In the middle of this January, HalfBeard brought in a new member to our writing fold who will work with me on the features aspect of this site as well as other stuff. My new colleague Michael has a strong wording and good perspective on the new Elder Scrolls game in his article “Skyrim, It’s Actually Pretty Boring” article. As a friendly gesture and congratulations to his accomplishment of becoming a new member of the staff here, I wanted to provide my thoughts upon Skyrim’s incredible popularity and the game itself.
The reason I want to do this is also to start a strong collaboration between my fellow writers. This will also serve as a benefit of perspective as well; Those who enjoy a series or site for its content should also expect of its writers to present many different sides. To take a single opinion as the only one tends to do can be a mistake. I highly respect Michael’s writing and analysis of the game and I wanted to give my thoughts on a game which has done so much to excite the role-playing genre as well as the industry. It will also help the reader as well; a firm counterpoint is meant to provide perspective and a difference of respectful opinion so that people will not take words we write as gospel, but inform themselves and make their own decisions based on a wealth of knowledge.
So, it is likely no surprise that I find the game rather enjoyable. I came from playing both Morrowind and Oblivion, with a later dash of Daggerfall. To be fair, there are many things from all the games that missed as much as they hit; Morrowind just threw the player straight into the mythos without any back story whatsoever to the rest of the largely forgotten-at least at that point-Elder Scrolls franchise. Thanks to a hefty dash of political wheeling-and-dealing that most players barely understood the story was nigh incomprehensible to new-comers. Oblivion was much more immersed in its adventure, but had gameplay snags in user-interface and overall graphical and gameplay concerns like inconsistent membership at guilds. Oh and the voiceacting….oh lord, outside Patrick Stewart, that terrible voice acting. Mods really did incredible things from channeling the entirety of the game’s quests and monsters into something more engaging, to rewriting the entire game down to the base code and reworking everything.
Skyrim does have its problems. Physics and the number of bugs involving them are certainly an issue, especially when I can fall about twenty feet, and take no damage just by staying close to the mountainside. Another major problem lies within the main plot and on certain triggers that must be met before things are acceptable. Even some of the more optional quests have this problem. If a companion is required for a scene and their AI script fails, you’re stuck. The same is true with Dragons; despite the fact that fighting them is very cool when they want to come down and make several of the skillsets such as Sneak and Archery useless due to large health and damage resistance, it doesn’t exactly matter when they are caught up in the mountains and cannot land. The natural pathing is something to behold, but it still needs room to function and Skyrim is a very cramped place.
I still worry a great deal when I hear a dragon coming, but not for the reasons the game is supposedly trying to describe. When it attacks a town, you are almost certain to have casualties that aren’t you; if any of them happen to be a shopkeeper or trainer, that’s a lost resource. When Riverwood is attacked and down goes the smith, the only real use you get there are his former tools.
I also agree with the idea of the ‘infinite quests.’ They are little more than fetch and kill scenarios colored in different ways. Mages? Go and stop this mage or gather these materials. Thieves are even more annoying when you forge numbers; It amounts to going to one place, pressing a button when no one can see you, and heading back to Riften. However, I must disagree on major quests and the overall storyline.
If there is one thing that Bethesda Softworks can do right and connect into a great experience, it is the world they build and the important missions they set you on to define that world. This is present in two ways; the definition in your character as the Dragonborn and how you decide to handle the situations presented. For my example, I have been playing a Thief who functions with bow, sword and dagger from a lovely little line of perks down the Sneak progression, but uses a little bit of all the three fields of power. Challenge in combat comes from the fact that I cannot do damage consistently save a powerful first strike, so I enter prolonged battles with my companions in the fear that I don’t get them killed when using Shouts (which is apparently the only way they die; your interaction has to get them killed, not the hundreds of other threats in the game….yet another oddity). I tend to read into the most simplistic lore from the series and how it progressed, and being shocked how the Empire went from simple imprisonment to outright execution and torture in the opening really was jarring for me. That the Elves are plotting against the other races is jarring. How the strong and hearty and loyal people I knew in Oblivion and Morrowind are turning on one another was amazing. I wanted to explore this world because something felt so different.
What Bethesda can certainly do is create a world and flesh it out with wonder and gameplay elements that are decided by the player. What they have trouble doing is keeping our attention and preventing certain aspects of their game from causing errors which should have been fixed before development. I still play it now, and I am hoping that further patches and downloadable content may fix or improve upon the gameplay in many ways. They certainly need to if they don’t want this incredible urge of interest to die down as quickly as it rose up.