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Oh, Bethesda, Skyrim does have its issues

Sparky Clarkson's picture

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

My original intention for this week had been to use my leisure time to watch some of the incipient college basketball season, then crank through a fair bit of Assassin's Creed Revelations and maybe get a review started while I'm away next week. I'd downloaded The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, of course, but I had planned to let it sit for a few weeks while I waited for Bethesda's inevitable patch cascade.

This plan lasted until about 8 PM last Friday, when I rolled up a burly Nord named Arnhelm.

The inescapable reality is that Bethesda makes precisely the sorts of games I love, and Skyrim may be their best, even if buying the game on release day is akin to paying $60 for access to a public beta test. I have stormed a ruined fortress full of sorcerers. I have drawn a pack of angry polar bears into battle with a house full of criminals. I have slain a dragon with my magic bow while standing on a ledge in a waterfall (by the way, actual running water is my favorite technological improvement in this game). I've stumbled into the ancient lair of a powerful undead Nord wizard and defeated him and his clones. More memorable moments are to come, I'm sure.

Of course, the standard Bethesda problems are there. I've only crashed to the desktop once, but niggling little bugs are everywhere. The textures can also be pretty rough, and things occasionally get choppy for no particular reason. Despite the existence of a weight slider, basically everyone looks burly, a disappointment since I intended to make my character a slender, effeminate tank.

Also, many of the supposed improvements to the Elder Scrolls system are duds. The Radiant story incidents I've encountered are mostly just fetch quests to places you haven't been. Go there, get this thing, kill that dude. Additionally, these quests tend to get introduced as "I saw some bandits while I was out yesterday" and then direct you to a cave on the other side of the map, which makes them feel even lighter on story than they already are.

Of course, the world still can't conceive of any way to deal with the player other than insane, senseless violence. Bandits, sorcerers and practically everything else you meet will charge at you in waves, pounding away in madness, until you have chopped their heads off for good. The inability to talk your way out of anything makes Skyrim at times feel more post-apocalyptic than Fallout (a side-effect of its innate Tolkienism). Some animals, at least, are properly territorial, though the polar bears are psychopaths. NPCs have similar problems. The way other characters develop attitudes towards you based on your actions feels particularly borked; they get too friendly too fast and get too angry too easily.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Screenshot

For instance, on my way into Whiterun I stopped by a brewery and while Arnhelm was nursing his freshly bought bottle of mead I had him read a few books. Of course, they were owned books, and when I accidentally hit "E" instead of tab I stole one, instantly garnering a bounty of 2 gold. Rather than reload, I put the book back, walked outside to a patrolling guard, and paid my fine.

Big mistake.

Later, after helping the city guard defeat a dragon and being named Thane of the town, I stepped outside Whiterun and was immediately attacked by three well-armed thugs who were way above my level. I got slaughtered almost instantly in three attempts, and the guards were, for some reason, of absolutely no assistance. Eventually I managed to prevail by exploiting the AI's terrible pathfinding. On one of the bodies I found a note from the brewery owner placing a contract on me. For a book that I had put back!

Naturally I went to talk to him about it, but even with the contract in hand there's no dialogue option to ask him why he sent three large men to murder me over semi-stealing The Real Barenziah Vol. 2. This is a system that desperately needs tuning.

That is symptomatic of the game as a whole. The invaluable Eric Schwarz has done a series of posts on the shortcomings of the user interface, and while my problems haven't been as severe as his, I agree that this system belongs alongside Mass Effect as one of the worst interfaces ever put in a major release.

This is especially true given that the gameplay in Skyrim is strongly oriented towards obtaining large quantities of things, through which you must tediously scroll every time you want to do anything at all. The "Favorites" menu is Bethesda's tacit admission that their inventory interface is a failure, but this menu feels every bit the kludge it is. Also, amazingly, this huge, list-y interface has no sorting options.

That said, the world is amazing and mostly avoids the fantasy-generic look that plagued Oblivion. While I would still prefer a world that tilted more towards the tripping-balls weirdness of Morrowind and Shivering Isles, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim does a pretty good job of creating relatively diverse locales that still feel like they belong in the same geographic region. The main plot comes straight from the fantasy trope warehouse, but the scenario and additional plots feel a great deal more interesting than anything that was going on in Oblivion. I absolutely love playing the game, but I'd love to be able to praise a Bethesda game without immediately saying "but".

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

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Skyrim ramblings...

