Review by 200Degrees
"Skyrim is a bad game and here's why..."
I was somewhat excited when I decided to play Skyrim. The game's predecessor, Oblivion, was still relatively fresh in my mind...and while I wasn't particularly fond of Oblivion, I had been told that Skyrim had done a good job remedying many of the things that I had disliked about Oblivion, particularly the awkwardness of facial modeling and character movement. When I first began to play, I truly believed that I was about to experience a game that truly was a step above the game that had come before it. The first portions of exposition and gameplay are well-done. Seated in a horse-drawn carriage, my wrists bound with rope, subjected to the depressing lamentations of my fellow prisoners and hushed talk of rebellions...it felt exciting. As the story progressed I was taken through an immersive experience that Oblivion had never offered me. If only for a few moments, the game had convinced me that I was in for something special. However, once the token tutorial had ended and I was given free reign to do as I please, it became obvious that the best part of the game had ended. It was all downhill from there. I'll do my best to address the parts of the game that I feel were important...
GRAPHICS - 10/10
The graphics are good. Very good. The game is beautiful. The awkward, ugly facial animations from Oblivion, uncanny valley and all, have been replaced by models that actually aren't a pain to look at. The environments are vast and breathtaking. Big, snow-filled tundras and daunting mountain ranges...it's deserving of the word 'epic'. The effects of spells and shouts are colorful and well-animated. Simply for the visual effects alone, it feels good to use them. I don't have anything bad to say about how the game looks.
SOUND - 7/10
The sound is good. There are several memorable pieces of music, and the sound serves its purpose well. Voice acting is a massive improvement from Oblivion...though with the overwhelming amount of characters in the game, they're forced to reuse many of the same voice actors and the player is sure to notice. In the end, though, the majority of the game's music was forgettable...though the voice acting will remain a significant achievement, even with the recycled voice acting. There's only so much you can do when you have a game that is this massively large when it comes to voice acting, and I do believe that those who made the game did the best they could in this regard.
PLOT AND CHARACTERS - 5/10
It's hard to judge the overall story presentation of a game that has no many things going on at once. There are many moments in the game (mostly during the main quest) that seem genuinely excited in how the story is presented to you...but overall, it's just the kind of thing you'd expect from any game of this variety that has a plot. The characters in Skyrim aren't very good. Most NPCs, including the ones featured prominently in major quests, aren't very interesting at all...paper-thin, devoid of soul or anything remotely intriguing about their personalities. There are some exceptions, but not many. Marriage in the game is a good example of this. Marriage is an absolute joke. The romantic interests for the main character, for the most part, don't have much going on for them and they'll end up wanting to marry you as soon as you meet them. As an example, there's a female love interest in the game who can marry once you've completed a task for her. The task is to bring her a mammoth tusk. So, you bring her a mammoth tusk...and then, if you have a special item that advertises you as single, she'll be completely open to marry. There is no build-up to this...there is no actual connection between the player and the character that should warrant you to want your character to marry this person. It's as dry, stale, and pointless as it gets. It feels tacked on, as if the marriage content is a result of a poorly made mod than something that should actually be included in the game. Most games that have marriage options such as this have ways of developing the love interests well...to make the player feel emotionally attached enough to actually care about what happens to them. Skyrim is completely incapable of making the player care about anything that happens to anyone during the course of the game.
GAMEPLAY - 3/10
This is where the game takes a life-changing tumble down the stairs. To make things run a little smoother, I'll divide all important aspects of the gameplay up into easier-to-read chunks.
The combat is bad. Very bad. Remember the combat from Oblivion? That's the combat in Skyrim. The combat in Elder Scrolls games has always been a major drawback and I find it incredible that the developers haven't done very much to make it any better. Fighting in Skyrim is incredibly simplistic. There isn't much room for advancement because there's not much you can (or should) do in battle. The vast majority of the enemies in the game are human-based (skeletons, ghosts, bandits, draugrs, etc.) with a few examples of local fauna and, of course, dragons. Regardless of the enemy's appearance, each one of them is fought in the same exact way. Enemy variety is only an illusion, extending only to their physical appearances. There's no variation. You'll be using the same techniques for every single fight you come across. Let's say you want to use Magic? Switch between fire and ice attacks, spamming them while moving back. That's all. Melee attacker? Run close and use your strongest attacks until the enemy dies. Once you run out of stamina for your power attacks, just use your fast attacks until your stamina builds back up. There's no real incentive to use fast attacks over strong ones unless you lack the stamina to perform those big, crushing wind-ups. There is no balance between the attacks and no moment when you will have to consciously choose between them to make the best out of a situation. For a game intended to be an action-RPG, the combat is one of its biggest flaws.
Well, it's big and pretty alright...but that's where the good part ends. The map is huge but anything of interest is far and few between. Most of the time you'll just be going from point A to point B with enemy encounters sprinkled in between (though you can just run away). There's a lot of walking...a lot of the same enemies you've already fought (though, even if they were new, it wouldn't matter. You'd be fighting them in the exact same way). While it's candy for the eyes, you'll eventually grow bored of it and just start fast-traveling everywhere (which almost defeats the purpose of having such a huge world to trek around in). The world of Skyrim, for the most part, is tedious.
So, you have this enormous map to explore, and you'll occasionally find a dungeon to plow through. It's a major part of this game's genre...finding secrets, loot, and plowing through dank, dripping tombs. Unfortunately, once you've seen one dungeon, you've seen them all. The layouts aren't very different, and there aren't many challenges other than picking apart the same enemy you've already killed countless times. The rewards typically aren't worth it, the chests filled with primarily junk and maybe a few pieces of gold for your effort. They change the textures of the dungeons and that's it.
