Ashfield, Tamriel & Beyond

Screenshot from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Special Edition on the PlayStation 4. Taken by me.

The last few weeks have been some of the most surreal of my life. We all know what I’m talking about. At the moment, life has been put on hold and we’re all becoming well-acquainted to our bedrooms and homes. Days on end without seeing much of the outside world.

I wish I could say this was a new experience for me, but it really isn’t. This takes me back to what my life was like for a long time – stuck indoors for days on end, often with only myself and my family for company.

I was diagnosed at age 2 with Crohn’s disease – inflammatory bowel disease. I was a sickly child and missed out on the majority of schooling from age 10 onward. Stomach pain, hospital visits, and mental health stopped me from ever really having a normal childhood.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very deprived of outside world interaction and adventure.

When I was 12 years old in 2013, I had my first major surgery done. A right hemicollectomy – removing half of my colon and reconnecting it. It meant a month in hospital, in a shared room with typically 3 other kids. I think it was the toughest month of my life. Unable to do anything really but lye down in an uncomfortable bed.

After a certain point, I was allowed to head home for small intervals – unconnected from my IV drip and my “pickline” drip which was fattening me up for surgery. What did I do when I got home for those brief periods, usually no longer than an hour or two? Play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on the PlayStation 3. When I was in horrible pain or discomfort I was waiting until I could be back home and in the world of Skyrim. It was my escape from the harsh reality.

Skyrim is the fifth main entry in the Elder Scrolls series, launched in 2011. A fantasy epic series which is set across the continent of Tamriel, which has 9 different provinces, each home to its own races and culture. The province of Skyrim is heavily based off Nordic culture and vikings.

TES: V was also my first foray into the the world of Tamriel. At age 12 it was pretty well the most amazing thing I’d come across in my life. An entire open world to explore, ability to roleplay as basically anything or anyone, and a sense of purpose.

I needed these things more than anything at that point.

Well after surgery, Skyrim remained my go-to game for escapism. In Year 7 I ended up missing 3/4 of the school year and was home a lot. So I played a lot of Skyrim. Across the PlayStation 3, PC, and PlayStation 4 releases of Skyrim I have at least 10,000 hours spent in that world. That’s at least 416 days. Yes that does sound concerning, but I’ve been playing it since 2012.

416 hours that saved me from the pits of despair. The hardest times in my life, always had Skyrim. People always ask me how I don’t get bored of Skyrim, and I think there’s a few elements to it.

One, would be the intense feeling of nostalgia and happy memories stored on there. Second, it’s that I know that world like the back of my hand. I know my way around the map so well and I don’t even need guides to find any of the 459 marked locations. It’s all muscle memory. And most importantly, it’s home. Skyrim feels like home. I load it up and I immediately feel more at ease.

I think it’s fair to say without Skyrim I wouldn’t be the person I am today, or perhaps even here.

When I struggled for outside social interaction, I had that world – which boasts around 600 NPCs (non-player characters). Characters like J’zargo, Serana, Nazeem, and the dragon Paarthurnaxx all taking up my head space.

I can’t really sum up what being home alone all the time was like for me mentally other than taxing and depressing. Waking up with no routine or schedule made me lost in the sea of my own thoughts.

During these uncertain and scary times, I’m definitely going to be revisiting the worlds presented in the Elder Scrolls series, soaking up every moment I can, and probably obnoxiously sharing screenshots on my twitter. It’s a ridiculously beautiful world, as well. Stunning sunsets, mountain ranges, deep valleys, ancient ruins, and beautiful northern lights.

I’d highly suggest an open world game like Skyrim to keep your mind occupied and busy feeling whenever you’re down or stuck indoors. It’s been immensely important to my development and growth.

The entire series has been there for me in my lowest points. Every game. Arena, Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim, Elder Scrolls Online… all an on-demand therapy. The online community for the series has also gotten me to meet some amazing people and even speak to the game developers in the past. I’ve been lucky enough to beta test a few Elder Scrolls spin-offs due to them knowing how mad I am for the series.

When the HD remaster of Skyrim was announced for the PlayStation 4, I was pretty close to tears. When I first loaded it up again on the PS4 I was choking up a bit as the soundtrack loaded and the ambient music flowed in the background, thinking about the adventures I’d had in the past, what it meant to me, and the adventures yet to come.

