Category: "Elder Scrolls"

A look at Tales of Tamriel #1: The Land

  10:37:00 pm, by Alarra   , 329 words  
Viewed 2996 times since 04/22/15
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls

 

The first of two volumes in the Tales of Tamriel set came out yesterday, and I thought I'd describe what it's like in person.  In case you haven't heard of it, this is a compilation of lorebooks from ESO; the entirety of it is text that you can read in-game (or on our wiki!).  Skyrim will have a similar set, containing three volumes.

So here's a brief description of it:

  • The Cover: This is a hardcover volume. The cover itself has a smooth, soft sort of feel, the logo is embossed, and the text and design around the edge are shiny silver - pretty high quality. That brown stripe that you see in the above image is something along the lines of a dust cover I think, rather than just being something to throw away; the text and image on it are glossy. Here's what the book looks like without it:

 

  • The Content: This volume focuses on the three Alliances and their homelands, as well as some creatures; it contains both books and also some journals and the like.  A table of contents for this volume can be found here, on the wiki.  The text is as it appears in-game.  It's in a decent, readable font too; that's one thing I like: the font in the Improved Emperor's Guide to Tamriel, which came with the collector's edition of ESO, was made to look like it was handwritten, and it's somewhat difficult to read (nigh impossible, compared to other font, for a while after I first had eye surgery) and I appreciate this being a more regular font.

So much to read!


  • The Images: The book has illustrations on nearly every page. While we've seen some of them before in concept art, and wallpapers, and so forth, the majority are brand-new. There are both sketches and colored images.

 

 

All in all, it's a nice, high-quality collector's item for those who are fond of the lore and who want a physical copy.

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An Analysis of the Skyrim Civil War, pt. 3: The True Path

  09:13:00 am, by   , 1277 words  
Viewed 7318 times since 03/29/15
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Author's Note: I apologize for the delay in getting the final part of this analysis posted. A change in my personal life has made it more difficult to find time to get this together in a timely fashion.

 

So here we are. After all that beating around the bush, it's finally time to answer the question that has dogged Skyrim players since the game's release: Which side should players take in the Civil War questline? In the previous part of this analysis, I discussed the role of the One True Dragonborn in the Skyrim Civil War, and how his participation would drastically alter the outcome. My ultimate conclusion was that neither the Stormcloaks nor the Empire were worthy of this mighty warrior's allegiance, and that giving his aid to either of them would have unfortunate long-term repercussions both for the people of Skyrim and for Tamriel as a whole.

 

The only remaining choice, then, would be to negotiate a ceasefire and remain aloof from the war, in what we might think of as allying with the Greybeards. This is the path that nobody seems to consider as being a legitimate option, and fairly so; it's hard to think of it as a true path when there's only a single quest devoted to it, which leads many to dismiss the Season Unending quest as a cop-out for people who can't be bothered to resolve the conflict before completing the main quest. From a gameplay standpoint, I'll admit that there's some truth to that statement. But you can't very well have a questline dealing with your actions in a war after choosing to stay out of it, and I refuse to believe that Bethesda, which goes to Tolkien levels of effort to build lore for the fictional universe they created, would program a quest for remaining neutral unless it could be tied into the lore. The path of neutrality is established not through the actions of the player, but through the game's own narrative in its depiction of the Greybeards, their philosophy, and the events surrounding the Dragonborn and the Civil War; the purpose of the Season Unending quest is to tie these narrative elements together, creating a third option for completing the Civil War which is not only viable, but the most preferable option of the three.

There are several reasons the Dragonborn must not take sides in this war, and I've already touched on some of them. For starters, he's the wild card, the deciding factor in the war. A one man army will cause the side he aids to win through his strength alone, but will make that side dependent on him as both a fighter and a symbol of its cause. If his allegiance changes or he dies (as all mortals do, dragon soul or not), then that side will have lost both a sizable portion of their military strength and a symbol to rally supporters around the cause. Furthermore, a new political entity would have to emerge regardless of who wins the Civil War. For the Stormcloaks, an independent Skyrim would emerge; for the Imperials, the success of the Skyrim campaign would lead to an attempt to retake the other provinces, in the hopes of restoring the Empire to its former glory. If the Dragonborn were to become involved in the Civil War, he would necessarily become a central political figure in the aftermath, as the winning side would petition his help against the Thalmor and other threats. He would become even more involved in the conflict than he already was, but would be unable to withdraw from it without destabilizing the political entity he helped to create.

