Pimpin Reviews: Skyrim Month
Part 4: College of Winterhold and Magic
Previously: Part 3: Dark Brotherhood and Environment/Tone
*Warning, this review contains mild spoilers about the quest line of this part of the game.
Mmmmm Book Soup
I'm a man's man. I like to take the bull by the horns. I'm not scared of getting a little dirty. When push comes to shove, I'm not afraid of throwing caution to the wind and getting into a tussle with life. When I'm not too busy being awesome and seducing pretty ladies, I play my WRPGs like I live my life. I'm the biggest badass to enter a room, and everyone needs to know that if they don't want a boot up their ass. As a man's man, I prefer to kick ass and chew bubble gum in a more conventional manner. I prefer the clash of steel and the clink of metal, the up close and personal gratification of a cool blade stealing the life-force of my enemy. However, being both a gentleman and a scholar as well, I can respect the study of magic and wizardry.
In Skyrim, the gifted few who want to study the various schools of magic can do so at the College of Winterhold. The equivalent of the Mages Guild of Cyrodiil from Oblivion, the College of Winterhold is an autonomous organization that did not fall despite the collapse of the former at the start of the fourth era. Also unlike the Mages Guild, the college doesn't condemn the use of the dark arts. Necromancy isn't only accepted, but encouraged - the pursuit of knowledge in all studies are, in fact.
This is mainly because the College of Winterhold isn't as integrated with the general population as the Mages Guild was. The College serves more as an Ivory Tower than a franchise, a palace of knowledge and scholarship isolated from the rest of the savage world. It wasn't always this way, however, not before the Great Collapse at least. The College was once the jewel in the crown of the City of Winterhold, attracting merchants and traders from around the world. But seventy years prior to the events of the game, an unrelenting succession of storms tore most of the city from its roots and dropped it into the adjacent Sea of Ghosts.
The College, however, was left relatively unaffected. And the mages quickly became scapegoat for the disaster. But the tragedy isn't only factor that has influenced the college's eventual isolation. Skyrim is the land of the Nords, a fierce race of natural born warriors, people who value the grit and glory of combat. The power of magic is considered less of something to be respected, but moreso the arsenal of the weak and cowardly. It doesn't help that magic is also largely blamed for the events of the Oblivion crisis itself. Not that this really matters, the mages are content with their segregation.
This is because the College of Winterhold is largely self-sufficient of the rest of Skyrim at large. Sitting on the top of an isolated glacier, the university itself is huge. The castle like building is made up of four main parts. The mages reside in the Halls of Countenance and attainment, where the player receives his own special room. The Hall of Elements plays home to the Arch Mage, the lead administrator. There's also a mammoth library called The Arcanaeum, which is home to over 100 different books. Lastly, the Midden is an underground labyrinth of failed experiments long forgotten. There's an entire other world to be lost in past the front gates.
Gaining admission to the school isn't exactly as difficult as getting into MIT. A short initiation sequence proving the most basic magical ability gets the player enrolled for life. But there's a lot to get done when you're finally admitted. For once, the main quest line for this faction is appropriately lengthy. But there's a ton of sidequests to do too. Thankfully, a lot of them aren't just simple variations of the same goals. From interacting with fellow students, to uncovering long forgotten secrets, unlocking master spells, and even chasing down rogue wizards, and there's much much more.
Next, on MTV's Cribs
The main quest involves uncovering an ancient artifact of untold magical power. Not only is it lengthy, but its very suitably epic. There's a lot of fun to be had, especially the quest leading up to the end, which scores it major points on the wowness factor. It also feels a lot more scholarly than the Arcane University of Oblivion too. Though I still feel like the main quest should have spent less time dealing with underground ruins and more within the actual university itself. But if the player spends his time with it, it really feels like a living breathing university where one can go to hone their talents. And hone their talents they will, because there's a myriad of powers to unlock.
As opposed to in Oblivion magic really feels like some sort of untamed arcane power. There are six schools of magic to be studied in Skyrim Alteration is the school of manipulation of the physical world, such as breathing underwater. Illusion involves the control over the mind of the enemy, like invisibility. Restoration is the school which allows the management of life forces. Conjuration bestows the caster the ability to raise the dead or summon demons. And Destruction allows the player to harness the power of the elements.
Still have no clue what this is supposed to be
Enchanting is now also a school of magic, which allows the payer to add potent abilities to weapons and attire. They've eliminated the school of mysticism from Oblivion, a welcome streamlining of skills available. This isn't the only way that magic has been improved for Skyrim. There is a noticeable improvement in the animations for spell casting, and equipping them now allows you watch them bounce almost joyfully (or menacingly) in your hand in a way that feels very real and powerful.
The player can now also dual wield spells, equipping one on each arm. If they chose to unlock the ability in the skill tree, they can also make a combination blast using both hands for a singular spell. Sadly, the opportunity to mix and match spells when combining them is missing. Speaking of better animations, this is mostly notable for the school of Destruction. No longer are spells just different color variations of the same projectile ball. There are ice spikes, streams of fire, bouncing electrical beams, and even larger area of effect spells for the more advanced casters.
Spells are no longer just bought anymore. Instead, they're learned through spell tomes that can be found throughout the world or purchased from high level wizards. It may not be a big deal, but it adds a certain sense of realism to the game world. There are a ton of new and much more unique spells that weren't featured in Oblivion. My personal favorite is transmute, a spell that steals from the players life force and converts it to magical energy known simply as Magicka. However, you can no longer create custom spells on your own, which is a major bummer.
That's not the only downside to the study of the Magics. Personally, I find it much too weak and the regeneration rate much too slow. If the player misses a spell or two, it's a lot more difficult to make up for than ever before. It's not as easy to make a mixed class as it was in Oblivion either. A player really needs to be a lot more dedicated to magic use or combat, since it's absolutely brutal to keep switching back and forth on a moments notice. Personally, I'm just very disappointed that the dark art of Necromancy isn't a school of its own, but spread amongst other schools instead.
Yes, this can be you!
Magical powers aren't only available to wizards, either. There are a variety of staffs to use as well. Which you can also dual wield a la Gandalf. Blessing are usually activated through altars of the eight divine or bestowed upon the player by some sort of higher power. Blessings are usually temporary boosts to certain attributes, but some are long lasting and exchangeable. Players will also receive certain powers based innate magical abilities either gained or born with. Vamparism, which makes a return in a similar (but weaker) form than in Oblivion is one example.
Vamparism works very much like it did in the last installment. If the player spends too much time around the creatures of the night, he'll contract Sanguinare Vampiris. If left untreated, it will transform the player into a blood thirsty vampire. Unlike Porphyric Hemophilia, the vampire disease in Oblivion, Skyrim's vampires gain significantly less bonuses and resistances. Accepting this may need some cognitive dissonance for long time fans, who know that the universe's lore states Nordic Vampires are the fiercest of all.
Players who choose to be seduced by the dark side will have to feed on a sleeping NPC in order to retain an illusion of humanity. Few places will not turn immediately hostile upon the site of a feral vampire that hasn't fed within a triad of days. Vampirism and Lycanthropy (the ability to shape shift into a werewolf) can both be cured through special quests. A player may become a vampire as many times as they like, but curing the beast blood from your body is a permanent decision.
There are plenty of otherworldly powers to be explored in Skyrim. Most of them are bestowed upon the mortal world by the Daedra Lords, the most powerful daedra that are commonly worshipped as gods. That's why in Part 5 of Skyrim Month, I'll play the devil's advocate and explore the Daedric Quests and Radiant quest making system found in the latest Elder Scrolls title.
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