Refined leveling system
Horses that defy physics
Incredibly detailed world and characters
Very long game
Cons: The usual glitches we’ve come to love from Bethesda
Console versions each have problems
Over-used voice actors
Highly exploitable skills leading to fast level-ups
Like the upcoming review for Skyward Sword, this game doesn’t really need a review. You’ve heard all the hype, I’m sure. That’s pretty much everything you’re going to hear about Skyrim. Zomg is hab drnagnsasns! Yeah, we know. Dragons are great and so is The Elder Scrolls franchise. Everyone knows, dude. The thing is, you really can’t help but talk about how great it is. Before we do this review, I want to talk about a few things.
First, there was the midnight release, which I anxiously waited in line for. Damn was it a line. There seriously must have been close to 400 people standing around inside the mall, some of which had been there for hours beforehand just to get a hold of the game a few minutes before everyone else. Why? Clearly they had nothing better to do, which is really weird considering BF3, Modern Warfare 3 (MW3=Mech Warrior 3, but you’ve probably never heard of such an obscure title. I just play it ironically.), and Uncharted 3 came out shortly before. In fact, that’s exactly what I was doing until 11:30 PM on midnight release night. Why wait in line for hours when I can rack up a body count with Matt and Rob? Anyway, it was a huge ordeal to get a hold of the game, but was totally worth the hour wait.
Next I just want to go over the older Elder Scrolls games starting with Morrowind, simply because I barely remember Arena through Redguard. Hell, I’m still fuzzy on the actual story on Morrowind. From what I remember, you’re on this prison ship bound for Morrowind. Nobody knows shit about you, so you get to make your character. From there you go do random side-quests, join up with The Blades (a legion of spies/emperor’s guard/dragonslayers), get corprus disease (incurable), get cured of corprus disease, get told you’re Tamriel’s equivalent of Jesus, reunite the great houses of Morrowind, and kill Dagoth Ur (the devil-ish). It’s actually a pretty good story if you don’t mind reading. Better than Oblivion, anyway. There really was minimal voice-acting in Morrowind, sadly.
Morrowind also had this nifty open-endedness about it. I’m not talking about gameplay as much as game mechanics. While also frustrating, it was sort of nice that you could buy armor for each part of the body (left arm, right arm, left shoulder, right shoulder, etc.). There was also a medium armor category, which I exclusively used because the game didn’t give you sufficient storage space to carry shit back with you when you’re loaded down with a full set of daedric armor and a few weapons for various circumstances. Aside from that, there was the amazing magic system, which wasn’t utterly amazing in and of itself, but because of the level of customization you could use when creating spells. You could literally do anything that you wanted with magic, from flying to going invisible, to raising the dead.
Morrowind wasn’t without its problems, though. First, the game was originally released without enemy health bars, which wouldn’t be such a big deal now, but the combat sucked ass back then. Basically, you just stood in front of an enemy with your sword and shield out and you would slash at the guy over and over again at point blank…and it would almost never hit or block. This shit is FRUSTRATING beyond belief, so they fixed it in subsequent titles. So you’re playing the game for a month or so (I was, anyway) and you discover that they patched that enemy health bar issue, so you download and install it. Well, your save games are now incompatible with the patched version of the game, so all of that shit that you accomplished before then is fucking gone. Wonderful.
Overall, I really enjoyed Morrowind and its two expansions. Actually, I wasn’t such a huge fan of Bloodmoon outside of the whole werewolf thing. Tribunal was great, though. So I waited a few years and eventually Oblivion came out. This is where most people who knows anything about The Elder Scrolls started out, which is just fine. It’s really hard to go back to Morrowind after playing Oblivion.
Oblivion started you off in prison only to have the emperor, Patrick Stewart, bust into your cell because these cultists just merked his entire family. He’s all like “oh, I’ve seen you in my dreams so I’ve told my dudes to let you come with us so you can watch me die in 5 minutes. Here, take this amulet and go find my bastard son so he can become a dragon at the end of the game, for whatever reason, and kill this daedric prince.” So you do that. As usual, there are a number of factions you can join, now including the Dark Brotherhood, which was hella fun.
Well, Bethesda realized that their previous combat system sucked, so they refined it nicely. Now when you swing at something, it will hit unless you miss or it blocks. Oh, right, you can actually block things now. That was pretty cool. They got rid of medium armor and piecework armor, which was sort of disappointing, but the new combat system eliminated the need for it, I guess. Either you’re a tank or a rogue, you know? They also got rid of some of the magic as well, such as levitation. Might have been for the best, though.
Vampirism made a comeback, too. Only it was actually good this time. You actually didn’t really suffer any penalties as long as you fed regularly. You got some good stat boosts, a few nifty powers (including night vision), and you could still go out in the sun without taking any damage (again, as long as you fed every day). It wasn’t hard to feed, either. Just find a random hobo, wait until he/she goes to sleep, then crouch down and feed. Easy as that.
