


So which side should the Dragonborn bring victory? Clearly, the arguments applied last time are also relevant here. The Dragonborn's first involvement with the Empire in Skyrim is being sentenced to death without trial, just because he was caught committing a crime while Ulfric Stormcloak happened to be committing another crime in the same general area. Not a great first impression on the Empire's part (and also why so many players get turned off from siding with them right away). Of course, we are quickly introduced to the character of Hadvar, who embodies the more sympathetic aspects of the Empire, and shows us that not all Imperial Soldiers are bloodthirsty oppressors. While all of the other prisoners are slated for execution, Hadvar immediately notices that the Dragonborn isn't, and seems unsure as to how he should proceed. It's not just that he's confused over protocol; the mere act of asking his superior officer what to do shows that he doesn't want to immediately execute a person without reason. When he's told he has to do it anyway, he doesn't say “Sure thing!” with a sadistic glee; he solemnly apologizes that he can't do anything more for the Dragonborn, and gives the only measure of comfort he can by offering to return the latter's remains to his home country. When all of the prisoners escape, he doesn't try to stop the Stormcloaks or kill them himself; he tries to get the women and children to safety, and personally helps the player escape the city, showing a clear understanding that his primary purpose as a soldier is to protect the people, not slay his enemies. This point is driven home during the ensuing confrontation between the Imperial torturer and escaping Stormcloaks, where Hadvar disgustedly mutters These bastards call themselves Imperial Legionnaires...


If Tullius embodies the worst of the Empire, then Hadvar embodies the best. But just because there are those within the Empire who are well-meaning and friendly doesn't mean they are any more deserving of victory in the Civil War. It's one thing for the Dragonborn to forgive them for trying to execute him or to befriend members of their ranks, but to support them militarily is to support the policies which alienated the other human provinces in the first place: blindly assuming that being part of the Empire is in the people's best interests and refusing to hear any objections, all the while allowing the Thalmor to trample on people and roam the country as they please. The Dragonborn's primary role as protector of the world need not only be from Alduin and the dragons, his prophesied foes; it can (and should) be from all threats to peace. In that regard, supporting the Empire is little better than supporting the Stormcloaks.


Of course, that doesn't mean the Stormcloaks are automatically the Dragonborn's friends. While many aspects of his character aren't recorded in the canon (such as his past or race), there are few reasons he would have for supporting Ulfric. Let's say, hypothetically, that the Dragonborn is one of the elven or beast races. Right off the bat, he's considered inferior in Ulfric's eyes. His attempts to join the Stormcloaks would be met with immediate suspicion. Even if he were to join the Stormcloaks and gain their respect, Ulfric and his men would only show it by saying that even though he's a foreigner, he has the heart of a Nord. So he may be a dirty elf/lizard/cat/orc, but it's okay, he's one of the good ones. Why would you support someone who clearly views your people as inferior, and encourages actively oppressing them?

But even disregarding the Dragonborn's race, why should he want to support Ulfric? The only thing we know for sure about his past is that he was captured trying to cross the border into Skyrim, meaning he wasn't a native of the country. In other words, the Dragonborn is unlikely to have any personal investment in seeing an independent Skyrim. Why should he feel motivated to join a group fighting for a nation's independence if he isn't of that nation? Even if he is a Nord, and would therefore have good reason to care about the state of his ancestral homeland, why would he fight for the Stormcloaks? He wouldn't be fighting for Skyrim's independence so much as he would be fighting for Ulfric to be High King, and in doing so, he'd be making mankind more vulnerable against the Thalmor by driving a wedge between Skyrim and their Cyrodilic allies. If he really wants to fight for Skyrim's well-being, he should support a side that emphasizes the well-being of the common people while allowing for good diplomatic relations between all of the human provinces (which, again, neither the Stormcloaks nor the Empire do).


