on November 12, 2011
Time passes really fast when you are playing this game. The first six hours went by in the blink of an eye yesterday ... my character is at level 10 and I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of anything. If you like these kinds of games, you will be hooked because Bethesda has managed to create something which really nails it on every level. I am a heavily magic oriented player so I spent most of my time so far in the mages' guild in winterhold. For some reason though the Dark Brotherhood wants me dead and sent an assassin to kill me. I was just messing around with some conjuration spells in a forest glen and the assassin was killed by this flame creature I had conjured before I even knew what was going on. Looted the body and found a note saying they want me dead. Stuff like that just happens and it is awesome. Dungeons btw are really fun and very well designed.
I do have one gripe that I see has been addressed by some other reviewers who gave a low rating for the game on amazon. That is that you have to pause the action to switch spells. In Oblivion, I could instantly switch spells with the d-pad and then cast them with RB while wielding a sword and shield. In Skyrim, you must assign a spell to one hand or the other, so it kind of feels like you have lost your RB button. I can understand this complaint.
However, if you have posted about this, keep in mind that your RB button is not idle. It has been reserved for shouts, and you will obtain shouts eventually although you have to play along the main quest until you get the first one. I have none as yet because I am focused on the mages' guild for now. However once you do you get shouts, you can instantly cast them with RB while also dual wielding whatever you choose.
The bottom line though is that this game is basically like Oblivion on steroids. If you liked Oblivion and spent 200+ hours playing it like I did, you will be addicted to Skyrim. Having playing all through yesterday and now it's 4 am and I'm getting up to play some more rather than get some sleep, this is probably the best game I've ever played. That's a lot of praise coming from a life long gamer. Again, so long as you like RPG's as opposed to say, MW3 (which a lot of people are playing non stop right now as well), this is the game for you. BTW $65 almost feels like a very low price if you were to actually measure out how many hours you are going to spend playing this game over the next year or so, and divide it by $65. I could spend $65 in a heartbeat at say, a Jets game at the Meadowlands, but that money goes a LONG way when playing Skyrim.
To sum up...why am I wasting my time typing this review? Time to go play Skyrim.
on November 12, 2011
First and foremost, I have to give props to the art department at Bethesda. The art direction for this game is so far above earlier titles that even comparing them to this game is utterly pointless. Its literally in a class by itself and this is evident everywhere you look. The most obvious and impressive improvement has to be the design of the clothing, armor and weapons. The intricate designs are truly breathtaking. Even the cheap equipment you first start off with is stunning. For example, one of the first shields your introduced to in the game is the Hide Shield and its absolutely beautiful. Large metal rivets circle the outer diameter and intricate designs adorn the leather. It even has the dents and nicks one would expect to see from a shield that has seen its fair share of battle. This attention to detail is seen everywhere and it goes right down to the bindings of the books and the crackle glazed dishes and pottery found adorning most tables and halls. When you add this to the significant improvement in graphics....well, what you get is a level of realism that simply blows earlier titles out of the water. This is hands down the best art direction I have ever seen from a video game and ultimately it gives this world a level of realism that we simply haven't seen before.
The world itself is absolutely beautiful. One of the first open scenes I came across was a large flowing river that had huge rocks jetting up creating white water/rapids. Large mountains were in the background with wisps of clouds running all up and down the side of the mountain. It was absolutely stunning. I had to just stop and stare for a few moments. The draw distance has been significantly increased and the detail, as I wrote up above, is amazing. The landscape itself is just one big work of art. Traveling around and discovering the land for yourself has always been one of the big enjoyments for fans of this series. Well, Skyrim doesn't disappoint in this regard. In fact, this is easily the best title yet in regards to this aspect of the game. No other game series can compete with the size and scope of the worlds that Bethesda creates for this series and no other game in the Elder Scrolls series even comes close to matching what Bethesda has achieved this time around with Skyrim. They have significantly leapfrogged anything and everything they have done in the past.
An issue I feel compelled to discuss is the huge improvement with the 3rd person perspective in this game. As I am sure people are aware, 3rd person perspective in Oblivion was pretty bad. Actually, it was awful. You could switch over for short periods but the game was pretty much unplayable from that perspective. Well, the improvement Bethesda has made in this aspect of the game is nothing short of amazing. Your character no longer looks like he is walking on air and your easily able to interact with your environment. Basically this game is now wholly playable from this perspective. I prefer playing in 3rd person perspective when I am just traveling around and its just really nice to see Bethesda finally take the proper steps to fix this aspect of this series. If your going to include it than at least make it playable and Bethesda has done just that.
You can immediately tell that this is an Elder Scrolls game but dont let that fool you. There are a lot of changes behind Skrim. One of the most obvious changes is with the skill system. The skills themselves are pretty much the same. You have Alchemy, Illusion, Conjuration, Destruction, Restoration, Alteration, Enchanting, Heavy Armor, Light Armor, Block, One Handed, Two Handed, Archery, Sneak, Lockpicking, Pickpocket, Speech and a new one Smithing. The big difference lies in the fact that you now have specialty skills for each skill category and there are multiple branching paths one can take. For example, the Stealth skill has two different branches that one can take, one that focuses on stealth (Muffled Movement, Light Foot, Silent Roll, ect.) and one that focuses on blade skills (Backstab, Deadly aim, and Assassins blade). This ultimately adds a significant amount of depth to character progression and it also adds to the games re-playability factor as there are now so many different avenues one can take. On top of this there are no longer character classes. You still have the different races of character to choose from but choosing a class is history. What kind of character you become (Spellcaster, Fighter etc.) is solely dependent on the skills you choose to upgrade or in other words its dependent on how you play your character. Personally I love this new system as it doesn't lock you into a specific mold for your character and it leaves everything open for you to explore. Its just a far more organic system and ultimately I think its a significant step forward for this series in regards to character development.
