Review by GamingJock

"If I had written this review in the first 20 hours of gameplay, it would have been a 10/10"

Exactly what the title to this review says: Skyrim is a game that wows you early, but slowly reveals its flaws over many hours of gameplay. Now that I have 40-50 hours of gameplay under my belt, I realized that in some ways Skyrim is a step backwards compared to Oblivion (and even Morrowind), and it is also more of the same old same old Bethesda-style shennigans, although this won't necessarily be a bad thing for all players.

THE GOOD

+ "Wow." That's what I kept repeating after I completed the first semi-scripted sequence and escaped into the freedom of the world. The initial scope of the game can be overwhelming, but also represents a ton of opportunity to do whatever you want. The landscapes are stunning, especially with the mountains in the background. There is so much to see that you could just play tourist for a good 4-5 hours without actually talking to anyone or doing any quests.

+ Dragons were advertised heavily before release, and Skyrim delivers. Dragons are huge, graceful, and powerful, and they definitely inspire terror and awe. The first time you encounter a dragon it is very exciting, and the battles rarely get old because they require a lot of strategy and timing to pull off correctly. You can get one-hit KOed with certain character builds, but to me this only adds to the suspense and excitement of dragon battles.

+ Companions. It's clear that Skyrim took a page (or several) from Fallout 3 and New Vegas; in fact, I would argue in some ways it is more similar to those games than Oblivion or Morrowind. One of the features I really appreciated is the addition of companion NPCs. You can team up with several NPC characters with backgrounds, or hire generic mercenaries to fight alongside you. These characters are very welcome because they make battles more interests, instead of the usual dozen melee monsters mobbing the player. Also, companions are very useful for carrying all your extra loot from dungeons

+ New gameplay mechanics. Dragon "shouts" are a great addition to the TES series and allow for more interesting gameplay tactics, like dashing across a room or summoning animals to help you in a fight. I also think the addition of a sprint feature and the ability to bash with a shield or bow were also a step in the right direction.

+ Improved enemy level scaling. Mercifully, Bethesda did away with Oblivion's style of level scaling, which was practically gamebreaking. Nothing killed immersion in that game like a lowly outlaw demanding 100 gold in a stickup, while wielding extremely powerful Glass armor and Daedric weapons worth thousands of gold. Now some enemies scale with you to keep the challenge, but others remain weak like they are supposed to be.

THE BAD

- Horrible UI. The user interface is garbage. It is clear that it was designed for consoles in mind first. Would it have killed Bethesda to make a separate UI for PC gamers? Of my 50 hours with the game, I'd say 5 were spent just navigating the UI. It is extremely frustrating and detracts from the experience.

- Many perks are pointless. The TES series did not need an introduction of a perk system, but apparently every game nowadays has to have bloody perks. At least in Fallout 3 and New Vegas they were good. Many perks in Skyrim are just "+20% damage" to one-handed weapons or whatever. Wow, big deal. Isn't this the same thing as improving the skill as using it? Give me interesting perks or don't include them.

- Very little you do matters to the world. This is pretty much a hallmark of Bethesda games by now, and Skyrim is no different. I remember how much I hated the fact that in Oblivion, I could close a dozen Oblivion gates or zero and nothing changed if it wasn't part of the main quest. In Skyrim, I can slay a dozen dragons, become the Dragonborn, learn dozens of shouts, earn the title of Thane, take charge of the Companions guild - but guards will tell me to watch myself like I'm a common street thug and villagers will still ask me to go on inane fetch-quests. "I'm not your errand boy, I'm DOHVAKIN!!!!" Part of this is due to the sandbox style of game that is Skyrim, but part of this is also lazy developing on the part of Bethesda - there is no depth to the game, just endless sidequests.

- At the same time, little happens without your input. Oh there's a civil war going on in Skyrim? I would have never guessed. That Imperial camp and that Stormcloak hideout are 1km away from each other but apparently they don't know that unless I get involved. Most. Incompetent. Army. Ever. Occasionally you'll find interesting random encounters like mages fighting a giant, but they're just that - random, and they have no impact on the game world once you leave the area.

- NPCs are wooden and the "Radiant" AI is anything but. Nothing kills immersion like two NPCs having a heated argument while standing completely still without any body language. Skyrim improved the dreadful unblinking mannequin faces of Oblivion, but apparently Bethesda forgot to include animations to the NPCs (probably because they were too busy adding Cave-full-of-Falmer-and-useless-loot #214). The AI is still poor. Companions get in the way all the time or run off and die. Conjured monsters chase the first enemy they see instead of protecting the player, leaving his frail mage bones to get broken by a giant cave bear. Or sometimes they get stuck behind obstacles and refuse to follow you. Enemy AI isn't much better, with most enemies' main strategy being a relentless berserker charge all up in your face. However, I do like how some humanoid enemies yield and beg for mercy when their health is low.

- Combat is very repetitive. Combat was the worst part of Oblivion in my opinion, and while shouts and sprinting have improved combat in Skyrim, it is still very repetitive. Almost all of the non-dragon enemy encounters involved me backpedaling while mashing the attack button over and over until whatever was chasing me died, occasionally pausing to drink a health or sorcery potion. At first glance it seems like Skyrim gives you dozens of options, but with experience you realize how useless most of them are. What's the point of coating my sword with a Damage Willpower poison? Any magic user in sword range is going to die in less than 10 seconds anyway. What's the point of equipping one hand with a Fortify Magicka spell when I can just spam dual-wield two destruction spells that do more damage? With the exception of dragons, frost trolls, giants, and a few other monsters, almost all of the fights are over so quickly that there is no point to any tactics more complex than figuring out which weapon or spell to equip to each hand. It largely becomes an issue of "I could, but why would I?" It's far easier just to flail an axe around or spam fire magic.

- Broken record dialogue. Every city guard in all of Skyrim was once a great adventurer until he took an arrow in the knee and spawned a terrible internet meme. Yeah I know, villagers have been repeating "Welcome to Town X" since Dragon Warrior I, but at least in the retro-RPG days they didn't have voice acting and didn't shout out the same line at you every time you get within earshot. That Jarl's son and his obsessive-compulsive boot licking fetish is tempting me to download the child-killing mod just so I can make him shut up. Occasionally NPCs will react to things happening around them, like dragon attacks, but too often they just repeat the same thing over and over about how their daughter is disobedient or how the Imperials are scum. For the love of God, I don't care. What's the point of several dozen voice actors if they don't say anything interesting? I'd rather go back to text-only speech if it meant more interesting NPCs.

THE UGLY

- Almost everyone, especially the Mer (elf) races. Good lord. And I'm supposed to pick a wife out of this bunch?

Ultimately, Skyrim is worth buying and you will have fun, probably a lot of it. But after I got past the initial honeymoon phase, I realized that Skyrim could have been so much more but feel short or even went backwards in some areas. I look forward to the inevitable deluge of mods, because I'm sure I'll be ready to hang up my axe after another 10-20 hours of vanilla Skyrim.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/05/11

Game Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (US, 11/10/11)


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