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Kicking Skyrim's Ass Day 8-9: Dragonborn

I mentioned earlier that, since so many quests in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim seem determined to have me traipse all over the continent, I should probably go ahead and earn the ability to ride dragons.  On top of that, a quest to unlock exploding bolts for my crossbow was automatically outsourced to a spare dungeon in Solstheim.  Having cleared out a significant bulk of junk quests in Skyrim, I decided Dawnguard could wait: I was off to this new continent to try out the Dragonborn expansion at last.

I really had no idea this expansion would so totally hit the spot.
I should have known.  Of the many important artifacts gathering dust in the back of my mind, one of them was the knowledge that a significant impediment to my enjoyment of Skyrim was that I was redoing the same old locations for the nth time.  The really nice thing about Dragonborn is that it delivers a fresh new continent, Solstheim, full of 100% new locations.  In fact, it actually completely isolates the player away from the old continent with its old locations: the only way you can get back to Skyrim is to ask a boatman to take you there.

The star of Kicking Skyrim's Ass, Drake Scalin. 
Get it?  He's part dragon?  Drake?  Scalin?
(Okay, yeah, I've made better names.)
In this way and others, playing Dragonborn is almost like playing a Skyrim sequel.  It helps that Solstheim is a place the developers created only after practicing with the tools when making Skyrim.  The result is that Dragonborn is not only more Skyrim, it's a better Skyrim.

This is a definite change for the better.  Part of me does not want to return to the mainland; back to the drudgery of sleepwalking in the worn footsteps of my previous characters.  The same old quests.  The same old guilds.  The same old civil war between the imperials and stormcloaks.  The same old Alduin fussing about in the eaves of the continent of Skyrim.

The same old Dawnguard.  For me, the Dawnguard expansion is significantly worse than the Dragonborn expansion specifically because it forces me to go back to Skryim, retreading old ground, just to get to the new bit that Dawnguard adds.  Monotony, thy name is retread.

In my brief stay Solstheim so far, some pretty cool stuff has happened:
  • I arrived in a nifty Dark Elf city that evokes much nostalgia for Morrowind, an earlier Elder Scrolls game.  This won't be the only such reminder, as Solstheim is a Morrowind province and the developers make sure you know it.  I particularly like how there is an atmospheric sound near the city, hundreds of bone charms blowing in the breeze.  It's spooky at night.
  • Speaking of night, it seems the antagonist of Dragonborn is forcing the various NPC inhabitants in the game to live a double life.  By day, they go about their business as usual.  By night, they're mesmerized, sleepwalking while they perform stonework on various shines being constructed for mysterious ends.  At random, one of the mesmerized NPCs chant a line related to words only they can hear, a coherant message emerging as several of them speak in turn.  It's a very cool sight.
  • There are various "Black Books" strewn about the dungeons of Solstheim.  Reading these is a portal to another dimension belonging to the daedric prince of knowledge.  Complete these unworldly dungeons, and you will be given a choice to unlock one of three powerful advantages, each unique to a book.  The first book let me choose an advantage that prevented my attacks, magic, and shouts from damaging my companions, which is extremely handy considering my play style involves sitting back and firing arrows while my companions do the toe-to-toe fighting for me.
  • My new Dovahkiin has unlocked his first house in Solstheim, and it's better than all the houses back in Skyrim (with the possible exception of one can you create in the Hearthfire expansion).  Smithing, alchemy, and enchanting stations are already built in, and there are no less than four mannequins to place favored pieces of armor, and over a dozen places to mount your favorite weapons.  The layout is quite nice, too.
Actually, this last point is something I had been putting a bit of thought into: inventory management is a real chore in Skyrim, but it could have been rectified by the housing system.  What follows is quite the tangent of thought.

Inventory bloat is not just a sticking point in Skyrim, a lot of other computer RPG have the same problem.  The players want interesting loot, so the developers give it to them.  Unfortunately, this introduces a new problem in that players eventually notice that they are in an endless cycle of recovering loot from adventuring, appraising and improving said loot, and then selling it.  There reaches an eventual point in which many players would get sick of this monotony.  I remember encountering this problem in Borderlands, Marvel Heroes, Kingdoms of Amalur... really, it's harder to name an example of a modern RPG that does not have this problem.

Source: Penny Arcade
This got me to thinking: I'm the friggin' Dovahkiin, right?  Can't I appoint a servant or something to liquidate all this garbage?  Heck, in the Torchlight series, you can actually throw all your junk on your pet (a dog or a cat) and send them off to town to sell it all for you.  Nevermind the dubiousness of how a creature without the power of speech would be able to haggle, the obvious benefit to the gameplay should have made a similar feature mandatory in any game that came out afterward.

So here is a really cool Skyrim plugin idea:
  • Create a servant that is present any time you need him/her/it.  (Maybe summon them with a spell?)   You can load them up with all the junk you want them to take back to your home.  Then they leave, letting you get back to adventuring.
  • The stuff that gets taken back home by your servant is automatically sorted between the various containers in your home depending on what it is.   E.g: 
    • Armor and weapons end up in a chest placed between your enchanting and smithing stations for the purpose of improving them.
    • Alchemical reagents end up in a container next to your alchemy station. 
    • Filled soulstones end up in a container next to your enchantment table that can be used for enchanting..
    • You guessed it: ingots, leather, and other smithing materials end up in a container next to your smith, grindstone, and worktable for the purposes of forging and improving gear.
    • And so on, things being automatically sorted to different containers for different types of items.  There probably would also be a "miscellaneous" chest that is a catchall for anything that does not belong in the other categories.
    • It would be nice if you did not need to remove any items from their appropriate containers to craft with them, but that's extra coding.
  • There will be a big chest in the home where you can chuck all the trash that you want to sell.  Your servant will automatically liquidate those items into gold, slowly, to simulate finding a buyer for those items.  In this way, you are not circumventing the actual gold limit on merchants in Skyrim, but rather you are outsourcing the chore of selling your junk to an NPC.
Now that would be awesome.  Granted, this might empower the player in such a way that they have way more gold than they know what to do with and that's a balance problem... but I find this to be the situation anyway.   Maybe Hearthfire should have had a scope of building up your own town, instead of just customizing a home, as that scenario would introduce the potential for a whole player-driven economy: instead of sending out your servant to sell your junk, people would come to buy it!  It would also be a massive gold sink, thereby giving the player something they spend their newfound wealth on.

Oh well, maybe this idea is beyond the scope of the Skyrim construction set anyway, because I am pretty sure you can't modify the contents of cells (areas) that are currently out scope (not loaded in Skyrim's memory).   That would make it impossible to have an NPC you can summon in a dungeon that could modify the contents of chests back at your home.   Unless maybe you store the items you give your servant on a global variable and have that list processed when you arrive at your house... but I'm not even sure that Skyrim's scripting system could maintain a global variable that lists potentially thousands of items without malfunction or performance issue.

A pity.  I guess I'm back to doing everything manually, then.  So primitive - what is this, medieval times or something?  Oh, right...
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