Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Taking A Review In The Knee

Yes, I know I’m a bit late to the Skyrim train.  It came out over six months ago, but I’ve only recently decided to buy it.  After all, I did try out both Oblivion on the PS3 and Daggerfall on my computer, and couldn’t manage to get very far in either.  In Daggerfall, I couldn’t even make it out of the tutorial dungeon.  It’s embarrassing how many times I got killed by rats.  I didn’t know much about the Elder Scrolls series until I played Skyrim, and I still feel like I’m only scratching the surface of all the history in this series, but I also felt that Skyrim is a great game that I wanted to review.   

So here it is.  A warning: Skyrim is a massive game, and this review will likely match.

The Great: 

Graphics (most of the time)
 From the mountains at the Throat of the World, to the city of Whiterun, to the countless pathways through hills and forests, Skyrim’s graphics blew me away.  The colors are rich and beautiful, the day/night cycle is top notch, and the water looks like it’ll get your monitor wet.  If you equip a ring and zoom in on your character’s hand, you can even see it there on their finger. 

 However, such great graphics over such a large game map are bound to have glitches.  Nothing game breaking, but funny and a little annoying all the same.  For instance, one time I killed a dragon, ran up the road a ways, and entered a cave.  When I came out of the cave, the dragon’s skeleton was right outside the doorway, slowly sliding down the hill and twitching slightly.  Creepy, right?  I also saw the common glitches of people looking like they were part way through the wall or the floor and items floating in midair.  

Fun and Inventive Quests
I’ve played a lot of RPG’s.  I certainly haven’t played every one out there, but still a lot.  After a while, you start to notice certain trends when it comes to quests.  This is especially noticeable in MMO’s.  Go here, kill this, get this, return to quest giver.  Over and over and over again.  Skyrim had a few of these sort of quests, but the majority of it was a bit more creative.  Sometimes you have to sneak into a fort without being seen, and find evidence of some sort.  Other times you have to blend in with the crowd and find your answers through carefully guarded conversation.  And then, every once in a while you just have to play tag with a group of kids.  No, seriously, that’s a real quest in the game, and there’s no other reason for it than to have fun.  How cool is that? 

Books, History, Lore
 Yes, I love books.  In games, it’s pretty rare to find books sitting on a shelf that you can actually read.  But guess what?  In Skyrim, you can.  You get to learn about the history of Skyrim, its culture, and the people and organizations that you run into in the game.  Some books increase a certain skill, and there are even a few books that are just for fun.  You may think that just reading something on your screen instead of actually playing the game seems dull, but trust me, if you decide to play Skyrim, pick up a book in the game and give it a chance.

The Not-So-Great: 

Sorry, Do I Know You?
As I’ve said, Skyrim is a massive game that takes up a lot of hours, even if you were only to do the main quests.  Along your travels through the country, you meet a lot of people.  You also see a lot of people with names that you may never even get to talk to.  This makes it a bit confusing when you try to remember the name of someone who gave you a quest near the beginning of the game that you just now finished.  

Coming from games like the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, I’m used to feeling more connection when it comes to characters.  For instance, in Mass Effect, Shepard travels with his or her squad mates, and over time and conversation, gets to learn about their past and personality.  In Skyrim, you could have Hirelings or Followers that helped you in a fight (if they didn’t get lost in the rough terrain), but you never really have any reason to talk to them unless you want them to do something.  No casual conversation whatsoever.  There were a couple of characters that were truly unique that I actually started to like, but even those ones shared voice actors with half a dozen other citizens, diminishing the feeling of individuality.  

I Saw You Looking At That Cheese Wheel
This is a big complaint for me every time a play an open world game.  No, not the existence of cheese.  I’m talking about the existence of super-sensitive guards.  In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, for instance, you could walk into someone’s apartment, grab their stuff and walk right out.  It was handy.  

Okay, that makes me sound like a kleptomaniac.  Let me put it this way: It was easy.  

In Skyrim, if you do every quest, you’ll likely have to break the law every now and then.  Thievery and pick-pocketing are the most common, but sometimes even trespassing is required if you want to finish certain quests.  More annoying than that, though, is this: you walk into an inn in Skyrim, and you’d better watch what button you’re pressing, because if it’s not nailed down, you can accidentally steal it.  

The existence of guards is interesting in a way, because it adds an extra difficulty.  Will I be able to sneak past this guy, or am I going to get caught?  And there are also other, more serious crimes that are possible in Skyrim where it makes sense to have consequences for players.  You couldn’t have a player running around and massacring the city, it would be ridiculous.  Their next step would probably be shooting an arrow in a guard’s knee.  The horror!

Language, And Some Other Junk

As a Christian, I try to be careful about what games I play, and what choices I make in that game.  Sure, it’s just a game, but there’s no reason to constantly fill my head with garbage for the sake of entertainment.  In this area, Skyrim actually did better than a lot of other games made in the last decade.  The language that was there was usually mild, but unfortunately, was still there.  The sexual themes as far as innuendos go were pretty mild, also, but the immodesty was still a problem.  Female characters sometimes wear revealing clothing, and a statue I ran across was practically nude.  Use of alcohol and “moon sugar” (drugs, in other words), were also there, but not too prevalent.  Violence is the main reason for the M rating on Skyrim, but compared to some games I’ve played --*cough* Fallout 3 *cough*-- it was actually pretty tame.  Skyrim also has a lot of gods in their lore, but it wasn’t a big enough part of the game to be worrisome to me.   

In Conclusion:  
There are some games that are good, some games that are great, and some games that are either so terrible or so fantastic that they’re remembered for years afterwards.  Skyrim is one of the fantastic ones.  Though it may take a good chunk of your life to even make it through the bulk of the game, it’s one that will keep people talking.  

So, if you’re a hardcore gamer who wants something you can really get sucked into, play Skyrim.  Or, if you’re a casual gamer who wants a game that will keep you busy for the next few months, years, play Skyrim.  

Sorry for the giant review, and thank you for taking the time to read it.  Next week I plan on reviewing Timothy Zahn’s latest Star Wars book: Choices of One.  Hope you enjoy it.

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