A Tale of Two Exploits: Skill Perks and Character Leveling in Skyrim

Could some of Skyrim's character balancing issues be resolved through more immersive gameplay?
Could some of Skyrim's character balancing issues be resolved through more immersive gameplay?

Oblivion had bandits in glass armor. Skyrim has master craftsmen. The most annoying gameplay balance issue in the Elder Scrolls series seems to have shifted from leveled mobs to character progression. Is character progression in Skyrim 'broken'? Are some skill trees too powerful, and others too weak? Should leveling some skills level your character, and make leveled enemies stronger, while others don't? Is it a gameplay issue, or a role-playing issue?

While everyone and his mother will disagree with me on this one, I think the problem that afflicts character progression as it relates to leveled mobs in Skyrim is almost unavoidable. And while Bethesda's approach to the problem of character leveling in Skyrim isn't perfect, it's not broken either.

Now, before you all unleash your fiery onslaught, let me state up front that I don't think this is a role-playing issue but a game design issue. I won't tell you you're not playing the game right, and I won't tell you that it works fine if you just role-play. You've heard those answers before and they're not helpful. If the game lets you do it, and doing it breaks the game, the issue is with the game, not the player. You may be surprised to hear that I agree with you on this because I'm such a huge role-playing nerd myself, but it's true.

Here's the situation:

Character Progression in Skyrim

As it stands, leveling in Skyrim works like this: you use a skill and sooner or later you gain a level in it. If you gain enough skill levels, regardless of which skills you gain them in, your character gains a level. As soon as your character gains a level, all of your enemies gain a level, too. (Actually, that's not entirely true. Enemies don't necessarily gain levels, its just that your character draws enemies from lists that have more powerful enemies in them.)

Now, from what I can tell surfing the forums an unnatural number of hours, there are two chief complaints against Bethesda's skill progression system as it stands. The first is that certain skills, or combinations of skills, can be leveled in such a way that they give the character an unfair advantage over enemies and make the game too easy. The culprit here is Smithing, or rather, a combination of Smithing and Enchantment with some Alchemy thrown in. The second complaint is that certain other skills, or combinations of skills, can be leveled in such a way that they give the mobs an unfair advantage over the player and make the game too hard, thus 'gimping' the player.

I'll address each of these concerns in order.

Is crafting broken in Skyrim?
Is crafting broken in Skyrim?

Problem One: The Crafter's Dilemma

Crafting skills permit a play mechanic known as 'grinding'. In other words, they can be leveled up with little or no cost or effort on the part of the player.

To level up a combat skill, you have to go out and fight something, and risk getting your butt handed to you on a wooden platter. To level up a crafting skill (Smithing, Enchantment, and Alchemy) you stand in front of an object and press level up. (Okay, so I simplified this a bit, as you do need to acquire resources to create objects, but in general it is much easier to level these skills than non-crafting skills.)

What happens with grinding skills is that certain types of players assume that, since it's included in the game, it's an accepted form of gameplay. The argument is: I'm following the rules the developers give me, so they'd better have some sort of system of checks and balances in place to make sure that the mechanic works and that I can't abuse it.

Let me reiterate: these people don't want to abuse the system. They want an enjoyable, challenging, and immersive experience just like everyone else. When they sit down to craft some weapons and armor and realize that all they need to do is make hundreds of iron daggers to max out their level in Smithing to get the best items in the game they feel cheated. Logic dictates that they should pursue the cheapest form of leveling and, unfortunately, when that logic isn't met with any resistance from the developers, an exploit is born. In this situation, is the player or the developer at fault?

Well, in this case, much as I love Bethesda, the crafters have a point. Players shouldn't have to choose between logic and immersion. Frankly, every one has different priorities and for some players the cost of sacrificing logic to gameplay is just too high. It wouldn't have been hard to implement a system that prohibits craft-spamming, so it's absence is a noticeable flaw in the game's design.

You can argue (as millions of role-gamers do) that if they don't like it, they don't have to do it, but that isn't really fair. Many of these people stumbled across this exploit by accident, or by intentionally testing the system (as I believe, you are expected to) and when they realized they could get away with it, their immersion and enjoyment of the game suffered. Even if they were ignorant of this possibility before venturing onto the forums, was it their fault that the mechanic failed them and robbed them of some of their enjoyment in the game? Is this somehow different than a role-gamer's disappointment in the fact that some other mechanic (say, marriage, for example) has somehow failed them? Rule-gamers are justified in throwing this argument back in the faces of role-gamers who complain about every lost role-playing opportunity.

But how does this exploit affect character progression as it relates to enemy scaling in Skyrim?

