Fuck along, now.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

By Shepton on November 28, 2011 in Reviews

Final verdict: C+
Final playtime: 80 hours

Alright if there’s one game I really wasn’t looking forward to writing about it’s this one. I had a feeling I knew exactly what kind of game it was going to be before it was even announced. Everybody did. And it’s exactly what everybody was expecting. Right? Tell me I’m not right. Whether you like it or not, you were expecting it to be almost exactly like Oblivion was, and it is.

But the reason I wasn’t looking forward to reviewing it is simply that Bethesda games, especially recently, have one of worst fanbases ever. And I really don’t even want to deal with their inevitable bullshit in the comments when I make even the tiniest criticism of this game. And believe me there are gonna be criticisms. Valid, justified, undeniable criticisms. And if you don’t wanna hear them, you should just leave right the fuck now because I don’t want to have to reiterate my points in the comments when you come crying about it.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Skyrim is Oblivion. Honestly, it’s the same game with a coat of paint. That isn’t a criticism. Oblivion sold well, so of course they’ll repaint it and sell it again for an additional ten shitloads of cash. I thought Oblivion was an alright game, too. I enjoyed playing it, but it felt generic, it got dull pretty quickly since there were like a hundred copy/pastes of the same exact dungeon to trawl through for no real reward, the quests sometimes felt too simplistic and boring. Whatever, right? It’s a Bethesda game. They’re just like that. They’re not intellectual pursuits, they don’t take much thought, effort or skill, they’re simple RPGs that appeal to the masses. Again, not a criticism, just good business sense on Bethesda’s part.

Skyrim, for all intents and purposes, is the same as Oblivion was. It’s got quite a lot more dungeons, quite a lot more quests, and it’s fairly graphics-intensive because graphics tend to be the only thing the masses seem to care about these days. Whatever. I can’t change that people like the least important part of a game the most. That’s their own stupid fault.

The basic system is exactly the same, so it’s familiar. I feel like the user interface isn’t very user-friendly and is more bulky and awkward than Oblivion and Fallout 3’s interfaces were. Todd Howard said in an interview a while back that they set out to make a user interface on the basis of “If Apple made a game UI, what would it look like”. I think the UI designers took that idea too literally, because they just slapped the UI on top of the default Mac OS desktop wallpaper, but whatever. Yeah, the UI looks fancy and polished, but does it feel good to use? Does it make sense to use? Is it intuitive, easy, and smooth? No. It’s none of those things. The UI is clunky, unintuitive, and so intrusive in its implementation that it just gets in the way of the gameplay and frankly ruins what little immersion there would otherwise be if it wasn’t such a necessity to pause the game all the time just to equip something different or use a potion.

There’s also no way to view the contents of a chest/wardrobe/container in categories. In a game like this, you obtain a LOT of shit, whether by stealing everything of value from every house in the game, or looting enemies, or going dungeon crawling, or completing quests, you will inevitably end up with TONS of items. You will likely sell most of it, but if you’re anything like me you’ll keep a lot, too. Whether it’s because it was a quest reward and you keep it for sentimental reasons because you feel you should, or because you feel like you might need it later, or you want to use it to decorate your house, etcetera. And you’ll keep that stuff in chests, or wardrobes, or whatever the fuck you want. But when you store shit in chests, you can’t view the items in categories any more. After a while, you’ll just have chests filled with all kinds of crap. Weapons, armor, jewels, ingredients, books, miscellaneous shit. For a long time in the game I used my small house in the city of Whiterun as a base of operations of sorts, and at this point the chest near my bed has about 200 things in it or something ridiculous. If I want to find a specific weapon or item, I have to go through everything to find it. In Oblivion the UI at least allowed you to view only certain categories of items in any storage container (Weapons/Armor/Keys/Ingredients etc).

So yeah. I feel like the UI is actually a big step down from previous games in terms of functionality and user-friendliness. But man I just spent like two huge paragraphs talking about the damn interface. What the fuck is wrong with me. This game has way bigger issues than the interface and I just wasted two paragraphs on that shit.

This game is GLITCHY AS ALL FUCK. Holy shit it’s glitchy. I know glitches are par for the course in a Bethesda game, but oh my god. Every time I open a door or a wardrobe or something, all the loose items like books, jars, and basically anything that isn’t nailed down just starts flying around the room as if a bomb went off, clanging all around, causing every NPC in the area to get on my back about it as if I’d deliberately walked into their house and just started flipping tables over. On more than one occasion I had to use the console to turn off clipping so that I could pick up important items that had fallen through the floor or simply been blown into an inaccessible place.

This guy had to put a fucking DISCLAIMER in his youtube description to make the fanboys stop attacking him for having a bit of fun. Jesus christ.

