The Impossible Goal Of A Balanced Skyrim

Skyrim is an open-world game and, like many open world games, it has a screwed up game balance that looks something like this (graphs found on Don Dueck's blog).

You start off in Skyrim in a hard-to-get-started form.  You've basically no real skills other than a few points determined wholly by race selection, all at values low enough that they're somewhat indistinguishable in performance from any other race.  So you can poke and prod away freely, albeit awkwardly due to your character's weakness in all things, until you settle upon a few skills you like.

Mid-game, you should have been focused on mostly leveling a few prominent skills, and you're now in the process of catching up to the game's difficulty curve.  Before too long, you should be able to reasonably handle just about anything the game will throw at you.  This may take longer if you've been generalizing in several skills, or if you have been focusing primarily on skills that do not help you in combat (although the overwhelming majority of Skyrim skills do), because of the way Skyrim handles leveling.

Late-game, things get boring quick, the challenge gone, for several reasons:
  • Most enemies stop scaling by level 30.  Your character should, too, because their foremost combat skills should have capped by 30, but you'll be able to increase your power further through the acquisition of better equipment, shouts, and versatility of additional skills earned in addition to your foremost ones.
  • If your character's primarily skills are equipment-reliant, and you've been performing all three trade skills, you'll likely possess equipment several times more powerful than its initial values, and this will increase your character's applied power several-fold.  Smithing is the biggest influence, but enchantment and alchemy increase this even further.
  • If your character's primary skills are non-equipment-reliant, meaning magic, you will find that upper-tier spells can pretty much render challenge in combat moot.
I've started over in Skyrim several times attempting to avoid the boring lack of challenge in the end game, but it seems it is impossible to escape.

Ideally (as another Don Dueck graph demonstrates) things should look more like this:
The game starts out easy, while you're familiarizing yourself with your character.  Then the game gets progressively harder, challenging you (as the player) to do better in order to advance.

While Bethesda has wisely provided us with The Creation Kit in order to tweak the game as we feel fit, I'm inclined to believe that Skyrim's simple skill advancement system simply isn't built to facilitate the ideal curve.  The problem is so fundamental that the required changes can be considered buried within the game's hardcode.  Either that, or perhaps a complete re-balancing of all the opponents and abilities in the game, which is not beyond the scope of the construction set, but so all-encompassing it might as well be.

So, what's the solution for me, the player?  A change of philosophy.  I can't play Skyrim expecting a good, challenging game.  I can play Skyrim expecting a backdrop for roleplay and simply let the game tell its story.  The ideal character for me, then, is one which facilitates the story in a manner suited to my preferences in how it is told.  In short, you choose the skills that suit the role you're most comfortable with seeing your Dovahkiin as, and balance be damned.


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