After This, I’m Gonna Beat the Hell Outta Yer Old Man!
by Solomon Philbrick
The last role-playing video game I owned before Elder Scrolls: Oblivion was Ultima VI, which is a stretch of about fifteen years. I guess I’m just not into sacrificing action for the sake of a story. Even when I did play Ultima I never really followed the story, I just went around massacring the innocent townspeople and taking their stuff. I know that many of my friends played the game the same way, and I suspect that that’s what made Grand Theft Auto inevitable: sometimes folks just want to act out their unbridled id in a way that is safe and without consequences. This separates the vast majority of gamers from the psychotic few that we hear about on the news and who make legislators itchy to “save the children.” Even at thirteen, I knew that it was not cool in real life to use a tavern as target practice for my new crossbow. I never did finish Ultima VI, though, because even when I decided to play it seriously the game blocked the ending from me because I had been such an evil knight. Sorry. I don’t mind being the good guy if that’s how the game works, but if given a moral choice my virtual alter ego is almost always a sociopath.
My dislike of role-playing games intensified in the last few years due to a friend of mine who really likes them. I have spent far too many hours at his apartment watching him get totally baked and playing one kiddie game after another where a group of anime characters runs around the world killing what look like gigantic stool samples that appear out of nowhere, all in order to save some princess or something. He seems to spend at least half of his time farting around with magic spells, mixing eye of black toad with double-happiness tree root to create the super ferocious wombat spell that I will get the pleasure of seeing over and over again in the exact same animation until he finds something else. Look everyone, I know it’s an unfair stereotype, but it’s my experience with that class of gaming.
2007 A.D. and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion comes into my collection and Dolemite, a Wood Elf in the class of Assassin and born under the sign of The Thief enters the unsuspecting world of Tamriel. Dolemite is short and ugly, carries an iron dagger and a pocket full of lock picks and is slowly and painfully learning the art of thievery. I have spent a number of hours playing this game and I have probably completed about four official missions, two of which were in the service of the Thieves’ Guild. I have spent most of the time merrily breaking into houses and stores, loading up on expensive merchandise and fencing it through a shady dealer in order to pay other thieves to train me how to be an even better thief. I get caught frequently and have to restart from a saved game, because the guards in this game are rather ruthless and will either take the character to jail (where he loses all his stolen goods,) order him to pay a fine (and take all his stolen goods) or kill him, depending on the response I have him give when he is arrested. Even a nimble Wood Elf like Dolemite cannot outrun the police in this game, and they are nearly impossible to fight at my level. So thieving has been trial and error so far, but if it is only one fraction of the game, I suspect that this game will be full of stuff to do. This is a good thing, because the longer it takes to complete one game the less likely I am to buy another.
Dolemite has performed one good deed so far. A woman’s husband went missing after going into debt from gambling and I tracked him to a remote island where innocent people are hunted for sport. Dolemite isn’t much of a fighter, but he can run fast and fire flames, so I quickly took care of the three hunters and then stole their armor and weapons in order to give a world-class beatdown to the ringleader. The husband still died, but his wife gave me a book which I quickly hocked to a legitimate merchant for some extra coin to aid my thieving endeavors. Supposedly, there is an assassin’s guild called the Dark Brotherhood, but they only offer membership to characters who have murdered someone, and the Thieves’ Guild doesn’t go in for that sort of thing. So I’ll have to finish one set of dirty deeds before moving on to another. Perhaps after that I will atone for my sins and try to do something good, but until then Dolemite will be the terror of Tamriel.
I’m thrilled to see that the grand old world of Ultima style role-playing games has returned right under my nose and in an absolutely beautiful package. Everything looks great and the sound is awesome. I think there might even be a good story in there somewhere, but who gives a shit about that?