Well, according to the experienced crafters, being able to spam crafting and level it to very high levels with minimum interaction from enemies allows you to create the best armor and weapons in the game very early on. Once you've leveled up these skills to high enough levels, you can, like Iron Man, become practically invincible and the game loses its challenge. Not only has the crafting mechanic disappointed them by its lack of robustness, but their discovery has also led them to disappointing gameplay. Is it their fault that the game has been robbed of its challenge, or the fault of the developers? Is it a game design issue, or a role-playing issue?

The problem can be resolved through role-playing. You can always choose not to take advantage of the crafting system to spam out the best gear early on. You can choose to use it sparingly or not at all. Many players are doing just that. (And most role-gamers wouldn't even deign to sully their hands with the exploit.) But the fact remains that it's there; it's in the game as a possibility, and, like shorter skirts and fast travel, it's a hard temptation for many gamers to resist. Considering how easy it would have been to fix (eg. minimum levels imposed on materials, maximum iterations on the number of uses per day, declining experience gains over time for identical items, restricted experience gains that only reward players for crafting at a suitable level, etc.), and how much it would have improved the experience for a large number of gamers, it seems to be a design issue, plain and simple.

As I will show, however, this issue does not exist in isolation. It is part of a larger design that, while not essentially flawed, is in need of further elaboration.

Is lockpicking a useless skill tree?
Is lockpicking a useless skill tree?

Problem Two: The Pickpocket's Dilemma

On the other side of the coin, you have skills that debilitate your character the more you use them. Players who are fond of playing thieves and rogues are aware of this issue: level up your lockpicking, pickpocket and speech skills and you may find, much to your chagrin, that your character is now mercilessly slaughtered on the field of battle. Congratulations, you have effectively gimped your character in combat.

The reason why this happens is because leveling any skill will work towards leveling your character, even non-combat skills like Speech and Smithing, and every time your character gains a level, your enemies gain a level, too. But why would developers design a game this way? It seems like a bad design flaw to penalize players who choose to specialize in non-combat skills and only balance the game for combat-oriented characters.

The reason why leveling any skill makes enemies harder is because every single skill will improve your character in some way. Even the 'soft' skills like Lockpicking, Pickpocket, and Speech will give you access to additional gold and equipment. While the gains may be small, over time, they will noticeably impact your character's ability to master any challenge. The devs can't say: "well, we're only going to make enemies harder if you improve your combat skills, not stuff like lockpicking or pickpocket" because improving these other skills does make your character stronger. They make it possible to open more chests, steal stuff from NPCs, find more gold and magic items, barter down prices to buy better gear, and, if you have the right perks, strip enemies of their weapons and put poison in their pockets. All of these things make you better at beating enemies, if not directly, at least indirectly, and even if it isn't as efficient as dropping perks into combat and defense it is still an advantage. Over time, if you allow these skills to improve, and benefits to accrue, without any kind of cost associated with them, you will notice an increasing gap between the power of your character and the challenge presented by enemies.

It boils down to this: if it gives you an advantage, even a small one, it has to cost you something. If you give a player a skill that gives him an advantage and you make it a zero-cost skill it becomes an exploit. All of a sudden, burly warriors are hanging up their battle axes and picking up lutes, maxing out their pickpocket and speech skills to steal or buy every advantage they can before going out into the dungeons. Hopefully, you see what the problem is here. It's a little like the crafting exploit, but now it applies to stealth. All of a sudden, you'll have players offering advice on the forums like: "Hur, don't level up your one-handed skill because that will make all the enemies tougher. Just spam your lockpicking and use the extra gold and magic items to get your character better gear. It's stupid that Bethesda would design a game that rewards you for leveling up pickpocket and penalizes you for leveling up combat." You see the dilemma?

If you don't provide a cost for every skill, any skill that doesn't have one is going to become an exploit. People will go around spamming lockpicking and pickpocketing and speech skills to gain the extra gold, deck out their characters and faceroll mobs who are not prepared for the challenge. And the crafting skills, if not leveled along with combat skills, will become an even worse exploit than they already are. Can you even imagine how unbalanced that kind of game would be? "Look at my master smith/thief decked out in dragon armor and ebony swords with a million gold and 700 potions of healing. This game is so stupid because I can kill anything with one hit. Bethesda really dropped the ball on this one." Even with the current leveling system this kind of build is almost within reach, so removing leveling from non-combat skills is only going to make it worse. At least as it stands, on lower levels, while the player is still learning his craft, there is some challenge to the game for non-craft-spammers.

What the developers need to do, then, is not remove leveling from certain skills but give those skills additional ways to circumvent combat.

The Solution

The solution to these problems is not, as some suggest, to remove these skills from the game. Nor is it to remove the cost of certain skills. The difficulty of enemies can be scaled relative to the perks that the player chooses, but, as we'll see, even that has problems.

The solution is to balance the rewards with the penalties. Not to scale them relative to combat skills, but to make them worth having.

