Please be aware that this article will contain spoilers of the main story quest in the game, as well as opinions of my own.
Definitely the biggest focal point of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the dragons: large intelligent mythical beasts that shoot magic out of their mouth, fly, and terrorize humanoids. The whole story is related to them and their return to the world. The player is tasked with finding out how and why they are returning and eventually, how to stop them.
Dragons in general are just awesome. Pretty much anything that has to do with dragons ends up being awesome. It's a general rule of thumb, yes? Well, I don't disagree that the dragons of Skyrim are awesome, but I do feel that they were not worked on as much or deeply as they really could have been. They feel, so to speak, “nerfed”, so I have some ideas of how they could be better.
1. Talking and Names
The dragons of Skyrim can talk, and they all speak their own language, as well as the common tongue spoken in the world of Nirn (the planet that the Elder Scrolls games are set on). There are a few dragons who speak both languages, mainly Paarthurnax, Alduin, and Odahviing. Two noteworthy dragons, whom you encounter only for short battle, are named Sahloknir and Mirmulnir and they speak in both languages when you battle them.
However, that is about it for dragons who speak. While fighting randomly generated dragons, you are going to hear “yol” (fire) and “fo” (frost) when they use a fire or frost attack on you. Though you may be able to clearly hear that over the screaming sound of the attack, that is all you will hear, period. This does not particularly make the dragons feel like they should– intelligent creatures who can think and calculate and feel.
Mirmulnir seems to either have more respect for mortals or he is simply more humble than other dragons. Some of his lines include “Krif krin. Pruzah!” (translates to “Fight courageously. Good!”), “You are brave. Balaan hokoron. (Worthy enemies.) Your defeat brings me honor,” and, as he is defeated, “Dovahkiin! (Dragonborn!) No!!” Sahloknir speaks very haughtily during his battle. A few of his lines include “I see that you mortals have become arrogant while I slept,” “Dovahkiin! Your voice is no match for mine!”, and “I am Sahloknir! Hear my Voice and despair!” Odahviing, Paarthurnax, and Alduin are much more important to the story, so they obviously speak much more. Paarthurnax is definitely the who speaks the most (or at least, has the options to do so).
A simple way to add a bit to the combat would be to take some of Sahloknir, Mirmulnir, and Alduin's lines and have other actors say them, then add programming to have the generated dragons say them at appropriate times. For example, I find it very hard to not hear a dragon express its fear or shock of being hit with Dragonrend, and then its hatred for what the Dragonborn has done to it. Similarly, I would also expect a dragon to become increasingly distressed in battle as its health goes down, particularly once it cannot fly.
A more minor issue I feel there is is the lack of named dragons. In this game alone, there is only Alduin, Paarthurnax, Odahviing, Mirmulnir, Sahloknir, Viinturuth, Nahagliiv, Vuljotnaak, and Vulthuryol. Two of them (who I talked about above) are only around for one fight, but are notable in that they speak a lot, and are scripted to appear in every game at the same point in the story quest. The last four are less known because they are, for the most part, just random dragons (Vulthuryol is not quite as random, but very few know how to find him, or that he even exists).
The fact that most dragons lack a name further makes them feel like generic beasts. Now, the theme for Skyrim was actually sung in the Dragon language, and the dragons that speak in the game speak a large number of sentences or phrases purely in the language. That pretty much means that a huge amount of work has been put into creating the language and the process of creating dragon names could easily be randomly generated by a programming script if the words of the language were added.
Combat for dragons is about as simple as it is for fighting other NPCs or creatures, only more difficult. Dragon attacks include the use of “fo” and “yol” shouts that may be performed while standing or walking on the ground, flying past, or while hovering. On the ground, it will, assuming you are being aggressive in battle and are the dragon's focus, mainly bite with its jaws. If enemies of the dragon are at its side and/or behind it, it will swat at them with its wings and attempt to slam its tail on them.
Occasionally, a dragon may use its talons in battle. The most notable instance of this is when you first battle Odahviing– when he first swoops over the Dragonsreach porch, he will grab a Whiterun guard, fly upwards, and then drop him. Instances have been reported of Odahviing attacking an enemy dragon in the air with his talons when he has been called to battle, but I've never seen in in any video or myself in gameplay.
A few moves that could be added are:
- the dragon flying by and picking up enemies, as Odahviing did (as I mentioned above). They could even pick up the Dragonborn if s/he is in an open space; this could either be a finishing move, or a high damage move. (Note: I've seen one case of this being reported to happen in general combat. If it DOES occur in general combat, it should be modified to not be so rare.)
- using their horns. A sideways movement with the head tilted at an angle could easily skewer an NPC/. They also have small chin horns that could be used to bash in an NPC's skull.