One of the biggest problems with Morrowind is that it took forever to get anywhere and you were probably going to be chased the whole way there by fucking cliff racers.
Sure, you could hire a silt strider, boat, or mage guild guide to transport you somewhere, but it was really limiting and it still took forever to get anywhere. What did they do to combat this? Added horses and fast travel. What a great idea! You could fast travel to anywhere you previously explored and could get there even faster than normal with a horse, which is great until your horse gets owned. The solution? Do Dark Brotherhood quests until you get Shadowmere, an invincible horse that you can knock out and store things inside, like an equestrian bag of holding. It also looked creepy and was insanely fast.
The only other real complaints I had about Oblivion was (ironically) the random oblivion gates and the level up system. I got so goddamn tired of seeing Oblivion gates everywhere. You enter the gate, figure out how to get into this tower, kill a bunch of demons, then grab this orb and close the gate. It was boring as fuck, repetitive, and served no real purpose. It was also pathetically easy because of the level up system. See, in Elder Scrolls games you level up not by experience, but by using a skill repeatedly. This could be terribly exploited by adding athletics, acrobatics, sneak, and pretty much any magic. Acrobatics and sneak, in particular, used in conjunction when traveling from place to place would get you level ups incredibly fast. With the magic schools, you could make suits of armor that made you completely invisible, inflict one damage and one healing to yourself over and over again for leveling up armor, and athletics levels up just my moving around. That’s not all, though; once you increase 10 skills you don’t actually level up. In order to level up you have to rest in a bed. This doesn’t really make sense and it’s actually useful because the only reason you would rest in a bed is because of healing, but you can do that by waiting instead. I literally ran through like half of the game at level one with something like 20 level ups stocked that I completely forgot about. My skills were badass and the enemies were all scaled down to my level…1. Hot knife through butter, baby.
Yeah, there were good changes that made the game a lot more accessible to the common gamer. Oblivion and its expansions were very well received and Skyrim was anticipated. How could Bethesda make it any better? Here’s Team Asunder’s review of Skyrim (PS3 version).
Gameplay: We’ll start with character creation. Previously, you picked a gender, then a race, then major and minor skills, then a sign, and they sent you on your way. So there I am making my character. I just completed the character model and BAM! It drops me into the game. I couldn’t help but think I skipped by something. As it turns out, they pretty much got rid of classes and signs are now changeable in-game. At first I wasn’t a fan of this because of the way I had previously made characters. Typically I made a Redguard and added blade as a major skill and would end up having something like 50-65 in that skill right off the bat. Well, Skyrim did something a bit smarter with the system.
See, previously, you built your character into whatever you wanted it to be. If you wanted a warrior, you would distribute skills appropriately, the same with mages. Basically, you had one or two things you were very good at. Not in Skyrim. Skyrim nerfs all of that work and simply lets you go along however you want to go and become whatever you want to become. Right now I’m pretty much an assassin/rogue, but I’m also a master at enchanting and blacksmithing and could switch to pretty much any other role at any given time. Not only does this save the grief of making multiple characters so you can have different classes, but it also lets you adapt to any circumstance in the game.
The signs are now activated by stones you find around the game. They switched up the effects of the stones, but in a good way; almost all of the negatives from each stone are gone. You just have to walk around until you find a new one. Right from the start, though, you’ll find mage, warrior, and thief, which give you a 20% faster skill increase to their respective skill domains indicated on the skills menu by a nebulous color section.
That’s the next thing to talk about: Skills. They got rid of a few skills from Oblivion and combined a few others. Instead of having blade and blunt skills, they’re combined into the one-handed skill. Speech and mercantile are now consolidated into the speech skill. On top of that, they got rid of hand-to-hand, acrobatics, athletics, and mysticism (soul trap was put into enchantment). Leveling up works like it did in the previous games, only you don’t have to rest in a bed to level now, which keeps the game pretty much on par with what you can do. When you level up, you get to pick either magicka, health, or stamina to put a point in, which increases stats in the corresponding areas. From there you can look through the newly added skill trees and put a point in one of the paths, provided the skill was high enough level. At first I wasn’t a fan, but I came to like the new system pretty well.
There are still easy-level-up glitches and exploitable skills, though. Sneak is always a good skill to work on because you spend a shitload of time in dungeons that typically have shitty lighting. That means that even if your suck at sneaking you’ll be able to hide without much trouble and score sneak attacks. Fuck yeah, sneak attacks. Especially once you get the perk that gives you 15x damage for daggers. On top of that, once you join the Dark Brotherhood, your armor gives you x2 damage on all one-handed weapon sneak attacks, increasing that to a 30x damage critical on daggers. For the record, I haven’t found a single that that wouldn’t go down in one hit from that. Bosses are now bitches. All you have to do to get to there is walk around in sneak mode all the time.