Another big change is with the menu system and this is easily one of the best changes made in this game. The new menu system is just far more intuitive. Basically the menu system has been broken down into 4 distinct categories. There is Skills, Items, Map, and Magic. You have to press the menu button to access the menu but once you do that, you no longer need to press buttons. Simply press the left stick in the direction of the menu you want and it automatically changes. Once you have done this, a new subsystem of selections will come up and pressing the left stick to the right will take you to the next menu and so on. No button pressing needed. Basically the left thumb stick controls all of your movements within the menu system, with no button pressing needed. I may not have described it very well but its hands down one of the best menu systems I have ever used. Again, its just a far more intuitive system and it just has a great feel to it. You never leave the main screen when accessing menu's. It just blurs out a bit and acts as a background to the menus themselves. This basically does two things, it helps to keep the menus from detracting from the game itself and it ultimately makes the menu system far more attractive. They have also updated the item menu with 3 dimensional representations of the in game items. You can now spin items around a 360 degree axis, both vertical and horizontal. Its a small detail but a very cool one, especially for the weapons and armor.
I also have to mention the skill menu as the way they have graphically laid this system out is...well, its nothing short of stunning. Each individual skill is represented by a constellation in the sky and beautiful gaseous nebula act as a background to the constellations. The visual effect is gorgeous. You can cycle left or right through the skills/constellations and when you access the branching skill set associated with each skill, you suddenly zoom into the constellation itself and the different branching skills are suddenly represented by the individual stars in that particular constellation. Its kind of difficult to properly explain but trust me, the effect is not only stunning, its also nothing short of ingenious. Its EASILY one of the best, if not the best, molds of form and function I have seen yet in videogames. Words simply cant do this games art direction justice. It really has to be seen firsthand to be fully appreciated.
Combat has also been overhauled and what we wind up with is a system that is far more fluid, and ultimately a lot more fun, than previous releases. Characters are now able to duel wield both weapons and spells and can even mix up the two. In other words, you can assign a sword to one hand and a spell to another hand or you can go with a staff in one hand and a spell in the other. You can mix it up anyway you want. This new system fits perfectly with the new character system (that being one with no character classes). By adding so many options in regards to how to approach combat, they have essentially added strategy to the mix, something that was entirely lacking in Oblivion. Well, short of actually picking what character class you were actually going to play in oblivion. Basically the combat is just far superior to what we had with Oblivion. Unfortunately you can no longer assign weapons and spells to the D-pad and this is really one of my only complaints with the game. I dont understand why Bethesda decided to get rid of this. They could have even split the D-pad field in two, to accommodate the dual wielding nature of the game. In other words, they could have made the 4 slots on the left for the left hand and the 4 right slots on the right for the right hand. That would still have given you 4 quick slots for each hand.
There are lots of other aspects to this game that have been updated but I will leave the rest of them for the player to discover and while there are lots of new additions to Skyrim, fortunately there is also a lot that hasn't changed. Traveling is still done the same way. Once you have actually discovered a location you have the option to fast travel to that location. There are still lots of different factions that one can join, all of which have additional quests associated with them. You can still go about playing the game as you want. You still collect herbs and ingredients for potions. There are still hundreds of different books that one can read. I could go on and on and on and on. This is an Elder Scrolls game after all and Bethesda has kept the heart of the game intact and that is a very good thing indeed. I wont go into the story aspect of this game as I hate spoilers. I will just say that the main story line is fantatstic and is really the icing on the cake.
Bottom line - I am a huge Elder Scrolls fan and I have been watching this game since it was first announced. To say my expectations were extremely high would be a massive understatement. With that being said, Skyrim is everything that I hoped for and then some. It hasn't just raised the bar, its launched it into the stratosphere. If your an Elder Scrolls fan then buying this should be a no brainer. This is the kind of game people buy consoles for and this is easily Bethesda's best work yet in regards to this series. They have just taken this franchise to a whole new level. Thankfully, I have lots of time in the coming months to discover all that this game has to offer and make no mistake about it, what this game has to offer....well, its limited only by the amount of time you spend with it.
Outstanding, simply outstanding!
on November 11, 2011
Oh, my. Well, I have been playing Oblivion since its release (about 7 characters that got around level 47, with about 300 hours each), and now, finally, last night (midnight launch, yay). I was able to start playing Skyrim. This IS one of the very few games that "lives up to the hype." I know I don't have to go into detail, those of you who are also playing it, especially if you have been along for the Elder Scrolls evolution journey, know EXACTLY what I am talking about. Those few of you trolls, that like to post poor reviews on games like this, just to get all of us riled up, guess what, I just ignore you.
Anyway, this will be sort of brief, because, first, I only have a few hours in (dang it I fell asleep at about 0400), and, more importantly, after this I'm getting right back to it. Without being too "spoilery," as they say at Bethesda, you start out (as usual), as a prisoner. You get asked a question that throws you into "character creation." Something happens (like last time) that will facilitate your escape. This first "quest" is basically a tutorial for you; like last time, once you exit this area and come out into the world, you are free to either continue the main story quest, or do whatever you like. Also as before, you have picked up quite a bit of gear relative to your beginning encumbrance (I started at 300). So, first thing I did of course, was look for a shop, and sold most of that stuff off, and made me some gold. Right now, I'm just exploring on my own; I already have the next stops in the main quest, and about 5 other side or miscellaneous quests, acquired by just talking to folks, in my journal.