- another finisher move idea is for them to use their tail tips. Dragons have a spade on their tail tip (size and shape differs on different types of dragons), which could be used as a spear to go through the Dragonborn or another NPC's body.
- somehow or another, I would expect them to find a way to use the environment, either to harm its attackers (or, if you prefer, victims) or avoid being attacked while using ranged breath attacks
Okay, the dragons are gorgeously detailed in Skyrim, but they all look rather similar, save for the really important three (Parthurnax, Alduin, and Odahviing). There are a few types of dragons. I'll list them by strength, and what they're titled above their health bar: Dragon, Blood Dragon, Frost Dragon, Elder Dragon, Ancient Dragon. There are also very rare skeletal dragons, but I cannot find much info on them and their difficulty– it likely depends on the player's level.
Now, all dragons have something going on with their tail, either small spikes (lowest difficulty), a frill (blood dragon), or a spade of differing size. Most have unique spikes on their back and shoulders and hips, and maybe even one on their legs. All of that could have a set range of appearance, including size, widths, length, how damaged it looks or is, etc. The teeth and horns on the types of dragons also differ, so there could be a set range of how much that could all differ for each type. I'd be highly interested to see an elder dragon land in front of me that had a broken fang (they have two large teeth that protrude and look like vampire or sabre cat fangs), or a frost dragon with a broken horn and multiple broken spikes on its back.
Another thing that could be different about each one is the color. They don't have to be a seriously different color like one being blue and the next one pink, but it wouldn't hurt to see, for example, a dark, muddy green blood dragon, and then see another that is bright green like a mulberry tree. There could also be differing “sub colors”. For example, instead of a light bronze for the wing membrane and under belly, it could be red or blueish. The wings could also have differing amounts of holes and tattered-ness to them.
Another thing would be to differ the size of them. I don't think this should change how or how well they fight, but mainly be a difference for their appearance.
4. Non-Hostile Dragons' Behavior
Every now and then, you'll see a dragon fly above you that doesn't attack you, just circle the area and roar. This becomes much more common if you do not kill Paarthurnax. In my case, I see MANY more non-hostile dragons than ones that are hostile. Even though I'm a very aggressive dragon hunter and kill everyone I can, I have to say this a nice touch, but I sit there saying “is it stupid or glitched?” to myself more than I say “well hallo thar mistur dragon”.
This behavior feels extremely, as I said before, “nerfed”. They may turn hostile if they see something they want to attack, but I find that this doesn't happen often. What tends to happen is an aggressive (but not extremely aggressive) dragon spots a group of guards or people or an animal and attacks it, then notices me.
So what I feel could definitely add a good feel to this is for them to interact with the Dragonborn and things about him/her. A dragon could hear you fighting a group of enemies and come to your aid, then land and say something, such as requesting some sort of payment or respect for helping you (such as either you expressing gratitude or offering it some gold or treasure you've come across), or even ask if you need it to follow you and help you more.
The last thing would also be a choice to have happen in the below paragraph, but I want to state this first: if this is added, I would expect to see the dragon walk around with you in some way and accept commands like followers, such as “go fly to this land mark and I'll meet you there”. I also would expect to see the ability to mount the dragon, and perhaps even fly with it (I'm not sure if PS3 and 360 consoles could deal with that sort of speed and load everything as needed).
I would also be interested to see a dragon appear and land, then start talking to the Dragonborn. It could either be something very mundane such as expressing how glad it is Alduin is gone, an area that has some sort of loot or enemies to kill, how much it would like for you to tell the local town it is not a threat unless it's attacked first, or even give you the location of a word of power you do not have.
Stuff like that. I would also expect to see towns people watch the conversation, guards ready to attack if needed, and then later make comments about it.
This is more of a minor nit-pick than anything but the animation of the dragons seems to have not been fully completed. Whenever I watch a dragon walk on the ground, I can't help but think that it looks somewhat stupid, like a fish out of water.
This also goes for flying. Sometimes, it looks very weird. It looks most weird when the dragon is (I assume) glitched a bit and flying around twice the speed it should be flying, making the turns it takes look ridiculous and the timing of the flaps and adjusting of its angle awkward. All of this ends up making it look completely unnatural and unbelievable (as far as dragons go).
So, that ends my thoughts on the dragons of Skyrim and their behavior. I certainly hope anyone who read this in its entirety feels that it was worth reading! If you agreed or didn't with a point I made, thought of something to add, or even have a subject you want to see me write an article on, feel completely free to reply to this or send me a personal message. I'm all ears when it comes to feedback.
The slider image uploaded with this article is a frost dragon as it appears on the loading screen sometimes. Image was found on this page.
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