The Elder Scrolls V: V for Victory?
Thursday, December 15, 2011 Leave a comment
I have logged 115 hours in Skyrim, and I still have one major questline to complete, along with a bunch of miscellaneous ones. I should probably sign up for gamers anonymous. With the amount of time I’ve spent playing it, you’d probably assume that I absolutely loved the game. Well, you’d be absolutely wrong.
Let’s start off with the newest feature in the game. Dragons! The mythical creatures of lore. Honestly, the dragons just seem like a gimmick to me. Fighting them is tedious and boring, in fact, I think the game would be better served if there were fewer of them. Fewer dragons would make each encounter more special and exhilarating. Each random dragon encounter reminds me of a “friend” calling me in GTA IV. I’m in the middle of trying to complete a quest when this annoying thing pops up at the most inopportune time. There’s not a whole lot of strategy involved to defeating it. Just hack and slash, and try to avoid standing near the head too much in order to avoid seeing the “dragon eating me” animation. I know people will argue that it all depends on how you equip your character. You can use magic, your special “shouts,” and even archery. But at the end of the day it’s all the same. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could damage its wings to prevent it from flying, could blind it, or cripple one of its limbs? There isn’t any particular strategy or skill involved in defeating it.
Skyrim just doesn’t feel very fresh or exciting. There are two warring factions that you can join: the Stormcloaks and the Imperial Legion. I saw the same thing a year ago in Fallout: New Vegas with the NCR and the Legion. They’re eerily similar. Both the NCR (New California Republic) and the Stormcloaks prominently feature bears. Both Legions have very similar color scheming and armor sets. General Tullius from Skyrim, a leader (SPOILER: don’t click) from New Vegas (whose appearance is a mystery for most of the game), and even Cyrus Temple from Saints Row 3 all kind of look the same. Apparently someone else has recognized this: Click here if you don’t care about spoilers for New Vegas. I guess the old guy with short white hair is the new military leader archetype. It’s probably extremely nitpicky to complain about characters looking the same, but these are major characters here. I can probably assume that part of the reason Bethesda designed Tullius with short hair is because they wanted to emphasize that he is with the Imperial Legion (and not from Skyrim, because Nords would probably have long hair).
Even the Forsworn remind me a lot of the tribes from the “Honest Hearts” DLC of Fallout: New Vegas. I’m not saying that tribes can’t ever appear in a game again, just because they were in a game before. But when a game built on the same engine and released less than a year ago features so many things I’ve seen and experienced before it begins to feel redundant.
One problem I have with the game is that it forces you into committing to a special role. You have to be the chosen one: the one with special powers to save the world. The game is supposed to be about making the character your own. This is in some ways impossible because my character has to be the “dragonborn.” This creates a serious disconnect because my character can never be what the game promises. I can’t not be the “dragonborn” which therefore makes being “dragonborn” automatically less special, because it’s all I can be.
This is a piece of a larger problem overall which is that the game fails to deliver on what it seems to promise. Unlike the Fable series which explicitly promised certain things and failed to deliver, it’s what Skyrim implies that’s most frustrating. Skyrim implies that it’s an open-world game where you can virtually do anything. A living, breathing world for you to explore and experience. It’s a lofty goal, to be sure, and probably impossible to achieve. I think on some level I expected a virtual world that acts and behaves as the real one does.
The game promises that I can be any number of things. I can join the Companions (previously known as the Fighters Guild), the College of Winterhold (Mages Guild), the Bards College, the Thieves Guild, and the Dark Brotherhood. The problem is that nearly all of these factions play out the same way. What did I think was going to happen when I joined the Companions? I thought I would get some kick-ass weapons/armor and learn some special moves. What I ended up doing was clearing out dungeons. Ehh, that’s okay, this is the Fighters Guild. Combat is the priority.
College of Winterhold: I thought I would be learning to cast spells, along with other sorcery-related badassery. Instead, I was clearing out dungeons. And really the way you learn spells is by “reading” spell tomes. In other words, selecting the item in my inventory and “poof” I know a new spell. It would be cool if it took some skill to master these spells, or if there was another way to cast it other than just equipping it and using it.
