Thursday, December 29, 2011

Video Game Assessment: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

This game is a juggernaut of immersion and space. This is... you know what? It's not just a game. It can't be simply a game. It feels like a reality simulation. Not that it, in fact, deals with reality at all, being fantasy and all, but it feels more real than reality, looks more real than reality, and takes you in more than reality. It's incredible. This game has an immersion level that, I think, is unprecedented. Its locales are topnotch, beautiful and wonderfully rendered. The weapons have weight behind them as you swing them, or shoot them at enemies. The items are all there, from cups to any kind of food a fantasy realm should have, to books full of words. It's incredible how much detail is in this game.

Now, I'm going to put a few things out in the open right now. In my opinion these kinds of games have very specific weaknesses, and I'll get into that in a few lines. The biggest thing to remember though is that this game is quality whether you like it or not, and you'll probably like it, it is a well put together video game that is basically everything a video game should be. You fight things, you explore, you do quests, you level up. BAM. And that's just on a basic level. You want to do other things, you can do those things too. Kill off an entire village? Go ahead and do it, buddy. Want to go and explore thousand year old ruins of a forgotten civilization ending up in a place called Blackreach that glows and is full of that civilization's former slaves that are now insane and evil creatures bent on destruction of all other forms of life? Well, you can do that too.

There's so much here for Bethesda to be proud of, and I hope they are. Their sales numbers for the game should be making them happy at least. And that's fantastic. Despite what I'm going to say later on, this is the direction video games should be taking. This is the right direction despite Skyrim's faults and missteps. And thats what you should take away from this review. I have a huge recommendation for you to go out and buy this game and play it if you have the time and the console (or PC) for it. Seriously, if you haven't played it yet, you're missing something special. It will take up a bunch of your time. There's no escaping that. There's no 100% in this game either. It goes on, quite literally, forever, having sidequests that appear randomly and the ability to just keep doing things for as long as you want to do things.

The exploration is done well in that Oblivion and Fallout 3 kind of way in which dungeon exploration is unique and feels like an adventure within itself. You'll want to explore every dungeon, but God speed on that. There are a lot, and by a lot, I mean a ton, of dungeons to explore. And every one is unique and worth exploring. WOW.

As for the negatives, sure there are negatives, and anybody who tells you there aren't is just stupid, not paying attention, or maybe they hate you. That could be a good reason for not telling a person the faults in the game.

Well, the first fault is the bugs (and the glitches). Whew boy are there a lot of bugs. People seem to trade the bugs they've seen in Skyrim like old war wounds or something. It's kind of incredible. I've never seen a game's bugs be almost as popular as the game itself before, well except maybe in Red Dead Redemption when people acted like animals. But that was incredibly strange too. The biggest bugs I found in my game were pretty mundane in comparison to a lot of people's bugs. I found a lot of textural issues, especially with water just disappearing and I'd be swimming through... what seemed to be nothing at all. So, yeah, that was odd. I also found myself, once, dying from a foot high fall. For some reason the game decided that I was falling from a huge height when i was just stepping down  about a foot or so. So, yeah, that was odd. Some enemies also acted kind of strangely in my game, not attacking me simply because I was on the opposite side of a door they were standing on the other side of. Well, it made it easy for me to kill them, but it was strange, again. For the most part I didn't encounter a ton of glitches. Floating things happened quite a bit too, like floating cups or corpses, but that happens in all of Bethesda's games, so I'm used to that by now. But the biggest glitch or bug I encountered was rather game breaking though. I was in a dungeon and tried to go back through a door I had come in previously and the game would crash every time I went through that door. I had to go forward. The game was making me go forward. It didn't help that I thought I missed something important in that last room and I was really lost. That was particularly bad.

But those are bugs. Who cares about bugs? I usually don't complain about them unless they are like that one bug in Dragon Age: Origins- Awakening, the expansion pack for the first Dragon Age game, where certain quests literally couldn't be completed, some of them important to characters or plot. I hated that bug so much. I also have to say one more thing, I hate people complaining about some games with bugs and praising other games with bugs. I like Fallout: New Vegas. I like it a lot. It was one of my favorite games last year if not my favorite besides Deadly Premonition, and people constantly complain about it having bugs when I have not seen a single one in THREE PLAYTHROUGHS. Yes, the game crashes on me a few times, but there's a chance that any game will crash. Mass Effect crashed on me last month when I was playing it. It's stupid to complain about something that happens in every game. I hate the people who rag on New Vegas for seemingly no reason. Go get a life, trashwads. If you're not going to complain about Skyrim, Fallout 3, or Oblivion, do not complain about New Vegas when it is clearly better than at least two of those other games. Actually I like it better than Skyrim too, but that is literally personal preference.