Crafting and 'soft' skills present two different problems, however, so I'll deal with each of them separately. Let's return to the issue of craft-grinding.

How can crafting be fixed?
How can crafting be fixed?

Solution One: Nose to the Grindstone

The problem with the crafting skills is that the rewards the player receives for indulging in these activities exceeds the challenge presented by them. In the case of crafting, this is a somewhat more difficult issue to resolve than combat or even thieving skills.

Combat skills are relatively easy to balance because the player only receives experience for using them in combat. There is always challenge and risk associated with their pursuit. The same can be said for thieving skills, which require the player to proceed cautiously and navigate hostile and potentially dangerous environments. The rewards that players receive for using these skills are always earned.

In the case of crafting, it is not so simple. The player literally levels up just by using the menu. As the menu is not (or at least should not, intentionally, be) an appropriate obstacle for the player, the 'challenge' presented by crafting is almost exclusively relegated to the realm of scavenging and shopping. Needless to say, these do not present much of a challenge.

The result is that, by collecting or buying materials the player can quickly grind their crafting skills to the point that they can fashion for themselves the finest weapons, armor, and potions available in the game without leaving the relative comfort and security of the main roads and settlements. This is very convenient if you happen to be role-playing a blacksmith, but not very balanced. Should a smith, who has crafted for himself legendary weapons and armor, be allowed to defeat a warrior who has spent the same amount of time honing his skills against draugr and trolls?

As the challenge cannot be (nor I think should be) presented in the act of crafting itself (seriously, who wants to have to actually swing a hammer in a mini-game to level their Smithing skill?) the challenge must be imposed externally, from without. Arbitrary skill thresholds imposed on item use (eg. must be level 30 to use a glass sword that you've crafted) may appear to solve the problem, but create worse problems instead. Who wants to be told when they can use an item that they've found in a chest in a dungeon? It's a form of meta-gaming imposed by developers that just ruins immersion by destroying the logic of the game world. Why should a mechanic designed to prevent a smith from grinding affect my warrior who has no intention of learning how to craft?

Better solutions exist. Diminishing skill gains from repetitions are sensible and workable and similar alternatives can be found but I think the key to solving this problem is to tie the player's ability to external challenges. If you impose something like a diminishing skill gain, it doesn't solve the problem, it just takes the player longer to grind. If you make the player work for the skill, in the same way that thieves, warriors, and wizards have to work for their skills, you will re-integrate the crafting skills into the game in a satisfying way. Because the crafting menu does not pose any inherent challenge, however, that challenge needs to be imposed externally.

The best way to do that, as far as I can see, is to force the player to learn these skills from NPCs, who will require them to complete objectives. For example, say that the player wants to learn how to craft elvish weapons and armor. Provide three trainers: one who works for the Stormcloaks, one who works for the Imperials, and one who is neutral. The trainer requires the player to craft a number of weapons and armor to supply troops (Stormcloaks, Imperials, or mercenaries). In order to complete this objective, they must travel to a mine to receive the supplies, thwart rival factions seeking to acquire the supplies themselves, return to the smith and fashion the equipment. The player will have to use the materials to supply the best weapon/armor ratio and the result of that smithing will determine the success or failure of those troops. If the trainer is satisfied with the quality of the player's work, they will train the player to use the new material. At this point, if the trainer is knowledgeable, the player may repeat the process with another material, requiring the player to travel to receive new supplies, fashion new equipment, etc. Using this technique, the quality of the weapons and armor available to the player are scaled closer to the player's level. Another way to say this is to make crafting guild-based. It should be easy to see how this same mechanic can be applied to enchanting and alchemy.

Could many of these issues be resolved by providing more non-combat options?
Could many of these issues be resolved by providing more non-combat options?

Solution Two: Stealing Your Way to Victory

The problem with crafting skills is that they are too easy to level and become too powerful too quickly. As we saw in the previous section, one solution to this problem is to impose pacing through quest design. Stealth skills (lockpicking, picking pockets, speech), on the other hand, suffer from a different problem: they are too weak. The solution is similar, but not identical.

Lockpicking is not, as many suggest, a 'useless' skill tree. Is it useless for combat? Yes, almost entirely. But the lockpicking skill isn't designed to solve combat problems but lockpicking problems. The problem with Skyrim is that there aren't enough meaningful challenges.

Is a perk that makes it easier to open locks a good perk if you spend a lot of time opening locks? Yes. Is a perk that gives you greater rewards for opening those locks a good perk if opening locks is what you enjoy doing? Probably. If my primary objective in Skyrim is to role-play a thief, and my chief pleasures come from avoiding detection, picking pockets, disarming traps, and picking locks, then it makes sense to reward my play style. Even if it isn't that hard to pick a lock, making it twice as easy by giving me a perk is still a useful convenience that makes my game more enjoyable, shows character progression, and rewards my role-playing with an enriched gameplay experience. Does the lockpicking skill have to be rewarding to me as a warrior? Not at all. Not unless I happen to think that the world should revolve around combat.

