Today I was playing Minecraft and my wife asked me, "is it fun?" The weird thing was, I had no idea how to even answer that question. Is Minecraft fun? I don't know. If hard pressed, I guess I'd say no. I guess I don't think that Minecraft is a fun game. But I don't think I play ift to have fun. It serves a different kind of purpose.
I had a rough week at work. It was one of those weeks where I felt sort of worn down and needed a little time to dust myself off. I mean nothing life-altering or anything. Just a tough week with some setbacks. I'll be fine. Totally fine actually. But y'know how sometimes you just need to take a night and have no responsibility? Maybe you order Chinese food and have a glass of Scotch afterwards and just sit and sort of sulk? That's where Minecraft came in.
And so I spent a few nights on the couch sitting next to my wife while she watched TV and I built myself a little world. I called it Pandora - the first name that came to mind as a James Cameron fan. I mean, I also thought of LV-426, but I wanted a peaceful Xenomorph-free world.
There's really only one way that I play Minecraft: peacefully. I set it to Survival, as I don't want unlimited resources nor do I want to fly. But I don't want to deal with the bullshit like remembering to eat, or finding shelter from Creepers. Nope. I just want to peacefully build stuff. I want a game that's the digital equivalent of a zen garden. I just want to push stuff around until I make sense of the pieces.
And so that's what I've been doing this week... pushing stuff around. Tearing things apart to build something new. Turning nothing into something. I don't know if I've been having fun, but it's been a good way to unwind I guess.
It's not the first time I've spent time with Minecraft, though. I'm not really "into" Minecraft, but gosh, I just keep finding reasons to mess around with it. Heck, I even have a copy of the Minecraft Essentials book in my library. So I guess that means something. Or does it? I don't even know if I like Minecraft. I just kind of... need it sometimes?
So what have I been doing this week then? Well, I spent some time scouting a place to start. I had a few meh spots until I finally settled on this one area right off of a little beach. So I built a crafting table, then the stuff I needed to make a stove. And then I started working on building myself a two level house out of dirt. It took me a couple of nights. I finished it off by putting in a front and back door, and then some windows - including a nice bay window in the front facing the ocean. Sweet view.
Next I collected a bunch of sand and built a super high tower that I topped off with a bunch of torches to help me find my way home when I venture off. And then I ventured off. I went and killed a few sheep so I could make myself a bed.
After that I decided to dig down. Luckily my new home was built right atop some easily accessible mines. So I made several trips down there just attempting deeper and deeper with no real goal in mind. It turned into a loop: enter the mines, try to go deeper than before. When my tools broke, I'd take some time to backtrack and find my way back up to the surface.
It was right around this point that my wife asked if I was having fun. And I couldn't actually answer affirmatively. I'm so used to playing games that involve a goal. Sure achievements were popping but so what? I play on Peaceful mode so there's no dragons to kill or anything. Instead, I was doing the zen garden thing. Nothing I did mattered. How zen was that?
But maybe Minecraft served its purpose this week. It helped distract me. It took my mind off whatever minor defeat had gotten to me. Even if the game amounted to nothing more than busy work, at least it did that well. I can't say that I'll ever be a huge Minecraft fan, but I find the history of the game fascinating. Likewise, I think it's incredible that this game is so ubiquitous with 'gaming' as it is with the kids of today. And that's really why I even delved into it to begin with.
Maybe Minecraft isn't supposed to be fun, though. Maybe it's supposed to be something that works out your mind. Or takes your mind away from life. I don't know. Even if I don't have fun with Minecraft, I do feel like it has its place in my gaming life. And I appreciate that.
Ten months later, here I am playing Minecraft again. It seems like it's become a sort of annual thing for me now. I just got the bug, and I spent some time just kind of doing nothing. It's... pretty great.
Over the years, I've had this habit of restarting a new world whenever I start playing again. Mostly, because it was different platforms that made me decide to try the game again. However this time I was revisiting that same world (Pandora) that I started last year.
The reason I was in the mood to delve back in lately is an interesting one. Because I've had a lot less time to actually play games lately, I've found myself spending more time watching games recently. Outside of some competitive stuff, I was never really one to watch a lot of game streams. But I've found myself turning on game streams a lot lately with my daughter sleeping on me. It doesn't really matter what game is on, it's just something different to watch and make me feel like I'm sort of participating in my hobby.
