I begin by openly admitting that there are extensive gaps in my RPG gaming repertoire. Growing up I preferred platformers to turn-based RPGs. As such I’ve never played a single Final Fantasy game; in fact, my biggest issue with Final Fantasy is why there are well over a dozen games when it was supposed to be the final fantasy. But that leaves me in danger of digressing. I haven’t played… well… name an RPG and I probably haven’t played it, because I’m having issues coming up with titles.
My first RPG, aside from Dragon Warrior for the NES when I was twelve or so, was Mass Effect on the xbox 360. Prior to ME I had mostly shooters: Bioshock, Halo, Borderlands, Gears of War… that sort of thing. My gaming library is far from extensive in terms of most anything. So when I picked up ME I was skeptical about it being an “RPG” because my limited experience left me thinking RPGs were clunky, turn-based, and too drawn out.
But ME managed to combine the best aspects of an RPG, as far as story and character, with the aspects of a good shooter. I found myself getting into the character development, and forging a relationship with Kaiden Alenko. I loved the story and the exploration, and once I got the hang of the game I was in love. My cousin got my ME2 for my birthday last year, and I played through that to the exclusion of some of my work (not my proudest moment, but it makes for a good teachable thing). One element of the Mass Effect franchise was, however, that you need to choose a class based on how you fight. ME has some basics, and then makes combinations of them. It’s been awhile so I don’t recall what I am, but I think I chose one of the combo classes because I felt it afforded me the most options.
Mass Effect was my gateway to Dragon Age. In Origins, the first of the series, you can choose your character’s backstory and a basic class: warrior, rogue, or mage. You get to specialize between those, but in general, DA doesn’t really allow for a lot of cross-classing. My first rogue fought mostly with sword and shield, and it was passable, but when I started using her rogue skills and and using lighter weapons, she throve. Mages can specialize as Arcane Warriors, who channel magic through their bodies and into weapons, but they’re still mages at their core. It’s very similar in DA2. You’re one or the other, and very rarely can you be both.
Now, this worked for me. I chose a class and went with it, and found ways to specialize within my class to be the best rogue or mage or warrior I could be. I was comfortable with this system. I generally play rogues because they’re versatile, though my mage Hawke in DA2 is quite enjoyable to play. I specialized her as a Force Mage, which means she basically picks people up and slams them down… with her mind. It’s a lot of fun.
I’ve also never played an Elder Scrolls game before this one, so please don’t chastise me about how I should have realized this, and the like. I created my character: went through designing him, choosing his background, that sort of thing. And when I saved, the game started up again. “But I haven’t chosen a class yet!” I said to myself, and probably one of the cats who was sitting nearby. I played through the opening escape from Helgen and as I followed a fellow escapee out of the sacked town I still hadn’t chosen a class.
As the game began in earnest I found myself just going with it. I named my male Nord Cailan, after the king in Dragon Age: Origins, and thought to class him as a two-handed warrior, like his ill-fated namesake. I started out using various axes and greatswords. And then I hit one particularly difficult quest where no matter how much I blocked or healed or shouted I couldn’t do it. While talking to MLHawke, she mentioned that she had a good one-handed sword and was working on strengthening her destructive spells.
Weapons+Magic? Huh. I’d never thought to learn to be a mage. I was going to be a warrior!… who’d already picked a few dozen locks and upped his sneaking (also appropriate for Cailan, for any of you who know my Dragon Age fic about him). Well, I was already on my way toward cross-classing two ways; why not go three, since I could?
Cross-classing has made a huge difference in how I enjoy the game. I feel like I can experience a huge variety of things and do many more that I wasn’t previously able to as a single-class character. Now, I don’t use magic as often as I would if I were going for a full mage; but the fact that I can use it as I wish, and most importantly am not limited to only using it, is what makes it enjoyable. I fight primarily with the Nightingale Blade, though I’ve done my fair share of archery as well. I’m good at sneaking, and have a high lock-picking rate. And while I’m on my way to leading the Thieves’ Guild, I’m also a pretty good assassin for the Dark Brotherhood and take down dragons like no one’s business.
In short, by combining classes and skills I’m getting a fuller experience and developing what I feel is a more well-rounded character. And I think that’s not only the key to moving forward with the game, but in life as well. Yes, there are people who specialize in life; there are people who decide on one career path and follow it without deviation. But then there are people who branch out and try new things. They’re unpredictable, but it keeps things exciting. These are the cross-classers of life. The people who are not just professionals, but professionals who maybe game or sing or play an instrument on the side. The ones who play sports as well as music, or do art in addition to games. Basically, having a wide range of interests and abilities enriches the self, and enriches the world.
So maybe I haven’t really played many RPGs, and maybe I’m completely off. But my experiences in life are translating into my Skyrim play, and my Skyrim playing is making me think more about life. In the end, isn’t that all we ask of media? That it makes us think, or helps us reflect on our world in a new way? Even though my RPG experience may be limited, the experiences I have gained from the ones I have played have definitely given me pause. Though classifying oneself into one class may be comfortable, and overall easier, cross-classing and being a little bit of everything opens one’s eyes to a whole new way of seeing and experiencing the world, both in the game and in real life.