I think you're right on both counts - I think this is Bethesda's best work yet, and yes AI pathfinding is awful and occasional glitches do happen. However, I think this is the "cleanest" release I've seen from them, and the Major Questlines are really oustanding, better than any other TES game - by far the biggest issues being the Companion AI and interface (no quick keys?!?). At least the quick keys will be fixed by a mod. Must say as a Morrowind devotee, I do enjoy all the dunmer fan service (dwemer ruins, Hlaalu farms, etc). But like you, i find myself wishing it were more interactive - more conversations relating to my race for starters. I'm not sure we'll ever see the day when there's not a "but", however, given everything we get in Skyrim, it's successes reveal it's flaws more keenly - and compared to just about any other game on the market, it's ambition dwarfs the rest of the crowd - but at least it's not just ambition - the execution keeps getting better. It's their best World yet.

I suppose it's the typical

I suppose it's the typical blessing and curse of the Elder Scrolls series where if you walk into a room there are 50 or so things you can pick up and move around. Walk into a pub and you'll send plates flying. Guess what? Your save file is tracking that. It might not track *where* that stuff belonged originally but it will track each item's orientation in 3D space. Most games don't allow this freedom; most crap is glued down -or- the game doesn't need to track it for very long. I dunno, expecting the game to know that you put something back after you added it to your inventory just seems like a bit much for me.

Personally I'm surprised they haven't put a better system in place to clean up all the loose items in the game like bodies in the streets of Riften. Each dead body is just bloating my save file a bit more. My favorite dead person in Riften is directly in front of the Bee and Barb Pub that people stand and gawk at daily. The guards killed him days ago people! Get over it! Clean up your bodies Riften. And don't forget the ones I left in the Ratway while you're at it.

Perfectly Said Mr. Johnson.

Perfectly Said Mr. Johnson.

Beta is right

Yikes this is more of a beta than the last one, good thing I am waiting a year or 2 before I bother with it, by the time 3 or 4 expansions hit it will be worth while..

Yep, it's a typical Elder

Yep, it's a typical Elder Scrolls game. Infinitely addictive, but filled with more bugs than a wet sugar-mill filled with dead cow carcasses. At least it isn't the so-painful-but-good experience I dealt with when playing Oblivion.

I swear, that game would crash at least every ten minutes when I originally played, but, strangely (or perhaps not), I kept coming back. I won't even comment on inexplicable problems like side-quests characters dying, guards brawling among themselves or the questionable leveling system.

However, you'd think--particularly with all the bragging about the size of the development team--they'd have "exterminated" the bugs prior to release. Hell, I would have gladly waited a bit longer for a bug-free game the possessed a user interface that catered to PC gamers; seriously, did anyone give a damn!? Was it that hard to accomplish?

Regardless, it's still hard to hate this game. At all.

The character interaction

The character interaction and unscripted nature of the experience on offer has always been the achilles heel of Bethesda games. I sank 100+ hours into both Fallout 3 and Oblivion and both left me feeling pretty empty towards the end. The worlds they create are rich and beautiful, but the characters you encounter are bland and soulless, and the main storylines are without punch after dilution with endless hours of 'side' quests.

Bethesda could do worse than learn from From Software, who use characters to add to the atmosphere rather than the story. By building stories around weak characters (probably due to dilution of effort in having *so many*) and weak character mechanics for the sake of rich and varied gameplay and the *illusion* of choice, Bethesda betray the effort expended in portraying the world. This is in stark contrast to the game design philosophy of Demon's/Dark Souls where the player is always king. The player experience is never compromised for the sake of a game mechanic.

You see, Bethesda games are like the spiritual opposite of games like Uncharted, where every scene is scripted to keep the player at maximum immersion, where every character is carefully designed, and where game mechanics are deliberately kept simple (arguably *too* simple) so as not to interfere with the planned pace of the experience. Uncharted is quite literally a designer-game - specifically, cleverly and somewhat subversively designed to push all the right buttons and pull all the right strings.

Contrast with Skyrim, where the emergent (vis-a-vis designed) gameplay results in the highs being rarely as high and never as consistent, and where the lows (e.g. the wooden characters) are an unavoidable and significant part of the experience.

Both are great games in their own right (with Chi Kong's criticism of the latter quite wide of the mark IMHO), but personally I would rather spend the $60/£40 on 10-15 hours of total immersion and gripping hollywood action, than 100+ hours larking around in Skyrim. Well actually I would most prefer to spend that amount on the halfway house of Batman Arkham City, but that's for another post....

I pays my moneys, I plays the games, and I wants my thrills.

@Alv People put a 100+ hours

@Alv

People put a 100+ hours into games like Skyrim because they're immersed in the experience; not because they're forced to.

I'd take Skyrim's bugs over repetitive, plot forced games any day of the week. Do games like Uncharted allow you focus on the story at your own leisure? No. Can you mold your character to fit your play style? No. Is the world your oyster?

However, all the above is subjective. It all comes down to preference, but if I play a game for 100+ hours, it most be doing something right.