Well, say you find something that won’t go down in a single hit from your dagger. What do you do? You upgrade that bitch! All you have to do is get your smithing skill up. There are a few ways to do it and they’re all equally bullshit. Let’s start with the easiest way first. One iron ingot+one leather strip=iron dagger. The total cost varies, but it can’t cost more than like 20 gold to make one. That’s actually including a piece of leather, which can be broken down into 4 leather strips. We’ll say you can probably make four of them for 40 gold. You forge them, you level up, you sell the daggers back, but more iron and leather, rinse and repeat. Total cost for me to get from like level 20 to 100 was somewhere around 4 or 5 grand. That’s fucking cheap.
Next up is speech. There’s a guy in Rifton who works at the mead brewery in town. Walk up to him (you might have to join the thieves guild first) and ask him about Maven Black-Briar. Then select the persuade option. Then ask about Maven again. Then select persuade again. Rinse and repeat all the way up to level 100. Doing this will raise your level, though, so beware of enemies afterward, as their level is based upon your level, not your skills.
Finally, here’s a glitch that works for all skills, which I wouldn’t mention, except it’s not a perfect system. Say you didn’t feel like doing the smithing trick and you just wanted levels. Just go up to the master skill trainer, pay for the training, then just pickpocket your money back. Rinse and repeat. There are a few issues with this, though. First, you have to be able to pay for it and the cost only goes up. Second, you need to have some pickpocket skill in order to do it at all. Third, you can only get up to level 76 like this because it’s practically impossible to steal back the 4K+ gold required per rank, even if you have your pickpocket skill tree maxed out. Use at your discretion.
Now it’s time to cover shouts, one of the major additions to the game. Once you start the main quest you’ll unleash dragons into the world, but you’ll also get access to shouts. A shout is a power you can use that typically has a low cool-down time and doesn’t cost any magicka. They’re also incredibly useful, particularly Unrelenting Force (you get it upon beginning the story) and Dragonrend (you get it in the story). Unrelenting Force basically forces things in front of you out of the way and knocks them down. It can also knock things off balconies and cliffs, sending them falling to their doom, which is good unless you wanted to loot their corpse.
Then there’s Dragonrend, which is totally invaluable. So there you are, minding your own business and walking around Skyrim when the music kicks up and you see that a massive shadow on the ground. “Oh god dammit, it’s a fucking cliff racer! Wait, it’s just a dragon. Crisis averted!” So the dragon descends upon you and there ain’t shit you can do about it until it lands, which they will rarely do until their health gets below half. Those mother fuckers will just hover in front of you deflecting your -5 Arrows of Pusillanimity fired from your Talc Bow of Superior Inferiority because you didn’t think you would ever need one, and blast you with its breath weapon. If you didn’t do anything with archery, you’re in a really shitty situation unless you have good magic. The solution? Dragonrend. You shout it at the dragon and it’s forced down to the ground so you can cave its head in with your Vorpal Daedric Katana-Mace of Iminent Corpse Fucking. Problem solved.
Then there’s the problem with horses. I don’t really want to call it a problem, but it’s a problem. An awesome problem. First, lemme talk about Shadowmere in this one (still acquired through Dark Brotherhood). Unlike in Oblivion, Shadowmere isn’t invincible in Skyrim. He most certainly can die, but only from falling damage or if you do the damage yourself. That fucking horse will take an unthinkable amount of damage and will not fucking die. To test this theory, I needed a dragon. I rode around until I found one, then promptly dismounted and Dragonrended it to the ground, then let Shadowmere go ape shit. The dragon was doing the usual stuff: Biting, slashing, and breath weapon, all in quick succession while I kept it down on the ground with Dragonrend. The horse killed the dragon. Let me repeat that. The fucking horse sat there and took every hit the dragon threw at him, attacks that would have killed me in short order, and proceeded to beat the mother fucker to death with its hooves. Game breaker?
Horses fucking defy physics in Skyrim. This is both retarded and totally awesome at the same time. I can’t count how many times I’ve raged because I couldn’t find the damn path up a mountain side so I could get to whatever destination was at the peak. Horses solve everything. These mother fuckers can climb up literally 80 degree inclines with almost zero effort. Why? Because it’s a fucking horse. Shadowmere is a gift horse, at that, so I’m not going to look it in the mouth. Just accept it for the beauty that it is.