And I guess this is the time I go and say why my opinions of Skyrim have gone down since really playing the game in depth. Not that I think it's a bad game. I don't. It's just that there are some very shallow aspects of the game and it really takes me out of the immersion. And they're things that the studio should have concentrated on more. It was always their weakness and... they could make a brilliant game if only they concentrated more on it. The thing I speak of are realistic characters and good plots. Yes, the game goes on forever, but without good quests and sidequests, why the hell would I want to play it forever?

First up: characters. Why, oh why, Bethesda do you insist on making games without good characters? Yes, there are several good characters in this game, almost all exclusively in the Dark brotherhood sidequest like Oblivion, but most of the characters are shallow to the extreme, with no discernible personalities or characteristics. Even the main characters in the game like the ones involved in the rebellion or killing the main enemy of the game... well, even they're mostly very shallow. Why? Companion characters have no real depth besides what the player put on them. They have no sidequests, no real anything... And this is where New Vegas wins, with its focus on character (Think of almost any companion character from that game or House or Benny or Caesar or... the list goes on and on.) and plot. Skyrim's characters are just weak messes on the floor compared to New Vegas and it shows. It shows time and time again. I like strong charactered games. It's why I liked Dragon Age II so much despite seemingly every person who has a computer literally hating that game so much that I feel their brains are going to have rage aneurysms. Characters matter to me and Skyrim did not do its best there, and I feel bad about that. I dislike that failure on their part. The depth and the immersion is gone when I realize that all the characters around me are shallow automatons. And maybe this is just a problem specific to me, but I doubt it. I think it's an issue for everybody. Maybe you don't actively see it as an issue, but your brain certainly does when you finally put the game down because you can't get into it anymore.

Second: plot. Why is the plot so shallow and irrelevant? You don't really even need to do the plot. I know that's almost standard in these types of games but... come on! Go kill a dragon. It's vitally important. Okay, I'll do it after I explore for fifty hours in dungeons and such. But VITALLY IMPORTANT! Nah, bro, game's not going to end. I can do what I want. The whole issue here is that there is never a feeling that you have to do anything... which means that the plot is literally unimportant. It's about exploration, not about story, and, again, there is a shallowness to it. This could very well just be me and my own preference as well. My girlfriend who's been playing the game as well has no issue with this complaint, liking the freedom, but she also hasn't played it anywhere near as long as I have, so there's that. This doesn't bother me as much as characters, but it does bother me when there is a strongly put together plot in the Dark Brotherhood sidequest and the VERY END of the main quest and nowhere else. I mean, yes, I guess the Thieve's Guild quest is all right, but again... the plot is just nowhere near where the Dark Brotherhood's quest is. And I love the Dark Brotherhood and that quest. It works so well and is brilliant through-and-through. I mean, the only good quest with believable characters from Oblivion was the Dark Brotherhood one too. Well, at least they're consistent... I guess I want more from my quests, some sense of urgency, some reason to care and I haven't really gotten those at all, not in Skyrim, not in the way I feel urgent about New Vegas, or even Fallout 3. It just... it feels like it was made to be a wandering simulator with characters and plots as an afterthought, and when those are two of my favorite things about a video game, it ruins my desire to play the game more. I just reviewed War of the Ring and I really liked it. It had good characters and a plot that I could get behind and support. I wanted to end the bad guy and win the game for the good guys because it made me care by good writing and a good plot. Skyrim really has neither with the exception of the Dark Brotherhood. For such a big game, it is quite shallow.

Well, those are my complaints. Altogether though, this is a good game for the people who have the time to play it and get really immersed into it. I complain because I like the game and want it to be better, not because I think it's bad at all. A lot of people have put this game as their best game of the year, and I can see why. It's brilliantly crafted and put together even with the faults, but this isn't my favorite game of the year  because of those faults and because I think another game or two were better in terms of a lot of things including characters and plots. So, this game is tied for third in my game of the year title with Dragon Age II, both good games in their own rights, but both with some fairly fundamental flaws.

My game of the year will be my next review by the way. Portal 2 came in second for me.

Anyway, my final thought for Skyrim: great game, well put together, great music, great gameplay, repetitive voice acting, lack of plot and characters besides Dark Brotherhood, a great time sink, fun game, dragon killing is the BEST, and draugrs appear way too often and lose their mystery. Seriously though, if you have the means and opportunity to play it, I recommend it. It's an experience at least, one that won't soon be forgotten. There's something about wandering the beautiful environments that's ridiculously awesome. And everything looks gorgeous. Get out on your adventure, and have a great time killing those stinkin' dragons!

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