Realistically, if I'm playing as a thief, I'm going to do my best to avoid combat. Why is that? Because a thief has no right to expect to be on equal terms with a warrior in face-to-face combat. Not only does that defy logic, but it invalidates the choices of players who choose to play a warrior. If any character build is equally powerful in combat, then there is no advantage to investing perks in combat skills. By allowing thieves and mages to excel at melee combat, you make combat skill trees redundant. The player, on successive play throughs, will not notice the benefit of improving their combat skills. If enemy difficulty is scaled to the player's perks, if they start as a thief and then decide to invest in combat skills later, they will encounter the unusual experience of finding combat more difficult than it used to be. This is exactly the problem that players are trying to avoid by moderating the way perks are currently leveled but it is even more counter to reason than finding combat more difficult after leveling crafting and stealth skills.

Clearly the solution is not to make these skills more 'combat able'. Nor is it to remove the cost of acquiring their perks since, as we've seen, this reduces these skills to the level of exploits.

So what is the solution?

Simply put, the solution is to provide characters who use these skill trees with better opportunities to exercise them. Conversely to the crafting skills, I don't think that this purpose is necessarily best served by adding quest-related content to the game. Rather, these mechanics need to be integrated better into normal gameplay. Throwing a chest with a trap on it in a dungeon isn't good enough (though it helps). Entire areas of a map need to be made inaccessible to anyone who isn't a thief. Put in lots of locks and traps to reward players for not breaking their lockpicks, create stealth challenges or pickpocketing challenges, and include a multitude of additional Speech test options and these perks no longer seem useless, but interesting, they will add to the number of options that players have when playing the game. Is there some inherent reason why I can't talk my way out of a fight with a bandit if I have a high Speech skill? Or why I can't unlock a passage that allows me to avoid a direct confrontation with a powerful enemy?

The point is that these skill trees and their associated perks were never meant to serve as a replacement for combat skills. From their inception they were seen as tools that gave players the option of circumventing combat. Certainly Bethesda has made some effort to accommodate this kind of gameplay, but it clearly isn't enough. 'Redundant' or 'useless' skill trees are not a product of poor game design or poor gameplay balance, but an optical illusion created by an absence of opportunity. The solution here is not to do away with these trees, then, or to make these skills free, but to give the player a chance to use them.

So Now What?

If you've stayed with me this far, then you know that I don't believe that there are inherent balancing problems associated with particular skills, or that the existing leveling mechanic in Skyrim is essentially flawed. Rather, the problems that do exist exist owing to a lack of content which provides a proper context for employing these skills and for introducing the player to the pleasures of a non-combat experience. These problems can be corrected; they could even be corrected to some degree through the addition of content in DLCs; but even if they are corrected, a correct implementation will not necessarily satisfy players who expect all skills to lend themselves to the sole objective of killing things.

And that's why I said that the problems with this mechanic are almost inevitable: a correct implementation can't provide skills that satisfy both a combat and non-combat objective equally. That's because the experiences that these different skill trees provide are incommensurable, as they are in real life. Choosing a non-combat perk over a combat perk is always going to result in an imbalance in favor of the enemy in combat. If it doesn't, there is no cost, and if there is no cost, it is reduced to the level of an exploit.

If it doesn't result in this imbalance, then combat perks lose their meaning; they are neutralized in the interest of preserving the status quo between the player and his or her opponent. You can't solve this problem by making combat perks even better, because then the game is too easy, and you can't scale the difficulty of opponents down to adapt to a non-combat player without throwing away the balance that exists between different character builds. (In fact, down-scaling enemy difficulty to account for less combat-oriented character builds is the equivalent of Oblivion-style level scaling, only applied to perks instead of levels.)

What you can do is add content. You can add options that make choosing these perks meaningful and worthwhile investments for players who want to experience a different type of game. Give thieves a world where they can thieve. Give craftsmen, merchants, and healers a world where they can ply their trade and they won't mind the added challenge. In fact, they'll relish it. Is it more exciting to sneak into the lair of a powerful enemy who can easily destroy you if you're detected, or an enemy that has been down-scaled to your level in combat? If you can take him, why fuss around with all the sneaking? Just kill him and be done with it.

The mechanic as it is, is good. Most of the time, it works. But like any tool, in order for it to work well, and to work consistently, you need to supply it with the right materials. Skyrim's unbalanced perks aren't a product of broken mechanics, but of missed opportunities.

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Comments 31 comments

Headbanger 7 months ago

I also create a lot of daggers and leather bracers to level up my smithing, but only with materials that I find. I think every person would make the more XP earning items instead of creating random stuff.

Now I discovered that orcish armors have a good profit. I will start creating them to increase my money.