Games we've watched lately include Kingdom Hearts III (indifferent), Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (meh), Battlefield V (indifferent), and lots of Breath Of The Wild. But for some reason I decided to check out Minecraft videos instead one night and found that it made for a super soothing experience. Again, I'm a guy who doesn't really care for game streams normally, but I've been enjoying this. I watched a dude called Think Noodles (?) work on a huge pirate ship one night and it made me think, "wait a minute... I don't have a boat in Minecraft."
So I did a quick Google search and found out that a basic boat can be assembled with some wood and a shovel. I fired up the game a few nights ago, and was back in Pandora. It was a cool experience. I was familiar with the little house I had started and the area surrounding it. I crafted a quick boat and shoved off and found a bunch of local islands. I decided to put a tower with some torches atop one mountain so I'd recognize it for future exploration and then went back home.
Then I decided to build a little makeshift spot for my boat to dock near my house. And then I started clearing off the beach outside my door. Then I was sort of hooked on the busywork loop again. Granted, I'm playing in these short twenty minute chunks before bed. But it's been fun.
I spent one chunk carving out rooms on the second floor of my house; another I built a tunnel from my house into the caves below. It's certainly not the most compelling video game experience out there. But it is relaxing and a good way to unwind.
I was a total D&D nerd as a kid. I loved that stuff. I'd read Dungeon Magazine and buy those little pewter figures and read through various D&D rule books and expansions and make up my own characters and stories. I tried my best to actually understand the stuff which seemed a little advanced to me at the time. I'm talking about elementary school years here, folks. So I did my best. I even managed to DM a few games with neighborhood kids, but sadly most of my D&D obsession was something I had to keep as a solitary love. My friends just weren't as into it as I was. The best I could really get out of them was a shared interest in TSR's Marvel Super Heroes since we were all into comic books at the time.
My first experience with something akin to D&D was Dragon Quest on the NES, which I got for free with my Nintendo Power subscription. And a bit later I got to play the first Final Fantasy which seemed even cooler with its four-member party. I did my best to treat these games as single-player D&D experiences. But ultimately they were too scripted.
In my older years I kind of grew away from the whole dragon thing. The best way I can explain it is that while I was a fan of those Lord Of The Rings movies, I'd much rather be watching Star Wars, y'know? Sci-Fi has overtaken my nerdom rather than Fantasy worlds. And when it came to games, I long felt like i was a bigger fan of JRPG's than WRPG's. But then like five or six years ago I got around to playing Dragon Age: Origins and it sort of lit a little spark of interest in the Western RPG for me. So I figured I should try this Skyrim game that everyone seems so into. And know what happened? It become easily my favorite Western RPG of all time. It also become possibly my favorite RPG of all time, period.
Basically Skyrim was everything I ever wanted out of a single-player video game D&D campaign. The world is huge and feels absolutely endless. There's so many quests and stories to pursue, but truth be told there's far more to do while ignoring the game itself. Skyrim is a world that I adore exploring at leisure and just making up my own little stories as I go. I've spent countless hours doing this - just kind of doing "nothing" and stumbling over weird side quests and having a blast. It's a lot like GTA5 in that respect. But one thing I've never done is just sit down and try to beat the main story quests.
That first wagon-ride and escape section is pretty iconic. Probably because like so many Skyrim fans, I've played through it a lot of times. I know I've seen it a few times myself. Given that this is the third time I've even bought the game in some form... yeah. This time I decided to stay boring and go with my usual WRPG roll - a wood elf named Lyna who's big on archery. That was the random roll I got back when I played Dragon Age: Origins, and ever since it's been my go-to character in any WRPG, which makes each one feel like sort of an extension of the same fake D&D universe. Anyway, there's not a lot to say about this quest because it's basically just an intro where you run away. The dragon looks awesome, though.
BEFORE THE STORM
This quest also just feels like an extended intro because it's basically about traveling to talk to people to warn them about the dragon. But I mean it's also a great opener because it really just says "okay, here's the world. Here's your objective. Just go do whatever you want." Just everything is wide open. I always ditch the companion here and just go explore on my own. I like taking weird routes y'know? And my goodness does everything look lovely.
BLEAK FALLS BARROW
This is where the game really starts for me - at least as far as the main quest goes. This is where the action really kicks in and you get to explore some 'dungeons.' Of course, you could just do all of that forever without even playing the main quest, but you know what I mean. These catacombs feel so familiar to me. I remember exactly where certain traps are and so on.