Weapons and armor are pretty much the same as in Oblivion, but they simplified the skills into one-handed or two-handed for convenience. Armor, again, is pretty much the same as Oblivion. With shields, however, you get to do shield bashes right from the beginning instead of around level 75. Then there’s the dual wielding. Holy shit, they finally included it! Well, I was extremely disappointed with it for my character. I found it to be pretty much useless and actually detrimental due to the utter lack of blocking. While you could definitely do more damage with a power attack, it only helps if you can survive. It does, however, make using magic and a weapon significantly better, as you can keep your spell at the ready. I mean, you could sort of do it in Oblivion, but it works much better in Skyrim.
Ok, now to talk about some more problems. I like to mix the good and the bad with Bethesda games. As per usual, they fucked some stuff up. Big surprise. I had the PS3 version (didn’t get PC because my speakers are fucked up and I’m too broke to get them fixed. They’re Klipsch, so I’m not replacing them.) and I’ve had a multitude of problems with stability. First, it freezes sort of frequently. An easy work around for that is to set the option for “save on opening menu” to every 5 minutes. That way you’re never really behind. The game auto-saves every time you rest, sleep, transition areas if it’s been more than 5 minutes or so, and probably some other times, too, so you’re never going to have to backtrack much.
Second, there are holes in the map/dungeons. I got onto Dungeon Siege 3 for this because it’s a fairly linear game and they should have seen that shit. Skyrim is fucking massive, so they get a pass. I just wanted to point out that they’re there. It’s completely acceptable for there to be some panels missing from time to time when you have billions of them in the game.
Third, there is a problem with lag. Like, a really severe problem. This is a PS3 specific problem, apparently and what little research I did explained that it had something to do with the way the game dealt with your save file. When it got over 5 megs (usually around 20 hours into Skyrim) you’ll start to experience this horrendous lag that won’t go away after around 2 hours of gameplay. It’s still possible to play the game with it, but you can make it stop by quitting the game and starting it back up, but that only lasts for around 2 hours. Bethesda is aware of this and working to fix it, but no date is available yet.
Finally, there is a graphics glitch with the X360 version. I haven’t seen it, but if you install the game to the HDD to cut down on the load times and noise, it will mess up some of the textures in the game. I don’t know how severe it is, but Bethesda says they’ll have a fix out shortly after Thanksgiving.
On a final good note, I’m really impressed with how well the new engine is working out for them. It keeps all the good shit from Oblivion and either improves or polishes the flaws. Especially with NPCs. The way they react to you in any situation is amazing. Oblivion had NPCs with three or four tasks to do in a given day and they were pretty bland. In Skyrim, though, the NPCs have a full daily routine set up that seems to even randomize a bit. The NPCs will even regard you differently depending on the situation and what you’re doing or what you have done. I still have no idea how everyone knows I’m carrying Azura’s Star or that I’m the Listener of the Dark Brotherhood. That’s not shit I’d advertise, you know?
Man, that’s pretty much everything I’m willing to say about the gameplay. I’ll make a follow-up article in a week or so.
Audio: The good: Acceptable voice-acting. The bad: Very overused voice-actors. Very overused. I can’t count how many people in the same town have the same damn voice.
The soundtrack is what does it for me, though. Between the new music and the recycled old, it makes everything work. The ambiance is perfect in every situation. Especially when that dragon sees you. A very drum-heavy up-tempo track starts playing and you know shit’s about to hit the fan. Epic battle music. I don’t use that word lightly.
Video: It looks great, what can I say? The world is beautiful, the textures are detailed, the dungeons feel creepy, the enemies are detailed, the weapons and armor look fantastic, and the dragons are amazing. But you already know all of this ahead of time.
Plot: Ok, truth be told, I didn’t finish the game yet. I’m going to put out another article in a week or so to finish this up. The quick version is that it’s 200ish years after Oblivion and you’re a random person who happens to be the Dragonborn that was prophesized to come and rid the world of dragons or something. Basically, dragons get their power from the shouts they can use, but you have the inherent ability to use them without formal training. Well, you’re on a prison cart going to get executed and this dragon fucks the town up, so you escape. From here, I played like 20 hours of various other quests and did some exploring before I even touched the main quest.
I will say that there are quests for the Fighters Guild (Companions), Thieves Guild, Dark Brotherhood, Mages Guild, Imperial Legion, and it’s looking like there might be a few more factions.
Final Thoughts: I’m curious to see where they’re going to go with DLC and expansions. This is definitely Bethesda’s masterpiece. Hopefully the next Fallout game will use the new engine and fix the problems that 3 and New Vegas had.
Also, I liked Fallout 3 better than New Vegas. I’m one of those…
Conclusion: Dude, you were already going to buy it and you know it. Basically, it has a Morrowind quality story and a very polished Oblivion-style gameplay. You can’t go wrong with that. Besides, it’s a seriously long game with lots of stuff to do. I really like giving things “buy” verdicts, but can’t justify it very often. Skyrim is absolutely worthy of your 60 bucks.