Review by bionicman_3090
"Is this what's called "Ground-Breaking" in today's gaming culture? Quantity over Quality?"
The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim is the latest installment in the popular TES series. There was a lot of hype pre-launch but to me, it doesn't live up to it. I'll tell you why...
Graphics :- Artistically, this game looks great. But the moment you get close enough to any object, living or otherwise, you get the sense of just how misleading and how much Bethesda have to catch up to in terms of today's graphics standard. But keeping your distance, the game world feels real, feels fresh and at certain locations, is mesmerizing. The characters have been given a good amount of attention into making them look real, the creatures, though some like the Trolls are exactly like that of Oblivion but with better texture and color, are very convincing and fit the lore well.
Sound :- The soundtrack is quite good and there's one from Morrowind being re-used here. The clashing of weapons, impact sound, footfalls and the ambient sound are quite pleasing. But I'll say one thing. The sound of "critical hits" could've been different. Listening to the sound of someone banging a broken drum when you land a critical hit is silly.
As with Oblivion, Skyrim suffers from voice acting. Although the voice actors sound convincing at times, there's an over-use of them and you'll find many characters voiced by the same person. The least that Bethesda could've done is made those voice actors change their voice to some extent so that each character would sound different. To think Bethesda might've learned their lesson from Oblivion....
Combat:- Skyrim tries to up the anti and it does a reasonable job. Combat has seen a slight improvement but it isn't without flaws. There's dual-wielding now, probably inspired after watching Unnecessary Violence mod that a great modder made for Oblivion but Bethesda haven't made it quite convincing. For instance, when you dual-wield, you can't block. That's their way to "balance" things out I believe. So, all you do is wait for your opponent to attack first, get your timing right and side-step and then, press and hold both attack buttons to perform a 3-hit power attack combo and that blows any other damage out of the water.
Two-handed and One-handed combat is just about block and attack. It's as shallow as you can get. Archery is synonymous with Stealth and I really wonder why this is so in practically every TES game. Being a Master Archer should mean that you're able to cut down opponents regardless of being stealthy or not but this is not so. Moreover, the arrows seem to have pre-set distance and they quickly arc down, leaving long-range attacks annoyingly unfeasible without console command to disable this.
Magic users can dual-wield same spell for added "bite" provided that you choose the Perk that enables this. But the big question is, why shouldn't there be an option dual-wielding two different spells from the same magic school? You can only dual-wield the same type of spell, like Fire equipped on both hands can be combined for extra damage. You can't combine Fire and Frost spell. Instead, you can equip those two spells in different hands and shoot them simultaneously without enjoying any advantage whatsoever. This along with that disadvantage of dual-wielding melee weapons feels like dual-wielding's a tacked-on concept.
Crafting :- You can now craft weapons and armor using raw materials. The big issue here is the exp gain. As with all TES games, the more times you use a specific skill, the more exp you get for that skill. This concept hasn't been thought through with crafting weapons and armor as you get the same exp for crafting a lowly Iron Dagger as crafting any Daedric stuff. This is a flawed concept as there's absolutely no need to craft any type of armor or upper tier weapons as you can craft Iron Daggers and boost your Smithing skill to 100 very easily. Apart for this major flaw, this is handled quite well and you can refine your armor/weapon and get better advantage from its improvement.
Enchanting is a little bit different in this game. In previous games, you needed to know the spell and be able to use the spell in order to use that spell as an enchantment on your armor or weapon. In Skyrim, you hunt for enchanted weapons and armor or buy them from vendors, once you find what you're looking for, you take it to an Arcane Table and Disenchant that item in order to learn that enchantment. Then, you apply that enchantment to the preferred armor/weapon. Every piece of gear can carry 2 enchantments, provided to get your Enchanting skill high enough to apply dual enchants. The power of the enchant depends on your enchanting skill as well as the Soul in the Soul Gem. This concept is a little tedious but makes more sense than in previous games.
Questing:- As with any RPGs, quests are what that drives your gaming experience. TES series being the sandbox RPG that they are, quests often aren't needed to enjoy the game. However, Skyrim really bites the dust here. The game world features an insane number of explorable "dungeons" like Forts, Dwemer ruins, caves, Tombs, etc but they're so boringly repetitive that by the time you're done exploring 3 of the same type, you'll know what to expect at each turn in the next "dungeon" of the same type. Even the puzzles are repetitive and require hardly any thought. I remember just one Tomb where you had to read a journal and analyze the clue in contained to unlock a gate. The rest of the Tombs involve turning pillars to match the emblem that's displayed on a wall or examining an artifact in your inventory to align the carving on a sealed door. I can't even begin to explain how lame this is.