The big spiders in this game still kind of creep me out to be honest. Oh, and that thief who you save and cut down from the spider's web? He's a jerk and he's gotta get got. I forgot how satisfying the melee combat can be in this game. I found a nice shield (by the way, I don't think I've ever BOUGHT a weapon in Skyrim) and you can really feel the heft of a skeleton's heavy ax when it knocks your shield back. So well done.
Sniping with arrows is still my favorite thing, though. Oh my goodness it just feels so good. I took down the first little boss of the dungeon and made my way back out to look upon a frozen mountain range.
Ah yes, the first truly epic moment in the storyline: killing a dragon. This was certainly a heart-pounding section my first time through, but even now that I knew what to expect - it's still an awesome little battle. You've got the dragon swooping in and blowing fire everywhere. You've got the tower and its surroundings up in flames. I remember the first time I played Skyrim my strategy was super defensive: I went inside the tower and tried to find little windows or clear shots to shoot arrows at the dragon. This method took FOREVER. This time I stayed right out in the open and took some patient and well-aimed shots with the bow. When that dragon came down to get a closer look I rushed in and just started hacking away with my sword. It rushed off and tried to hide behind a big rock and started spraying fire everywhere so I rushed over to the top of that rock and sniped him a few more times in the head before seeing his flesh turn to ash. Good stuff.
THE WAY OF THE VOICE
One of my absolute favorite parts in Skyrim is the 7,000 steps that leads up to the Greybeards. It's kind of funny to say this because there's not a whole hell of a lot that happens in this part of the game. But for some reason, that's exactly what I love about it. The journey from the last quest to the next is long and lonely and lovely. The decidedly autumn surroundings slowly turn to winter. You can almost feel the cold in your bones. And if you're like me and only playing this game late at night after your wife has gone to bed, then there's just this awesome calm to the game in sections like this. I love it.
There's a snow troll up in the mountain once you get pretty close to the Greybeards and I must admit that I have a strategy that I've always used in the past when I'm up here. Basically, I just avoid him at first. You can pretty easily find an alternate route if you're willing to do a little rock climbing. I generally just don't engage with him until a bit later in the game when I've got some fire magic to work with. But I don't know, I was feeling saucy this time. Plus I had a companion - Lydia and I figured, eh let's just rush him.
Have I mentioned that I've always found the companions in this game to be pretty useless? Well, the troll totally destroyed Lydia but I managed to take him out while she was distracting him. A combo of arrows and a shout did the trick. In truth, I felt bad about Lydia and I'd hoped to keep her with me a lot longer than this just to see how she could possibly help. But on the bright side, I looted her for a much nicer steel sword and shield than I already had. So there's that. RIP.
THE HORN OF JURGEN WINDCALLER
This quest is cool because it basically feels like a dungeon crawl. You go into some underground caverns and just explore. It's good stuff.
I hate that you finish this quest by failing this quest, also. Instead of the Horn you were looking for you find a note saying that someone beat you to it and you need to meet them back in Riverwood.
A BLADE IN THE DARK
I got back to Riverwood and everyone wants me dead. WTF? This is definitely NOT part of the quest. Apparently I'm wanted in Whiterun? I try to flee figuing maybe if I lay low the guards would go away, but they catch up to me and then I remind them of who I am and everything's fine. Weird. I don't know what that was about. I must have killed someone important by accident? Oh, maybe it's because Lydia died? Would that piss them off maybe? Hmm.
Anyway, I meet up with Delphine and then we go and take a long journey to kill a big dragon. It's pretty great. This is the last quest in Act I and apparently on my last playthrough I must have gotten through a lot more of the story quests than I realized because I remember all of this stuff.
Ah, the token stealth quest. Well, I don't play it so smoothly. And I know this. Instead of sneaking in a tiny dagger to do some sneaky throat-slitting, I just bring a huge ax that causes people to run away in terror. It works out just fine.
Though I'm not a big fan of sneaking around, I do think that this quest is a pretty cool idea. You have to pose as a party guest and cause a diversion and sneak around a castle looking for clues. It's pretty neat. At least the setup is.
A CORNERED RAT
More dungeon crawling. And again, I guess I really was a lot further than I realized back when I last played Skyrim. Hmm. This particular series of caves and so on can be a little maze-like. But whatevs.
And more dungeon crawling! This time with Delphine and uh, that other Blade guy as companions. It's a long journey to get to the dungeon and the three of us killed a few dragons along the way. Y'know, for funsies.