It could be argued that while both sides are wrong, supporting the Empire may be slightly preferable, since they are at least dedicated to a long-term goal of keeping all the human races united against the Thalmor, unlike Ulfric, whose concerns about the Thalmor are secondary to that of his own rank. But even if that's true, choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil, and when there are other options available, that isn't a good choice to make. So what else is there? Negotiating a temporary peace treaty which will effectively end after Alduin is slain? Staying out of the war and allowing the Thalmor to destroy both belligerents once they've exhausted each other? Clearly, maintaining complete isolation from worldly affairs, as do the Greybeards, is the worst choice of all, when the Dragonborn has the power to make a difference. The question, then, is how the Dragonborn might make a difference in such a way that will not bring disaster to the people on a continental scale. Bethesda presents such an option in the game, but it is presented so subtly that it often isn't even recognized as an option at all. It is an option that is hinted at many times, but always in pieces, never as a cohesive whole. Much like in real life, the correct answer to this difficult decision can only be reached through extensive consideration. So what is it?

To be concluded


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Lore Lapses, Part IX: The Third Era Timeline

  11:21:00 am, by   , 380 words  
Viewed 4186 times since 02/22/15
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

The Third Era doesn't make sense.

I recently completed a review of the Third Era lore page, and added several discrepancies in the Notes section. In addition to all that, the introduction in TES Arena also says the following:

Now, 492 years after Tiber Septim took control and kept the peace, the land of the Arena has a new threat. The Emperor, Uriel Septim VII celebrates his forty-third birthday. But jealous hearts desire the throne and plot his downfall.

Obviously, we know now that the Third Era only lasted 433 years, and that Arena started in 3E 389. So that leaves us with a 103-year discrepancy. Even if we assume that it was dating back to when the Tiber Wars began, not when the Third Era began, we're left with a gap.

I honestly think someone just ran out of steam when writing A Brief History of the Empire during the development of TESII: Daggerfall. "Seriously, 492 years? Can we trim that down a bit? Cut me a break, here, boss; we've got enormous bugs that need fixing."

Anyways, I started this series because the blog was nascent, but that doesn't seem to be an issue currently. Other contributors are coming out with some really interesting stuff, which I'm hoping to see more of. And you can't add a new blog post without calling attention away from the previous one (sorry, thuum, looking forward to the rest of your Civil War series!). So, I'm cutting the Lore Lapses series back to biweekly, maybe monthly if activity stays up.

If anyone's interested, it's Sunday morning, and that means Classic Elder Scrolls has just started! Of all the Elder Scrolls podcasts and videos I've watched (and trust me, I've watched or listened to a ridiculous amount), this and Elder Scrolls Off the Record are the ones I've enjoyed the most. A lot of TES video/audio series are focused on informing, which gets old fast, while others are poorly planned out. The QGN team finds a fantastic middle ground, and really gives great coverage on virtually everything TES. Occasional developer interviews, lore, news, gameplay tips, mods, comparisons of the games, etc., etc. Every once in a while I have to shake my head at some lore oversight, but they're always entertaining, and the product placement is tolerable.

An Analysis of the Skyrim Civil War, Pt. 1: The Belligerents

  07:57:00 pm, by   , 1347 words  
Viewed 5107 times since 02/18/15
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, Analysis

One of the most frequently-recurring discussions between Skyrim players is the Civil War questline, the conflict which drives the narrative of the game and works its way into every other major questline and subplot. To this day, fans of the game can be found arguing which side is better: the Imperials or the Stormcloaks. In most of the discussions I've seen, however, the main talking points are the same ones espoused by NPCs in the game who support one faction or the other. In depicting this conflict, Bethesda takes a great deal of care to portray multiple sides of the conflict, though they refrain from commenting on which side was ultimately right. A debate with such profound impact on the lore of the Elder Scrolls games deserves to be examined in greater depth, which I plan to do in two parts here. This first installment will provide an examination of both warring factions, including their motivations and the points most commonly made for and against each side.

In many of the discussions I've seen about the conflict, the most common arguments made in support of each side can be summarized thusly: Pro-Empire players say that Ulfric is arrogant, racist, and power-hungry, and that a Stormcloak victory in the civil war would lead to the Thalmor ultimately conquering the human races. Pro-Stormcloak players say that the Empire is tyrannically oppressing the people of Skyrim, and is forsaking the needs and beliefs of the people in order to maintain some semblance of their past glory. The kicker is, while the war is touted as one of conflicting ideology (and is even presented as such in-game, vis-a-vis the Talos question), when you look at it closely, it becomes clear that the goals and methods of each belligerent are much the same, and that neither side can truly be called justified.

