Review by siuche2k
"A breakthrough attempt that felt more like a trial than a finished product"
As the fifth game in The Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim is definitely one of the most anticipated game in 2011. Considering Bethesda's success with Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Fallout: New Vegas, I must say that the expectations are high for Skyrim. Afterall, we are talking about a developer that set the bar so high that other Open-World RPG developers struggle to keep up on the same level. The results? Well, when you set the bar that high, you might end up tripping over yourself.
Skyrim is not a bad game, in fact, I have played it on daily basis since the game's launch and I still find it very interesting. Bethesda once again created a world that I enjoy visiting day after day, with new things to do and new places to constantly explore. But that's also where Skyrim's biggest problem begins, it's a beautiful world that wasn't made to best use its fully potential to deliver the best experience.
I don't see a lot of reviews give credit to the game designing team's concept. But I have to applaud to the designing team for their ambition and vision of what they would like Skyrim to be like. To include dragons that attack towns, npcs, or even random enemies is one of the most courageous attempt in recent game history. With the radiant AI and random quests thrown into the mix, this is something that should be recorded in the history of the gaming industry!
While I admire the design team actually having the guts stand with their ideas and go so far as to execute this ambitious concept, the execution itself though, well... it didn't always work as well as the ideal picture.
Story has been the weakest point with Bethesda's games. At least the main quest's plot in their previous games were never really fancy and amazing tales. In Skryim, you play with one big element, dragons. Yeah, Dragons, as in those traditional flying lizards that spit fire, and not the ones that grant you a wish if you collect its balls. You've heard of them, you've fought them, you've seen them so many times with different RPGs. I don't have a problem with playing a story with something I'm totally familiar with, and the story ended up pretty much as I have expected -- there aren't any big mysteries or big shocking surprises with Skyrim's story involving the hero being a Dragonborn. (Someone born with the ability to absorb a dragon's soul and to use the dragon's power through "shouts")
But then again, The Elder Scroll's main plot is only half of the fun. Considering the wonderful Dark Brotherhood storyline from Oblivion that had many heads turned and eyes opened with amazement back then, I was hoping that Skyrim would shock me again with their guild quests. Unfortunately, other than a nice change with the Warrior's guild to a more interesting "Companion" group, and the additon of a Bard College, none of the story is truly as capturing as something like Oblivion's Dark Brotherhood, or the quests from the casinos in Fallout New Vegas.
So how come the story isn't as capturing and as entertaining as Bethesda's previous work? The answer actually is related the gameplay.
Skyrim gives you a world that you can freely explore. You can choose whatever quests you wish to take up and you are, surprisingly, free to a ride and immediately access different areas in Skyrim right at the very beginning. However, that's where the freedom began, and that's also where it ended.
While the game allows you to choose what quests to take, you however in many cases, do not get to choose how to finish the quests. Diplomatic solutions are rare and sneak mostly used to silently kill rather than for avoiding combat completely. To make things worse, I often find that I do not have the option to do things "my way". You want to get someone out of jail? Sorry, you will have to kill everyone at the fort. You want to kill a certain crime lord that controlled a town under the table? Sorry, there are no quests for that, and even if you try to walk up and stab her, you'll find that the crime lord is a protected NPC marked essential. It seems that I have to constantly struggle in my head and step out of the "freedom" the game claim to provide just so I can complete the quests.
It seems that nothing good ever happens in Skyrim and people here simply accepted that. Even if you want a companion or someone to marry you, they just simply give you that "Life is too short let's do it and be done with it" attitude. Yeah, maybe people do have a harsh life in Skyrim, but then again, it also makes me feel that Bethesda is just taking the easy way out so they don't have to deal with what they're not good at.
