Out of the 3 Elder Scrolls games that I’ve spent the most time on, Skyrim is, controversially, my least favourite. What stands out most about it is only to be expected – the graphical improvements.
Morrowind will remain to be the Elder Scrolls game with the most complex and immersive plot, brimming with political strife and cultural intricacies of the local Dunmer (dark elf) inhabitants. Whereas Oblivion and Skyrim’s plots can be easily explained in 4-5 lines, Morrowind delves deep into the lore of the Elder Scrolls series and fully engages the player with it.
In Oblivion, you are told by the last Septim emperor, that you have a destiny greater than yourself – to “close shut the jaws of Oblivion“. You witness his death, but is told that you have to seek out his last remaining heir, an illegitimate son by the name of Martin Septim. This is because the barrier between Molag Bal’s realm of Oblivion has broken down, causing the Daedra to invade Tamriel. The gates can only by shut by one of Dragonblood. You help Martin Septim ascend the throne. He is voiced by Sean Bean, so you already know he’s going to die. He sacrifices himself as the last of the Septim line and banishes Molag Bal back into Oblivion.
Skyrim, my dear God, is even simplier. You are one of the fabled dragon-killing, soul-absorbing Dragonborn of Nord legends, the last too. The world devourer, Alduin, has returned to Tamriel and you are destined to clash. You defeat Alduin and the world is saved. …That’s it.
Trust me when I say that if I had to explain Morrowind, I would need to whole separate post on it. I would also be unable to remain neutral, because the plot is so immersive that I found myself having a stake in it.
Oblivion, on the other hand, has the best faction questlines. Again, it has to do with immersion. Take for example, the Dark Brotherhood. With some embarrassment, I admit having an unhealthy video-game-crush on Lucien Lachance (right), the Speaker of the Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion, who is the character responsible for inducting and guiding the player through the faction.
Of course, it can be dismissed as a silly fangirl crush, but you cannot deny that the impact of the Oblivion Dark Brotherhood storyline is much greater than that of Skyrim’s. Upon playing the storyline in Skyrim, I found myself unable to relate or form connections with any of the Dark Brotherhood members. Whereby immersion in a game is very much the result of forming emotional connections with the world and its characters, Skyrim fails to deliver a strong plot for its factions.
In Oblivion, the Dark Brotherhood is strongly “religious”, following obediently the patron, Sithis, and the matron, the Night Mother. You learn to fear the being that is Sithis, a deity that represents emptiness and the void. He is a being so mysterious, he is neither aedra nor daedra (the Elder Scrolls equivalents of Gods/Goddesses and Devils). The Dark Brotherhood is not the only followers of Sithis, but you learn through its storyline why this faction is so closely linked to this deity. Not only do the assassins in the Brotherhood believe that the souls they claim are sent to Sithis, they also believe that their own souls will return to the Void after death. It actually finds its inspiration from the Buddhist concept of Sunyata, which is translated into English as “emptiness” or “voidness”.
The Night Mother is the merciless bride of Sithis. To earn his favour, she murdered her five young children in his name. It was said that Sithis was pleased by her dedication and awarded her leadership over the Dark Brotherhood. This is fleshed out clearly in Oblivion, where the structure of the Dark Brotherhood itself reflects her influence. It also hints at the plot – the five Speakers (somewhat like the government of the faction), each of whom will be killed by the eventual Listener (the leader of the Dark Brotherhood). This even explains why the Dark Brotherhood symbol is as such.
Bringing it back to my one and only, Lucien Lachance. He brings you into the Dark Brotherhood upon your first murder of an innocent, and guides you through the faction. You eventually gain his trust as his Silencer. Don’t even try imagining how hard I fangirled when he said “Waiting just outside is a magnificent steed named Shadowmere. She has served me well. I present her now to you, as a token of my trust and love.” Yes, you heard it everyone, Lucien Lachance said he loves me. …Me and everyone else who played the storyline.
My point is that Oblivion does a wonderful job making the player understand, through playing the Dark Brotherhood storyline, the lore of this assassin’s guild. It allows players to form meaningful connections with characters, for I know a lot of players who also had a crush on the vampire, Vicente Valtieri. He, like Lucien, plays a key role in the Dark Brotherhood questline.
What abomination faced me in Skyrim, I was unable to anticipate. Gone is the devotion to Sithis and to the Night Mother, although this is understandable. However, the leader, Astrid, is outright opposed to the worship of the latter. The Dark Brotherhood in Skyrim are nothing more than mercenaries, sellswords, assassins for hire. They may have the name of the legendary assassins that worked with the blessing and guidance of the Night Mother, but none of the essence. It is no wonder that if you played Oblivion and then Skyrim, the Dark Brotherhood questline is…so painfully shallow.
The only character I liked was Veezara and that was only because he is a throwback character. He is a Shadowscale, like 2 of the key characters in Oblivion‘s Dark Brotherhood.
Lucien Lachance puts this well. Upon recruiting the player, he says, “We are, more than anything, a union of like-minded individuals. We kill for profit, for enjoyment, and for the glory of the Dread Father, Sithis. We are family, with bonds forged in blood and death.” In Oblivion’s Dark Brotherhood, your character – a murderer – finds solace and family in the Dark Brotherhood, among fellow assassins and followers of the Night Mother. This is why the quest, Purification, tore many players apart. This is why the story of the Dark Brotherhood is so tragic. Ah yes, Lucien Lachance dies, so unfairly, that I was actually weeping for a video game character. Did I cry when Astrid died in Skyrim? Nope. I just sat here and made fun of how ridiculous it was that she had so much to say in her burnt state.
I mainly focused on the Dark Brotherhood, but other storylines show the same thing. I found myself much more attached to characters in Oblivion’s factions, than that of Skyrim’s.
Who could forget Modryn Oreyn’s little quirks (as shown below)? In the Fighter’s Guild, he is known for having no sense of humour. On several occasions, he insults you, belittling you. Yet, you know it’s because he has high standards. It makes it all the more satisfying when he eventually comes to respect your abilities as a warrior. This is why it stuck when, upon anticipating his forced retirement from the Guild, he decides to take up painting. After you become Guildmaster and asks for him to rejoin the Guild, he says, “Me? Pah! I was just getting used to being retired. You can see how good my painting is getting.” What a character.
It’s the little character quirks like that that lets a game stay fresh in your mind. I may play Skyrim a lot more, because more mods exist and I am used to advanced graphics. Yet, as a game released 5 years after Oblivion, one would expect that level of graphical improvement. Yet, where Morrowind brought the most engaging story, equivalent in its depth to games like Bioshock, and Oblivion brought along memorable characters and faction storylines, Skyrim ends up being…simply adequate. It keeps the essence of being an Elder Scrolls game, but has no particular strong suit that is attributable to it as a game.
Think about it. The graphics are better – yes, because it is newer and because mods exist. More mods are available – again, because the game is newer. I played for more time – again, that’s attributed to mods, not the base game itself.
Therefore, it is in my opinion that, as a base game, giving consideration to when the game is produced, Skyrim is overshadowed by both Oblivion and Morrowind. Even when it comes to soundtracks, I actually prefer Oblivion’s