On the difference in "skills" and "leveling:" I like it. The way it works now, instead of simply getting to 50 in a skill, and becoming a "journeyman," when you level up (I'm level 2 now), you go to a menu that looks like constellations in the skey, and you pick whether to increase your Health, Magicka, or Stamina. Then, comes the cool part...you receive a "perk;" you can either spend the perk you receive then, or save it for later. You can use a perk when you meet the skill level it requires, and have the pre-requisite perk already (i.e. you can't use one perk to jump from novice to master...you have to move up the 'skill tree' in order). What all this means is, YOU can select what you become expert at; you can be a warrior character and rise quickly to master of illusion etc. I like this MUCH better than Oblivion's "rest and meditate on what you have learned," etc.
The main reason the Elder Scrolls games are my favorites is, they are that rare "open world" "open choice" game. You can do the main quest, and nothing else. You can spend hundreds of hours wandering on your own, clearing out caves, fighting bandits, etc, and never touch any quests at all. You can do a faction quest, and nothing else. You can be a good knight (if you don't do the theives guild/dark brotherhood quests), or go around killing everyone you see. It's ALL up to you.
Well I can't stand it, I'm going to save this review, and go play Skyrim for the rest of the day. If you have the game, you know what I'm talking about. if you don't, get it. The words highly recommended don't do it justice. As far as how I would rate it: 5 out of 5 10 out of 10, you get the idea.
Ok really, I'm going now. GET THIS GAME.
on November 15, 2011
Greetings! Yes, this game is ridiculously great. I'll put this review down in three short parts: (1) for those who are new to the Elder Scrolls; (2) for the veterans of Elder Scrolls / Fallout 3 / sandbox games; (3) general thoughts and comments about the game itself.
Quick background: I was madly in love with Morrowind and Fallout 3; I wasn't too crazy about Oblivion for many reasons, which are irrelevant right now. I loathe standard FPS games with linear storytelling and rinse-repeat trigger-twitching action. I play old school dungeons and dragons (paper and pencils, yes) and Lord of the Rings is the greatest fantasy tale ever (along with the Belgariad).
(1) For the unblooded: the open world of Skyrim can and will be daunting; you aren't given any clear-cut goals--or maybe you're given too many! That deer in the headlights, "what do I do now?", sensation is perfectly normal. Sit back and imagine yourself in an alternate reality; exactly, now you have it! Figure out the controls and character management stuff (read the dang manual!) and the rest is completely up to your imagination! Save your game often (every time you do something, basically) and experiment with anything you can think of; in no time flat, you'll realize this game is amazing.
(2) For the grognards: assuming you've played Morrowind, Oblivion, and Fallout 3, then Skyrim will feel comfy. It feels bigger and more inspiring thanks to the soaring mountains and the astounding soundtrack. The action is fantastic and the new addition of trigger dual-wielding is a lot of fun--experiment with all the combinations (like smacking a foe with fire & ice spells simultaneously).
Bethesda really simplified character creation and levelling, but they added in a robust Perk tree for every skill that presents a bewildering array of choices; I mean bewildering in that it's agonizing to choose which one to choose! The Perks actually have a dramatic impact on the game though, so whatever direction you go is bound to be exciting.
The interface is a lot cleaner and easier to access than any game before, including Fallout. I'd say Skyrim is closer to Fallout in terms of how it feels when you're playing, but the world feels unique and interesting like it was in Morrowind; the best of both worlds, baby. Dragons are fantasy at its best, and they feel appropriately tough. The best encounters come when the dragon roars and swoops overhead, building up that anticipation; there are different types of them, so be wary if you beat one down easily because the next one might not be so cake.
(3) General thoughts: I haven't had the game crash, not even once. The load times off the HDD are less than 30 seconds and much shorter for small transitions like shops. There are definitely some graphic hiccups and texture issues, but it's not constant nor bad enough to break the spell of immersion. There is so much to do in this game that you could easily stay in one province of Skyrim and max out your level.
Be careful with the difficulty setting, as some enemies are nearly indestructable on anything but normal, whereas the toughest enemies are sometimes far too easy when the difficulty is lowered. You'll notice classic Elder Scroll follies, like a bandit kingpin beating you down faster than a pair of angry dragons--but that's present in almost every game that tries to keep it challenging. It's better than Oblivion and much more like Fallout 3.
The best character and most amazing thing about Skyrim is the world itself. I've spent time simply gazing at the aurora lights or galactic clouds visible in the night sky; I've stood atop a lonely mountain in a snowstorm and just listened to the noise; I've stalked massive elk through sun-dappled pine forests; I've floated on an iceberg in the Sea of Ghosts, watching veils of fog swallow the land; I've walked with herds of mammoths across the tundra; I've delved into forgotten, undead-haunted halls where the slightest noise sends chills up your spine.