It's been simplified from Oblivion...in some ways, this is good. It allows players to customize their characters through how they play rather than through some uninformed decision you make at the beginning of the game. You choose your gender, choose your race, and...there ya go. All of your abilities level up through how much you actually make use of them, so character customization is pretty much automatic. You can spend your skill points on perks, but most of them are perks that raise your abilities by percentages, making your armor 40% more effective or something like that.. While useful, it comes off as bland and underwhelming. There are several perks that actually add new game mechanics, which I enjoy, but there aren't many of them.
There's a massive amount of quest content in Skyrim. While the 'main' quest only lasts a few hours, there's enough extra content to keep interested players going at it for a long, long time. Most of the quests, though, are not very good. Guild quests suffer from extremely poor pacing. You'll be going from doing menial tasks to being the destiny-chosen God-King of the organization in just a couple of hours or so. While the game seems built for the option for players to play out the role of their very own character, there isn't very much room for choices. Most quests in the game only have one outcome, with little importance placed upon personal choice. There are a few quests to be found that are genuinely engaging, but an overwhelming majority of the game's quest content is poorly paced, poorly designed, poorly written, or riddled with obnoxious glitches. Example: there's a quest in Windhelm that prompts the player to catch a serial killer. At one point, I had to follow a trail of blood...though, the trail of blood is more a series of gigantic red splotches arranged in order. I followed the oddly distributed blotches to a location in which I found a flier that suggested I talk to an NPC. Despite the fact that those fliers had been posted around the city with the same message, I was not allowed to talk to her about the killer unless I actually had the flier in my inventory. This makes no sense, and it took me a while to figure out why she wasn't giving me the time of die. So, I go back to the location with the fliers, manually put them in my inventory, and then go back. Now, based on the evidence I have, she tells me who she thinks did it. I accuse the guy, he gets arrested, quest is apparently over. For kicks, I go to the dungeon and talk to the guy that I just had arrested. He doesn't say anything about the fact that he's in jail. He doesn't acknowledge that he's in jail in any way at all. The only dialogue option with him is that he teaches Destruction Magic for a fee and is still somehow able to accept gold from me despite being imprisoned for murder. Days later, I return to the city to see that the killer has struck again and I messed up by imprisoning the wrong guy. So, I'm told to wait for the real killer in a specific part of the city at night. I patrolled the location night after night with nothing to show for it until eventually the killer popped up for no reason. He didn't kill anyone or seem to try to kill anyone...the quest simply updated suddenly and I found myself chasing the big white quest arrow above the killer's head. I then killed him and the quest was over. This quest is an example of everything wrong with the quests in Skyrim. It's notoriously glitched, it's poorly paced, there are objectives that make no sense, and all the characters you interact with behave in ways that are totally nonsensical and break immersion completely. It isn't just glitches that are to blame...it's bad design in general. There are apparently even problems with the quest that I didn't even encounter, such as being able to sneak into the real killer's home and find evidence of his crimes, but being able to do nothing about it until you go through the quest as you normally would. It's quantity over quality at its most obvious.
The AI in Skyrim is as stupid as it's ever been. You can place baskets over the heads of NPCs and rob them blind. They'll ignore dead bodies and not react to them...or react to them briefly, but then continue on their way and do the same thing in reaction to the same dead body when they come back. It's on the level of the AI that was existent in Oblivion and they've done seemingly nothing to change that. In a game that is supposedly built on immersion, this comes off as incredibly lazy.
This doesn't even need to be elaborated on. The game is so glitch-heavy that I'm surprised it's sold as a finished product. Bethesda's quality assurance is extremely sloppy. While there are many small glitches, there are also many game-breaking glitches that prevent me from accessing portions of the game I should be able to play through. Skyrim feels incomplete thanks in part to these.
Level scaling exists in the game. That means that when you level up, all of the enemies in the game level up. While this seems like it would make the game more challenging, it doesn't do much beyond making the act of leveling up be less satisfying than it should be. The experience system is incredibly broken. The only way to not feel like you aren't leveling and gaining skills too frequently is to completely avoid the alchemy, smithing, and enchanting trees entirely. The system is so easily exploited it that it's possible to exploit it without even meaning to. Overall, the game is disappointingly easy. There's no point where any player should feel legitimately challenged by anything, what with the samey combat and all. You can save at any time you like, and the game autosaves frequently unless you tell it not to...something that removes any and all consequences for any of your actions. The difficulty settings don't change much and the game ends up being an absolute breeze on any difficulty. The difficulty settings only make the game harder on a completely superficial level. All it does is give enemies more HP. This doesn't make the game more difficult...only more tedious. You're still fighting the same enemy in the same exact way, but takes you a few more whacks to get them to stay down.
Playing through Oblivion felt like chewing on a piece of cardboard. Sure, there was a lot of it and it took a long time to finish the whole thing, but the actual experience of shoving every dry, chewy piece past your gums was a long, boring chore. Playing through Skyrim feels like chewing on a piece of cardboard smothered in frosting. That's all that I feel Skyrim is. It's Oblivion with a fresh coat of paint. It looks better and it sounds better, but they've kept everything else intact. It's as if Bethesda consciously decided to not address any of the notable flaws found in Oblivion just to see if they could get by with making a game that looks pretty. The AI is still bad, the combat is still bad, the characters and writing as bland as can be, the dungeons are ridiculously repetitive, the quests are poorly paced, and the entire game suffers from more glitches than should be acceptable for a fully finished game. All of these flaws combine into one great, big cloud that floats over the player's head and destroy any possible immersion. Overall, Skyrim amounts to little more than a needlessly grandiose spectacle built for the casual player in mind. In my opinion, not worth the time.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 01/04/12
Game Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (US, 11/10/11)
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