I actually haven’t let Skyrim eat a whole lot of my time. I’m the kind of person who eats the side dishes before the main course, so I’ve been tearing through a bunch of smaller games and leaving Skyrim for “every once in a while.”
That, and I’ve been letting the mods pile up in eager anticipation of the Creation Kit coming out around this Tuesday.
But while I don’t have a whole lot to say about Skyrim, I have noticed one crucial thing about its design that I think is worth sharing.
Battles with dragons are fundamentally different from any other battles in the game.
With other creatures, it comes down to a couple of flavors. Either you kill it with no effort almost immediately (like the occasional wolf pack in the overworld), or it’s insanely difficult and is capable of killing you in a number of hits (like giants, or a roomful of orcs). At least, that’s my experience.
Dragons are different. They have a lot of health and mean attacks… but they’re survivable if you’re just a little bit careful. Dragons in Skyrim aren’t actually that hard to kill… so long as you persevere.
I have to admit: The first random-encounter dragon I fought in Skyrim, I was sincerely frightened. I was a one-handed/shield character who also had a bow just in case and no healing magic. With Lydia following me. Was I supposed to fight these things NOW?!
To my great surprise, I killed it. It took a lot of arrows, axe swings, and healing potions, but eventually the dragon fell. And I felt like a badass afterwards.
Then I entered a dungeon full of wizards and orcs and got my butt handed to me many, many times. I got through it eventually, but that was less satisfying.
What I’m trying to say here is that the dragon fights in Skyrim are THE most well-designed thing in the game. (And it has to be, right? Because it’s friggin’ Skyrim.) The dragons take a hefty effort to kill, but just about any strategy can be applied to them. Shoot them with arrows while they’re flying! Shoot them with magic while they’re on the ground. Run up and hack away with a melee weapon! Use Unrelenting Force to daze it for a couple of seconds! Whatever you do, just be the badass Dragonborn and take down this monster!
With any other monster in the game, it’s more about finding the ideal strategy (melee, magic, whatever) that doesn’t get you killed. And that’s fine. But with dragons, anything goes. Whichever route you take to slay the dragon is a pure expression of the character you build. And it takes so much effort that, when you finally do slay the fearsome dragon, it’s awesome, dramatic, and it makes you feel like a badass.
Thus, I suspect that the dragon fights had the most designer man-hours put into them. No surprise there. That’s the part of Skyrim that needs to shine so brightly you can see yourself in it, and it does.
Now perhaps I haven’t gotten far enough into the game where the dragons become repetitive, easy, and a little annoying. But from what I can tell, dragon battles have the same characteristics at any level of the game: lots of health, reasonable amount of damage, open to any strategy. And compared to just about any other monster in the game – where it’s either a curbstomp or a deathtrap – that makes dragons the most fun to fight.
Huh. Now I want to play some more Skyrim. How did that happen?