Craft your own tops and ignore the drops!
Length/levelling disparity aside, there is only one more thing I want to bring up regarding Skyrim. … Yeah, apparently nearly 400 hours spent in that game still results in two tiny blog posts. Oh well. At any rate, this is going to be a more focused post concerning a very specific aspect of the game – so if you aren’t familiar with Skyrim as such, well.. This probably won’t be interesting for you. Sorry about that. What I am somehow failing to talk about is the crafting mechanic that TES5 employs – and, in fact, the specific subset of smithing (I don’t have any issues with alchemy and enchanting), which whilst being a really welcome addition to the game (and of course inspired by an oblivion mod) was done completely buttock-backwards.
To be perfectly clear, I strongly approve of the idea of a crafting mechanic, and of making it into a skill that your character can be good or bad at. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with the basic concept, it is the execution and implementation where things went awry. To briefly recap how it works: There are basic mineral ores in the world that you can mine or get in chests or on felled enemies. They also can be simply bought from many vendors. They are bottom-level clutter and thus appear frequently enough. At the start of the game, you can craft the basic tier of items, and as the smithing skill improves, you can unlock perks that allow you to craft better tier items (armour and weaponry). Also, the smithing skill allows you to “improve” weapons/armour as well, granting a few extra points of damage / protection (regularly, that would bring the item to a near-parity with the next-tier analogue). All in all, you can craft anything that you could find in the game (magical effects are handled by enchanting, though. Different thing. Kinda like smithing for magic), and with improvements, you can get items that are better than you could find.
In the previous paragraph, there were three (actually four) things that I’d argue are completely wrong and really disconnect the crafting from regular gameplay mechanics.
Problem the first: Crafting Ingredients are clutter-level minerals. Why? I get it that for basic low-level stuff, you want the components to be abundant so that players don’t have a brickwall to climb just to try the mechanic out. Sure. Thing is, why are the ores and minerals for creating the super-top-level stuff also very frequent (once you, of course, attain a sufficient character level to see them in the world OH WAIT JUST KIDDING the smithing skill level decides what crafting components will be available at stores)? Moreover, why are all materials so readily available in stores, in their tens, dozens, bushels? Because of this, the entire crafting process is detached from the meat and bones of the dungeon-delving experience: normally, you’d go through a dungeon, looting enemies and maybe find something good on them, get to the end of the dungeon, defeat the local baddie and loot the nearby-placed boss chest that definitely will have something good you could potentially use or sell for shiney monies. Assuming you aren’t into crafting. If you are, then you don’t give a squirrel’s tail-flick for items you find – only the abundantly scattered ores and mineral ingots that could be just as easily bought at the local armourer/blacksmith/general goods vendor. Everything you actually find, even the stuff you should care about, is automatically vendor trash. This effectively inverts the entire item dispersion of the dungeon – the basic clutter you should treat as vendor trash is now what interests you (crafting components, to be specific), and the items you should think about as potentially wearable are now clutter/vendor trash. In other terms.. There’s no longer a payback for doing a dungeon run. That boss-level chest you fought that dragon priest over? Useless. Everything you found in the dungeon? Useless – well, money for crafting materials at best.
