November 14, 2011

It'll be a while before I review Skyrim, partly because it's an enormous game and partly because I'll soon be forced to shelve the game for an extended period of time what with Assassin's Creed and Zelda coming out this week. So, since I've played enough of Skyrim this weekend that my eating and sleeping habits are badly off-kilter, I thought I'd share some impressions based on what I've experienced so far. If anyone else has been playing it, feel free to chime in as well.

- First, some stats. I've spent around 26 hours with the game so far and am at level 21. I've discovered 120 locations, completed 22 quests, cleared 17 dungeons, and killed 11 dragons. I've joined the Companions, the Thieves' Guild and the College of Winterhold; I've also sided with the Stormcloaks. When I last stopped playing, I was resting in a little village called Karthwasten on my way to Markarth (on the far west side of the map) as part of a major quest for the Thieves' Guild. Nearly the entire left half of the world map has gone unexplored by me, and based on a few of the battles I've gotten into around here so far (including a frost dragon who was on my tail for a very long time), it may have been foolish to venture into this portion of Skyrim so early in the game.

- I chose the Redguard race and have been focusing largely on melee combat, which is how I usually play RPGs. So far, one-handed weapons are by far my highest skill (level 67), but the combat's been extremely open-ended nonetheless and I'm slowly incorporating magic more and more into the way I fight. Being able to assign "favorites" to the d-pad doesn't work seamlessly, but it greatly speeds up the process of juggling equipment and spells mid-battle.

- I'm also focusing on crafting skills (smithing, enchanting) as well as some stealth-based stuff (sneaking, pickpocketing, lockpicking) as a way of scoring some extra money from time to time. The lockpicking mini-game is indentical to the one in Fallout 3.

- Speaking of which, an awful lot of the game's presentation values were pulled from Fallout 3. The slowcam finishers, the streamlined (and surprisingly modern-looking) menus, and even the little drum roll every time you complete a quest remind me of Bethesda's previous open-world RPG.

- The combat is great. I played too little of Oblivion (and too long ago) to recall how battles played out in that game, but the combat was always my biggest frustration with Morrowind, how it still seemed more reliant on stats and die rolls than on physicality. The swordplay in Skyrim has this back-and-forth weightiness to it, a bit like Demon's/Dark Souls, but without the grating frustrations that that I believe I made clear I wasn't overly fond of with those games.

- I love the dragon battles. You never know when they're going to pop up, and they provoke a multitude of emotions: the sting of fear when you hear the screech and see the giant shadow of a dragon pass over you, the thrill of studying their attack patterns and pacing yourself to stay alive, and the invigorating sense of accomplishment when you bring one down. I didn't read up much on Skyrim before its release, so I didn't know that dragons would play such a heavy role in the game. It's easily one of my favorite aspects.

- There are a lot of surface-level presentational issues with the game: muddy textures, blocky shadows, noticeable bugs, inconsistent voice acting, and so forth. Yet I'm so overwhelmed by the game's astonishing scope, and the consistent beauty of everything in it, that I don't care. Bear in mind that my big problem with Fallout 3 was that it was all so gloomy and miserable that its world being so well-realized was, for me, its biggest turn-off. Here, it's desolate and haunting in calming, beautiful ways. I can't get enough of it.

- Also, the alpine setting does wonders to give Skyrim a distinct visual style. It is, after all, generic swords-and-dragons fantasy, yet it has a look and feel all its own.

- In the realm of minor flaws, it would be nice if there was a way for me to quickly exit a dungeon after clearing it, unless there is and I'm simply unaware. It's a bit tedious to have to backtrack all the way through an empty dungeon once I've done everything there is to do.

- Also, the way characters interact with each other and the player is far from perfect. For example, one time while I was fighting a dragon, I died because I was pulled against my will into a conversation with a passerby who seemed completely unaware that a dragon was attacking both of us. That sort of thing is uncommon, though, and totally excusable for a game of such staggering size.

I'm working a massive 14-hour shift tomorrow, and on Tuesday, a new Assassin's Creed game will be in my possession, so Skyrim will have to go on hold for a while, unfortunately. It says a lot about the game that I can play 26 hours of it in one weekend and still be sad to have to put it away, though I suppose it also says a lot about how much of a hold the Assassin's Creed games have on me that I can love Skyrim this much and still not even hesitate to shelve in once Revelations is released.

Every Bethesda game of this ilk has thus far failed to drive me to completion. I was blown away by Morrowind's world but eventually grew weary of its stagnant gameplay. Oblivion played more smoothly but inhabited an uninteresting world. Fallout 3's world was interesting, yet it was so oppressively gloomy that I didn't want to stick around. From what I've played of Skyrim so far, it keeps all of the elements that worked for me in previous Bethesda games and ditches everything that turned me off. Whenever I get around to playing more of it, Skyrim could very well be the first Bethesda game that I play to the end. Might even replace Arkham City as my 2011 Game of the Year. We'll see.

I'll leave you with this. Some courier ran up to me and told me a man in a dark hood paid him a great sum to deliver this into my hands:

I don't... um...

Edit: Hey Jason? You know that little box you can check when you're posting a blog entry so it also posts in the forums? Yeah, it doesn't work anymore. Just letting you know.

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