Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Many Thoughts On Skyrim.

With about fifty hours in, I've completed about as much of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (on the 360) as I'm likely to. It's been a great break from fixing bugs in our upcoming games. Skyrim is more fun that iOS development. You heard it here first.

I've done the main quest plus whatever side quests were interesting or insane enough to attract my interest. I don't want to write a full review because it would be entirely redundant. Everyone already knows it's an excellent game.

Instead, I wanted to say a few quick things about what worked (or sometimes didn't) in Skyrim.

The Quest Writing

For a game this size, with multiple quest chains long and involved enough to feel like full games in themselves, uneven writing is to be expected. Some of the major quests were, indeed, better than others in this regard.

I thought the best writing, going away, was in the Dark Brotherhood (assassin's guild) quest. It was over the top, deranged, and entirely fun. Alas, since players tend to shy away from the evil and deranged, most people won't get to enjoy this bit of concentrated insanity. It's a pity. In Skyrim, having a voice in your head telling you to kill people isn't a handicap. It's a career choice.

Sadly, I thought the least involving writing was in the main game quest, which was just another retelling of, "See that guy over there? He's evil. Kill that guy." Except, in this case, "that guy" is a dragon without much dialogue or presence in the story. The storyline would have been much more involving if the player were able to have more interaction with the main villain.

On the bright side, while the Empire and Rebel quest lines get a tad repetitive (with all those fort assaults), they also do a great job of depicting an epic struggle, full of sacrifices, risks, and hard choices. The bit where the Jarl of Whiterun tries to decide which side to support was really suspenseful and nicely done.

Selling Items

All fantasy RPGs have tedious inventory management and selling of stuff. It's just part of the genre. In recent years, designers have looked for ways to make the economic side of things go faster and eat up less precious play-time. The best example of this is in Torchlight you can have your pet dog take all your junk back to town and sell it for you.

Thank you! More killing, less realism!

But in Skyrim ... Look. If you want to have each shop only buy a limited range of items, fine. And if you want to have shops have a limited amount of gold, fine. And if you want to have stolen items only bought by one character, who doesn't have much money on hand and is well out of the way, fine. But having all three of these means that you hate me.

You might say, “Hey, they want a more realistic feeling world.” Fine. I get that. Just bear in mind that when someone says he played Skyrim for 60 hours, at least 20 of those were spent trying to find someone who will buy eleven pairs of elven boots.

(Yes, I know you can buy feats to change how this works. I prefer to spend my feats on the sort of combat skills that keep me from getting slaughtered the moment I try to ride to the next town, thank you.)

Killing Elves

You spend a lot of time in Skyrim killing elves. In this world, elves are obnoxious and ugly, and you kill them.

This is awesome.

The World Map

The roads in Skyrim are really nicely laid out. I spent just the right amount of time wandering around lost. In a big world like this, you want the player to get lost sometimes. It's a rare pleasure to have a game you can actually get lost in.

On the other hand, I've looked at a lot of maps in my life, and I've never seen one where the cartographer drew in the clouds. Having the in-game world map be a depiction of Skyrim as seen from space, clouds and all, is malicious. It really obscures where you can and can't go.

(Also, the printed map that comes with the game has inaccurate and incomplete roads, and the roads are the most important part of the map. Paper maps are awesome, but the developers should give them a once-over to make sure they’re accurate. This is just the sort of extra that gets people to buy instead of rent.)

Arrow In the Knee

I know I'm supposed to think the whole "Arrow in the knee" meme is overplayed. Sorry. Still cracks me up every time. Especially whenever a guard passive-aggressively says it to me as I run by.

Awesome Evilness

If you are ever in Markarth and some guy asks you to help investigate an abandoned house, do that quest. It's really, really, really evil and deranged. Its audacity should be rewarded with play. In fact, play through it in front of your loved ones. My wife watched me play it and, a few weeks later, she can almost make eye contact with me again.

It's a Great Game

OK. Done nitpicking. It's buggy, sprawling, uneven, and an entirely brilliant game experience. It overwhelms you with sheer size. You can't go for a horsey ride for five minutes without the game trying to distract you with some new cool thing. You can simply get lost in it.

