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Fifteen hours with Skyrim--and that's enough

Brad Gallaway's picture

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

So, Skyrim.

Everybody's heard of it, everybody's playing it, and it's getting stellar reviews. Clearly this game is the jam for a whole lot of people right now, and that's pretty cool. Seriously, no hate coming from me towards those of you who dig it, at all.

For me, though... I have to say I'm just not feeling it.

As of this writing, I've put somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 hours into the game, and yes, I do realize that in the big scheme of things that's barely even scratching the surface of the ridiculous amount of content present here. However, that's still a pretty sizable chunk of time and I'm not too sure how much more (if any) I'm going to devote.

What's good?

Content. Like I just said, the game has an unbelievable amount of content. I've got something like twenty or thirty incidental quests on my to-do list that I haven't even touched yet, and I've got at least five or six "major" quest lines going at the same time. For any gamer who is concerned about getting the most raw playtime possible for their $60, I'm guessing that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim probably offers the best value of the year.

Landscape. It's pretty damned beautiful. I've found myself looking out at tremendous vistas and often pausing just to sweep the camera around and take in the environment. Really impressive.

Build choices. I picked a fighter-type character specializing in two-handed weaponry and heavy armor, but I could just have easily have gone the stealthy archer route or dabbled in several different kinds of magic use—or any combination thereof. Add in all sorts of weapons, spells, and armor, and there's a lot of toys to play with.

What's not so good?

Character. I'm the kind of player that likes a lot of personality in my gameplay, and I'm a sucker for great writing. So far, it doesn't seem like Skyrim has much of either.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

The characters I've met feel flat and unmemorable and I don't feel any investment in what's going on. Without any kind of human connection, the game comes off like a giant laundry list of quests to do because they're there to be done. Furthermore, the game introduces "companions" to quest along with you, and they could hardly be more dull. They barely say anything, they've got no discernible personality once they join you, and they don't offer much in the way of getting to know them.

In contrast, look at something like Fallout 3. Within the first hour, the player stumbles across a nuclear bomb in the middle of the beginning town and meets several interesting characters with a variety of problems. Later on in the game, there are any number of varied and diverse things going on—two dueling superheroes, an orphan that needs a home, cannibals inviting you in for dinner, vampires, robots, and more... and the companions? Some were certainly better than others, but they were all interesting in their own way and had a ton more personality than those in Skyrim.

Although Fallout 3 has several complaints that could legitimately be leveled at it, I don't think anyone could deny that there were plenty of interesting characters and events happening there—honestly, the first hour of Fallout 3 is an order of magnitude more interesting from a story/character perspective than anything I've seen during my entire time in Skyrim.

Quests. Now I fully admit that I've only seen a small slice of the quests available in the game, but what I have seen has not been very rewarding or entertaining, and I'm not encouraged to push forward. Almost every dungeon I've been to roughly follows the same "underground narrow hallways with some larger rooms" blueprint, and each final chamber has a very convenient shortcut door back to the surface. Whether I am clearing out a barrow, "sneaking" in somewhere to get some information, or just exploring, it all boils down to entering the dungeon and killing everything that's inside. There's nothing inherently wrong with dungeon crawling, but with a game that's so huge and so sophisticated, the variety of quests has been sorely lacking—in fact, many are outright boring.

Where are the "tough choices" that make you sit back and think? Where are the quests that are won by tricking your opponent with clever speech, or by winning them over with your charm? Where are quests that don't involve traveling to a location and killing everything that's there? I mean, I've done a few where I'm taking an item to a certain place, but those are so piddling and forgettable that they hardly even count as quests.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

Weirdness and frustration. I've heard several reports of bugs and glitches, and I've seen more than a handful myself.