Headbanger 7 months ago

It's easy to fix the things with smithing.

1 - When creating an item, more complicated items should give more experience than simpler items. You need more materials and time to create an armor than a dagger, so the armor must give you more experience.

2 - When working at the workbench or at the grindstone, the kind of material should matter. Enhancing an item with ebony should give more experience than working with iron.

3 - I also think that the smelter and the tanning rack should give you a little experience, based on quantity of ingots or pieces of leather created.

4 - Now comes the real deal: to learn a new perk, you must have 100% of proficiency in the previous item. To unlock elven smithing you should have 100% of proficiency in steel smithing.

5 - In this scenario, when you reach 100% of proficiency, you earn a bonus in your improvement, but a penalty in your experience. For example: double of the improvement but half of the experience.

6 - When you achieve 100% in the elven smithing, your penalty in steel smithing goes increases, and now you receive only 25% of the experience when working with steel.

7 - Similar methods can be used in enchanting.

DREW 21 months ago

The best way to fix the crafting solution is to make the skill like it was in Oblivion to level up through the ability to repair and improve your gear. The game would be better if the whole leveling system from Oblivion minus the sleep to level up mechanic. I enjoyed picking my strong skills and i don't enjoy starting out with a path to walk. But something to work with

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j-u-i-c-e 4 years ago from Waterloo, On Author

@ElunnValore: Mods are great, but devs need to put a little more work into the design from the get-go. The problem I have with smithing is that it's boring and unbalanced because there is no challenge involved. Reducing the supply of materials just offloads the problem onto other mechanics instead of correcting it at the source. I don't see why there couldn't have been a Smithing guild to go along with the other guilds. There's a Bard guild and you can't even play an instrument! Combat, magic, and thieving are all interesting and challenging in their own right, and alchemy and enchanting are at least moderately more complex than smithing. It just seems like a half-baked mechanic to me. As far as alchemy goes: the game is built around pot-spam. There's even a loading screen telling you to use potions in combat. It's just an old, conventional mechanic that needs to be updated.

@F1FireKing: I don't think tying smithing to a guild would really destroy the 'cheat'. You could still burn through the smithing guild quests in short order using fast travel and quest markers, and the enemies would still be scaled to your level. You wouldn't even necessarily have to join a guild if there are smiths who will train you in exchange for gold. It might take a few extra hours and require you to level a few more times but those hours would be spent completing quests, and that's sort of why you're playing the game, right? The idea is just to attach some meaning and challenge to leveling smithing, not to nurf it. Incidentally, if you own a PC copy of many games it's pretty easy to add all kinds of cheats yourself. Plenty of 'cheat' mods out there. ;) Thanks for taking the time to read and reply.

F1FireKing 4 years ago

Just want everyone to keep in mind that there are 30 something year old guys with jobs and kids who want to enjoy the game as much as anyone. This isn't a stab at "professional" gamers, I'm just making the point that I don't have time to explore every challenge the game has to offer. And I don't want to spend 3 years trying to get through the game. I love the smithing "cheat". Having the best armor and weapons lets me enjoy more of the game with the little time I have. I always use cheat codes, except when I'm playing online. Unfortunately the best driving games usually don't have cheats. ~yea~ I get to spend a year playing career mode just to finally get to race the cool cars I bought the game for :-/ So, Here's to Cheats!!!

ElunnValore 4 years ago

There are several ways you can make the game enjoyable,even when you reach higher levels.

With smithing, use an HBE hardcore mod which heavily reduces number of ingredients you can buy in town and raises their price. Also you can change the merchants in Creation Kit to allow only mages to sell soul gems. This, of course changes how fast enchanting and smithing levels up, not their power. For that, you can use ACE enchanting skill tree and one of the blacksmithing rebalanced mods. Also Elys community uncapper comes handy, to change skill level rate, which skills contribute to player leveling, how many perks,attribute points you receive per level and so on.

The only problem i have with is Alchemy-they should have made it closer to Witcher style, simple, restricted use without exploits and non potion gulping while a dragon is right on top of you. So i basically ignore it.

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j-u-i-c-e 4 years ago from Waterloo, On Author

@Alex: I really think that the answer to balancing non-combat skills is to provide content that is only accessible if you use them. Trying to balance everything in combat just throws everything off by trying to make skills do things they arent designed to do. Give players something different for choosing to develop a non-combat skill and they wont mind if it gives them a small disadvantage in combat. Thanks for reading.