After what seems like an endless parade of games where you mindlessly shoot/slash your way down a corridor, see a cutscene, and then are funneled down another corridor, Skyrim is a delight.


  1. The weight limit and its bugs are what caused me to quit.

    Pulling loot out of a dwarven dungeon takes roughly 3-4 trips. And because there is no fast travel in the dungeon, by the end you are taking 4 minutes just to get out of the dungeon so that you can travel. Um, fun.

    This is alleviated by having a follower that can help you carry stuff. Except that I did not discover the follower encumbrance bug until it was too late. I equiped my follower with new armor to make her better. However, if you do that, every time you tell her to stay home (such as when you do a stealth mission), the game respawns a new invisible copy of her old equipment. By they time I discovered this, she was over encumbered with this invisible equipment, and could not move. And of course, this was on my wife-follower.

    I could fix this with the console if I were on a PC, though I am playing this on the X-Box (because X-Box gaming is more social with the rest of the family). That means to fix this I need to get a PC copy of Skyrim, move the save over, fix it with the console, and then move it back.

    In the end, I just gave up.

  2. I actually don't find the weight limit that big a deal. My expectation at this point in Bethesda games is you don't pick up everything you can -- you look around and pick up the things that are worth it. Actually Oblivion seemed to try really hard to teach you this, as it threw you in the first dungeon where it is just not possible for you to take everything you see and you quickly learn this once you try.

    1. Yes, encumbrance is absolutely needed because like in real life if you pick up everything in like 2 minutes you cannot carry any more and are loaded down with crap that will only sell for like 1 dollar each at the merch anyways. If ES did not have E everyones inventory will be filled with millions and millions of unnecessary clutter.
      And as for selling hardships, at least for me I never saw any reason to sell anything. Pick up what you want to horde or use yourself and buy stuff from looted gold.

    2. In "real life" the buy-versus-sell multiples are not a factor of 10. You don't get it both ways. If you don't have a proper in game economy you are begging me to exploit it.

  3. What about the combat system? I was sincerely hopping that they would do something like in Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, but it just looks as in Oblivion.
    Is the fighting boring?

    1. Combat is the worst part of it. I played a stealth character, and it's less noticeable that way but the combat is just incredibly clunky and repetitive.

      I've been playing Fable 2 to death, and the Amalur demo, and both those systems (essentially the same system) allow for fluid, exciting combat that blends magic, melee and ranged fairly seamlessly.

      Obviously the ES setting and ethos isn't going to feel right with an ARPG combat system but the series needs something to bring it into the 21st century.

    2. Thank you for you answer.
      So no improvement since Oblivion-Morrowind.
      I'll go back to isometric rpgs then.

  4. What surprised and delighted me about the game was the way that I got my butt kicked occasionally. As a matter of fact, sometimes I still do even with a level 57 power-gamer's delight of a character.
    And while it may be a little overpowered the drastic effects that a crafting perk can make on your character's capabilities was intoxicating.

  5. Thieves Guild has the worst writing, I'm afraid. The main quest line is gold comparatively.

  6. The only problem with the inventory system is that cRPG gamers expect to be able to pick up and sell everything that isn't nailed down and pry up the stuff that is nailed down. And then they whine about it. If you play like a normal person and just pick up the valuable/interesting stuff and don't audition for that Hoarders show in your in-game house you will have a lot more fun.

    1. This is possibly because of the old adventure games that required players to take about everything that was there because it would eventually be required to solve a part of the game. What might also not have helped were the sometimes ridiculous thing we had to do with things that were not at all logical. Which put players in the mind set that "if it can be taken it must be usefull at some point so let's pick it up".

  7. The weight limit is a tad annoying, but nowhere near as bad as Morrowind (which I've also been played recently and which I _had_ to install a mod for - oh, and also one for walking speed - in Morrowind, everyone's on Zimmer frames).

    Still, the combat is great and FPS-quality; bows are distinctly bad-ass.

  8. "All fantasy RPGs have tedious inventory management and selling of stuff. It's just part of the genre."

