19 November 2011

TES V: Skyrim 52 hours and final verdict and review

This is a follow up and more of a real review of Skyrim since I have now put over 50 hours into the game. The scope of this game is amazing, over 50 hours into the game and I have only completed the Thief Guild questline, scratched on the Dark Brotherhood surface and stopped halfway through the main quest. The bulk of my time has been put into exploring the world, dungeon raiding, treasure hunting, doing quests for various NPC’s, rubbed elbows with the various Jarls and city politics.

Where to begin. I truly feel this is a worthy successor to Morrowind, and on many accounts a superior game mostly thanks to technology and evolved game mechanics. The world really feels vast and amazingly detailed. Not only that but the environments make perfect sense. Certain kinds of trees and plants grow in the more humid swampy areas, while you get beautiful hilltop locations where snow powder is whipped by the wind over the cliff edges.  As you visit the various towns and villages it all feels authentic. From the layout, to the crumbling appearance of old keeps and town defenses. There is very little generic content in this game. Ruins in the wild all look as unique on the outside as on the inside.

In Oblivion most of the dungeons were outright copy pasted and uninspired to the breaking point. 50+ hours into the game I am still thrilled to go down a dungeon or cave and I am still able to be surprised. What starts as a regular cave with snow filled floor and chilly air turns into an old Dwemer ruins. In Morrowind these were populated by old Dwemer constructs, and through bits and pieces of the lore you could read up on the ancient lost race and their slave servants the Falmer. In Skyrim the deeper you go into these old Dwemer ruins the more likely you are to stumble upon an isolated Falmer population of savage monster, looking pretty much like the goblins in the mines of Moria in Lord of the Rings. I just love this addition. It makes the Dwemer ruins in particular even more interesting and dangerous.

The design of the dungeons is also wonderful, from the way lightning plays a part in illuminating certain parts of the dungeons to the atmospheric effects such as fog, dripping water from the ceiling or steam blowing from broken pipelines makes it all feel a lot more immersive than ever before.

The quests are also great. And not only the major quests you get in the main storyline or through guilds, sometimes you get caught up in the events in a town or small village that start out like a minor “fetch quest” but turns out to be a lot more. One quests has you look into a burnt down building, where you stumble upon a small ghost, which leads you to uncover a vampire conspiracy in the town and ends with you leading a mob of villagers armed with torches towards the location of the master vampire. Another quest starts out with a visit at a newly opened museum, and branches of into this huge treasure hunt in order to restore a potent artifact.

Questlines sometimes intertwine, at this moment both the main quest and the Dark Brotherhood has intertwined with the Thief Guild. And one Thief guild mission lets you make a decision to either kill or let a character live. Later on that character comes up with an idea to raid an Imperial merchant ship which also turns out to be very gratifying once you finish it.

There is a new level of world dynamics, if you throw trash on the ground villagers will look at you and mumble something about savages, throw weapons with a nearby guard looking on and you will get a warning about throwing dangerous objects in the street. Throw armor and someone will ask if they can pick it up and use it themselves. Perform “Dragon shouts” in public and people get both amazed and nervous. This yields in guards telling you to stop and may also lead to you receiving letters from “fans” telling you where you can learn more shouts by providing you with locations of dragon altars.


The world politics are also a lot more dynamic than in either Morrowind or Oblivion. In Morrowind there was a huge questline where you joined the Imperial legion. In Skyrim you can join the ongoing Stormcloak rebellion or the Imperial legion. 50+ hours into the game I have yet to decide which side to support as they both seem to have good arguments for being helped out but you can only ally yourself with one side. There are plots boiling beneath the surface, NPC’s talking in the streets about the rebellion, you can see patrols with prisoners that you can attempt to free or not, each town and city has a Jarl with his own political agenda and who supports either one side or the other. The town of Riften is oozing with criminal activity being the base of the thief guild and by talking to people you feel their helplessness as they tell about the crime wave. Travel to Markarth, a city built upon Dwemer ruins and you get confronted by a conspiracy spawned by the injustice  taking place in the silver mines. In this later example you can either help the ruthless lords of the city, or the ruthless mountain raiders known as the Foresworn.

Back are the altars to the Daedra lords, and if you find them they will always make a fantastic quest. The quest for Malog Bal is chilling, while the quest for Mehrunes Dagon is wicked. You also run into some of the other old Daedra lords on your quests but I won’t spoil more about that. There are both vampires, and you can become a vampire if you don’t cure the disease quickly. There are also werewolves and you can become one as well!


The new crafting and enchanting tweaks are a welcome addition, so is the lockpicking tweak. The perks add a lot to character building. You can still, if you want, max out each skill to a 100% but the limit of 50 perk points will have to be distributed among so many skill trees and skills that you really want to focus to become damn good at a few things, preferably matching your skills with your playing style. It is highly satisfying to be a sneaky assassin character, armed with daggers, bows and poisons. Taking out enemies either by slitting their throats from behind or putting an arrow in their back from 100 yards away is highly rewarding. So is the addition of the “slow motion deaths” that has been carried over from Fallout. Though thankfully not overused and abused in this game. This makes it extra thrilling as time slows down and you get a animation of your character putting a blade through the stomach of a hapless victim.

The thrill of being one with the shadows and picking of enemies one by one has been my guideline in how to distribute my own perks and there are some very powerful combos down the road in the skill tree that reward your playstyle and make a character truly embracing the bow as preferred weapon play better than a character who just leveled up his archery skill.
Speaking of skills, another thing beside the lockpicking that I think has been improved is that persuasion no longer has that stupid minigame but uses your speech skill instead as it should be (back to the roots).