These considerations are barely, if ever, mentioned in the game, but they are very real consequences of someone with as much power as the Dragonborn participating in political affairs. This is the reason the Greybeards remain aloof from the world: Much like the Dragonborn, they are too powerful. Even if they didn't take any formal positions or titles, their power would give them status and reverence among other political leaders, who would accept their counsel without question. Even in their current, isolationist approach to world affairs, they are already highly respected by the political leaders of Skyrim; Ulfric admits that “I have the greatest respect for the Greybeards, of course,” and Balgruuf outright admits that “They are respected by all Nords.” If they became any more involved in politics, the balance of power would become largely centered around them, and having the majority of power in the hands of a few is rarely a benefit, both to a government and the people it serves. Even if the Greybeards tried to use their influence to achieve more peaceful aims, they would end up doing more harm than good. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and even the Greybeards may be corrupted in time, as evidenced by Arngeir's threats after Paarthurnax is killed: “Begone! Before even my philosophy is tested beyond the breaking point.” The Way of the Voice is an essential philosophy for learning to use the Thu'um–lest we forget, the last time a mortal was trained to use the Thu'um without following the Greybeards' philosophy, he used his powers for regicide.

Then again, it would be equally irresponsible for the Dragonborn to do nothing at all with his power when he could be using it to help people. As Delphine so bluntly puts it, “If [the Greybeards] had their way, you'd do nothing but sit up on their mountain with them and talk to the sky.” Delphine's questionable understanding of the Greybeards aside, she brings up a good point. The threats to the people of Tamriel go beyond the dragons, and the Dragonborn has the power to stop these threats as well; consequently, he also has the responsibility to do so. Of course, Delphine would have him use his power to destroy the Thalmor as well, so following her is hardly better. Like all of the other players in the war, the portrayal of the Blades' philosophy provides only a small piece of the puzzle that is the true path intended for the Dragonborn. A hero of his nature has to be very careful about how he uses his power, and that means not getting involved in messy political disputes; his only recourse, then, is to protect people without allying himself with any organizations. By serving no master but himself and protecting innocent people from threats they can't stop themselves, the Dragonborn realizes his true potential as a hero, which goes far beyond stopping a single threat.

 

Being a freelance hero with no true political affiliations is not only the most responsible way for the Dragonborn to use his power, but the most suitable way to do things for the kind of heroes portrayed in Elder Scrolls games: They can't be tied to one group or place, because their power may be needed elsewhere. It's why Modryn Oreyn oversees the daily operations of the Cyrodiil Fighters Guild in the Champion of Cyrodiil's absence. It's why Tolfdir holds down the fort at the College of Winterhold once the Dragonborn becomes archmage. And it's (presumably) why the Nerevarine left Tamriel for an expedition to Akavir, never to be seen again. Now again, it could be argued that this is just a way to account for the nature of sandbox games without introducing plotholes, and again, it is. But anyone who doubts that the Dragonborn works best as a neutral hero need only ask Legate Rikke and Galmar, who will both say the same thing: “I suspect you'll be of greater good to Skyrim out there, in the world.

Lore Lapses, Part X: King Harald

  07:05:00 pm, by   , 337 words  
Viewed 6001 times since 03/07/15
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

High King Harald doesn't make sense.

I think I'm going to stop doing this series on a regular basis, and instead start a recurring blog for UESP news. The blurbs on the wiki's news section don't cover much, some site-related events deserve greater acknowledgement, and I find myself with more than a paragraph of off-topic things to say when I make these.

Also, finding real discrepancies in the lore is not easy. There are plenty of differing viewpoints, but overt mistakes in the lore which contradict some other established piece of the world are few and far between. They go to great efforts to keep their facts straight; that's a huge reason why I love this series so much! Anyways, on to the nit-picking. From the lore page:

Some sources apparently conflate Harald's "reign" with his entire life. Frontier, Conquest accredits the years 1E 113 to 221 to him (108 years). Both the Daggerfall Chronicles and the 1st Edition Pocket Guide state that he died at the age of 108, placing his birth at 1E 113. The 3rd Edition Pocket Guide states that by 1E 113, "the entirety of modern Skyrim was under the reign of King Harald", suggesting his birth and reign coincided. However, a memorial plaque in Windhelm confirms that his reign began in 1E 143, when he was about 30 years old.

It's possible that Harald was proclaimed king upon birth, with a regent running Skyrim until he reached the age of majority ... which is apparently thirty years old in Skyrim. But this is ancient Skyrim we're talking about, where kings apparently still ruled through right of arms. Why have a baby High King?

Then again, maybe these two issues could cancel one another out? Maybe the High King dies with his heir Harald in utero, a regent assumes the throne in Harald's name, and he/she was such a badass that even Harald didn't have the balls to take the throne until three decades had gone by? I don't know, but I think there might be a story to be told here.

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

  01:13:00 pm, by   , 1503 words  
Viewed 9270 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

 

Lore Lapses, Part IX: The Third Era Timeline

  11:21:00 am, by   , 380 words  
Viewed 4185 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.