Enjoy, my friends.
on November 11, 2011
After 200+ hours of personal gameplay, Skyrim truly is the genre-defining game in which all future RPG's will be measured against. It is MASSIVE -- so large and all-encompassing that it would literally take months to complete 99% of it. With the expected staggered DLC to come out, Skyrim would then be potentially limitless in its replay value, becoming the first true open-ended gaming console experience. The world of Skyrim is breathtaking in its graphical interface, soaring musical score, and simplistic but effective dual-armed controls. There are some initial bugs, but nothing major that are not being patched as time goes by. The third major patch update (12/20/11) has eliminated most of them that I can tell. The release-day issues largely centering around the high-res textures of close-up objects (e.g. your character's hands look blurry or lack detail) are completely gone, as well as the moments of LAG (frame rate drops that cause a stuttering or jerkiness picture). Shadows, textures, and the amazing scenery and sky are now in full Bethesda Game Studio glory. WOW -- you have no idea until you experience it. Bethesda has done an outstanding job making this game the ultimate RPG ever.
**BETHESDA WINS VGA GAME OF THE YEAR** Update 12/20/11: a few days ago, the Video Game Industry awarded it's highest achievement of the year to Skyrim as it's Video Game of the Year, along with several other awards, including Best Studio. Congrats, all!! As the 2012 gaming season unfurls the last of these console generation's banner games, Skyrim will no doubt be left on top. Bethesda lead the next-gen console gaming RPG world with Oblivion and closed it out with Skyrim. Now, three more years to wait for the new consoles. And yet Skyrim will be there to fill that gap for RPG fans. Yes, Skyrim is that big and expandable. And, yes, sadly, it will match up with any game that is set to release in the next 18 months (including Bioshock: Infinite).
Skyrim is not simply the best overall reviewed and awarded Game of the Year, it is also the most personal. While Uncharted 3 and Batman: Arkham City of 2011 are both great games (with Portal 2 and Zelda's Skyward Sword also nominated this past 2011 year), Skyrim is a much more self-centered experience, offering an almost complete immersion into its fascinating and exciting world. No other video game this year (or in the last decade) has come close to its densely-packed and lushly-filled open-world environment. It's rare that a game with this much pre-hype has lived up to its own stratospheric expectations, and then go on to excel and exceed them. BUT SKYRIM IS THAT GAME! I am confident that you and I will be playing it still for months (if not years) to come.
It should be noted that even though Skyrim is a stand-alone gaming experience, with no prior Elder Scrolls games knowledge necessary for enjoyment, it also righteously follows in its own legendary footsteps and lore of past games like Oblivion, expanding upon it in a way that veterans of the Elder Scrolls universe will not find disappointing. This is also NOT a FPS/3PS fast-paced warfare game: those people looking for COD / BF3 / HALO-type frenetic multiplayer experiences should stay away. This is not your type of game. YOU SHALL NOT PASS! Skyrim is intended to be explored over time, wondered at in awe, and is pure escapist entertainment. It is the closest thing to a living, breathing second-life that you will have in a video game reality, leaving you with plenty of goose bump and hair-raising moments in its wake.
An incredible achievement: 9.9 / 10 . . .
on May 26, 2012
Those are the words of the first Dragon Shout you will learn in 2011's The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It means, in the dovah (dragon) language, `unrelenting force.' After nearly 90 hours of game play, I don't really know how else to describe Skryim. It is, at its core, an unrelenting force. Incidentally, I also think it is responsible for a significant hike in my power bill, so perhaps `Unrelenting Energy Sink' is apt as well.
Now, I'll be honest. I've started this review several times, and indeed, I even got a few people asking if I was going to review it, since I was on Xbox Live playing it non-stop. I had considered it, but it wasn't until my brother Luke came up to visit me that I finally figured out how to start the review. We spent the weekend yelling "FUS RO DAH!" and one another, and being general dorks. It clicked the day he left: I ought to open the review with the same words that I shout, in synch with my character, aptly named "Egg roll," because for me, they were integral to the game. The result of that particular Dragon Shout is to fling the character(s) in front of you flying like rag dolls, but the Unrelenting Force Shout is only one of a great many similar powers, and even then, the Shouts are only one tiny feature of a game that is so robust it hardly seems capable of a fair review. But I'll try.
Skyrim is the fifth game in the Elder Scrolls series, developed by Bethesda Studios, and follows The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which released in 2006 to critical acclaim on Xbox 360, PS3, and the PC. Skyrim follows the same multi-platform launch, and, much like Oblivion, thrusts you right into the world without so much as an iota of introduction. For those acquainted, this will feel perfectly familiar and comfortable. For those new to the series... clear your date book. The way the game handles the introduction of the milieu requires time and attention, and the more you know, most like the more you'll want to know. The Elder Scrolls universe is a rich amalgamation of the best of the Fantasy storytelling tradition, full of heroes, demons, evil gods, a bizarre array of mortal races to play as, and a history spanning thousands of years.
Since The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the epic fantasy RPG games have been known for the girth of their sandbox landscapes. Each game is set in a distinct province within the continent of Tamriel, which is in turn but one of several continents on the planet Nirn. These nations are enormous, from a game play perspective; it can take well over an hour or more to move around them without the handy fast-travel mechanic. And, impressively, even after you've spent 90 hours within the game, you still haven't come close to seeing everything. Skyrim is no different in this way than Morrowind or Oblivion, and indeed, because of the rugged mountainous landscape, it can be even more a pain in the ass to move around in than the relatively tame region of Cyrodiil (in which Oblivion takes place). However harsh it may be, it is undoubtedly a beautiful landscape, filled with natural and artificial wonders that look as if they were transferred directly out of a painting. Almost all of those landmarks are incorporated into the game's hundreds of quests and plot lines, so very little feels excessive or wasteful. With that much structure, there is bound to be some repetition, but it isn't as bad as, say, Oblivion, where structures, NPCs, and especially voice actors felt like they'd been xeroxed left and right without regard to the final piece. It made for a very repetitive experience before long, and, thankfully, Skyrim manages not to feel as claustrophobic. However, it still does suffer from repetitive structures, as many of the buildings of each town are reused. This time, though, they are more intelligently decorated to hide that, and most of the underground lairs feel distinct.