There hasn’t been a date released yet for the launch of The Elder Scrolls VI, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be getting it on launch day, spending another set of thousands of hours exploring it. Happy, sad, in between, I have Skyrim, and I’m deeply thankful for that.

Bat Outta Hell: The Renaissance Of DOOM

Rip and tear, until it is done…

DOOM is the ultimate first-person shooter game and arguably the most iconic video game franchise of all time. The imagery of the series from its 1993 inception to 2020’s most recent release remains important to pop culture and easily accessible to the public. As the internet joke goes – can it run DOOM? 99% of the time YES.

The reboot of the series in 2016 was a roaring success for developer id Software and publisher Bethesda. A metacritic score of 85 and most importantly – incredibly positive fan reaction. Fans were skeptical of another attempt to reboot DOOM, after mixed reception to 2004’s DOOM 3.

12 years in between drinks is a long time, especially for such a large franchise – the one that gave birth to the first-person shooter genre. In those 12 years, many important games came out that redefined the genre from just being about shooting and killing to deep stories and more cerebral stories.

DOOM was never intended to be thought-provoking or deeply intelligent. It was a game about killing demons with a shotgun and a chainsaw. The first game was set on a space Mars, then Hell, before the sequel Hell On Earth which took the series to a demonic invasion of Earth.

The reboot in 2016 was very much a soft reboot of the 1993 original – just like the original DOOM it starts in the UAC facilities on Mars, before going to Hell, back to Mars, and finishing up in Hell again. It features the same enemies, a very similar plot and the same tools and gadgets for the player character – but brought a new layer to the series – scathing criticism of capitalism, and utilitarianism in the backdrop of its gory and adrenaline-fuelled action.

The plot of 2016’s DOOM is that the company the UAC (Union Aerospace Command) discovers they can use energy from Hell to power Earth and end the energy crisis in the 2100s whilst also knowing it would require opening up a portal to Hell permanently, all while their staff experimented on demons and started to develop a cult around them. Unsurprisingly, the demons eventually just invaded Mars with the help of a higher up from the UAC.

But this plot means nothing if the main character isn’t interesting. The protagonist of the modern series was dubbed the Doom Slayer, as opposed to the past name of just “Doomguy”. The writing for the Slayer was, according to the developers, inspired by films like Last Action Hero, RoboCop, and Die Hard.

The characterisation of the Doom Slayer, a character who doesn’t speak a single word and can only express emotions with his hands is impressive. From the opening 10 minutes you know he hates demons, hates the UAC, hates innocents being killed, and has a strong dislike for Samuel Hayden and his “ends justify the means” view.

Doom Slayer’s rage towards demons is shown throughout, but also his compassion is shown just as much and just as importantly. His rage is never blindly thrown around to those undeserving. Towards the end of the game, he is tasked by Samuel Hayden (who in an uneasy truce is aiding the Doom Slayer towards killing the demons and stopping the invasion) to deactivate and wipe VEGA, the UAC created artificial intelligence which has been aiding the Slayer throughout the game. The Slayer realises he has an option to back up VEGA and save it from being lost to time and losing a valuable ally, and actively takes that measure to save it. A small gesture but one that shows the Slayer doesn’t just assume the most violent or combative route when it is unnecessary – he’s smarter than just being pure rage towards everything. He doesn’t let his hatred of the UAC and what it stands for blind his judgement.

DOOM: Eternal came out last Friday, and I was lucky enough to receive my order of it several days early on Wednesday. I’ve completed the campaign and it is truly rocking. Smart, concise, simple but effective. It knows you’re there to kill demons with a chainsaw and shotgun and doesn’t leave you waiting around for it to begin. Within 20 seconds of starting the game you’re into combat. The speed of gameplay in the new DOOM series is relentless. You don’t have time to rest, you don’t hunker down and hide from combat – if you want to survive and fight on you need to stay on the offensive. The game rewards you for being proactive.

But balls-to-the-wall action is only good if you’re invested in the hero and the consequences. DOOM masterfully makes you feel like if you aren’t there, the world simply won’t survive. It is power fantasy at its best.

The renaissance of DOOM as a franchise, to me, comes down mostly to the fantastic characterisation of the Doom Slayer. What used to be considered the least important aspect of the series in the 1990s is now what really holds the modern DOOM series together. It’s a testament to the writing and art direction of id Software and I am very keen to see where they go next with the Doom Slayer’s arc. There are two planned story expansions to come out for DOOM: Eternal.