  1. I was walking through the countryside and a cluster of inanimate bodies fell from the sky to land at my feet. No explanation, no reason.
  2. A quest giver was on a staircase, and when I approached to complete the quest, they were unable to decide whether they were going up or down stairs and I could not complete the quest without reloading a save.
  3. I traveled to the correct location for a quest, but the person who was supposed to be there was not present. I spent several minutes trying to figure out what was going wrong and then eventually reloaded to save and tried again—and that time the person was there.
  4. I was supposed to take an item to a location, and my map marker showed that it was all the way on the other side of the world. I fast-traveled as close as I could and then walked the rest of the way, committing a sizable amount of time to travel. As soon as I got to the map marker, it disappeared and reset itself to the actual location, which was fifty feet from where I originally started.
  5. There have been multiple times when I've been in the middle of battle, and then an NPC quest-giver approaches me to ask for a favor. I am CLEARLY in the middle of battle, and these people end up dead without ever having given their quest, more often than not.
  6. I gave a large number of items to one of my followers, and then that follower was replaced with a new one that was required by a certain quest. My original follower disappeared, and I've never seen them again despite going back to the original location where we first met. All the goods he was holding? Gone as well.

Those things were clearly glitches, but there are a number of other things that I personally find irritating... things like the clunky, cumbersome menu system, having to go to different shops in order to sell different goods (yes, I know that this is a perk to be earned, but it's time-consuming and inconvenient.) It was also irritating to not have a place to store goods when over-encumbered... I eventually bought a house after much time and effort, but something so simple should be introduced to the player right off the bat, if you ask me.

...Oh, and the dragons? Talk about underwhelming. At this point, I've killed at least six or eight, and each one was less than impressive. I expected that a game which features a dragon theme so heavily would make each encounter more of an awesome event, but they're just random enemies that pop up in the world, and they're not even hard to kill. More annoyances than anything else, I had a much tougher time fighting giants and mammoths than I did the dragons. These flying lizards are the definition of anti-climactic.

Is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a terrible game? No, not hardly.

I've played dozens of games that were far worse this year, and there's a lot to like if you're inclined towards fantasy adventures. On the other hand, is it deserving of the 25 perfect scores (360 version) currently shown at Metacritic? Is it going to rank as one of the years best games? For me, the answer is no to both.

To be perfectly honest, it feels too flat and dull to consider sinking as much time as it probably requires to get through even half... I'd much rather play something with more variety and better characters, and certainly something that feels less repetitive and checklist-y. I'm glad I tried it and I can understand why some people love it, but I don't think it's for me and I'm very glad that I'm not on the hook to do the review.

Probably going to move on.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3   PC  
Developer(s): Bethesda  
Series: The Elder Scrolls  
Genre(s): Role-Playing   Open World  

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How else COULD the dungeons be designed? If there wasnt a quick way back to the surface at the end of each dungeon - how long would it take people to get tired of backtracking out of each one instead?

Did fallout give you somewhere o stash your goods off the bat? No.

Did Oblivion? No. Does ANY Western RPG? No.

Your after choices and tasty moral choices? Find a Daedric Shrine/Quest. Each one of them offers multiple outcomes.

You dont like fetch quests? Dont do the misc quests then! Focus on the side missions - many of hem offer branching stories that are interesting.

And he Dragons are too easy? Are you playing on Easy? or the Adept/Default?

Sorry but after a generation of disapointing games and overhyped mediocrity - the sheer ambition, scope, scale and passion that SKyrim shows off re-affirms my choice of hobby and is the best game ive played in close to 10 years.

I like this site and usually find your opinions interesing Brad but seriously - come on man - SKyrim deserves EVERY plaudit bestowed on it.

15 Hours!

No offence but you haven't played it long enough to make a clear judgement in my opinion. Playing Skyrim for 15 hours is like playing for 30 minutes in another game. Did you try the main quest? How about the Dark Brotherhood or the Thieves Guild? Did you join the College of Winterhold or the Companions? Did you try any of the Daedra quests? How about the Civil War, did you choose a side and follow through?

There is a ton of content and characters in Skyrim and the scale of the game is fantastic. Yes there are bugs and glitches but in around 70 hours of play I've only come across a handful of bugs and all of them were minor. I'll happily take a few bugs in exchange for the sheer scope of Skyrim. The alternative is those stupid little corridor games that don't allow you to deviate in any way and still have bugs.

If you don't like it, you don't like it, but seriously 15 hours is not enough time in a game the size of Skyrim imho.

Concering 15 hrs...

I think that if it takes over 15 hours (HOURS, that's over half a day) for a game to start "getting good," then why didn't they just cut those tepid 15 hours of the game out? Would it make sense for me to bore myself for 10 hours just so I can play 20 hours of what might be a great game, but has shown no real promise in the already substantial time I've given it?

