12 November 2011

TES:V Skyrim early impressions (rated R)

First of all, I loved Morrowind, I spent something like 260hours on the Game of the Year edition with all the expansions on my old Xbox. The world was very immersive and interesting, highly detailed and weird. I hated Oblivion with passion. I think Oblivion was the worst piece of shit game ever conceived. It was dumbed down, ugly, stupid voice acting, stupid story and just wanted me to snap the dvd in half. It looked like a clean boring shitty medieval setting that lacked realism and gritty feeling. Oh and it was pretty much unplayable during the first weeks due to stability issues.

Bethesda then went on ruining Fallout with their shit that was Fallout in name only, actually that game was so laughable that I can't believe how they could miss the point of the first two Fallout games so badly. I could also throw in Empire Total War as an example of a game that was a kick in the nuts.

Now with Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Empire Total War something interesting happens. Partially this is due to crushed hopes and lowered expecations, but partially because the developers seem to get a grip and improve on their previous pile of dung product. Fallout New Vegas was no Fallout 1 or 2 but it was a superior game to Fallout 3. Napoleon Total War fixed pretty much every broken aspect of Empire Total War and ended up a fantastic game.

Skyrim really improves upon the shitstain of Oblivion. A LOT. But let's make it clear. An Elder Scrolls game is something you spend hundreds of hours with. So far I've spent 8 since I bought it yesterday but didn't get around to play until the evening. So this will be my very early impressions  of the game. Still the playing time has revealed great improvements, strenghts and weaknesses of the game. If you have not played any of the Morrowind or Oblivion games before then what I will write now may make little sense to you. But nevertheless here is my list of good and bad things, 8 hours into the game.

GOOD


The beginning of the game: with the mandatory "you are a prisoner" segment feels more real and fresh than it ever did in Oblivion. The interaction with other characters during this "on rails" segment has vastly improved and is actually interesting.

Main story (so far):  It is not so much in your face "you are the chosen one" shit 2 minutes into the game anymore like it was in Oblivion. Your destiny is more slowly revealed, Morrowind style.

Character creation: Has been again vastly improved. Your character is easier to customize and make look cool/badass then before. In Oblivion your character looked like a "downie" even if you tried your hardest with the settings.

World map: Looks fantastic, just amazing. It is 3D, animated with snow, clouds and fog. You don't "reveal" anything from under a Fog of War like before as you walk around. The entire province is uncovered and major locations are already in place. However as you explore the world, new locations that you come across will be added to the map.

Graphics
: I'm not a graphics junkie, and I've read that some people don't think the game has taken a graphical leap forward over Oblivion. I think the graphics as they are look great. I run the game on high settings and it does not lag or anything like Oblivion was prone to during the early release.

Stability and installation process: I had none of the reported problems during the installation and firing up the game. I've read about and have a friend who had the problems of the game refusing to install from the disc and instead started downloading from Steam. Other reports have been that the game crashes due to soundcard settings and you have to fix that by lowering the output in the Skyrim  ".ini" file. I'm lucky enought to not have encountered any of these problems.
I had one crash 70 minutes into the game. Since then I've had no crashes and I played for 7 hours straight. So I'm not sure exactly why it occured. I thought it might have been something with the graphics but everything seem to run smoothly ever since.

Character limitations: You can no longer master every skill. So it is pretty much back to how it was in Morrowind where you had to decide what kind of character skills you really wanted. There is a set number of "level ups", 50 I think. With every level up you decide first of you want to boost your Magic/Health/Stamina by 10 points. After that you are given 1 "perk point" per level. These points can be spent in a "skill tree" related to every skill in the game such as specific schools of magic, sneaking, archery, one handed weapon, shields etc. There are a LOT of skill trees and you will soon realize that you won't be able to max out more than a couple. This is as it should be. You can also only spend perk points in the skill trees if your character is skilled enough in each area. You gain skill by using a skill set often, improvement through practice as always.

Hopefully this will also apply to the Thief/Mage/FIghter guild progress to be similar of that in Morrowind as well. I hated the retarded "master of everything" approach in Oblivion.

Voice acting and writing: I've only been to a limited portion of the map and only a couple of towns but it is apparent that the voice acting is again greatly improved with a larger number of voice actors and better voice acting across the board compared to the soulless delivery and 3-4 voice actors used in Oblivion. The writing also seem to have improved, or at least gone back to Morrowind level. No more stupid dialogue like in Oblivion.

Enviroments and feeling: Skyrim is just like Morrowind a much more interesting province than Cyrodiil (the province in Oblivion). Morrowind was a very alien place with unique look. Cyrodiil in Oblivion looked like a shitty medieval Europe without the realism. Skyrim looks like Scandinavia during the viking era. And thank god they did not make the world flat like Oblivion and Fallout 3 where travelling across the map took 20 minutes from one end to the other.