Alex31w 4 years ago

I found your solutions on how u could level up ur smithing and thievery very interesting especially the bits about talking to different trainers and certain areas of a dungeon being only accessible to thieves, and I agree with what u where saying about thieves avoiding combat, when I play a thief I spend most of my time if I actively seek opponents to fight is spent running away from things like trolls and saber tooth cats! Also could the chest in dawnstar be classed as an insult because it is available to u if u want to use it, but if u don't want to it doesn't have an impact

Artur 4 years ago

Let's face it. Bethesda is and excellent world and quest builder, but suck a lot at the character creation and development system. I don't think I could have any fun with this game. Oblivion made me lose hours and hours making use of it's ridiculously easy exploits, and then I was actually invulnerable and greatly overpowered. So I had no more fun playing it. I don't think this is my fault. I didn't cheat. In games like GTA you don't see this problem, even having a huge world too.

hypocriote 4 years ago

You play a gnome rouge, don't you?

The answer to all these problems is simple, its been around aslong as gaming has. DON'T scale the mobs.

This isn't an online game. If I clock this game I want to know that I clocked the same game that everyone else did... I don't want some 12 year old telling me they clocked it 30 lvls lower than I did. "I clocked it in 4 hours" laaa di daaa... Bet your mums glad she paid $100+ for that... Hearing that shit is what ruins immersion.

Don't scale the bosses, have them set lvl, if I want to spend extra time crafting gear or thieving gear etc to beat the boss a few lvls earlier than might be expected then good one me. Time could have been spent lvling combat skills and oh look, everything would be fair and even.

I don't want some bullshit game that scales to my toons lvl, bad gamers shouldn't be able to clock games good gamers can. Or at least they should have to put more time/effort in to get there.

I like difficult games, and if I find a trick that's allowed in game to make it easier that's called smart, not exploit or "craft spam" as you termed it.

Rant off my chest... I do agree with a lot of what you've said, and am thankfull that ppl are thinking about these issues


Arrow2THEknee360 4 years ago

The only way i broke the game is by using my Oghma Inigmia to get me to leverl 81 and 100 on every skill. :P

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j-u-i-c-e 4 years ago from Waterloo, On Author

@ecosimon: I agree. There should have been some sort of restrictions imposed on leveling it. It's easy to say: 'Just don't abuse it' but the problem is that a lot of the people that did abuse it didn't know they were doing anything 'wrong' and only found out later that it spoiled the game.

@Shadowbane: Yeah, I impose strict limits on how much I can use a crafting skill. The easiest thing I've come up with is to just never let myself raise a crafting skill by more than one level/character level; unless I'm making a character that is specifically a crafter, then maybe I'd level it two or three times, max. Keeps the challenge in the game.

Shadowbane 4 years ago

I am new the the whole elder scrolls games. Skyrim is my 1st one. I find that it is to eazy and that kind of bums me out, master is still to eazy once you have maxed and perked smithing and enchanting takes the fun out of the game. So on my 4th toon i made i decided not to put perks in any of the crafting trees(smithing,encanting, alcy) I want to only use the gear i find off of mobs in the game and quest rewards. I am hoping that will make the game more fun. I hated to see all them cool gear i got from quests lines be useless because my self crafted gear enchanted and improved with alcy, blows away and makes that quest gear useless. So hear is to hoping that my cool looking thiefguild armor and Nightingale armor will be put to good use this time. I really would like to see them fix this game to take out the overpowerness of the crafting trees.

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ecosimon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Very long and informative article on Skyrim skills and perks, a real eye opener to the mechanics of Skyrim.

I personally feel that the non-combatant skills such as smithing are totally unbalanced. I mean being able to reach level 100 in Smithing in about 10 minutes, just by creating iron daggers constantly is total pants.

It's just far too tempting for players to do this and get the best armor and weapons before setting out across the land. Sure they may have raised a few levels in the process, but any difficulties with opponents are quickly squashed with advanced weaponry and armor.

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j-u-i-c-e 4 years ago from Waterloo, On Author

@yafizicist: I use the wait function to curb any tendency to grind crafting skills. Ex: 4 hours to mine ore, 1 hour to skin an animal, 1 hour to turn a skin into leather, etc. The harder the task, the more hours I wait. Making a cuirass takes my character a whole day. I wrote about it in 10 Rules to Better Roleplaying.

Thanks for reading and replying. Now get to work on that new character! :)

yafizicist 4 years ago

Hi j-u-i-c-e great article. Really helped me figure out some of the thoughts I've been having about Skyrim. For context I have a lvl 62 warrior type played through on Adept. Got Heavy, one hand and block to 100 with main perks then went after alchemy and enchantment to get the best kit. I love this game, but just like with Oblivion and Morrowind you have to find a balance between gameplay and roleplaying. I was gutted that the loot you find randomly is mainly pretty weak, as I love exploring the game world, but the pride I take in my character now feels pretty good.

I'm now considering a second play through either going for assassin or mage, and am debating whether to pursue crafting skills. I will probably want them for the endgame, and if you develop them sparsely along with other skills you can probably time it so that you have good kit at the end without gimping too much at any one point. Alchemy might be the exception, as it's pretty hard to get to 100 without some town roaming.