(Note: I'm speaking purely hypothetically, as I have not played Skyrim)

I think Brad makes a valid point that, if the game is so interesting and fun, why doesn't the game make a concerted effort to make that fun more readily available. Part of game design is understanding how to get the player to have fun. Bethesda RPGs are fun because they're open ended, but they almost always have a clear pointer right from the get go that says "Getting bored? Do THIS!"

From what it sounds like, Brad's experience with the game thus far indicates that the game isn't really trying to put its best foot forward, and it's definitely not doing it soon enough to make you wanna devote 10, 20, or 30 hours until you feel satisfied with your time spent. It also seems like, from what he's written, that the time it takes from seeing "Do THIS" to actually "doing" is pretty lengthy, and filled with boring sidequests or walking around.

Mmmmm, so....you can't grasp

Mmmmm, so....you can't grasp the "world" , the game itself after 15 hours ?... well , i for one , dont think that 15 hours can be compared to 30 minutes. If after 15 hours a game has not been able to get me interested enough ...well , i won't expect it to change my opinion in the next 15 hours.

I did play it , i did play fallout 3 , did play oblivion... i liked them , but , i know what he means. Is not that there is not story, it is there , but there is too much content, and the story gets a little overshadowed by the sheer amount of other things.

I think the problem is , we have been given a game that is a sandbox, an open world, with freedom , with a lot of content, with many places and options to explore and develop our characters , and , that content in itself is , so big and powerful, that the story and plot , fails to catch our attention but not because it is bad or lacking , but because the rest of the game shines hundreds of levels above it.

Is not that the story is lacking , is the rest , that surpasses it and make us forget it. It is as plain as that, and you can notice it is a trend when you notice how many players lose track of the game , to do hundred of other things. It is the game's fault ? yes and no. It is our fault for being unable to focus on what we have to, but is comprehensible after decades of games rewarding us for the opposite ( making us not progress in the game till we were sure of not losing items or events or quest). But I think it is Bethesda's fault too, failing to notice that and taking the most "profiting" option. Skyrim , is not a better game than Oblivion , it is just bigger , prettier. They just took all they did prior and multiplied it. Are there new things in there ? Sure, but nothing that really makes a big change. They just added more of the same content. More monsters , more quests, more items , more abilities , more dungeons , more , more , more. And somewhere there , they buried the rest. Just by trying to add , they (in my eyes) subtracted.

In the end , each one has his opinion and you can like the game or not, but , 15 hours SHOULD be enough ,not to make a clear judgment about the game but enough for the game to pique my interest.

(ps: I tried to be as little opossing as i could, just please understand that , if you notice my tone to be that way is not for that, it is that my english stinks and because of that i have trouble conveying my words the proper way. And if i chose some things over anothers to answer is just because they were the ones that better caught my attention)

Thank you

Thank you so much for your critique. You cannot believe how relieved i am about how there is another person on this planet that doesn't like this game either. I thought i was going crazy, being the only one who thought this game was quite frankly boring and mundane.

The biggest problem i had with the game was that i had already played this game 2 times before. I played the same thing in Morrowind and the same thing in Oblivion. It not only has the same structure but also the same spells, the same weapons and the same "look and feel" as the previous games. I really thought I was playing a mix of Oblivion and Morrowind with updated graphics and much more snow. Sure there are "new" things, which are basically tacked on and don't really change how the game plays.

And where has all the originality gone? I liked Morrowind at least, because it took place in an unfamiliar world full of alien concepts, which in turn made the world worth exploring. Since Oblivion the games have been getting more and more generic with witches, dragons and werewolves and whatnot.

Whats even worse is that half of the game I'm in f-in dungeons. I HATE crawling through the same bland dungeons and doing the same stuff over and over and over and over again, killing the same Nordic zombies, seeing the same scripted zombie-grave-popping sequences over and over and over, pulling the same levers to open gates. What's the point of having security to prevent robbers when you put the lever to open the gate right next to it!? And don't even get me started on the rotating image "puzzles". Who the hell are these puzzles for? First-graders? It gets so predictable and boring, that i can't even bring myself to give a damn about any of it.