Ah, the Bard’s College. As a musician, myself, I was particularly intrigued by this one. After all, I had these lutes, drums and flutes in my inventory. I would finally be able to play them! What was my first assignment? Clear out the dungeon! I thought once I was an officially a certified bard I could go around to the different inns and make some gold like all the other bards I’ve seen. Nope. Just some more dungeon crawling and fetch quests. Which makes up about 90% of the gameplay (not an official calculation).
Overall, I think this is my major problem with the game. In a game as large as this one, I found myself doing the same things over and over. Sure I didn’t have to play it as a warrior/mage. You could even argue that instead of doing everything on one save, I could try creating different builds, and then completing different quests using specific skill sets. My argument against this is that the game seems to be about experiencing the world with the character you create. So if I want to take on the world of Skyrim, as a dark-elf battle mage that’s equal parts hero, assassin, and servant of the Daedra, than that’s what I’m going to do.
The game is really lacking when it comes to emotional development and motivation for its characters. Why should I feel compelled to do anything in this game? Because someone talked to me and it was added to my quest list? There are a lot of things to do in the game, but it’s not always clear why. For the most part I figured it’s because I was an “adventurer” and it was something to do. That’s what games are for right? There isn’t much background for a majority of the NPCs. How can I care about any of them when they’re just an interchangeable face that spouts the same phrases over and over again? I understand that Bethesda tries not to script too much because the game is supposed to be about you, the player, but adding depth to some of the characters would’ve been a tremendous help.
Another minor gripe is the way characters are named. It sounds silly, but hear me out. You basically have three kinds of NPCs: generic run-of-the-mill NPCs such as “bandit,” then non-essential NPCs that are named but can be killed, and finally quest-essential characters that cannot be killed. It would be cool if they included a random name generator that would create names according to their race. That would make the action of clearing out a dungeon that much more impactful. I wouldn’t be killing some nameless automaton. I would be killing Bjorn who may have an entire backstory , quests to give, or might carry no significance whatsoever. I think the named, non-essential NPCs were Bethesda’s attempt to create a sense of morality and immersion, but they should have taken it a step further. I feel that there isn’t any character you should be unable to kill (besides children). This video probably doesn’t help my argument. If quests are locked because of it, so be it. It was the player’s choice and the consequences are a result of his actions. In a game like Skyrim, where so many unpredictable things can happen, Bethesda probably didn’t want important characters to die on accident. Making every character vulnerable to death would make the game more believable and realistic.
One thing that the game does well is the leveling system. I absolutely love the fact that you improve skills as you use them. Skills such as one-handed weapon, destruction magic or lockpicking start out at 0, and can be leveled up to 100. So, as you use these skills, your character will become more efficient at using them. You can also unlock perks at certain level thresholds. As a result, you really get a sense that your chraracter is getting stronger and deadlier as the game progresses. This is something I think other games can stand to learn from, but would probably be hard to implement. So kudos to Bethesda. Also, the world is absolutely massive. Probably the largest in-game world I have ever played in. My first goal in the game was to actually explore all the locations so I could then complete my quests unhindered, by fast traveling. Some may argue that my experience was tedious and mechanical because I made it so. Maybe if I removed all quest markers and avoided fast traveling, the game would have been more organic. This could all be true, but we’ll never know now. Besides, I can’t go for long outdoors without my game pausing/framerate dropping. I also have a life to live (kind of).
I just expected too much. Oblivion blew my mind when I first played it. An open-world game where you can literally go anywhere you want without invisible barriers or loading screens? No main story that you have to follow? I was expecting an equally mindblowing experience this time around. There are many things that have been improved or expanded upon, but what’s new? Honestly, it’s probably impossible to please someone whose expectations were so high. I set myself up for disappointment. In many ways, to me, this game is Fallout 3 with swords. Minus the personality. So after all I’ve said, what’s my final score?
A solid B. I played this game for 115 hours after all. There aren’t many other games that hold that distinction. It was enjoyable, but there weren’t many standout moments. There were times where I was totally engrossed. I completed quests because there were assigned to me, and therefore to be completed. Not because I had a compelling reason to. At the end of the day the game’s just too repetitive. Addictive? Hell yes. But it’s not particularly memorable or anything I’ve haven’t seen before.