For starters, let's look at the Empire. My colleague AKB wrote a blog in which he stated that the Empire is basically running on fumes, and that they're so focused on maintaining their slipping grip on power that they fail to see their power has already gone. And this is very true. Their determination to keep the human provinces allied against the Dominion has led them to rule out dismantling the Empire and allowing for alliances between independent nations as an option; as a result, they come across as so overbearing that they alienate their allies, a very counterproductive strategy.

Of course, the Empire's ultimate goal is to rebuild their forces for the inevitable second war against the Thalmor, and unlike Ulfric, General Tullius isn't so short-sighted that he can't see the Thalmor's hand in the Skyrim Civil War. If you talk to him at Elenwen's Party, he admits "Just between you and me, a lot of what Ulfric says about the Empire is true." So how do Imperial officers show their solidarity with the people of other provinces? Why, with such sympathetic and tolerant words as "You people and your damn Jarls." Or such fair and impartial judgment of someone found in the company of death row inmates as "Forget the list! He goes to the block." I can respect the difficult position the Empire is in with the Thalmor, but if the words and actions of their generals and captains are indicative of their broader approach to provincial disputes, they don't deserve allegiance. An emperor's duty is to his people, and when he's so ineffectual that even members of his high council plot to kill him, it's time to pack it in.

Then again, the Stormcloaks are hardly able to take the moral high ground in this conflict. Wanting independence when your ruler nation no longer serves your best interest is a legitimate desire, but in all their actions, the Stormcloaks seem very short-sighted. Most of them cite the ban on Talos worship as an unforgivable act of tyranny without stopping to consider that nobody in the Empire likes it either. Think for a second: even during the events of the game, is the Empire itself persecuting Talos worshipers? No, they're just allowing the Thalmor to do it, and that's only because they have to. For that matter, one of Ulfric's stated goals is to take the fight to the Thalmor after defeating the Empire, which is an important goal, though how they'll manage to win against the Dominion after alienating a large portion of their potential allies is beyond me.

And what about Ulfric himself? "Whenever a group of marauders attack a Nord village, Ulfric is the first to sound the horn and send the men. But a group of Dark Elf refugees gets ambushed? A group of Argonians, or a Khajiit caravan? No troops. No investigation. Nothing." It's hard to doubt the legitimacy of this claim when Ulfric has been known to support the segregation of Dunmer and Argonian refugees to slums and warehouses outside the city. And a lot of his supporters seem to hold similar beliefs, which really make it hard for anyone who isn't a Nord to sympathize with their cause.


What about his reasons for fighting the war and killing High King Torygg? His detractors seem to think he just wanted to be High King himself. In Ulfric's defense, said killing was conducted in line with Nord traditions (an account corroborated by both Roggvir's and Sybille Stentor's descriptions of the event), though killing Torygg may have been a bit excessive. But was that the real reason? According to Ulfric, "I fight for my people impoverished to pay the debts of an Empire too weak to rule them, yet brands them criminals for wanting to rule themselves! I fight so that all the fighting I've already done hasn't been for nothing." Fair point, and well made. So then Ulfric, if you're not doing this because you want to be High King, then how would you hypothetically respond to winning the war? By your own words, you're opposed to the way the Imperials use money to subvert Nordic traditions, so you'd have to wait for the moot to name you High King. How would you respond to that?

Ulfric: "How'd I do?"
Galmar: "Eh, not so bad. Nice touch about the High King."
Ulfric: "Thank you, I thought so, too."
Galmar: "It's a foregone conclusion, you know."
Ulfric: "Oh, I know."

So, by his own admission, using Skyrim's traditions and the rights of its people as his ideals is just a rhetorical strategy.

So now that we've examined a bit of the Stormcloak and Imperial ideologies, which one of them can be considered to ultimately be in the right?