Additionally this game has probably the worst UI i have seen since... Well actually I honestly can't remember an UI worse than this. I didn't even know you could assign weapons to number-keys until i was 15 hours in. Apparently you have to add them to the favorites and THEN you can assign number keys to them in the favorites-menu. Who the hell thought this up?

I also spend so much time rummaging around in my chest back at my house and constantly drop off books and other stuff bogging me down. I have about 100 books and countless dragon-limbs and potions stored in that chest alone. It is literally hell trying to manage anything inventory related. Several times i got sick of it and in rage simply sold everything i had to some vendors just trying to cope with all the loot i found.

I'll say one good thing about it though: At least you can actually interact with the game unlike many other "games" these days...

I'm only about 8 or 9 hours

I'm only about 8 or 9 hours in and I'm enjoying it a lot, playing at quite a slow pace and just enjoying the atmosphere and exploration, doing the odd minor quest here and there. I'm in no rush to get through the main storyline. I think it's a great game, despite it flaws (some of which Brad has mentioned) - personally I'm a lot more into this than Fallout 3, which I eventually completed out of a sense of duty. I found the dull post-apocalyptic landscapes and endless subways quite boring, but I'm really liking exploring in Skyrim.

For me it's one of my favourite games of the year. However, I can fully understand someone not enjoying it as much as me.

Not surprised

For me, most WRPGs feel hollow and fail to engage me for any meaningful amount of time. They generally lack character development, a well told narrative and their combat systems and exploration capacity fail to overcome their flaws. A lot of WPRGs are like a big, beautiful movie set: Alluring, but with nothing behind it.

From what I've seen (and

From what I've seen (and done) I like the game a lot. If you're a fan of games like Witcher 2, and hope that your decisions will meaningfully affect the world much, you'll be slightly disappointed.

There are, however, an abundance of quests that have unique aspects; particularly the guild quests. I implore that you play the game further in this regard, Brad.

The main issue I have is that this game was released in an unacceptably buggy state. Other than that though........

I believe you are doing this

I believe you are doing this game an injustice, by expecting something else from what it is. You are judging it not based on what it is, but what you wish it would be.

Bethesda never created notable characters or plots with depth. Quests in all of its games were and still are boring. Since Morrowind all they seem to care about is making nice screenshots with beatiful vistas and filling their games with random generated content. That is also the reason they don't care about things like animation,facial textures, voice acting, AI, depth of characters and quests. All these do not make nice pictures to advertise their product.

Knowing this, i expected them to destroy one of my favourite franchises, Fallout, but i was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't a masterpiece, but it was really good. It isn't good because it is a nice rpg, but because it is a nice open world with satisfiyng action. It is enjoyable to play, and to turn your enemies to bits and pieces while leveling up your character.

New Vegas became even better, by being an expanded Fallout 3, with more guns, more items, more enemies, and an enhanced S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system.

And now with Skyrim, i believe they have made their best game yet, and one of the best games of all time. Again, it is not the plot that is good. It is not the quests, or the characters. The best thing about Skyrim is that you can play it in any way you like and enjoy the fights. You can fight as one handed and shield fighter, or two handed, or a mage specialised in Destruction and Alteration, or a Conjurer, or a stealth archer using poisons etc... Every time you enjoy a different way of fighting. And it is pure joy.

Calling Skyrim an RPG is a mistake. It is not. It is a First Person Action/RPG, like a first person Diablo would be. Most towns and NPCs are filler, just to show something between battles. Would you criticise Diablo II for its lack of character depth and plot? I don't think so. Then why do it for Skyrim? Do you have to like it? No. But you shouldn't criticise it for lacking things you believe it should have.

If Skyrim isn't among the best games of the year, then what games are? COD?Batman?Assasin's Creed? In my opinion, Skyrim deserves its metacritic score. Though i admit, i wish we were a decade back and were playing Baldur's Gate again... Those were the times...

Actually, I'm with Brad to

Actually, I'm with Brad to the extent that if he didn't like it after 15 hours, it's probably just not his cup of tea. You shouldn't have to suffer through a game you don't like, just waiting until the moment when it finally gets good.

For me, Skyrim was awesome from the start. I took some menial-sounding errand for a local merchant, and ended up on a three-hour quest through a huge dungeon filled with nasty enemies, lots of loot and fun (easy) puzzles. It sucked me in and I've enjoyed every minute of it.