Skyrim has great snow covered mountain ranges, just like Fallout: New Vegas had mountains and Morrowind had that great central volcano mountain. First of all it breaks up the game world making it more interesting. It also makes exploration more fun and surprising as you don't go in straight lines across the map anymore.

Skills and weapon classes: It works differently in Skyrim. You don't assign points to anything upon character creation. You don't pick weapon skills of your choice. The game focuses heavily on you shaping your character through your actions. At first I thought it sounded lazy as hell, but it works rather well. I'm pretty much always playing a Dark Elf thief/archer with limited magic ability, I do it in Skyrim as well. So my weapon preferences and playing style shape the character for me on the go rather then through static choices. The skills available have been made more focused rather then dumbed down. You no longer have Axes in the "Blunt weapon" category as in Oblivion. You have the one handed weapon skill which covers all one handed weapons. In contrast to Morrowind where you had a skill for each weapon it might sound lackluster but it makes sense and the "perk system" makes up for it.

Music and sounds: Solid. Nothing more to say.

Enviroments and weather: Fantastic. Rains and Ash storms in Morrowind made you feel like you were in another world. The weather in Oblivion felt tacked on. In Skyrim the weather is amazing. You have northern lights during clear nights, foggy damp weather that along with the snowy enviroments really feel like a Swedish winter morning. When it snows it looks great. When the sun shines it looks great. Water looks great as well.

A lot of effort have been put into making the world feel alive, there are a lot more of wild animals (not only hostile but stuff like rabits and deer, elks and moose) and crazy stuff like Mammoths and Giants wandering about. Wish swimming and jumping up rivers. Birds flying over your head.

The world also feels more real in how it has been "built" compared to the one in Oblivion. From the way rocks and trees are placed to how towns and settlements look. It feels a lot less artificial this time around.

Dungeons: They look better this time around as well, and when you kill everyone down there it gets a "cleared" text on the world map as well. Helps you keep track of where you''ve been.

Fast travel: In world fast travel options are back, a horsecart will take you to various destinations in the game. There are probably magic portals as well but I have not discovered them yet. You can also fast travel on the map to and from already discovered lovations just like in all post Morrowind games. Though I recommend using the foot slogging (or hiring a horse) to discover as much as possible. The Elder Srolls games are not about "rushing to the finish line".

Dark Brotherhood: It's back, the only thing from Oblivion worth bringing along into Skyrim.

No fucking Oblivion gates: Thank God!

Crafting: Quite clever and feels involving, improved over the last two Elder Scrolls games.

Lockpicking: Improved over Oblivion and Fallout. You need to put perks into Lockpicking Skill to make your life easier or else lockpicks break real easy and it makes it harder to feel the "weak points" of the lock.

BAD
There is actually not a whole lot of apparent "shit", thankfully. Most of my points on this part of the list can be seen as nitpicking but there are still a few things that should be mentioned.

Dragons: They die too easily. The theme of this game is that you are a "Dragonborn" a dragon slayer who absorbs dragon souls to boost his own powers. The first two dragon encounters feel pretty epic. However, I feel that dragons are too easily killed even by low end characters (level 7). Part of this problem arises from the dragon being way too dynamic, which is a silly thing to complain about. It flies around, breathes fire, lands and torches or bites people thrashing them about. But it does not remain in place and face you head on.

My Dark Elf being slightly resistant to fire damage can have something to do with my feeling here but still I find killing the dragons is way too easy - and this turns out to be very weird when you run across a mountain lion that gives you a royal trashing killing you in mere seconds. Only minutes after you have killed a dragon... WTF? I hope that the dragons will improve in potential and threat level because this is the one thing that breaks immersion the most.

Weird graphic glitches: Sometimes you wander about and everything looks great and then you spot a piece of terrain that looks completely "raw" , like it was from a game from 1998 or something. This does not occur often and these "patches of raw graphics" are quite small. But you will most likely notice them from time to time.

Boring start and loading screens: This may sound strange. But they are boring and feel just half finished compared to the rest of the game. Basically you have a black background and some "fog" at the bottom, then a 3D rendering of a character or object along with a small piece of information. In Morrowind you had a parchemt with something that looked like aquarell paintings of the beasts and characters in the game. It just feels like more effort could have been put into these.

A bit hard to grasp the "character" aspects: Even for a veteran of the Elder Scrolls game I find that the new skill trees in the level up screen are a tad confusing at first and frustrating to navigate once you learn how they work. Basically each skill is made up of a star constallation and you zoom around from star to star to check what kind of bonus the next Perk will bring.I think they made this way to interactive - Witcher 2 had something similar but it was more static and easier to check out the entire skill tree and see what you could expect further down the line. This is not a dealbreaker but I feel they made this way too complicated for what it is. I honestly think the navigation among the skill trees is more geared towards console controls than a keyboard and mouse.

