Killing Dragons Is Fun
It’s been five years since Bethesda has rolled out a proper Elder Scrolls title. Sure, Oblivion got a couple of expansion packs in 2006 and 2007, but hardcore fans have been defacing the internet with their impatience for years. Luckily, the folks over at Bethesda have finally slapped the shrink wrap on the fifth installment of the Elder Scrolls franchise, and I got a chance to sit down and play.
Now, I know that you Skyrim fans have hundreds of questions. Are the graphics great? Is it anything like Fallout 3? Is the combat system better than Oblivion? Will it have tons of bugs? Are the controls often frustrating?
And the answer to all of these questions is yes. But let me explain.
Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat; this game is massive. In fact, even when I look at the word “massive,” it feels descriptively inadequate. Bethesda definitely knows how to pack content all the way to the edges of the disk. In the world of Skyrim, thousands of NPCs are waiting to have dozens of conversations each. Some of these conversations will result in new subplots, while others are just made up of quirky small talk. This week, Skyrim director, Todd Howard, told Wired magazine that this title would effectively have an unlimited replay value: “The vibe of the game is that it’s something that you can play forever,” he said.
And, for the record, this almost seems like an understatement.
In essence, there are an unending number of plots and subplots to be played. So, one player might run into a blacksmith who will ask them to collect some materials for smelting, while another might find a merchant who will ask them to hunt bandits. Either way, every player who picks up a copy of Skyrim will have a completely different questing experience.
But I’m not actually sure if this is a good thing. See, all of these arcs are generated by Skyrim’s Radiant quest system. This system is responsible for randomly generating tasks based on your in-game progress. And, while this is quite a technological accomplishment, it results in some terribly repetitive gameplay. Most of these subplots follow the “go here, get this, come back” sequence. So, even though it’s possible to play unlimited hours of Skyrim, it’s going to feel like you’re playing many of the same quests repeatedly. However, if you’re the type of person who’s going to complain about repetitive gameplay, you’re probably not playing a lot of RPGs anyway.
The main storyline, however, is a bit more static. Your character wakes up in the back of a prison cart on the way to his own beheading. You have a friendly chat with the other prisoners and then it’s off to the chopping block. This opening sequence weaves a bit of instructional storytelling together with the character setup. When you’re asked who you are, you’re given the opportunity to name your character and customize his/her appearance. Eventually, I landed on the Argonian race. My selection wasn’t based on any specific gameplay issues, but because the Argonians are a race of lizard people, and lizard people are badass—just ask James T Kirk of the starship Enterprise .
However, the choices that you make when customizing your character will have an effect on your overall experience and NPC interaction. (It seems that there might be a bit of racism directed at the Argonian people from certain folk within Skyrim society.) Either way, by the time you’re about to get your head cut off, you should be pretty familiar with the gameplay. But before the executioner has a chance to dirty his axe with the inside of your neck, a terrifying dragon shows up and breathes fire on everyone.
At this point, I have the unfortunate duty to tell you that Bethesda is still in the business of releasing only semi-functional games. The developer has become famous for putting out bug-filed titles and never really getting around to fixing them. And they’re keeping the streak alive in Skyrim.
During the dragon sequence, which isn’t even 30 minutes into the game, I managed to skip ahead in the event order and crash the entire world. I could wander around and poke at the NPCs, but I was no longer able to interact with anyone or complete the quest. Eventually, I had to restart the level, re-customize my character and relive the torture of my almost beheading.
However, aside my unfortunate world-crashing experience, I found the Skyrim universe to be incredibly immersive. The developers have taken great pains to pay attention to even the smallest detail. Any object can be picked up, dropped or used; every animal can be stabbed; and every NPC is willing to have some type of discussion. Well, it would probably be more accurate to say that most objects can be picked up. Larger objects like rocks and furniture are still immobile, but it definitely doesn’t detract from the overall experience. You know how you can steal all of the towels and shampoo bottles from your hotel, but the TV is nailed to the wall? It’s kind of like that.
It’s probably worth noting that this isn’t a direct sequel to Oblivion—and this is a good thing. Skyrim’s plot is set a couple hundred years after the events of Oblivion and in a completely different location. Also, both the graphics and gameplay have received roughly 200 years worth of upgrades. The controls feel somewhat less clunky than its predecessor and the combat system isn’t nearly as frustrating. However, it’s definitely not perfect, and hopefully it won’t take Bethesda 200 more years to work out the kinks.
Also, if you consider that Skyrim might be the biggest open-world game ever made, it’s incredibly impressive that they’ve also managed to make it easily accessible to the non-RPG lover. The controls are straightforward and intuitive and the character setup (armor, weapons, magic, etc) has been wonderfully simplified since the last Elder Scrolls incarnation. I’m sure some of the hardcore fans will argue that it’s overly simplistic, and they might be right, but there’s a certain level of elegance in its streamlined interface.
In the end, Skyrim will be hailed as both the best and worst title of the year depending on whom you ask. RPG gamers who look for subtle storytelling and endless replay value are going to love every minute. But gamers that have even a slight problem with impatience will quickly become frustrated. However, even the most devoted naysayer has to admit that Skyrim is at the top of its genre, and that’s no small feat.
Also, killing dragons will never get old.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
Good, but often glitchy. 4.7 Control
Intuitive and simple. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Famous (and varied) voice actors, but audio glitches will show up. 4.5 Play Value
Great replay value, but extraordinarily repetitive. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best