The quest itself is kind of funny, because you go deeper and deeper into this dungeon to find this ancient all and it's like you finally get to the room and find the wall and it's supposed to be this big OMG moment, and then right behind that is a door leading back out to Skyrim. It's like... why didn't we just use the backdoor to get in there and skip all those enemies to begin with? Y'know?
THE THROAT OF THE WORLD
Not so much a quest as a pilgrimage. But it is a very cool and memorable part of the story. You go up to the mountain above the Greybeards and you meet Paarthurnax, the ancient dragon. He's kind of awesome, and he teaches you the fire shout which is the one I use the most.
This is officially where I left off of the main quest on my last playthrough. I had spent so much time doing other side quests and general exploring that I never finished this quest. And I know right where I left off... the Blackreach. I feel like that section has a huge spike in difficulty if you're not doing a whole lot of other side quests and random grinding via exploration. Now, I could have backtracked and found some potions to make things easier but instead I decided just to take it slow and steady. And eventually I was victorious.
Blackreach is gorgeous by the way. I love the look of that world. It's like spending all these hours in a rather earthy realm and then suddenly being cast into Pandora. And it's the first time in this playthrough where I really felt my pulse starting to increase the deeper I went into the underworld and dealt with each new threat while clinging on to little bits of life. That Heal spell is a literal lifesaver.
And so, some time before bed last night I finally had the Elder Scrolls in my hands.
A short but slightly epic battle with Paarthurnax by your side. Of course it's no the end game yet, so Alduin's not dead. But he's shook!
So this is my first time experiencing the Act III stuff then. This quest is about trying to negotiate a peace treaty between the various factions of Skyrim so that we might work together long enough to take down Alduin. It's not the most exciting quest in the game, but it's a nice change of pace after the longgg battle through Blackreach. I don't really think you can fail this quest, though. I mean your responses probably make changes to the Civil War stuff that I don't really care about so whatever.
As an aside, an optional quest started here in which the Blades want me to kill Paarrthurnax. But I'd sooner kill the Blades. Paarthurnax rules.
This was a cool one. So you have to learn a new spell from... someone. I of course went and chilled with Paarth on top of the mountain to learn it. And then me and some guards caught ourselves a dragon who ends up being really cool and offering to help me take down Alduin. So I hopped on his back and got ready for the next quest.
THE WORLD-EATER'S EYRIE
I had fun in this one. It's a temple full of stuff to kill and I actually went through the whole damn thing via sneaking around and sniping things in the head. It was glorious. And satisfying as hell. Once you get out of there you get to a really pretty area of fog and make your way to a dude who judges you - via battle. I beat him pretty good and he let me cross the whalebones bridge.
The whalebones bring you to this hall of fallen heroes. It's actually kind of heavy stuff really. You're doing battle in the afterlife I guess? Anyway, this isn't really a quest but more of a little intermission thing. You meet up with three heroes (OF LIGHT!) who you had seen in a memory vignette earlier and they ask you to help them bring down Alduin. And guess what? I came here for two reasons - to chew bubblegum and kill Alduin. And I'm all out of bubble gum.
I know that the quest title is sort of ambiguous, but this is the quest where you slay the dragon... Alduin. And... it was way easier than expected. I didn't even get a chance to try out my new shout that rains down lightning. Drag. Anyway, he explodes into a beautiful mess of ash and fire. It was pretty awesome.
Another ambiguous title, but this is the prologue. The dragons are free to exist in Skyrim peacefully now as Alduin is dead. It's sort of bittersweet, though. Paarthurnax explains that Alduin is sort of a fallen great. And that I just did what was my destiny. I'm glad I refused to kill Paarthurnax. He's awesome.
Oh, and that other dragon that I trapped earlier and made a deal with? Now he's around to do my bidding. You hear me? He's going to let me call on him and he'll come rain fire for me.
That, my friends, is what's amazing about Skyrim. The main quest is over and yet it only feels like an intro. I've got all these new spells and cool gear. And now I've got a fucking dragon that wants to hang out with me. And I've got a mile-long list of side quests I could do. I mean, I own the strategy guide which is like 650 pages and less than fifty of them are the main quest - just to put in perspective how big this game actually is. Yup. Skyrim is a game you can just keep playing 'forever,' and if the past few years are any indication, I'll probably just keep on doing that. I love Skyrim. It's possibly my favorite RPG of all time. For realsies.