Problem the second: The smithing skill allows you to improve armour/weapons better. Well.. I will concede that this could not be a problem in and of itself – after all, it is logical that if you were good at making the stuff, you’d know how to take it and adjust the fit/balance/sharpness/somethingsomething. The issue is that none of the enemies you find – and I do mean none at all – will ever have anything upgraded/improved. You will never find an item that’s upgraded in any chest (unless you put one in it yourself, of course). The entire upgrade/refinement procedure is completely unique to the player and detached from the rest of the game. Why? It is established very, very often, that there are other blacksmiths and crafters in Skyrim. A lot of the bandit-inhabited dungeons have crafting stations. You see NPCs actually using them in their wandering cycles. Why are there no results, then? Why is something basic, something logical and authentic, restricted to just the player? You could say “Oh X2 you silly rabbit, it’s because only you have smithing skill”. Well, that’s the thing – no. All NPCs in Skyrim share the same skills that you get, and all NPCs have their own varying levels in those skills. That’s supposedly the draw of the Elder Scrolls, that the NPCs all have varying skill-levels and stats consistent with your character, and potentially could reflect what your character could have been. If you find the console-command that could check an NPC’s smithing level, I bet you would find a lot who have a pretty decent grasp on that. Moreover, there’s a basic improvement that any player character can do, even with nothing in smithing at all. With the appropriate smithing
points perks, the magnitude of that improvement increases twofold. So we really should see enemies using armour/weapons improved at the basic level, at least. Not all of them, sure. But at least some…
Problem the third: You can craft anything you can find in the game. How is this a problem? Surely it is good that the crafting is not a lobotomised subsection of limited use? Well, yes. You are looking at it the wrong way. It’s not the explicitly stated thing that’s the issue here. Being able to craft it all is fine. But look at what is missing. Can you “de-craft” anything you find in the game (break down an item into parts / material / schematics)? Nope. That is the problem. What we have by default is a method of avoiding the regular looting systems via crafting. We don’t have a feedback loop that could bring looting back into crafting. Optimally, it should be the other way around on a logical level – systems should complement, not actively exclude each other. Another issue with this aspect is that while you can craft anything, you are in no way adjusted to how that “anything” appears in the world. Want to craft daedric armour at level 5? Sure, go for it. Enjoy having the top-end armour at the start of the game, where it will only appear in the world from level 36-ish onwards. Want to create the ultimate end-game dragonbone set? Sure. Kill off a few dragons (honestly not hard at all even at very low levels – just get NPCs to help) and go for it – grind up smithing via iron daggers and suddenly become ButtockProdder McAwesome the Third. Believe it or not, I’ll say that this is a problem. Like it, hate it, either way the TES world is created for level-scaling. In Skyrim it also kind-of almost works, even. Having a single system completely avoiding all that is a mistake, as it severely affects the overall difficulty of the game – not because of a mechanically clever manipulation, but simply because the game’s mechanics cannot cope with the abomination that you’ve turned yourself into. You monster.
Problem the fourth: Crafting Ingredients are clutter-level minerals. Sounds familiar? Yeah, this is another aspect of the first one. Namely, why is it that all of crafting relies just on minerals (well, I’ll admit – also leather which effectively is just a mineral mined from animals)? Why not have actual sections of the items you could make – like a Long Blade, or Hefty Pommel, or Soft Padding, or Strengthened BoobPlate or something. That would create a way more interesting variety, and allow a natural method of breaking down an existing item into its core parts. Give some separation between what is needed to make a weapon, and a piece of armour. Give some difference between the bits that make Steel Boots and Ebony Greaves beyond a slight colour change on the respective ingot that we’re stuck with now.
All in all, I am nitpicking. All the above problems are just aspects of a greater whole that probably has reared it’s ugly head in the elaborations.. Namely, the real issue – the monster behind the scenes – is that smithing is completely and utterly detached from the rest of the game. It’s all player-unique. It doesn’t follow the advancement mechanics the rest of the world does. It doesn’t involve any rare stuff. It has no loopback into item-scrounging in dungeons. It’s an entirely artificial graft-on that is just not accounted for in Skyrim on a conceptual level. Really, it is almost as bad as the “Vampire Lord Form” addition from Dawnguard DLC – an extra thing slapped on just because that doesn’t really work well at all when you think about it. There’s a good reason why the objectively best way to create an “overpowered” character in the game is to grind smithing and enchanting to create God-tier equipment that’s not found nor matched anywhere. Smithing (and enchanting as it’s supportive aspect – though it admittedly actually has better integration in game and features feedback loops) is just plain broken. Not on a functional level – it ‘works’ just fine. It’s broken on a very conceptual level, it’s broken at the parts where it was meant to integrate into the world seamlessly.
I know that I’ve ignored Smithing for 4 or 5 out of my 7 characters. Because by going down the smithing route, I actively exclude the incentive to do stuff in Skyrim. There’s no way I’m going to find anything better than what I can make. There’s no way I’m going to find anything that will allow me to make something better. There’s no reason to get quest rewards. No reason to delve into dungeons. No reason to step outside the first town with a forge and material vendor in it. No reason to play the game.
~X2-Eliah sees the appeal of having extra strong stuff that is unique. He doesn’t think it justifies missing out on extra strong enemies or the joy of finding something better.