There are, though, plenty of quests where your speech skill can drastically influence the outcome or even win the quest. The flipside is that your speech skill has to be at a certain level (you can up it by trading or training) before the persuade and intimidate options show up in conversations.

Ironically, Fallout 3 bored the crap out me and I turned it off after about the same amount of time. I've re-started a few times to see if it would grow on, but it was just... blah.

All I'll say to this is that

All I'll say to this is that Skyrim is a heavily player-driven experience. It is easy to get distracted simply because of the sheer volume of content you are presented with, but if you were to push that aside and focus on completing the various story missions, it doesn't take -nearly- that long to "get good". You run into the start point for two major quest lines (the main story and the rebellion questline) before you're out of the first dungeon and nothing's stopping you from disregarding the huge, expansive world and focusing entirely on those quests, both of which offer lots of memorable moments (even if the characters in those particular quests aren't the strongest). The most memorable characters and events are in a lot of the sidequests, many of which are tricky to get as they tend to manifest more fluidly than in other games. You can't just go to a single location and find the dude with a bit yellow "!" above his head. You have to learn how to keep your ears out for rumors and potential questlines, and it can be a bit tricky to find out where the more interesting quests start (there are many quests that start by reading the right book or coming across a random event in the wilderness, for example). This takes a little longer to get boiling than simply having a great big hub town where all the important NPCs stand around doing nothing and handing out quests, but it feels a lot more natural to me.

Skyrim's greatest strength is also it's greatest weakness. With so much content and gameplay available to the player at any one time it becomes very difficult to maintain focus. A lot of folks prefer a more driven experience, and Skyrim is not the game for that. It drops you down into the middle of a massive, open world and lets you lose with a handful of quests you might possibly want to think about considering to do in between doing your own thing. I find it challenging to stay focused, for example, because I love to explore and I'll often find myself getting sidetracked by an interesting ruin on my way to the next quest point and then end up so loaded down with the various loot and goodies I picked up that I'll have to travel back to town to offload it before continuing. It's not the fault of the developers, it's my own inability to maintain focus that allows me to get 60 hours into a playthrough without completing a single story mission. That story mission has been there since the beginning, with the promises of story and reward calling, but I'm just too interested in doing something else.

tl;dr It gets good as fast as you want it to. Pursue what you want to pursue. That's the whole point of the game. It may be a bit too freeform for some players who want a little more structure and focus, but for those of us who love exploring massive worlds and driving their own plots Skyrim is a godsend.

I've played the game for 10

I've played the game for 10 times the amount of time you have and I have to say you're dead right on all counts.
Decent-to-solid game but nowhere close to a 10 or even a 9.
If they'd cut out all the chaff (backtracking, load screens, taking items out of storage for smithing/shopping) it would've been better, but the main problems for me reside in the absolute vacuity of the writing, the repetitiveness of most quests, the lack of impulse to go forward - except for the increasingly ubiquitous "virtual carrot" gameplay.
There is no carrot. There's a lot to enjoy in this game, but it's ultimately a glorified laundry list simulator. a 10-hour version of Skyrim would've been MUCH better. And it was released with a level of polish that was embarrassing for a beta, let alone a full retail game.

Most of all, it's so infuriatingly dumb. Guards still joke about me "bringing the mead" for the Companions I'm Harbinger to; mages advise me to "join the college" despite the fact I'm already Arch-Mage. those are just two silly examples of the type of poor design the game is chock-full of. I understand it's a big game. My point is, is it too big for you to properly structure? Then make it smaller. Screw your 300-hour claim if most of those are going to be spent on loading screens and photocopied dungeons.

Btw, Daedric quests don't give you moral choices. You're automatically evil for just doing them. Your only choice is to walk away and keep the quest open, hardly satisfying.

and to add to the

and to add to the pile...

Making killing dragons a chore is something I never thought would be possible in a large-scale AAA RPG.

Fast-traveling is useless when it entails at least two loading screens (fast travel to Dragonsreach - load screen - open the gate to Dragonsreach - load screen - and that's just if you want to stop at the Jarl's throne, you get more of them if you want the porch or the dungeon)

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