I also need sometimes, to concentrate on life outside of games. But maybe not quite yet...

Thanks again

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j-u-i-c-e 4 years ago from Waterloo, On Author

@Yeah: This is the problem: the mechanics exist, you know they're there, so not to use them to make the game easier goes counter to reason even if it makes the game less fun. You have to choose between logic and gameplay balance. That's why I think it's a design issue. Logic should never be in conflict with gameplay or the game is...illogical.

@Mr. E: You make a really good point: giving the players the ability to easily craft gear as good or better than what they can find removes much of the incentive of dungeon-diving, which is one of the main points of Skyrim.

Mr. E 4 years ago

I completely agree with everything stated...I am playing a lvl 49 Redguard with 100 smithing 100 heavy Armor 100 one handed 100 block 100 enchanting....unlike other people that spammed the system i did it but of my blind obsession with having the best armor and weapons which in past games (i have been playing since Daggerfall) would have lead me to every hole in the world to find the best...but with skyrim i was lead to crafting myself armor every time my enchanting skill got higher or i found a new enchantment i wanted to add to a set i already even on master difficulty i have very little challenge with anything except the random dungeon that makes me face more than 4 pyromancers throwing countless fireballs my way not that i have ever died but anything now that takes me down to an 1/8 of my health gives me a little rise...needless to say i have stopped playing...i have played D&D for most of my life and have found that there is thrill in knowing there is always something bigger and stronger than you behind the next door and skyrim has failed to give me that feeling anymore....i guess its time go buy Dark Souls

Yeah 4 years ago

Agreed. But I would say enchanting is more of a game-breaker than smithing. I have four items with fortify one-handed on them, so my glass sword does over 300 damage. I one-hit everything. The game was better when it was actually a challenge, but I can't just ignore the opportunities that are staring me in the face. I wish they had made it so that the fortify weapon enchantments only increased your level, not the damage percentage. Probably should have put a cap on armor, and a lower cap on magic resistance too because nothing can hurt me.

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j-u-i-c-e 4 years ago from Waterloo, On Author

@Anonymous: I agree. It isn't easy to draw a line between a play-style and a balancing issue, and everyone will draw the line somewhere else. I don't abuse any of these features myself, but that doesn't mean they couldn't be better balanced (they could) or that opportunities weren't missed (they were). Saying the game isn't perfect isn't the same as saying that it isn't an awesome freakin' game (which it is :) ).

Anonymous 4 years ago

Put it another way, there are plenty of cool perks and ways to create a character, but these all come about by sacrificing other nifty perks. Instead of thinking about what you want, you should just as importantly focus on what you are giving up by selecting that course.

Strategizing how to create the sort of character you want and figuring out when and how to get those perks and what style of play you are going to need to take advantage of them is a huge part of this game. You can blow up on locksmithing etc, but you will have to play in such a way that you don't confront enemies head on. It can be done. Figuring out how is going to be a challenge, just like any good game is.

My first way through, I focused on too many skills I wanted to round out my character, and ended up with a really weak one. You get a better game from focusing on just a couple, or even just one. Maxing out any single skill gives your character a serious edge. But, it will always come with a price.

Anonymous 4 years ago

I think it's a false argument to say that crafting perks or anything make the character "too powerful" or "gimped."

Its easy to create a powerful character focused on heavy armor and two-handed weapons. Some people think that is the way the game was "meant" to be played and are bummed that others create powerful characters who have no combat skills and maxed out smithing and enchantments. But these characters are going to need their high level gear because they don't have much combat skills to speak of.

To me, the whole "it's broken/too powerful/unbalanced/etc" complaints come from the perspective that there is a "right" way and a "wrong" way to play, and that is just silly to say. Moreover. playing the way you want to is fun. Did Nintendo crap the bed when it was discovered you could get infinite lives in Super Mario Bros? Of course not! It was part of the game that it had little gimmicks you could have fun with.

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j-u-i-c-e 4 years ago from Waterloo, On Author

@nate: I have a 16th level character I'm playing on Master and I'm intentionally trying to gimp them to be unplayable by choosing the worst perks/attributes I can. I have 250 Stamina, 100 Health, 100 Magicka, and no combat/defense/sneak/magic perks (all picking pockets, lockpicking, speech, alchemy, etc.). I get one-shot by almost everything, can't cast any spell above Novice, etc., but I still find the game playable. The secret is having a companion. I give Lydia the best equipment and let her soak up the damage while I run around casting spells, shooting arrows, and generally creating a commotion. It's playable--it's actually quite a bit of fun--but it's not easy and I don't recommend it unless you're pretty hard-core. If you're not using a companion, that can make the difference between a playable and unplayable game.

nate 4 years ago

I made a character last night, and screwed myself over. It was an archer/mage. I would lay frost runes and stealthily range enemies. I gimped my class by training too high with the archer trainer in riverwood and taking my cash back. I had about 50 archery with a few perks in it, but not a good enough bow to go with my skill. By the time I fought the dragon outside whiterun I was over level 10, and could hardly damage it so I had to abandon that character.