The real reason why questing is so bad in Skyrim is that they lack any kind of decision-making. You either accept the quest and see it through to completion or you don't accept it. If you do accept it but don't want to finish it, then you let it sit in your Journal forever. Speaking of Journal, I've never seen a poorer excuse for a Journal anywhere apart for Skyrim. The Journal is like a "list" on one side and a one-line elaboration of what to do on the other side. Once you complete one task for a quest, a new task is listed as a "Thing-to-do-next" in a check-list rather than giving importance to the quest-chain in terms of why this quest was taken. It doesn't provide any sort of progression. You just "do" what comes next in the "check-list".
Moving onward to the guilds quest-chain, here's a perfect example of how NOT to make a guild quest-line. You, a nobody, will join a famous or infamous guild today, perform one or two simple, generic tasks that the guild-master or a lieutenant gives you and then, for no apparent reason, you're given utmost importance for a very important task simply 'cause the guild members "know" you can handle it. After a couple of such tasks, you're taken to the climactic final quest and then, even though you've no skill for that guild's requirements, you're thrust into the Guild-Master's post. Once that's done, you're now free to do "Radiant" quests which are the most simplistic and generic quests you'll ever come across. There's absolutely no quality here, no sense of progression and next to no quantity either. What's even more dire is that two of the more desired guild quest-lines, the Thieves' and Dark Brotherhood, have identical plot twists.
I'll give you one example. I was a Warhammer wielding Orc who joined the Mages' Guild. After a few quests, I got promoted to the Arch-Mage's post even though I had zero mage skills and absolutely no interest in magic. All of this happened within a day of dungeon crawling to retrieve artifacts. That's it! Mages' Guild quest-line's done.
In Morrowind, you had to learn skills to a required level in order to proceed up the ranks, perform various tasks received from many Guild Advisers and then, if you did finally get promoted to Guild Master, you could get to own a Stronghold of your own. There were guilds that were opposing of other guilds and had quests to "interfere" in a rival guild's business. Even Oblivion had the sense of progression and conflicting guild tasks to some extent. But in Skyrim, you get to become the Guild Master of all available guilds and your reward for that is Radiant Quests.
The main-story quest is almost no better. The saving grace for that quest-line is the pacing. Other than that, you get nothing, not even recognition of ridding the world of a bitter menace. You just go back to NPCs who talk to you using the same lines as if you are a nobody. However, there are a few select Miscellaneous quests that are good but they're far too short and far too few.
Flaws :- Oh, yes, I've a few good flaws to list here despite those already mentioned.
1. Map :- Last I checked, the map in a game would be relevant to the game and not something that'd be "fancy", so to speak. In Skyrim, world map is like a view from a satellite. The discovered locations bob up over mountains, there are no visible roads on the map, depth/height perception is limited and there's no distinctive areas. It just seems like you're looking down over a stretch of forest, then some mountains in-between and then the snowy parts lined outside by the sea. A very poor design choice.
2. Map marker and tags :- When you're exploring, you have a compass showing the direction and landmarks pop into view on it. If it's undiscovered, it appears black. Once you discover it, it turns white. If you explore that discovered land mark to its fullest, you get a "Cleared" tag displayed next to it which is stupid 'cause creatures/NPCs/stuff re-spawn soon enough. The local map is utter rubbish. If a dungeon involves more than one layer, the map is useless to a vast extent and the difference between the level you're on and the next level is ... well... nothing 'cause you're stuck seeing the map of the level you're on.
Back in '99, a game called Summoner let you place custom markers on local and world map and leave small notes on them, giving you full control over how you mark your map. More than a decade later, the developers haven't felt the need for this useful feature which is extremely sad 'cause this feature would've been so useful. There are tons of locations in this game and each have plenty of stuff, from Master locks that you possibly failed to pick 'cause you ran out of lockpicks to ore that you can smelt into ingots to craft stuff. There's really no way to keep track of it in-game.
3. Leveling system and Perks :- Morrowind and Oblivion gave you the choice of creating a custom class and specify major and minor skills or select one from the preset. Then, you had to micro-manage your skills, making sure that you leveled enough of many skills that you never use just to get the maximum increase to your attributes every time you leveled. This made the game very tedious and unnatural. Skyrim does away with this. You now, just pick a race and then everything else is open to your prejudice. You can level up any skill you want depending on your preference. Initially, you need to level a skill 7 times or 7 skills once each or any other combination to increase your character's level. As your character's level increase, the required number of skills needed to level up further increases. This gives a lot of freedom and less to worry about as every time you level, you can pick one of three attributes, Health, Stamina or Magicka to increase.