BTW, how can Beth learn from From Software when neither Demon's Souls or Dark Souls features any comprehensive/real story? Furthermore, those games do force gameplay mechanics on the player, since they're notoriously difficult. How is it different to force players to fight through difficult segments (again and again) until they bypass that portion?

googoo24 wrote: @Alv Do

googoo24 wrote:

@Alv

Do games like Uncharted allow you focus on the story at your own leisure? No. Can you mold your character to fit your play style? No. Is the world your oyster?

Don't kid yourself here. It's all an illusion of choice, of an open world, of freedom. An illusion which is frequently broken when one comes up against the natural limitations of the game, which are most evident in the said character interaction. Why are my dialogue choices limited, when the world is my oyster?

Freedom

The freedom you're offered in Skyrim when it comes to NPC interaction is the freedom to walk away. Unlike Fallout 3 (IIRC) you may exit out of any conversation at any time ('B' on 360). So in the cases I didn't like where a particular dialog tree was heading, I just imagined my character throwing up his hands and walking away in rage. :)

That said, I do feel that the dialog trees as far more limited than for example Fallout 3. It's very seldom you're allowed to confront the NPC or ask for more reward money, etc. As a result I've found it hard in Skyrim to play the "lawful evil" (in D&D terminology) character I had in Fallout: maximizing your own profit at the expense of NPCs without actually committing a crime. He has ended up a quite schizophrenic type instead, sometimes valiantly saving the proverbial kitten from the tree, sometimes bashing in the heads of innocents. I hope Bethesda improves on this in a future expansion/DLC.

How is anything you just

How is anything you just mentioned any different in Demon Soul's/ Dark Souls or Uncharted? Games which completely lack major/significant interaction (for the most part) and focus exclusively on combat or scripted events that can never be altered? Uncharted's events/storyline elements are completely scripted.

How do those games make the player "King", when they are so strict in their design?

You also say the concept of character interaction is "lacking" in Beth games. Have you played New Vegas? That game abounded with choice and freedom. Please, tell me some of the major "choices" (in terms of character interaction) you've made in Demon's and Dark Souls. Can you convince a man to kill himself? Can you betray your former allies to their enemies? Can you rob quest characters or manipulate certain people into giving you vital items? If the answer is no, should I claim that From Software/Naughty Dog should learn from Beth?

I won't even comment on the ability to modify the engine itself in most Beth games, which further allows the player to enhance their experience as needed.

Also, can you tell me of some of the "wooden" characters (compared to Oblivion) presented in your Skyrim experience? Perhaps I'll agree.

So, what game allows you

So, what game allows you more freedom?

What happened to that

What happened to that lengthy comment I made before this one? LOL!

I bet you guys are on break. LOL! Happy Thanks giving.

Anyway, I explained how no game truly allows the player(s) to be "king;" that every game possesses limitations of some sort. To ridicule Beth for not having memorable/experience characters (which I wholeheartedly disagree with), and to praise games such as Uncharted and Demon Soul's as possessing these traits, is questionable to me.

The Demon Soul's series barely has semblance of a coherent story, but just drops the character into a world to find their own path. Should I criticize From Software for lacking such things as guilds/diverse cities/quest givers, a coherent narrative and emphasizing combat through out the entire gameplay experience? Maybe they should learn from Beth, right?

And lets not even mention Beth's Fallout New Vegas. A game which presented the player with a variety of choices in both character interaction and ways to tackle the game. Does Uncharted/Demon Soul's allow you to convince a man to kill himself? Does it allow you to manipulate characters into giving you vital items instead of putting a bullet in their head? Are their numerous endings (I'm not talking two or three)depending on what you did in the game? If not, then how can it be claimed that these games make the player a "king?"

In New Vegas I have memorable characters ( Mr. House, King, Lily, Yes Man, Boone, Caesar, etc.), a large and open world to explore, plenty of quests, the ability to do just about anything (in video game logic) in this world and still find more things things after completing the game once.

Anyway, who are these "unmemorable" characters you mention being in Skyrim? Perhaps I shall agree.

What happened to that

What happened to that lengthy comment I made before this one? LOL!

I bet you guys are on break. LOL! Happy Thanks giving.

Anyway, I explained how no game truly allows the player(s) to be "king;" that every game possesses limitations of some sort. To ridicule Beth for not having memorable/experience characters (which I wholeheartedly disagree with), and to praise games such as Uncharted and Demon Soul's as possessing these traits, is questionable to me.

The Demon Soul's series barely has semblance of a coherent story, but just drops the character into a world to find their own path. Should I criticize From Software for lacking such things as guilds/diverse cities/quest givers, a coherent narrative and emphasizing combat through out the entire gameplay experience? Maybe they should learn from Beth, right?