Honestly? Neither of them. Each side is fighting for causes which can be considered legitimate, but is also driven by causes that are either misguided or self-serving, and at the end of the day, the people of Skyrim suffer under both parties. Eorlund Gray-Mane even says as much: "Comes the end of the day, Imperials and Stormcloaks ain't much different. Both sides want to tell you how you should live your life." And it's true, NPC supporters of each side can frequently be found arguing that other NPCs owe their allegiance to one of the two parties. Both parties also have the same view of the Thalmor, as an enemy that must eventually be defeated. Most importantly, while both parties claim to have nobler motivations, they repeatedly place their own interests above the interests of the civilians and people of Skyrim, and as I said before, a ruler's first duty must be to his people, because he is nothing without them.

To summarize, this war isn't depicted as a black-and-white struggle of good versus evil; it's a conflict between two groups, fighting for the same ideals under different guises and doing nothing but harming themselves and their brothers in the process. However, while this isn't a struggle of black and white, neither is it a struggle of grey and grey; there's a third shade of grey in this conflict, a third party that isn't mentioned in the debate, but is the most important of them all.

To be continued

Alarra's Opinion: ESO

  03:46:00 pm, by Alarra   , 1908 words  
Viewed 3979 times since 02/15/15
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, Analysis


I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but especially now with the announcement of Tamriel Unlimited, I feel that now is the time to write my thoughts of the game.  For some context, I have been playing ESO for 265 hours (according to the in-game counter) on one character - granted, probably at least 20 of that was for wiki work - and it’s the second MMO I’ve played, after Guild Wars 2.


I’ll cover the basic “feel” of the game vs the main-series games, the music, the amount of things there is to do, what's changed since beta, and so forth.  Read after the break to view my thoughts on the game….


Full story »

Lore Lapses, Part VIII: Enric Milres

  01:47:00 pm, by   , 467 words  
Viewed 2630 times since 02/14/15
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Enric Milres doesn't make sense.

This one is similar to the previous discussion of Morian Zenas, in that ESO threw a network of scholars back in time, presumably so that the game could incorporate their works. In his book Sacred Witness, Milres mentioned meeting the scholars Pelarne Assi and Ynir Gorming, authors of The Brothers of Darkness and Fire and Darkness respectively.

Together, these three lore books provide all that we know about the origins of the Dark Brotherhood. It's easy to see why Zenimax felt the need to include them. When we finally see a Dark Brotherhood DLC for ESO, a lot of new fans will want to know this stuff. And they also took the opportunity to include some works in ESO by the poet Weltan, as Milres also mentioned meeting that poet in The Alik'r, also included in ESO (an excellent, mesmerizing essay, in my opinion, though it's painfully abridged).

This retcon's pretty easy to swallow simply because the benefits far outweighed the cost. They were able to include the works of Assi and Gorming in ESO without any substantive changes to the texts. In fact, the only issue with taking this whole group of people out of the Third Era and putting them into the Second was one sentence in The Alik'r: "As [I] write this, I am back in Sentinel. We are at war with the kingdom of Daggerfall for the possession of a grass-covered rock that belongs to the water of the Iliac Bay." This is referring to the War of Betony. ESO had to change this to "As [I] write this, I am back in Sentinel. We are at war with the Ebonheart Pact and the Aldmeri Dominion."

Worth it. Milres still doesn't make sense, but it's worth it.

For what it's worth

I was initially going to write this week about Falinesti (something else I expect to see in a future ESO content update). There's a misleading line in A Dance in Fire which suggests that Falinesti was in the northern part of Valenwood, near Cyrodiil, during "wintertide", which would contradict new lore in ESO. But it was actually mid-Frostfall at the time (i.e., October, mid-autumn), so it seems like Falinesti was where ESO says it should have been at that time of year.

Anyway, I was almost done making a rough sketch of Falinesti's migration when I realized there was no conflict. It took me a long time to make even this with my extremely remedial photoshop skills, and since we don't have a proper illustration yet on the wiki of Falinesti's migratory route, I figured I'd include it anyway, if anyone's interested:

A Dance in Fire does go on to suggest, though, that Falinesti is in the south during "summertide", which doesn't really mesh well with ESO.