Nothing but blue Skyrim…

Skyrim was quite an experience. Well, “was” is perhaps not the right word in some senses, although I achieved closure for now. I played the PC version last week, and have some thoughts to share.

Story: Skyrim exceeded all my expectations with its story. That is to say, not that the main story arc was superb – it was good, a solid effort and well-done – but rather that the stories available overall were incredibly immersive and entertaining. This is the first game I’ve played in a long time where adventures truly felt organic and natural. I found myself continually wandering off from my intended courses of action, because it looked like there was something interesting just over that hill; and one thing would lead to another, and several hours would pass, and ten subquests later I’d think, “Hey, I was doing something earlier, Now what was it?”

I was immersed enough in the main story that, when I’d completed it, I couldn’t bring myself to head back and do some of the other stories. It felt rather a bit silly to be Archmage of the College of Wizards, servant to one or two Daedric Princes, buddies with one or two more Daedric Princes, destroyer of dragons, saviour of worlds… and then be sent off to kill ten rats. So on the one hand, that’s a good sign that the main story was immersive, but on the other hand, that’s a bit of a problem with the open-ended sandbox nature of this game. I’ve never played a game that left me with so much still to do at the point where I felt I’d finished my character’s story.

 

Gameplay: The gameplay is a mixed bag. I’m not a fan of the Elder Scrolls leveling system, wherein generally speaking the whole world levels up with you. While it’s awesome to be able to trade fiery breath with a dragon, it’s also nice to feel the results of all your efforts, when you smash a foe that would have given you trouble ten levels earlier. In Skyrim, this almost never happens, because the weaker monsters all but stop appearing once you level up. So, sure, the fights remain challenging, and this means that you can continue to quest indefinitely.

I enjoyed the magic and the melee combat, and didn’t use bows often so didn’t get a good feel for those. I would have liked to have more speechcraft options, and perhaps fewer locks to pick (I know, that sounds odd, but anyone who doesn’t take that skill will really miss out on a lot of the world), but by and large the game seemed to reward any path the player takes fairly evenly.

Character customization was well handled overall I feel. The talent trees had some intriguing options spread throughout, allowing for a large variety of gameplay approaches. E.g. you could study lockpicking to increase the amount of gold you’d find in chests, as well as making the lockpicking itself easier.

 

Graphics: Good Lord is this game beautiful. The characters tended towards the uncanny valley but the scenery was simply fabulous.

 

Sound: The music is quite good; at times it reminded me a lot of the Raiders of the Lost Ark soundtrack. The ambient sound tends to be excellent in quality, but poor in spatial positioning; my right and left headphones did not correspond to my character’s right and left sides. At all. I often had to spin my character around a little to hear someone speak, as their voices would fade drastically if I wasn’t facing the right way (by which I mean whatever arbitrary direction was needed at that moment).

 

UI: It’s abundantly clear that this game was designed for the console and ported to PC. Navigation of skills and inventory were wretched, and no keyboard shortcuts existed for a variety of obvious needs (e.g. cycling between skills to see your talent choices required clicking with the mouse, one skill at a time; arrow keys would have been a nice option). The quest log bothered me a fair bit I confess, as there was no way to drop quests or sort through them, and I kept finding quests I didn’t necessarily want to do, or at least not right then. My quest log quickly became cluttered and difficult to use.

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