I have made characters where the game is fairly easy, but I really don't feel like playing a sword&board/resto class for my first playthrough so I think I'll shelf this game until its patched

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j-u-i-c-e 4 years ago from Waterloo, On Author

I couldn't agree with you more, nate. Like that old movie cliché, "There has to be some other way!" should be posted over every quest designer's desk. I know it means more work for them (and I appreciate the tremendous amount of effort they put into this game) but sometimes being too narrowly focused on a single ingredient results in a dish that lacks flavor. Thanks for reading!

nate 4 years ago

This is so true. I have made characters where I start leveling up side skills like pickpocketing, lockpicking etc and the enemies blew me away in a few hits, while I did absolutely no damage. This makes the files pretty much unplayable. The enemies shouldn't scale as much as they do with non combat skills, but should definitely still scale a bit as you have SOME advantage with your non-combat skills.

There needs to be multiple ways to go about an object. Instead of hack and slashing your way through a dungeon to get the quest item, make it possible to avoid enemy patrols, or lockpick your way past them. In a situation where you would normally have to fight, make a different option to progress other than combat. Speech, assassination, bribery, theft, crafting them an item in return for something, etc. Even for a boss encounter you shouldn't be forced to fight it melee or ranged, but have a different approach based on the skill set your character possesses.

Now only if Bathesda will read this article and do something about their half broken game. After they fix the ps3 lag of course

Drattmer 4 years ago

All of the skills are fine, just have to know how to use them properly. ;-)

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j-u-i-c-e 4 years ago from Waterloo, On Author

@ttocs: No, those are all very good ideas. In addition, I would introduce a chance of failure based on the player's skill level and the 'hardness' (value) of the material. If they fail, the materials are ruined (lost) or the value of the item is very low so they can't resell it for a profit. That limits the frequency they can use it by reducing available supplies. I would increase the chance of failure after every crafting attempt to simulate fatigue. In theory, players will stop crafting after a few attempts to avoid wasting supplies.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

ttocs profile image

ttocs 4 years ago

Extremely well written, some very, very good ideas here.

I think another idea for evening off the leveling of the crafting skills could be that you get the diminishing EXP per repeated event, as well as being limited in the amount of EXP you can get per day from those skills. And at the higher levels, the same kind of low level crafting wont give you any EXP, so you have to think out of the box... And satisfy certain requirements that are coupled with other skills to continue leveling up.

Not sure if that would work - I may be just rambling - but nonetheless, awesome article!!

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j-u-i-c-e 4 years ago from Waterloo, On Author

The part about gimping your character is based on numerous replies on the forums. It seems many people feel that that's happened. Of course, a lot of people probably don't feel that that's the case at all. Perspective and playstyle probably factor largely into this, which is one more reason why games like this are so difficult for developers to balance.

I've never liked grinding, myself. I feel like its a design flaw, like jumping over and over again in Oblivion to level your Acrobatics. Some people honestly seem to enjoy gaming the system this way, though.

Thanks for the reply. :)

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JohnGreasyGamer 4 years ago from South Yorkshire, England

Very nice argument, well written and brilliantly detailed. I kinda disagreed about the part with "congratulations - your rogue/thief/pickpocket/cutpurse is now completely gimped in combat", as my skills are varied.

The good thing about Skyrim is that - unlike Oblivion - you can gain XP towards a skill just as fast as the others, while in Oblivion some would level faster and others wouldn't.

I'm becoming a thief in Skyrim and an assassin too, but the dragon encounters are inevitable, but my combat skills keep me alive long enough to absorb a Dragon Soul. So on my travels I'm usually one to weild a one-handed sword and a destro. spell with me, to keep me alive in the wilderness.

If people grind their way to 50, what do they get? There's nothing at endgame except quests you haven't done, and harder enemies. If you want the highest difficulty, turn it up at the options screen - it's not an MMO, so it won't affect anyone else.

In games where there's level restrictions (possibly Oblivion, for example - daedric shrines, armor and weapon finds, etc), people can and likely will grind their way to the top. I'll use WoW for an example, seeing as Patch 4.3 (Deathwing's raid - y'know, the dragon on the box art) is released today. People want to hit lv.85 to experience the content. But what have they missed during their grinding? Combat lessons, new spells and training, rotation, lots of potential OP gear, etc.

So all in all, grinding isn't the best way to level and certainly the least rewarding. Enjoy the game, and if you really need to grind to get any fun out of the game, then you're playing the wrong thing.

Good article, as always j-u-i-c-e! ^_^

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