Every time to level, you also get 1 Perk to invest in a skill. Each skill's effectiveness is not only governed by the skill level but also by the Perks invested in it. This however, needed more thought as some Perks are generic "damage increase/damage reduction" type. There are a few specialty perks in each skill-tree but these generic ones could've been replaced by much better ones with some thought, making character building unique 'cause these Perks make it such that if you build a pure mage character, for e.g., you'll be spending Perk points on specific perks, leaving no room for creativity. If you build a hybrid, you'll still be picking one perk over the other simply 'cause some Perks offer much more benefit than others. There are no decision-inducing ones.
Another big flaw in this system is that, since the level cap is 81, meaning you get 80 perks to spend and after certain levels, you'll need more skill-up's to level up your character, by the time you hit this level cap, you'd have leveled many (if not all) skills that the game offers. I mean, what is this? There's really no sense in this method at all. Sure, you spend Perk points on only the skills that you specialize in, but was there any need to make you have to level up all other skills just to reach the level cap?
4. Death-cam :- This is like the Fallout's VATS without the VATS. The final killing-blow is shown in slow-motion in either a 3rd or 1st person view. The biggest and the most annoying draw-back to this is it's EXTREMELY REPETITIVE. There's probably 3 (if that) death-cam animations for each weapon and since you'll be specializing in one specific weapon to save Perk points to invest in other skills, you'll be stuck watching the same thing over and over. What's worse, the NPCs/creatures that die from this ALWAYS die in the exact same way i.e., they react and fall to the floor in the same manner. It seems like rag-doll physics for death-cams would've been a nice addition but Bethesda thought otherwise.
5. Uninspired characters :- Maybe this is 'cause of the characters sounding alike from anywhere in SKyrim or Bethesda's decision to incorporate very few and generic lines or just bad script, many, if not all, NPCs come off as uninspired. You rarely come across a character that has a soul in this game. Nearly every NPC feel like they're in the game just to give you quests and not moving the quest-chain along in a more meaningful way.
6. Horses :- Bethesda has really dropped the ball with this one. After Oblivion's debacle with the horses, you'd think that the devs would incorporate these creatures better but NO! All horses are good for is Fast Travel if you're over-encumbered. You still can't fight on horse-back. Heck, you can't even speak to another NPC on horse-back. The horses themselves feel tacked on as their animation's pure comedy. It's like, the horses are skipping with joy. Oh, did I mention that the camera is forced into 3rd person view when riding horses? Mount And Blade, a game made by a husband and wife has such great horse-back combat and animations. How Bethesda didn't take inspiration from this is beyond me.
7. Biggest flaw with dual-wielding :- You can't switch weapons and spells the way you want to when you change in-between dual-wielding. From the Items menu, you can highlight any item and "Favorite" it. Then, you open the Favorites menu, highlight an item there and press a number key to hotkey it. Now, here lies the problem. Suppose you have two default one-handed weapons of the same name, they appear as a collective. When you Favorite and hotkey these weapons, a single hotkey is enough to dual-wield it. But if you refine them or Enchant them, then all hell breaks lose. Even if they continue to have same name, you can't dual-wield with the press of a single hotkey. You need set two hotkeys, specify which hand equips which of those weapons and then equip using the mouse clicks at first. Now, you're good. If you switch to a bow or a two-handed weapon, you simply press one of the hotkeys that you set for the dual-weapons and you equip them instantly the way you set up before.
The big problem arises when you equip a spell or want to dual-wield another set of one-handed weapons. The moment you equip a spell or another one-handed weapon, the hand that you specified in Options, by default, is equipped with the spell/new weapon. Pressing the hotkey for the spell again now dual-wields the spell but pressing the hotkey for another one-handed weapon continues to being equipped in the default hand and not the other one. If you want to dual-wield your old weapons again, you have re-specify and hotkey it from the Favorites menu.
As I conclude this review, I really wonder how Skyrim's getting the buzz that it's getting. Don't get me wrong. Skyrim is a fun game and it has its moments but for a sandbox RPG, this game is extremely repetitive and that is not what a sandbox RPG should be. Do you get your money's worth? Well, if you don't mind the excessive repetitiveness, lackluster quest-chains, uninspired characters and other flaws that you might come across, then yes, this game will be worth your money. What I'd suggest is not to buy this game but instead, wait till all the bugs have been ironed out, all the planned expansions/DLC's are out and then buy them all together for less money when Bethesda releases the GOTY edition.
