Sunday, 8 January 2012

Quick Thoughts 15-20 Hours into Skyrim

Unlike most people out there I went into playing the much anticipated The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim not really caring about the hype. I've played it's predecessor Oblivion and thought it was, "Good". A 7/10, that's all, perhaps being a bit generous even. I didn't buy the hype people gave it really. So when people started raving about Skyrim, I was just like "Meh... sure." And then people kept telling me why it was better than Oblivion; it didn't have any of the technical issues or limitations, the combat was improved e.t.c. But to be honest, that was never the problem I had with Oblivion in the first place.

Here's how I like my games: big and expansive with a strong focus on story and characters in that story, a need to play the game that derives from the story driving you forward but at the same time optional side-quests that can allow you to divert for a while from the main story that is so hardcore it can be exhausting at times.
Examples: Batman: Arkham City, Final Fantasy VII, Breath of Fire III, The Legend of Zelda (The Entire Series) and to a certain extent Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

To me, The Elder Scrolls is in the same vein as games like Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto, where you have these massive sandbox worlds to explore and do anything you want in them really but then you can do the "main quest" at your leisure, almost a reverse of the games mentioned. Mass Effect and Dragon Age sort of all under this banner too but they're not sandbox.

Now let me preface this by saying. I like Skyrim, a lot, I've been enjoying it more than I did Oblivion. I think that's because at the start, it makes you focus a little more on the main plot so you can get the Dragon Shouts. After this I've been blacksmithing, of to the Mage College, killing random wolves and goats with a flamethrower (I'm a sadistic magical bastard, sue me) e.t.c. Everything most people said is true, this game is better than Oblivion, though many say not as good as Morrowind and I'll even touch on that in a minute. But like I said, those 'problems' the people who loved Oblivion and now love Skyrim had, aren't the same problems I have and my problem with the game is thus...

Despite the massive open world with huge amounts of detail, which is very commendable and by far the best and most detail oriented world I've ever seen or played. Despite all the thousands of sidequests and new mechanics that make the game almost completely different every time someone plays, which is also excellent... I find myself really not giving a shit about half of it because of the lack of character the characters themselves have. Virtually every NPC in this game could be faceless and nameless to me, as could the Dohvakiin, the protagonist you play as. He has no voice, he has no personality and to many that's like "Great, I can play as 'myself' it's a role-playing game". But as a writer, I like to feel connected to characters and more importantly, relate to the characters.

I can't relate to the characters because I just don't give a rats ass about them, they all look very samey, act very samey, have very samey voices and, yeah... that's how I feel about the world. Take the Greybeards... they're four of the same damn person. The mage school... everyone is practically the same with one being a bit schemey one being a different race.... eh.... they're archetypes not characters.

The combat is... average at best. It's button mashing, running around, healing, there's little strategy involved except "Kill Your Opponent and Don't Die". Compare this with say a turn based system from Final Fantasy where you have to use your whole party together in a strategic attempt to take down the enemy. Or The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, where you have to aim and time your sword strikes to kill an enemy whilst trying to dodge their attacks. It's not that the combat is bad, it's just, I've seen it before, it's nothing new and it's very standard. It's not outdated or anything, it's not not as strategic as other RPGs like the Final Fantasy's and Dragon Age's of this world. Thought I will admit the Dragon Fights so far have been exciting and awesome, in part thanks to the great musical theme that plays there.

As for the story... well, I dunno. Characters tend to make up a story and for me nothing has been memorable so far except killing a dragon and learning the shouts. Aside from that it's been pretty basic, even Oblivion has the threat of the Gates of Hell Opening to put the fear of God in you about the severity of the siutation. Here there's a civil war going on that I just don't care about because I don't care about the people involved, there's some mythical dragons returning which a lot of people are just like.... "Yeah... Dragons are back... man that sucks..." Wait... What?! Seriously their reactions are so blase about it. You just heard that a supposedly extinct and possibly even mytholgical beast has returned to destroy the f***ing world and you're just like "Wow... that sucks..." I'm sorry but take this in a real world context... If a Tyrannosaurus Rex suddenly rampaged through downtown Manhattan, people would not be like "Wow....a dinosaur... that sucks..." They'd be more like "HOLY S*** B*** MOTHERF***** THERE'S A DINOSAUR TRYING TO EAT EVERYONE! S*** RUUUUUUUUUN!!!!!" There'd be bloody mass panic and hysteria and that's for a creature we know exists, not one that might not even even existed.

Back to the world for a second, but this massive world that's open and "you can see it, you can go to it" as people have described it. Awesome as it is... 90% of it is completely pointless.... It really is, all the detail is bells and whilstles really because it's great and all but it's pointless in a practical sense. Much as I hate doing it I'm drawn back to other examples, Mass Effect, every mission even the side missions have purpose. But that's a mission based style so let's try... Final Fantasy, every inch of the world map has a different pattern of enemies, some you can only fight in a small section which hold key items you'll need for side quests.... Let's try... Skyward Sword. Every inch of this game is like a dungeon at times, it's got loads of puzzles and methods and ways to get around. Deus Ex: Human Revolution, something I'd describe as the pinaccle of "Choose Your Route" gameplay because there's literally about 5 different methods to do every section of every mission in the game. It's incredible. Grand Theft Auto, lot's of cars available on every street, certain things available only in certain places.

Skyrim is just kinda... empty at times with some goats and wolves here and there. It's an amazingly huge and detail oriented world, not quite as fantastical as Morrowind's which one day I'll give that game a try because the world there looks so damn beautiful, it's very fantastical and unique, unlike Oblivion and Skyrim, which really doesn't have such fantastical feel to it, it feels a little too down to earth at times. Hell even the worst example of a linear game, which I've said time and time again I dislike how linear it is despite being a fan of linear games and for the record Skyrim is a far superior game in general; Final Fantasy XIII. When you get to Gran Pulse, it's world is beautiful and imaginative, of course the gameplay itself is pretty bad and much of you find yourself saying "this was one of the biggest wasted opportunties in gaming history", but the point stands.

The music in the game has been lauded as excellent. Whilst the main theme that's been around since Morrowind is really, really, great, especially when used during the dragon fights... the rest is very kinda... meh. It's not made me go, "Wow what a beautiful song" or even "What an atmospheric piece of music" like Deus Ex: Human Revolution did constantly.

However in spite of this I am enjoying the game a lot. I find that despite it's faults it has, I'm actually finding it a lot more fun than Oblivion and Fallout 3 (but that's another story for another time... feel a little betrayed there). I'm also only about fifteen-twenty hours into the game but I've played other games for that time and if this is just a slow start, maybe I'll eat my words but I doubt it. I am enjoying this game and it's "Great", which I give 8/10 so far. We'll see how it progresses...

Pictures are from various sources around the internet, I do not own them.