The Skyrim Rant
Because at least one guy asked for it:
Skyrim is for the most part a super entertaining game. It looks amazing. The combat is fun, there’s a ton of stuff to do, I get why it was so well reviewed. I’ve really enjoyed playing it for the most part. I haven’t been able to get this absorbed in a game in a very long time.
All of that good stuff makes the flaws really stand out. Two big reasons
1- They all feel reasonably correctable
2- Other, existing games do it so much better.
First a few technical rants. (I’m playing this on a 360 fwiw)
- The inventory system just flat stinks.
- The quest setup also sucks. In part because you will be given quests you never want to complete, and the only way to get rid of them is to typically murder the NPC who gave it to you. I tend to play these games as a pretty moral dude, so I’m not so much down with murdering somebody just because I don’t want to get their spoon. (or because as noted, I’m a moral guy and don’t want to steal for them).
- The way the dialog works is really clumsy. You can miss important stuff because a guard happened to pass you by and needed to talk about whatever thing we’ve heard 500 times from him before again. They’ve tried to do some cute things with directional sound, but the end result is that you’ll miss stuff if you’re not looking right at the NPC.
- Hench pathing and AI is terrible. This is both a choice, in terms of the lack of control they give you (once Dragon Age developed their tactics system, you are an asshole if you’re not trying to ape that in some fashion). Henchmen, or just whichever toolbox I have to follow to do something are constantly getting in the way. I opted to just drop the difficulty and not use them because they were so annoying.
All that said- those are reasonably forgivable given the general quality of the game. Most of what I’m about to talk about probably is as well- but it annoys me a lot more.
1- It needs to matter who I am:
I’m playing as a Cat Person from another land. The game has yet to explain to me how I ended up as a prisoner in the far north. Beyond what a few people yell as they walk by me- there’s nothing at all that matters about me being a Cat Person (in terms of the story).
I’m also playing as a warrior type. One of the things that is supposed to be nice about the game is that it doesn’t have classes, and you can be a fighter/thief/mage if you want. The problem is that they have a warriors guild (except they don’t, because that leads you into a stupid werewolf plotline, and there’s no real group for just fightin’ dudes), a mage’s college, etc. There’s interesting quests tied to each of those groups. The quests are one-size-fits-all enough to work, but the end results are idiotic. At the end of the Mages quest, your character becomes the head of the college (dumb storyline wise even if you were a mage, but totally dumb when you only know the two spells they give you to beat the quests). There has to be a way to look at who a character has been developed and come to some more intelligent conclusions.
2- This is not a role playing game
Beyond a few very obvious “do I kill this person or not” bits- for the most part your character makes very few decisions that matter beyond which quests you’re given. There’s a civil war, and if you want to do some quests, you have to pick a side. You are basically never given a reason to pick either side, it’s apparently (I’m not done with the game, but have asked friends) just totally arbitrary. If the game was smarter, that would be a decent statement on the nature of war, but this game is not aiming for such a high minded message.
For the most part you go where you’re told, kill the bad guys, get the loot and do whatever. That part is fantastically entertaining, and does make the game worth it- but it’s not role playing in any real sense. It’s a very pretty hack and slash (or firebolt or arrow or knife or whatever).
Part of that is your interaction with the NPCs. For the most part they exist as devices to give you quests and nothing beyond that. Other games to a much better job of changing their dialog options as your character changes. I brought some lady the whatever she wanted, and now literally every time I walk past her she says how great it is that I’m around- but it’s not like that helps me score a date with her. (most relationship content in RPGs is just embarrassing, and it’s not something I need in a game at all- but that’s just a good example of the game not putting in the effort to make the player feel like what he does matters).
3- The voice acting.
Weirdly, there’s pretty good voice talent attached to this. However, it’s all in characters you with whom you infrequently interact, and all most of them do is spit trite grizzled wizard cliches. The people with whom you interact with frequency are voiced by what sounds like one person attempting to adopt a (small) variety of bad eastern European accents. (and then there’s the whole “arrow in the knee” thing).
I honestly think the game would have been better if they’d just left those NPCs silent. This is a game that invites you to play it for many, many hours, and having bad, repetitive dialog that frequently does more to detract the experience than add any realism.
4- The level scaling thing
One of the trademarks of these games, and part of what enables the open world feel of them is that the bad guys scale with you- so as a low level character you can still go into places that would otherwise be impossible. A nice idea- but the end result is that a wolf is just as much of a challenge for you at level 1 as it is at level 25. While not a programmer at all- this sure seems like a thing you can manage a whole lot better than they do.
As mentioned, I become the world’s best person in video games. I don’t like to rob, steal, intimidate, murder, etc. I’m the damn Hero. I kill evil, I like good etc. So when I rolled up on the girl extolling the virtues of eating people, why wasn’t I given the option to say “Yeah, I don’t get down with that, fuck off”. When the head Assassin came to me because I “murdered” the child abuser (one of the few storylines that somewhat attempted to present a moral quandry, but was so broadly and inartfully written that if you didn’t want to kill you, you might as well be a sociopath) I wasn’t given the option to fight her off to avoid the silly game she wanted to put me through (although to the games credit, I could and did just end the dialog and start a fight with her, but that really should have been an option through the dialog). A lot of the quests are basically tied to being “a bad guy”, and it wouldn’t take that much more effort to write them in such a way that a wet blanket like me could enjoy/play them.
6- The Foresworn Conspiracy
In which the game attempts to ask you to solve a conspiracy involving corruption at the highest levels. But where “solving” it really means walking to the point where the game points you, doing what the game tells you to go, repeat, get thrown in jail, get forced to kill somebody (and get forced to barter for a shiv WHEN I AM A CAT WITH CLAWS). The whole thing is a series of doing what you’re told and you as the player have no actual agency at all. It’s too dumb for any RGPer, and too boring for a button masher.
A lot of this just comes down to me wanting the game to be a different sort of game than it is. Bethesda choose to make the game they did, and while very fun, it’s not exactly the perfect game I want. It’s probably a credit to the game that these small things frustrate me as much as they do (to the point where I’ve written 1400 words for an audience of 1- Hi Reggie!).
That said, it just feels like some of this could be corrected rather easily, and it’s hard not to see some of it as rather lazy. You see the amount of work that went into some parts of the game, and the lack thereof in others, and it bothers you. It seems like an odd choice to develop a game that really invites a degree of immersion, and then not flush out those elements that would make that immersion more complete.
And thus concludes the Skyrim rant. This was pathetically cathartic.