Voice acting feels varied and authentic. Each race sounds pretty good, most characters have very unique voices. And even among the “filler” NPC’s you will have far between being exposed to the same voice actor. Dragon battles get harder and more interesting down the road, being an archer I tend to dodge from cover to cover and put arrows in the belly of the beast as it swoops by breathing fire or ice. Once you reduce the dragon enough in health it will be forced to land or crash, if you want you can move in close with a sword but the dragon jaw can snap you in half very easily doing so.

Dragon Shouts, this new feature is interesting. I don’t use it much though. Sometimes you are required to use a Shout as part of a quest. But in the world I have yet to use it to turn the tide of battle. It could of course be connected to my current ranged/sneaky playing style as well. On the whole I feel the Shout is an Elder Scrolls version of the “Force” in Star Wars. Especially when you learn some of the powers like making a huge leap forward, pull the weapons from the hands of your enemies or push them back with force.

On the whole it is an interesting addition to the game, and as each shout contains 3 words that you have to find it makes both for a challenging “treasure hunt” all over the province and can alter your tactics when your shouts get more and more powerful.Other magic is also a lot more dynamic, using fire spells on something or someone make them burn for a short while to mention but one improved visual aspect.Btw the Star signs which you picked at the start of your character creation screen in the old games have been replaced by in world stones which are spread out all over the map and which grant you a bonus to a certain skill. You first stumble upon Figher, Rouge and Mage stones at the very beginning of the game but there are others in remote areas of the world.

This is a game which requires at least 200 hours of non rush gaming. 50+ hours in I have been concentrating my gaming to Riften, Whiterun and a few brief visits to the other towns. Each town have dozens of quests, it takes only a quick interaction with a shopkeeper or with patrons at the inn to get a new quest. It is easily to get overwhelmed, and at this point I prefer to explore the world and map out locations so I can work my way through them in a more organized fashion once I finish the main quest and major quests offered by various guilds. So far there seem to be no end for both major and minor quests. The variety has also been top notch.  Most important of all is the fun of playing and adventuring. Exploring and interacting with characters. There is a true joy of playing this game combined with a seemingly endless content making this game feel once again more like Morrowind than Oblivion which I found dull, repetitive and uninspired.

If I have complaints they are mainly focused on the way the inventory system and interface works in this game. Apart from the star constellation screen tracking your skills and perks the interface feels half finished and tedious to use. You have to browse through several layers to get to your spells, to your items , to check the current status of effects in play and there is no compiled “character screen” which give you a quick rundown of your character stats and what your apparel/weapons are worth in terms of protection/damage dealing. It is also hard to navigate this interface with your mouse on the PC as the interface often seems to lock in place on items or to on going back to the previous menu screen. You are therefore often forced to use the keyboard to sift through the skills, abilities, items and gear – using the arrow keys and hitting Enter when you want to pick something. I won’t clump this together with the “gaming experience” of Skyrim though.

It is however very confusing how they improved pretty much every single thing but messed up such a basic thing as the interface system.There is also one thing that should be noted when you buy a house. I found this out the hard way. When you buy improvements to your house make sure to buy them ALL before you start decorating your new home. If you only buy certain upgrades there are stuff in the house that will disappear when you buy the next upgrade. Containers and shelves disappear along with the content as they are replaced by new furnishing. I lost a great deal of ingredients from my alchemy lab this way. Also, sadly enough, there seem to be some sort of bug with the furniture that limits how many objects you can place on them without your arranged stuff “explodes” upon exiting and re-entering the house. I had spent 1 hour putting stuff in place in my Solitude house (the largest and best house you can get in the game) and went on questing. When I returned I found every piece of shelf and furniture had exploded and all my stuff was strewn all over the place. I quickly suspected some sort of furniture limit and was proven right as I removed more and more stuff from the shelves and doing the exit/re-enter the house thing to check on what areas in the house were still overcrowded. This is a shame because you could pack your house so hard with stuff that it looked like a cozy treasure chamber in Morowind. Hope there will be some sort of patch for this.

On the positive site side there have been a few things added to the household in this game. Book shelves that set up the books you place in them by themselves. Weapon and shield racks and they finally added mannequin dolls (it was a great mod in Oblivion) to allow you to arrange armors on display.

The deep enjoyment of everything else greatly overshadows the shortcomings. The interface can be modded, though of course it would have been fantastic if it was good from the beginning. The furniture “explosion” I think could be patched. There is nothing else to remark on, coming from a hardcore Elder Scrolls and PC gamer, it is enough to say that Skyrim is way beyond what I expected from the follow up to Oblivion and Fallout 3. A highly recommended game, for those who want hundreds of hours of gaming and aren’t daunted by the sheer amount of quests, locations, content and an open living world to roam.

Oh, and Maiq The Liar is back. Gotta love that furry weirdo dating back to Morrowind times. His cynical but true observations of the world, the characters and game mechanics are always a welcome addition and often brings a laugh or two when you stumble upon him on your  travels.

 

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review. Wow 50 hours in, you don't mess around hah hah.
    I'm picking this one up for Xmas, so it will be a while before I can experience it for myself.

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  2. It was released at a perfect time as well, I had just written a paper for school and have an exam in a week. So lots of free time to play (without rushing the experience). I think it there were like 2 days where I played like crazy, but then I put some other things into my schedule like painting the display model etc so I got away a little :D

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