And lets not even mention Beth's Fallout New Vegas. A game which presented the player with a variety of choices in both character interaction and ways to tackle the game. Does Uncharted/Demon Soul's allow you to convince a man to kill himself? Does it allow you to manipulate characters into giving you vital items instead of putting a bullet in their head? Are their numerous endings (I'm not talking two or three)depending on what you did in the game? If not, then how can it be claimed that these games make the player a "king?"

In New Vegas I have memorable characters ( Mr. House, King, Lily, Yes Man, Boone, Caesar, etc.), a large and open world to explore, plenty of quests, the ability to do just about anything (in video game logic) in this world and still find more things things after completing the game once.

Anyway, who are these "unmemorable" characters you mention being in Skyrim? Perhaps I shall agree.

Good but...

Totally agree with your comments Sparky.

Was looking for a dramatic improvement in combat and felt it was let down - combat wise it's not a great improvement from Oblivion. They could take a lesson from the combat style of Monster Hunter.

Dragons are far too easy and I cut down the Emperor's elite body guards with one or two swings- what the? No wonder the Empire is on the brink of collapse.

Agree

I agree with everything. I feel Like I am the only person who thinks that Skyrim is a step back from fallout's plethora of dialogue options. Fallout 3's perks were more interesting and I am yet to come across a single quest in Skyrim (45 hours in), that even comes close to any of the quests in Fallout 3 (excluding the kinda lame main quest)

It feels that in their mission to make the world so populated and dense that, unfortunately, none of the quests are interesting at all.
Admittedly, aside from the gorgeous graphics in Skyrim, I still find its high fantasy 101. A little more humour would not have gone astray, and my god, does every guard in the game use "Arnold Shwartzanagger" as the voice actor! ha.

Googoo24 wrote: And lets

Googoo24 wrote:

And lets not even mention Beth's Fallout New Vegas. A game which presented the player with a variety of choices in both character interaction and ways to tackle the game. Does Uncharted/Demon Soul's allow you to convince a man to kill himself? Does it allow you to manipulate characters into giving you vital items instead of putting a bullet in their head? Are their numerous endings (I'm not talking two or three)depending on what you did in the game? If not, then how can it be claimed that these games make the player a "king?"

Uncharted/Demon's Souls do not allow you to do these things, but neither do they attempt to sell themselves this basis.

Again, don't kid yourself here. You didn't convince anyone to kill himself or give you items. You used an extremely limited if..then..else scenario mechanic to get a computer character to do so.

We deal with people all the time in our real lives, so we know what the 'emergent gameplay' of the character interaction ought to feel like, what the possibilities ought to be. Thus, not being able to say, buy a coffee for someone (perhaps in order to try and build rapport to get that item...) hurts character interaction much more than say, not being able to have a coffee before an important fight - we don't do sword and magic combat in our day to day lives..

And the reason why you couldn't convince that character to do this or that by maybe trying to deflect the question, be sarcastic, woo the daughter, kidnap the wife, pick your nose, or indeed buy a coffee... is precisely because those scenarios were never programmed or designed in.

Programming. Design. Skyrim is a game that sells itself on the infinite possibilities of emergent gameplay within a large and beautifully rendered fantasy world. That's its strength. The extremely limited programmed\designed elements, particularly with regards to character interaction, betray this vision and are contrary to the game philosophy.

Apart from the weak (cheesy) characters and awful lag issue for PS3 (for which Bethesda should be totally hung out to dry for) that is the weakness of all Bethesda games.

As the old saying goes, if it's got to be done, then it's worth doing well.

You are not the only one.

I feel Skyrim is a letdown as well (if that is what you were getting at). The main quest was very generic and not really that interesting. Same with the other quests, though some of the Deadric quests are pretty cool. Magic is the only type of combat that doesn't drive me insane.

The random jumps in difficulty in some of the dungeons are rather annoying to. Granted I don't expect the last encounter to be a cakewalk, but when I go through almost all of the dungeon with no problems at all and then get one-shot by Marokei, there is something wrong there.

Shane wrote:

I agree with everything. I feel Like I am the only person who thinks that Skyrim is a step back from fallout's plethora of dialogue options.

...

A little more humour would not have gone astray, and my god, does every guard in the game use "Arnold Shwartzanagger" as the voice actor! ha.

Yeah the dialogue is what gets me the most, content and choice-wise. Most of the women sound like something between an eastern-bloc accent and God knows what, and "Get to da choppah!" with most of the men.

Granted, it is a good game; however, I do not feel it is very deserving of the divine-like praise it has been getting. When I mention the problems it has, a lot of people jump immediately to "It's Bethesda all is forgiven."

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