And then there is the voice work. Like Oblivion, it can get repetitive, because the distinct accents of the inhabitants of the land of Skyrim can get grating. It is a step above the Oblivion, though, and that's definitely a good thing. Each town has its own unique accent, too, which is a nice touch, and lends to a feeling of diversity that builds the game out and makes it feel bigger than it really is. That said: why on Nirn do the children all have modern American accents? Every time I hear a Nord child speak, I felt jarred by the delivery of their lines. Oblivion didn't have children, and hearing the way they sound now, I find myself wishing Skyrim didn't, either.
Now, I mentioned the quests and the way they are incorporated into the landscape. I also mentioned that they come by the hundreds, and I meant it. Some are as simple as "explore this" or "explore that," and the typical fantasy fetch quests, but a surprising amount eschew combat in favor of talking to individuals, doing surveillance work or investigation, and even some archaeology. The way the quests are blended and presented is nicely done, and since the majority fall into the "miscellaneous" category, the game doesn't try to budge you into doing them right away. What happens therein is that the player finds themselves wandering around, working perhaps on the main quests, or just crawling dungeons like I do, and, hey-ho, you find yourself doing one of the side quests quite by coincidence. This is entirely fitting, since my character, `Egg roll,' never promised anyone anything, and was as dodgy a fellow as could be.
One of the serious flaws with Oblivion was the copy-pasted environments. Dungeons and caves all felt identical, and there was little reason to go into them. Skyrim, however, gives the player plenty of reasons to venture underground, and every environment is at least uniquely shaped, if not uniquely textured. There are dozens of dungeons to crawl (I'm being conservative with that number), and the majority of my game-time was spent strutting through abandoned corridors, smashing whatever undead or demon decided to cross my dragonborn path. The environments themselves are fun to explore, but the player is also rewarded with unique, powerful artifacts, new quests (I accidentally uncovered a massive quest line that turned out to be one of the most fun in the entire game just because I wandered into a dwarven ruin), and even new dragon shouts that beef up your already powerful character. Crawling dungeons can also expose the player to new enemy types, as well as a fair amount of back story, because, unlike some games that throw cut-scenes at the player in order to establish the narrative, Skyrim relies on player-actant events and in-game exposition via dialogue, books, and environmental cues. Personally, I prefer that kind of experiential learning and Skyrim is a feast for it.
Unfortunately, the downside to that kind of storytelling (in case I've confused you, think about the Half-life games, which are constantly cited as experiential learning games) is that it can be difficult to answer important questions, like "Why me?" and "What's going on?" It's easy to miss an important cue if you aren't following along, even with the dialogue trees that the game has, and if you're not in the right place at the right time, things can fail to make any sense at all. For example, I was playing late at night when the Greybeards first called my character. Because it was late, and my housemate was asleep, I had the TV on mute, so I didn't hear it. The NPCs then proceeded to constantly remind me that the Greybeards had spoken, but, since I hadn't heard them, I had no idea what they were talking about, and just ignored it. It wasn't until I watched my fiancé play and heard the Greybeards for myself that I understood. Then I began to proceed with the main quest.
Skyrim's main quest line is a bit of a misnomer to me, itself. For a game that has so many cool quests, that main one felt like a dud to me. Perhaps that is because of the way the developers created a kind of static world, in which very little changes despite the return of the dragons and the increase of dragon-related accidents that result in death. The lack of reaction on the behalf of the citizens and the game world itself made it seem as if the dragons weren't that big of a deal, and when I finally realized who the games bad guy was, I was very much overwhelmed. I don't mean to say that the main quest isn't fun, or isn't interesting. It just feels hamstrung by the sheer vast world in which it takes place. More variety, and a better focus on character design would have helped it a lot and made it feel truly epic, rather than just an expanded side-quest itself. Of all the major quests I did, the main quest was probably my least favorite. The game is chock full of awesome quests, and it's bursting at the seams with references to other fantasy works. There's so much to love there, that it's a wonder the main quest itself got so little loving.
The last point that I want to touch on about Skyrim is the leveling system. Traditionally, RPG games have a set class in which you play, with a specific skill tree available for players to advance along. Progress rewards the player with learning a new skill, or becoming more proficient at a particular task (for example, lockpicking or archery). Skyrim tosses that out the window. Players choose the race they want to play from, can customize the face and/or body, and then they're thrust into the world. Instead of having a traditional class system, the game advances players along an open field of skills; separated into three fields: Combat, Magic, and Profession. Within each are a variety of skills for players to exercise, but the game limits no one from doing any of them. So, if you like one handed combat with a shield, or dual-wielding, or archery, you can do each of those, no matter who you are. Or you can do them all, like I did. My character is a match even Kratos couldn't meet, but throw a wizard against me and I'll have to run for the hills.
The game's level system is very subtle. Skills players don't use often will fall by the way side as more powerful enemies demand more finesse in the skills they have been using. Once you beat the game, and probably once you're around level 35 or 40, the combat stops progressing in difficulty, so players who plateau early can go back to old skills and raise them up. However, there are only 50 perk points available to players. Perks are a feature transplanted in The Elder Scrolls from the Fallout games. For each proper level attained (this is more traditionally characteristic of RPGs, but in Skyrim, levels are awarded for bringing up a given number of skill ratings), the player is given a perk, which in some way influences their skills. Many make each skill better by 20% margins, so early investing is encouraged in order to get ahead of the difficulty curve. It's very, very well done, and it feels natural as soon as you're into the game.