While the feeling of "freedom" is crippled, I begin to care less and less about what is going on around the people. I started to act like a moron, eat human flesh, become a werewolf, scam legit merchant to jail, and side with crime lords, so the side quests can be done. For someone who would like to roleplay as an evil character, that's probably all fine, but for someone who wishes to do some good as well... Well, like many has said, you always have the option to just finish the main quest and be done with the game. If that's even considered as an option with freedom of choice.
Taking a step away from the poor quests, Skyrim did a pretty good job with the scaling and level setting for mobs in the game. You'll come across mobs that may scale with you as well as some that are complete pushovers. This variety is good, making some areas more difficult than others, but still maintaining a pacing of adventure that you can just go anywhere to experience anything you wish.
I'm not sure if I may call the glitches part of the gameplay, but one of the most enjoyable things with Skryim is to see how things fail to work. Frozen monsters fall off a cliff but they don't shatter, and pinball in the valley, or horses that behave like the Angry Bird and sling into the horizon once you get off your noble steed. There are many WTF moments and sometimes makes you wonder, how can the developers not think that someone would actually do this and leave a glitch / loop hole right there?
Skyrim is definitely one of the better looking RPGs in the market right now. (And I believe it will look even more amazing with mods) The variety in mobs, and environment makes traveling in Skyrim a very enjoyable one. We no longer enter the same cave that has exact same layout over and over again. Most of the dungeons look unique with variety of mobs residing inside. The snow storm effects, and the whiteout blizzards of the north added to the atmosphere of the game.
The spell effects, especially the dragon's fire is by far one of the best looking effects I've seen in a long time. It feels powerful, it hot, and it feels like it can really do some damage. Especially when the fire is being directed to someone else and not on me. Magic and lighting effects are nice, but probably on par with Oblivion only. Do not expect over the top kind of crazy effects as you will not feel as powerful as the dragon at all, even if you're using the same dragon breathe technique that you got from the dragon itself.
Furthermore, much like all the games by Bethesda, everything tend to look massive and heavy. Even a fork, or a bowl look very thick and heavy. Technical gears and robotic units still lack a "high tech" feel to it.
In terms of the characters.... Once again Bethesda is telling us that doesn't matter if it's a nuclear wasteland or the northern cold climate condition, people in their games suffer and nobody look youthful. It has been said over and over again with Oblivion, Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, and now again with Skyrim, people in Bethesda's game are simply ugly. I'm not talking about having Final Fantasy characters in these harsh environment, but the problem seems to be that people of Skryim are either a child, or they are 40 yr olds, even if their voice clearly shows that they are under 40! This is sad to the point that the most beautiful race that you can be or can meet are either the Kahjits or the Argonians. (cat or lizard people) Other than that, welcome to the world of the 40 and above.
If comparing to Oblivion, Skyrim's sound effects, music, and NPC dialogues are 10 times better. Different sounds of wind, from blasts of wind on the mountain slope, or sounds of wind getting through tiny spaces. These sound effects made the whole atmosphere more life-like and believable.
One of the weakest point with Oblivion is with the character's dialogues. This got a major fix with Skyrim. In fact, some of the characters are memorable all thanks to the outstanding voice acting. Such as Poor Ceceiro who constantly ask WHY DOES the Sweettttt~ Mother WON'T speak TO pooooor ceceiro. Then again, those are one of the rare cases. For the rest of the NPCs, they just tell you random lines based on your skills or with recent events. That is just fine as well, until you hear both male and female NPCs all repeat the same line when you become the Thane of their town, or when you invested in their shop.
Skyrim is truly an ambitious game. But there are so many parts of this game that feels incomplete when all the focus went to the dragons, the prevention of dragons accidentally kill off the NPCs and the implementation of radiant AI. It is true that the mod community can do a lot to help Skyrim grow into a better game, to upgrade its graphics and fix a lot of the issues. However, Bethesda really shouldn't be so dependent on the mod community to do their job. At the present moment, Skryim feels more like a major experimentation than a game with complete breakthrough.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/30/11
Game Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (US, 11/11/11)
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