Sometimes you get stuck talking to NPCs and the dialogue becomes almost inescapable unless you hold the S key to walk backwards while hammering relentlessly on the “exit” button, and that sometimes doesn’t work either and your only option is to force the game to close and restart it and pray that it autosaved recently. Quests sometimes bug out and become impossible to complete, and let’s not forget that the game crashes frequently. No errors, no warnings, no explanations, it just plain turns itself off sometimes, usually after changing from one area to another. Go ahead and tell me “this never happened to me, your computer must suck”. I guarantee my computer is better than yours. Crashing is simply a massive problem in Skyrim because it’s badly optimized. It happens on PC, 360 and PS3. Apparently it’s worst on the PS3. But what else is new right? Everything always is.

The glitches are impossible to list, in all honesty. There’s a lot of them. Only a couple of them are game-breaking, most of them are simply frustrating, but they do all serve to further ruin any sense of immersion.

Okay, so we’ve done the UI, we’ve done glitches. Next up, dungeons. You remember how Oblivion had the same dungeon and the same castle over, and over, and over? Well, hopes were high that Skyrim was going to fix that. They had something like 17 people designing the dungeons this time, instead of just the one guy they had doing it in Oblivion. Unfortunately nothing much changed. Most of the dungeons are still basically the same. You go in a cave, and there’s coffins there, and draugrs come out of them. Then you have a puzzle where you have to spin 4 pillars around that have carvings of animals on them. It’s the same goddamn puzzle in every dungeon. Whale, Eagle, Snake. Whatever. Spin the fucking pillars around and a door opens so you can proceed. IT’S THE SAME OLD SHIT EVERY TIME. Man, the puzzles could be interesting if they didn’t just straight up tell you the answer every time. It’s such a boring-ass system. Get this: You enter a room with a locked door. You see 3 or 4 pillars that you have to arrange in the correct order. How do you figure out the order? Look at the wall, and it’ll show you the order the pillars need to be in. Yeah.

Those aren’t fucking puzzles. There’s no critical thinking. Why don’t you just make us fuck around with a rubiks cube in every dungeon? That would literally be a lot more fulfilling and satisfying than playing Snap with animal pictures.

So yeah, the dungeons, though they’re admittedly better than they were in Oblivion, aren’t very good. I feel like Bethesda didn’t learn from their mistakes in Oblivion and are just changing superficial things to give the illusion of improvement.

I could rant for much longer but you’d get bored and hate me more than you already do, so I’ll just talk about the plot/setting/characters and shit for a little while now to keep things fresh. Mix it up a little. Kick it up a notch. Bam.

So, you’re in Skyrim. That’s a place. The Nords live there, and they’re a bunch of racist cunts who hate everybody who isn’t them. They’re led by some power-hungry asshole named Ulfric Stormcloak. At this point I should explain that there’s two notable “sides” you can choose between in Skyrim. You can side with Ulfric and the Stormcloaks (which sounds like a terrible Norwegian power metal band or something) who want to drive the Empire and every non-Nord race out of Skyrim, or you can side with the Empire who begin the game by trying to execute you and have some kind of vague alliance with the Thalmor, who are a race of supreme evil assholes who are even more dick-like than the Nords (who also have connections with the Thalmor so go figure). Basically you have to choose between bullshit and horseshit. Each side is fucking sucky and you’ll probably feel no connection to their leaders or their causes. But one of the Imperial generals is voiced by Saul motherfucking Tigh from Battlestar Galactica, so if you aren’t a total dumbass you’ll pick the empire just for that.

Those aspects of the story are self explanatory, so I won’t go into further detail about them. Just know that it’s all very generic and nothing particularly interesting happens. Oh, and no matter which side you choose, the ending doesn’t actually matter because nobody in the world reacts to either outcome. I guess that’s kind of a spoiler? Is it a spoiler if the spoiler is that nothing fucking happens and nobody cares? But anyway, a lot of people (myself included) care much more about the large side-quests than the main story in Bethesda games. As with Oblivion, Skyrim has a Fighters Guild, Mages Guild, Thieves Guild, and Assassins Guild. I think those quests were some of the best parts of Oblivion, and was looking forward to them in Skyrim, only I was a little disappointed with how short the quest-lines were, and how forced they felt.

As was the case with Oblivion, upon completion of the Guild quest-lines you become leader of the guild. In Oblivion, becoming the guild leader almost seemed to make sense, particularly with the Thieves Guild. It felt like you earned your way to the top. But in Skyrim? Holy shit. You join the guild, get treated like the insignificant noob that you are, do a couple of fairly meaningless quests and BAM. Congratulations, you’re the new leader. Not any of these obviously skilled NPCs that have been in their respective guilds for their entire lives and have spent those years doing backbreaking work for the guild’s benefit. Nope. You’re clearly the man for the job. Congratulations, Arch-Mage! It doesn’t matter in the slightest that you only know Apprentice level spells and did all the quests with a sword. You’re clearly best-suited to be the world’s authority on all magic. Not the wise old professor who mentored you and who’s the best in the world with Alteration magic and has been with the guild for more years than you’ve been alive. It’s a similar deal with all the guilds. It doesn’t feel natural and it doesn’t make much sense to me.

