It’s time for the next game in the Wrap Up! Today, let’s talk about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
I was never a big fan of the Elder Scrolls series. I actually found Oblivion to be profoundly boring. Layer poor combat and a mishmash of bugs on top of that and I simply couldn’t understand what people saw in the franchise.
Because of all this, I went into Skyrim reluctantly. The Internet has been absolutely ablaze with praise for the game, but it’s always better to see the game for yourself. I’m surprised to say that my experience with Skyrim has been largely pleasant. There are certainly problems, numerous ones at that, but I do understand the draw of the series a little better.
I learned early on that it’s key to completely disregard the main story in Skyrim. Not because it’s bad, which it isn’t, but because it’s essentially unimportant. The draw of Skyrim seems to be the idea that you can explore everywhere and just take side quests for whatever you feel like doing. Even if you don’t want to take side quests, there are so many locations to explore and dungeons to clear that the game has more than enough content to support you. When walking around in the wilderness, icons will pop up on your compass when you’re near locations of interest. You may be trying to head to one specific place, but you’ll still feel compelled to make the detours and discover as much as possible. It doesn’t hurt that almost every location is tied to a side quest or an extra task.
The visuals only serve the desire to explore even further. The landscape of Skyrim is detailed and beautiful. Often you can see for miles in any direction and, for the most part, you can travel to anything you can see. The fact that you can see ruins on mountaintops, hike up to the ruins, and experience changes in weather and scenery as you make the trip just enhances the game’s great sense of scale.
If exploration has been the greatest experience of my time with Skyrim, crafting has been my second favorite activity. The crafting system is fairly standard; you smelt ores into bars, use a forge to combine leathers and metals into equipment, and then use workbenches to improve the equipment. There’s just a very tactile feel to crafting. It’s authentic and usually immersive.
If I had to pick a third greatest strength for Skyrim, it’d be the character progression. Skill trees are designed to look like constellations, with each skill being a star. It makes picking skills visually interesting, while the skills themselves all seem worthwhile in one manner or another. It’s great that your abilities level up as you use them, too. As someone who’s never fond of “jack of all trades” RPG characters, I was pleased to be able to just focus on three or four specific skills with which to specialize my character.
The exploration, crafting, and character progression are all good enough to make Skyrim worth checking out, even if you’re doubtful. However, the game isn’t without problems. The most serious of which is the combat. Not unlike Oblivion, combat in Skyrim feels very much like you’re just flailing until the other guy dies. There’s no sense of tactics or strategy in the combat. You can block, shield bash, cast spells, etc., but the different combat abilities never feel like they have a specific reason to exist. When compared to a game like Dark Souls, where everything you can do in combat is very deliberate, precise, and specific, Skyrim simply doesn’t hold up. It’s not unplayable; it’s’ just not very deep.
Other problems in Skyrim are made up of minor design and technical oddities. A lot of times during conversations, there will be only one option when replying to someone. This annoys me more and more each time it happens. If there’s only one option of what to say, why is it there to begin with? It seems like it’s just a “press button to continue conversation” mechanic.
Other strange issues the game has involve visuals. The animation isn’t really all that much better than Oblivion, despite the new engine. First-person animations when you do things are fine, but watching the repetitive animations of other characters can be kind of depressing. Also, when characters speak, only the bottom half of their face animates. And since I mentioned speaking, the voice acting is downright awful. I don’t know that I’ve encountered a single voice in this game that isn’t painful to listen to. There’s one specific Swedish voice that makes up both numerous plot characters and random characters. It’s incredibly jarring to hear so many people with that exact same voice. It’s also really weird when different shopkeepers and guards all say the same thing.
All of the problems Skyrim has are manageable, though. If you’re looking for a game that you can easily lose yourself in (and for several hours), this is the one that’s going to do it. The extreme openness of the game may turn off people who prefer to be guided more, but if you’re looking for a cool world to explore, Skyrim is probably the best equipped game since Fallout 3 to provide that.