Review by innuendo81

"Load, Fight, Fetch, Load - The Bane of Skyrim"

A seven out of ten for the one of 2011's possible Game of the Year titles? Is it enough to find Skyrim is much like Oblivion that it seems a shame to have paid $60 for it.

Let me help you out here. I can boil down the game to about four types of quests: Follow, Fetch, Fight and Find. These quests are only about 50% of the game. The other 50% of the game will be spent loading those four quest types, as the harsh Oblivion load times have returned. For instance, following a quest started in a city tavern to speak to someone in the palace of another city means you have to load the tavern; then you get a load time exiting the tavern to city number one; then you load the Skyrim main map; then you load city number 2; then you load the palace. That's about four to five minutes of load time for a couple lines of dialogue. And it sucks. Multiply that by 200 quests, and for a game that touts 100+ hours of gameplay, you can see that most of it the action is spent reading silly "tips" on a loading screen.

The story of Skyrim is equally as silly. Dragons have come back from the void to possibly enslave humanity and end the world. Wow. Well, Bethesda is not terribly clever when it comes to making overarching plots for its games, so the expectations weren't high. Honestly, though, did you have to lift your plot straight from Dragon Age, Dragon Quest, World of Warcraft, and countless other fantasy movies/series? At least Oblivion had the air of originality, but Skyrim's main plot is both derivative and pedantic. Here, you're of course a "unique" hero born of dragonblood who can wield dragon shouts with greater ease than the rest of the nordic-inspired populace. And these shouts? Basically souped up version of various spells found around the game, just toggled with a different button. And let's be honest, most people will play with only a couple of these special "powers."

Along with the shouting and such, you run around the open world "skilling up" that leads to leveling. Gone are the days of RPGs awarding you with experience points that build your character. You now have to figure out how you want to "play" your character, and be damned if you don't have the skill to, say, sneak around or play the annoying lockpick game. So, you slash away with a sword or wield a few spells, and each of them is attached to a skill that levels up with enough use. While it makes sense for things like armor and swords, the levelling mechanism isn't as clear or quite difficult for others, including certain spell lines and crafting. When you level up, you get to choose a "perk" which is a special ability tied to one of your skills...of course, this leads you to be locked in to a playstyle, making the system not nearly as rewarding as Fallout's humerous perks.

What's an Elder Scrolls game without those lovely faction quests to follow? Again, you're allowed to join up, contradictorily, with the Warriors (Companions), Mages, Thieves, and Assassins (Dark Brotherhood). While these provide opportunities to explore stories that are slightly more original than the main quest, there're only a few that are entertaining. In fact, playing through the Dark Brotherhood ruined an entire region, sending its guards into an endless loop of trying to throw me jail, forcing me to slay entire legions of city guards for me to even attempt to complete a quest therein.

Speaking of bugs, the game is currently...well...let's just say it's a "work in progress." It's not uncommon for a Bethesda release to be about 80% functional, and Skyrim is no exception. Bugs, glitches, plot holes, inconsistencies and more are total game breakers in many instances. The game freezes unexpectedly, though not terribly often. Once, a dragon for a quest was pushed backwards by an invisible force making him unkillable, breaking the quest, and I could not finish a region's questlines. Again, as mentioned above, the guards in one region are now stuck in an endless loop of trying to arrest me based upon another quest. Completing some quest lines before other create sloppy story inconsistencies that ruin any sense of immersion and role-playing.

And what is an Elder Scrolls game without quests? Oblivion boasted 200+ quests, and Skyrim has far more. After maybe an hour in the world, you'll be inundated with quest requests from every single occupant of the world. The quests can be boiled down to mostly the Fetch variety, or sometimes you have to kill someone or find something. Very rarely does the game stray from this. Luckily, a majority of the dungeons, caves, and forts you explore have nice little backstories, adding to the world and it's quirky inhabitants. Though again, be wary of the oppressive load times.

Unfortunately, the "upgraded" menu system has done away with the nice icons from Oblivion, denoting the different faction quests. Now, everything is either a "major" quest or it will be plopped under the dreaded "Miscellaneous" category that will house several dozen quests. Forgot which quest the mage's guild librarian gave you 20 hours ago? Oops! Looks like you'll have to guess. Which quests are for Jarls to become Thanes, which quests are for Daedra, for the Civil War, the Dark Brotherhood? You better stay in that game world long enough to remember them. And with so many quests that are all so similar, don't be surprised if you find yourself suffering from quest fatigue. And what's your reward for finding a beggar's helmet? No, not experience like in a typical game, but worthless gold, or a worthless item. The world is filled to the brim with knick knacks, weapons, armors, ingredients and other crafting materials, but when you go to sell this stuff to make coin, you'll be surprised to find that merchants are poorer than you are. And after a while, you'll find whatever you want to equip, so the need for coin is almost moot.

The world of Skyrim has gotten a nice hefty graphical upgrade from Oblivion, though its animations are still clunky and its surfaces get muddy when you look too close. Sweeping fields of grass that never move and forrests with static trees look silly compared to the beauty of running water and falling snow. The voice acting got a makeover, but there were too many times when I'm trying to listen to a main quest speech and am constantly interrupted by loudmouthed people wandering around, or worse, approaching my character. Upgrading the voice talent was literally the absolute least Bethesda could do.

When you get used to it, you'll say to yourself that this seems just like a Nordic version of Oblivion, and that's where the truth lies. The game is just far too big, and not refined enough to really count for a full-fledged game of the year. This is not to say it's not entertaining. It's got a good several dozen hours in its main quests, but you'd have to be a glutton in order to enjoy the endless barrage of fetch quests, and load screens, that will occupy the rest of your time.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/10/12

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

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