Skyrim is a must-play adventure. Despite its shortcomings in terms of repetition of in-game assets, voice actors, the creepy kids and some bugs here and there, the game world is beautiful, ghastly, and fearsome. Fans of fantasy will find themselves drawn deep into its web of stories, histories and plots. Skyrim plays like a series of fantasy novels and short stories set in the same realm.
If you haven't, don't wait any longer. Just make sure your computer can handle it. You won't regret it.
on January 25, 2012
I'd say the fundamental trade-off going from Oblivion to Skyrim is that the world looks and feels better, but there's less overt reason for you to be there. Skyrim is packed with "miscellaneous objectives" (read: fetch quests) to the point that almost every NPC needs you to go over to yon dungeon and get ye flask, and it gets old fairly quickly. Dungeons look more varied, but what you do in them is largely the same and often devoid of meaningful context- just barrel through rooms of enemies until you get ye flask, then return to town. The major questlines don't fare much better, as they're exceedingly short-lived and so have little sense of buildup or progression. A few quests into the Companions' (Fighter's Guild) questline and I'm already part of their inner circle- apparently they have no qualms entrusting leadership of the guild to strangers. Now, if the way you play Elder Scrolls games is to wander around on your own and not worry overmuch about quests, this probably won't bother you. For me, though, I like the context-heavy sidequests and gradual guild progression in Oblivion, and I was disappointed to see these things placed on a back burner for Skyrim. To be fair, when I just explored on my own, the game was a great deal more fun, and I feel like whether you enjoy this game will depend on how you play it and on your expectations coming from previous games in the series.
My other major, major bone to pick with Skyrim is the interface- especially inventory management- which is not very customizable and drags out total playtime much more than it needs to. For one thing, there is no "shift" button to assign shortcuts. Want to set Right Bumper + Face Button as a certain spell? Too bad- you're forced to dive into menus as a magic user. Sure, there's a favorites system, but instead of having one list on each direction on the d-pad- for example, a weapons list, a magic list, a potions list- everything's in the same list. How is that supposed to help me make quick decisions, exactly? Now, again, if you appreciate the time this gives you to catch your breath, this likely won't bother you. However, if you're like me and want to spend as little time in the menus as possible, you're probably going to feel awfully limited as to how you play the game, which runs contrary to the flagship buzzword of the Elder Scrolls series: player choice.
If you buy a house, you can't organize the items in chests and drawers AT ALL- the items don't even auto-sort. Moreover, if you have more than one house, the containers are not shared, so why would you want to store your loot in more than one location? It would just mean more loading screens as you travel back and forth.
By the way, the loading screens are LONG, even with a disc-install- I've waited upwards of a full minute for traveling long distances, and even going in and out of shops can take more than ten seconds. What makes this even worse is the encumbrance system- if you carry too much, you pretty much can't move, so after every dungeon looting session you'll have to immediately go back to town to sell the stuff. It got to the point where I exclusively focused on increasing how much I could carry, but even then you have to sit on the stuff for a bit, since merchants have limited gold.
If you loot a dragon the bones tend to weigh in at 75 (!), which means after every dragon battle you'll probably go straight back to town to sell or store them, which means more loading screens. Sometimes dragons rudely interrupt as soon as you fast-travel, so instead of doing what you were going to do, you may feel compelled to play along. Honestly, I didn't find dragon fights to be very exciting, as they played out the same way almost every time (except when they glitched up), and I never felt the shouts you gain by defeating them were all that useful for a stealth character, which is the path I chose.
Speaking of choosing paths, as soon as you start selecting perks, there's no turning back. What if you decide the perks you've chosen are not as useful as you thought they'd be, or maybe you'd like to try a different playstyle for a while? Too bad- perks are permanent. Is that supposed to be player choice?
There are also plenty of balancing issues. For instance, you can become a master of smithing in no time by just forging iron daggers (pretty much the easiest item to forge), but if you want merchants to carry more gold, be prepared to buy and sell A LOT of stuff.
Overall, I think all of these design issues can really mar the experience.
Basically, if you're looking for a quest-oriented game like Oblivion, you're probably not going to find that here; Skyrim is more of a DIY exploration-oriented game, and while in that respect it performs respectably, even admirably, there are a host of design issues that simply shouldn't be there, and the rampant loading times artificially extend total playtime. As this is the sort of game you can spend hundreds of hours on, I caution you, the reader, to look beyond the unconditional praise this game is unsurprisingly getting to decide whether it's something into which it's worth investing your time.
Edit: I should mention I haven't played the entire game, but I've completed two guild questlines and over 150 miscellaneous objectives, and have done a lot of traveling on my own, so I feel I've seen enough to write a review.
on November 23, 2012
As many other have said, this game has amazing graphics, countless hours of content, thousands of items to discover, and can be played according to your personal taste. These are all true and it may be the best action RPG of the generation.
That being said, casual gamers (how I would describe my level of commitment)who only use their XBOX to kill a couple hours here and there might find this game tiresome. You may very well hate it. Skyrim follows the standard RPG formula, where you start of with a character destined to be a hero, who has the hit points and combat ability of an infant. Basically, a lamb at a wolf convention. You then grind away for hours, killing whatever you meet because every organism in an RPG world hates you, complete a few quest, and are rewarded by reaching the point where you can kill a dragon by flexing your bicep. This makes for a long game and allows you to make many decisions that result in your super character being a reflection of how you like play. However, if you can only commit a few hours here and there, it could take you months to get out of weakling levels. Games like this are far more enjoyable when you can readily dispatch most of the standard NPC enemies and that point can be a long time coming.