Inventory: It is better than Oblivion don't worry about that. It just feels a bit clunky the way you pick what gear you are going to wear. You can "favorite" items and somewhat fast pick weapons from a list, but the inventory still feels so-so. It takes a bit of time getting used to and once again the boring design with black background and silver slider is something that I think modders will sink their teeth into very soon.

Controls: Close combat feels too chaotic, even with the welcome introduction of "shield bashing" enemies. It does get better as your stamina and skills increase but it is still clunky. You will also have to re-arrange the keyboard configuration or else you will steal stuff that you have examined by accident as imporant actions share the same key bindings.

UNDECIDED
Some things are just too early to pass judgement upon.

The Quests and Guild advancement are two imporant things. The game also promises that choices have more consequences this time around. I hope so. But it is too eraly to know how these things will develop. Or how the quests will be written further down the line.

Dragons: Mentioned in the "BAD" segment, but even though they are easily killed the place is not crawling with them. They do not seem to have become an annoying replacement for Oblivion gates as they do not appear every 20 yards. 8 Hours in I've seen 2 dragons (you see the first one twice early on, and the second I killed a few hours later). The story element of being Dragonborn, absorbing dragon souls, learning spells related to the dragons etc is at this point thankfully not overused.

...........

When Oblivion was released, you imagined a lot of things that could be instantly improved and realized some things would just be shit regardless of how many tweaks modders applied. Skyrim feels more polished upon release. There is very little that I can think of right now, beside the start/loading screens and inventory that might instantly attract attention of modders. As well as increased values for Dragons. The rest of the game appears to deliver straight out of the box.

8 Hours in I'm losing myself in a huge world of which I've only explored but a few percent, just like in Morrowind. And the game feels more like a worthy successor to that game than  Oblivion ever was.

So I think that if you liked Morrowind, you will like Skyrim as well. If you felt gutted about Oblivion, Skyrim is a great improvement of the formyla. If you liked Oblivion, you will like this one as well without reservation.

Btw, there was sort of a canvas material map included in the box. This map is said to only come with the first shipment of the game. I bought mine on the release day in a regular store - no pre order or anything like special edition. I still got the map. Again it is a fantastic improvement in material, print and durability over the shit included with Oblivion what got torn to pieces when I tried to unfold it the first time.

It may still be a bit too early to say that Bethesda has regained my trust. But for the moment I can stop dreaming about being able to punch Todd Howard in the face if I would happen upon him.

8 comments:

  1. Great review, I was thinking of picking this up, but after the oblivion debacle I was undecided. Thanks for helping push me towards purchase!

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  2. Well I can say dragons seem to be getting better/stronger further down the road. Had a proper battle with one just a minute ago so I'm happy they aren't as easy to kill as I first thought.

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  3. The maps were originally supposed to be cloth, but the material isn't too bad with what they did go with.

    I have played ZERO Elder Scrolls games before this one, so have zero frame of reference going into this one. I'm only fifth level, completed one official feeling quest, but think this is going to be a fun experience. Tonight will hopefully be my first long night of play.

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  4. @Mik, well if you haven't played any previous Elder Scrolls game prepare to spend some 100+ hours (at least) on this game. There are always tons of sidequests and that is also the main attraction. The main quest moves the story along but doing sidequests is probably the most fun you can have as you meddle with other peoples affairs, run in with the guilds and do some adventuring :-)

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  5. Thanks, it seems I've got a lot in store for me. Some things give trouble, like someone will say, "Go talk to so-and-so and they'll give you a weapon." But no one says where so-and-so is and I can never find them.

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  6. Yeah the Elder Scrolls games are huge and open ended that way. Though they introduced a "compass" system in Oblivion to guide you to the correct locations on the map/in the towns. In Morrowind it was even harder as there was no compass at all. Though it also made it a bit more "realistic" as you had to search a bit harder and ask around more.

    One minor complaint is that the Journal is a bit "bare bones" when it comes to storing and keeping information about your quests.

    A tip for a beginner, focus your efforts in one single area for the first couple of hours. It is easily to be led astray by quests taking you across the map back and forth in all directions otherwise and increase the chance of getting confused and lost. You'll figure out the game soon enough :-)

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  7. Does all the TES games tie up somehow storywise except just being played out in the same world? Aka can someone just start playing Skyrim or will there be stuff thats hard to understand without playing the earlier games? :)

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  8. No you can play each one out of context storywise. They just take place in the same world, though each game takes place in a different province of the empire.

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