Should I talk about dragons? I don’t think I really need to. I mean, they’re dragons. They do dragon things. Like they bite, and they’re big. I guess they’re pretty cool. They show up a lot because they’re essentially randomly-generated encounters for the most part. Sometimes it can be a little annoying because they have a habit of showing up when you’re right in the middle of doing something and it interrupts your train of thought somewhat, but they’re decent fun to fight and provide more of a challenge than your everyday spider. But they’re nowhere near as frightening as say, a bear, or a sabrecat. Those things will fuck your shit up. And don’t even get me started on giants. They’ll fuck up your fucked-up shit. One time I saw a giant fight a dragon and let’s just say it didn’t end well for the dragon.

Killing dragons gets you souls which you can use to unlock Shouts, which for all intents and purposes are a type of spell. Shouts have certain effects in the world. I won’t really go into them too much as I don’t feel there’s much point in doing so. Basically, you’re the Dragonborn, which is why you can shout. Most people can’t shout. But a few can because they put in the effort I guess? You meet some old dudes who apparently never talk because if they did the mountain they live on would collapse and they feel like they should be responsible and not use their mighty god-voices. But the thing is, Todd Howard talked these guys up like they were some ancient and mysterious race that nobody ever saw and they’re mute by choice because they’re so powerful. I was expecting to climb that mountain and find some really cool fucked up hermits that were wise as shit, but instead I got a few cloned old men who look the same and wear the same blue robes. And it turns out they DO talk. That mute shit was all just a lie. One of them straight up talks to you. He talks all goddamn day. And the rest of them shout all the time. So I guess they don’t take their responsibilities all that seriously. Honestly, I feel like they were sort of shoehorned into the game as a plot device to give a reason to Bethesda’s idea of “What if you could yell at your enemies”.

Alright at this point you’re probably wondering why I gave this a C+ if all I’m doing is talking shit about its flaws. The fact of the matter is this: At its core, it’s fun to explore and find all the hidden shit and occasional unique enemies. The world is massive, and despite all my criticisms, the world itself is a pretty damn cool place. I like the lore, I enjoy reading all the books, talking to the random NPCs that seem insignificant but turn out to be secretly awesome, and even the ones that are insignificant and don’t turn out to be awesome. There’s something satisfying about this kind of game. It appeals to some of my basic gaming desires, I suppose. It’s a huge world in which I can do my own thing (in this case my own thing is basically stealing everything), and for the most part I can also play it how I want to play it. You can really tell that Bethesda genuinely did put a lot of effort into making the world a more fleshed-out, believable, enjoyable place, from the lore and the dialogue, and the sheer number of quests which actually have relevance in the world and aren’t always just “get 10 of X”. You can often read a book and stumble across some legend or mystery that you can then go on to solve, or the book might give hints to some hidden treasure which you can then go and find.

The quests often allow for a few different outcomes. Like one time I met a cannibal bitch who just had the audacity to assume I wanted to be a cannibal too. I was like, wow, fuck your shit. I played along for a while, and when she gathered up all her cannibal buddies, I slaughtered them all rather than doing their bullshit cannibalistic quest. I ain’t no cannibal. Fuck you. There’s a lot of quests that can be similarly played in different ways, and that’s something that I appreciate. It’s legitimately a decent game. It’s massive, and if you enjoy RPGs at all then certain elements of it will almost definitely appeal to you. If you enjoyed Oblivion, you’ll enjoy Skyrim. Hell, you’ll probably enjoy Skyrim more than Oblivion because it’s basically Oblivion with more stuff in it and certain aspects have been polished up. If you didn’t enjoy Oblivion, give Skyrim a miss.

I’ve always had this thing where I feel like certain games seem cheaply made, like the effort just hasn’t been put into them in the right places and that they could have been so much more. The TES series of games are a good example of this. It kinda just feels like they had a really good idea, and could have made something that’s game-of-the-year Triple A grade stuff, but instead they outsourced it all to China and made it with the most affordable components tacked together with bad glue and the sweat of child laborers.

If you want a ridiculously huge world with room for roleplay and a ridiculous amount of sidequests and NPCs to talk to, get Skyrim. If you want amazing gameplay and fantastic dungeon design get Dark Souls. Or better yet, get both and have both and enjoy each for what they are and for what they do. The fact of the matter is, though I may have a lot of criticisms to make of Skyrim, I played it for like 80 hours and will likely play it for more than that. And maybe even make another character some time in the future and play it again. I wouldn’t put that amount of time into it if I wasn’t enjoying it.

Final playtime: 80 hours

Final verdict: C+

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