Skyrim makes this process a bit more difficult than most games, because in an effort to create a truly open world environment, enemies are not grouped by difficulty. You can find bandits that are appropriate foes for a low level player near hard dungeons and giants that can kill you in one hit right next to your first quest. Even if you follow the story quest path in the game, you will find enemies that are well above your skill level, so what is supposed to be a journey of improving your character become a game of "find the exploit", in which you look for ways to kill them that take advantage of oversights in AI programming.
On the rest of the review, the game loses a star for me for two reasons.
1. Being Completely Unoriginal: This is your standard issue, cookie cutter, RPG setting taken from the pages of Tolkien and the works of European mythology that inspired him. The whole gang is here including elves, dwarves, vikings, dragons, anthropomorphic cat people, giants, mammoths, wolves, werewolves, giants rats (really, we have reached the point where Dragon Age Origins made an in game joke about giant rats being in every RPG and they still the stupid things in Skyrim), skeletons, vampires, etc. The story is decently written, but you could switch it out for the The Hobbit and the only thing that would change would be your characters feet getting hairier. Granted this is the Elder Scrolls series, but there has to be a way to mix it up by game five.
To put in perspective how standard this story is, it reminded me a lot of Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage, a 2001 game for N64. Ten years later, only the graphics have changed.
2. Long loading times: Almost every door you walk through includes a loading screen. That may not seem like much, but then you try to explore and town and spend half your game time waiting every time you want to enter a shack.
In conclusion, an awesome game full of standard content that needs to be approached with the same mindset as personally remodeling your house. Be sure you level of commitment matches the project before opening your wallet.
on November 12, 2011
I've been long awaiting the release of Skyrim, and now that it's here I'm utterly blown away. The improvements that Bethesda have more over Skyrim's predecessor,Oblivion are apparent instantly while watching the game's opening. Skyrim uses the same format as previous Morrowind games for its introduction. You're character is a prisoner who must escape their bonds and quickly gets wrapped up in the current political/mystical going on's of the time. I don't understand why the Morrowind writer's keep using the same story line, but it seems to be a pretty effective way to get the ball rolling.
After you escape, the world of Skyrim is your oyster. Once I was out in the open I was amazed at how improved the graphics and character models where. The models you use to create your character are more detailed and have been enhanced to allow for more customization. I chose to play as a Khajit(they make great rouges) and I was impressed at how I could even change the stripe patterns on his fur. The character models have improved by leaps and bound since Oblivion and no longer have the cartoonish quality they once had.
One thing that I'm still getting used to is the weapon and magic menus. The game allows you to equip a weapon in one hand and a magic spell in other which helps you be more effective in combat. The problem I'm having is that I find myself constantly going to the weapons menu to change from a sword to a bow and other weapons. Though I find it tricky to rifle through my equipment and constantly stopping in middle of combat is an annoyance, I'm going to give it more time to to get accustomed to and assume that the game has a bit of a learning curve. Skyrim also has a "finishing move" feature. When you're close enough to your foe and their health is low, you can do a cool impaling strike or decapitation. they're very fun to pull off.
The world of Skryim is a world in every sense of the word. Enormous mountains dot the terrain accompanied by roaring rivers and lush forest. I've only completed a few missions and raided a few dungeons but I feel Skyrim is much much larger than Oblivion and has more to offer. Your enemies also look more menacing and had amusing quips during combat. One thief said that I'd "make a nice rug" referring to my Khajit fur. I've seen a map of Skyrim showing the locations of all the dungeons and to say there's hours of game play to be had is an understatement.
In closing, do yourself a favor. Stray from the beaten path. Wonder out to the woods. Climb that intimidating mountain. If you only focus on the main story arch and rush though this game, you're doing yourself a disservice. The game is meant to be explored and will reward you for doing so. Venture forth.
on January 28, 2012
I am unable to review this game without comparing it to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Game of the Year Edition. Skyrim practically borrows almost everything from Morrowind, from the music to the art direction and so on. It, however, ends up being an experience that tries to mimic such a thing, but through a more, limited scope in all areas.
First and foremost, I'll mention what Skyrim does better than Oblivion. Skyrim has a varied environment. Dungeons actually have level design. Skyrim handles leveled loot and enemies better, while still keeping certain places inhospitable with higher level enemies. You are no longer just "some guy." Skyrim gives the illusion of having lore behind it. While all of this seemed like a deal breaker during first impressions over the game, it's not until you get into the meat that you discover that it just isn't good enough.
Dungeons actually feel like levels, yes, but many of them lack any gravity to make them feel meaningful. There are so many interiors I remember from the original Morrowind. Weird looking caverns with statues and deadra warshippers lurking inside doing god knows what. Travel to a mine, find a slave colony mining inside, with little to no clothes on due to the enclosed humidity. A simple cave reveals a throne for only a giant to fit on. In skyrim, all dungeons usually carry some kind of theme and pattern. Draugr infested ruins, Bandit ridden caverns and mines, forsworn camps and forts, and *spoiler* Dwarven ruins, which turn out to be the most interesting of the bunch. This has to do with the fact that the entire setting is literally lifted right out of morrowind, if not just a little expanded.