Edit:- March 13, 2012.
I'm now aware that there has been an update in the Texture department with Bethesda releasing the Official HD Textures Pack. It does push the game forwards in terms of graphics.
Now, there's a buzz going around that Bethesda told the employees that they had a week to put on their creative-thinking caps and come up with anything that they could. In a sneak-peek video, there are numerous mod-like features that's probably going to be added to the game. I'll explain some of them...
1. Horse-back combat:- After being criticized heavily, they've come up with this idea. Now, I don't quite know if they had plans to implement into the game from the start but horse-back combat is a welcome addition, should Beth actually release it for the game.
2. Flow-based water shaders:- Again, after being criticized for not having advanced graphics in this day and age, this feature could a lot in terms of presentation to Skyrim's wilderness. There were already some community-made mods that did add this feature to an extent. How much better the Bethesda version is, we'll just have to wait and see.
3. Spears:- First it was Oblivion and now Skyrim. Spear is one of the common weapons used in the setting that this game's based on but apart for Morrowind, there were no spears in Oblivion and Skyrim. However, community-based mods added Spears in Oblivion. I guess Bethesda finally got cued in.
4. Kill-cams for Magic:- Isn't it funny that there are kill-cams for physical weapons but none for Spells? Well, somehow, it took Bethesda THIS long to come up with this idea. I say idea 'cause we don't know if it'll be implement yet.
5. Ranged combat:- This is completely silly. In default .ini settings, the arrows have a pre-set distance where they start arcing downwards. This distance is far too small. A console command can increase this distance but apparently, Bethesda want to turn this into a "feature". Ranged Combat in the video does nothing except allow you to shoot arrows farther than before. That's it.
6Stealth Enhancement:- There are water arrows now which extinguish lit torches. Can you spell "Thief" rip-off please? Then, there's "Assassin Vision" which is nothing but the Detect Life spell from the older TES games. This is a new "feature" for Skyrim, folks, according to Bethesda.
7. Darker Dungeons:- Games like Morrowind, Oblivion and Fallout 3 series already have community-made mods that make the dungeons creepy and dark. Apparently, Bethesda wants to implement this as well in to Skyrim and call it a new feature.
8. Build your own home:- Skyrim's heavily criticized for lackluster guild quest-lines and rewards and longevity increased by poor radiant quests. In Morrowind, like I've mentioned in my review above, you got to own strongholds of your own and get a steady income from your own mines close-by. Bethesda's making up for this over-sight by allowing you to create your own homes now. This can already be done by the Creation Kit.
9. Spell combinations:- I've mentioned before that dual-wielding spells is allowed but you can't combine different spells. Well, thankfully, Bethesda have finally given into this idea. You can combine different spells to get a completely new spell.
10. Way-gate Fast Travel:- The poor form traveling in Skyrim was criticized heavily. There are only two ways to auto-travel, like hiring carts or using Fast Travel. Way-Gate Fast Travel is like the Mages' Guild gate-keeper teleportation and Mark-and-Recall spell in Morrowind.
11. Kinect Shouts:- Seriously. This is a complete rip-off of a community-made mod called Thu'um Mic. What Thu'um Mic did was it allowed you to actually shout in real life and that shout got translated into the game and your character used the shout that you used. If you shout Fus Ro Dah into your mic, your character in Skyrim would use that shout. Now, Bethesda have stolen this idea and are making it compatible with Kinect.
12. Ice and Fire arrows:- It was bad as it is that you could craft armor and weapons but not arrows in Skyrim but now, Bethesda have stolen another idea from the community. There was already a mod called Enchantable Arrows for Oblivion which allowed you to enchant arrows to have any effect that was allowed for a melee weapon.
There are a couple of other features that Bethesda have come up with like becoming a Vampire Lord and to have minions of your own, kind of similar to a Vampire overhaul mod for Morrowind. There are also Perks for Werewolves, should the feature be implemented.
Long story short, almost every new feature" that Bethesda have thought up now are directly based on existing community-made mods. It's ok to share ideas and improve upon them but seriously, if Bethesda releases these features as a Pay-For DLC, then only the Almighty can save us from these greedy game developers.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 01/04/12, Updated 03/13/12
Game Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (US, 11/11/11)
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