    One of the reasons I'm starting to give up on WRPGs already. I play video games for many reasons, and 'to work' is not one of them. As long as developers and publishers have this mindset, and fans this expectation (or perverse desire), the things which may interest me simply won't be worth the tedium of actually playing the games.

  9. I just used a console command to get rid of the weight limit constraint. Best played on a PC for that reason alone.

  10. I totally disagree with the 'do away with weight limits' that the author and others are arguing for here. Be careful what you wish for. The encumbrance limit adds more choice (you must choose what you carry). More choice=more fun. Remember Daggerfall? You had a much lower encumbrance, you would sink in water if you were too heavy, and your horse allowed you to carry more stuff. What a pity they took all that away. I actually think the game lets you carry *too much* stuff. I permanently carry about 5 different swords, 6 or 7 staves and some alternative armor pieces - yet I can still carry tons of loot on top!

    Jeff I don't know why you're arguing for more dumbing down. Different vendors, vendor gold limits - these were always there from Daggerfall (did you play that?), if not Arena. TES needs more choices, more consequences if it is to avoid becoming a dreary sleep-walk through of a series.

  11. I'm in the pro weight limit camp, doesn't it promote choice as well as a sense of reality from the start as Dianne Hackborn mentioned? The simple choice of what to take and what to leave helping shape your attitude to the myriad of quests offered to you?

    It limits the weapons and tools you can take with you, so there isn't an easy answer to everything you may encounter. Where is the sense of adventure and danger without that?

    It also stops quick levelling; if you could take an infinite number of items, your Enchanting, Smithing and Speech skills would go through the roof too quickly.

  12. Just be selective on what you pick up, and if you get full, simply chuck the less valuable stuff. I never EVER went back to a dungeon to collect crap I left behind, I'd rather get on with the next quest, I got extremely rich, so there really is no need for monotonous stuff.

    I took a bit of Stamina gear, and selected stamina on level up a bit, I also took the horse sign which gives you an extra 100 carry weight. (oh and there's a perk that lets you carry more) By the time you've done all that you can carry an absolute ton!

    Oh and if you choose not to take the speech perks you can't really complain that you aren't very good at trading, why would a blacksmith buy your food or potions? It's a takes a good salesman to convince them! I feel this really gives those who choose to develop speech a nice reward, if it didn't why would you bother?

  13. Skyrim is excellent, as Jeff said "When you have agame this big with this many choices there will be bugs" this is so true, bugs simply cannot be helped in a game this big and complex..

    The weight issue isnt really and issue if you only take the best items from each dungeon/fort etc.. Sure it can be hard in the beginning going through your inventory to see what you can drop so you can take the new better item you just found.. but once you have afew quests under your belt its less of an issue as you have money from those..unless yo're an OCD horder who just cannot help but loot everything in sight..lol In that case then I suggest you play somethingt else.. as ther is a helluva lot of items in game that arent nailed down..lol

    As for the map, yeh that kinda bugged me too..I wish you could have zoomed in more.. I noticed some people moaned about not being able to see towns and whatnot properly.. then half way through the game finding out you can turn the map LOL

    I loved it Skyrim, I thought it was excellent, sure the main story 'could' have been better IMO, well like Jeff said, I wish we had seen and interacted with the 'big bad ' more than what was possible..and also wish it had been a bit longer.. I know there is a lot of side quests but still the main quest isnt really that long..I like the idea of a sandbox world being free to roam and do as you please - But - at he same time having a main plot story arc to follow at your own pace, rather than a total linear plot with not much freedom.. All in great game and I highly reccomend it to people who havent yet played it, well worth the money imo..But I would say get the PC version..benifit of the console to fix bugs if needed etc and the toolset and mods.. Plus it just looks sooo much nicer than the XBox/PS3 versions..

  14. "Paper maps are awesome, but the developers should give them a once-over to make sure they’re accurate."

    Paper? Paper???
    I still have the -cloth- maps from most of the Ultimas.

    Those were maps that you thumb tacked up next to your monitor for months.

  15. "Everyone already knows it's an excellent game." I don't. I just can't get into the hybrid FPSRPG that bethseda makes. Just saying.

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