The pattern is rather simple. Fight weaker enemies and loot, fight a boss enemy or a series of stronger enemies carrying something nice, word wall and leveled loot chest, followed by exit. Occasionally, some dungeons will provide back story through the use of ghost sightings or other rare oddities, and notes and journals. These can also be broken up by puzzle sequences that involve you matching environmental switches and items according to a book or looking for the symbols on the wall. Also, nice looking views here and there. It all seems like a template for the dungeon design to follow, allowing no alteration (There are some good looking dungeons with good story, here and there, but very rare), and in that way it doesn't feel unique. I do compliment the addition of literature to read containing info about the area, but it has more to do with the looks than anything. That is, compelling art design, which skyrim doesn't go out of it's way to aspire to.
These problems leak out into the overall gameworld that is Skyrim. It follows an extremely archetypical layout and theme, along with the way game is period. Only about one city looks breathtaking, while most of the others feel very generic. The game world looks very pretty but it only mostly consists of arctic iceland and forest, with patches of water/land and giant waterfalls. The land is littered with the usual passive earthly critters and deadly predators, and the occasional band of whoever.
The problem with >>All of this<< is that it feels strictly realistic. It feels nothing like a fictional fantastical land. There isn't anything like the giant mushrooms, silt striders and scribs in morrowind. There are no giant floating shell creatures. You will very rarely see deadra. Instead you get the most typical enemies available, and I don't think I'll have to name them. The game really lacks creativity in these departments.
The overall map complexity of Skyrim isn't exactly what I was hoping for, as it only includes snowland to the forest scene. That's it. Morrowind had that (with in the inclusion with an expansion, which skyrim also borrows a lot off of as well) and more. Whats better, is there was even interesting backstory behind it all. What sounds cooler: an Atlantis style city with a giant floating rock or just some average boring imperial city?
The really serious problem behind Skyrim is the real lack of locations to explore compared to Morrowind. It is so easy to find a new location in that game because they're so close to each other, and this is without a compass mind you. Not only are they close, but they're in mass. Skyrim only has about 350, and not all of them dungeons. I couldn't possibly tell you how many locations I found in morrowind, but I can tell you that I spent more than two years with that game. I bought Skyrim at the beginning of this month. (Level 67, about 200 hours, I'll get back to this later) This would only sound like a quantity over quality thing to people who haven't played it. With skyrim, there are entire patches of land that have nothing to see or do. It just seems like they didn't squeeze as much as they could have out of this.
A lot of places also involve quests to even enter them, and this leads to that subject. I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the main quest, but it brought about some issues that I took with the questing overall. As in every Bethesda game, no main quest is ever straight because in order to continue, you need to seek out some other npc who then wants you to do something else. Many of these NPCs are straight up jerks or really bossy, which Bethesda loves to craft for some reason. In this manner the game is practically forcing you to side with people you don't even like in order to progress. I'm not exaggerating this either, it's either take orders or don't complete the quest, which can be problematic for people who prefer nonviolent means of getting things done. (Which was possible in every way in Bethesda's previous game Fallout 3: Game of The Year Edition (Xbox 360))
Perhaps my next point would be a nitpick but I find the mechanic of invincible npcs (Not children) to be irritating to no end. What this is telling you is that you have to play the game in a very specific way, regardless of your allegiance. Morrowind allowed you to kill anyone, including main quest people and the game gods. (Vivec, for example.) This allowed greater freedom, especially for anyone who just wanted to ignore the entire main quest altogether. If you wanted to make an evil overlord character who harvested souls, you could do that. The most you would get is a message that tells you that you altered your destiny. Here, that isn't as possible. It's also a problem when you run into an aggressive, high level quest character on the street at a low level (Which I did).
Really, when you get down to it, many of the inhabitants of skyrim will just seem petty or hostile for real no reason. The biggest example would be the new brand of the Imperial Legion, who have a strange obsession with execution. When not cutting heads off, they're hunting people they see as criminals with a passion to kill. There's also the everyday citizens and children who will talk all sorts of trash in your face, all the while seeming completely oblivious to your dragonscale armor and deathlord helmet, and 300 damage deadra sword. It gets even more bizarre after you complete the main quest and then you apply to join other guilds and groups who doubt your skills on arrival. Most of the quests involve fetching items or killing people, by the way.
One would think that I find this game completely unenjoyable to play based on all my criticisms, to which I would say not true! For the actual gameplay, that is the very reason to play the game, is solid and varied and fun either way you slice it. It's not flawless, but it's DEFINITELY better than oblivion by a longshot. The game includes VATS like finishers and backstabs which are enjoyable to watch, especially when you get the ability to decapitate your adversaries. Outside of the combat includes the new ability to forge armor and weapons, along with alchemy and enchanting skill returning, allowing you to make a potentially godlike character, as is true to what these games usually involve.
The leveling system is completely different this time around, thanks to a new "perk" system. Most would claim that you level your skills naturally and perks would help your efficiency in said skills, but it's the other way around. It would seem that perks are the only way to boost your skills, and gaining skill levels would just be a prerequisite to earning said perks. This means you could be level one hundred in sneak without any perks and still get spotted easily. This can easily cause worry for a player who may want to choose a different skill to expertise down the road, especially considering how long it takes to level at higher levels. Screwing around with just two points can be something you really regret later on in your development.
So at the end of the day, I would say that I still enjoyed my time playing Skyrim. 200 hours worth, more to follow. Not the ultimate elder scrolls like I thought at first, but it's worth of the title... I guess.