The lights are on
Some people complain I'm too hard on games, but I see a game like this getting called "perfect" by so many people that I automatically worry it's going to turn out to be crap. While not necessarily crap, Skyrim is far from this idea of a perfect open world RPG as everyone tries to make it sound, and no, I'm not even talking about the backwards flying skeletal dragons half-way in the ground. I just assumed that was something accurately depicting the Skyrim universe.
No, my issues with Skyrim are far more of the actual game content being in question variety. Elder Scrolls fanboys may want to grab as many dragon shouts as they can, this is gonna get rough. Well, actually, maybe it's best to just describe my experience with Skyrim and leave my opinions clear that way.
You could do that... or you could just get yourself a bow like I did.
Okay, so, anyone who knows me knows I didn't take to Oblivion that well. I started out with a chaotic neutral character but got recruited to the Dark Brotherhood in that game anyway. And then discovered just how inconvenient it was to murder people and not have every guard from [insert stereotypical half-pronouncible town name] to [completely impronouncible] stabbing their sword up my arse. As a result, my first instinct to test how bad Skyrim was was to attack a chicken.
I was then chased by an army's worth of towns folk, local guards, and a police watch, in broad daylight, as a I ran over rocks at the edge of a waterfall. My first Dragon Born didn't do that well.
I spent a long while afterward not playing, because generally everything I believed about Oblivion seemed to be true about Skyrim -- it was just another "I can haz RPG" FPS style sandbox game with lackluster mechanics and a boring story. But, as I am a masochist (why else would I have beaten Super Mario Galaxy, a game I truly hate), I went back anyway.
I decided to go with a kleptomaniac mage this time. That way I wouldn't necessarily get anyone's bad side so long as I abused their terrible situational awareness. And oh, did I abuse it like no tomorrow. I got myself inducted into the Mage's guild and became "totally not" Harry Potter, the Dunmer edition. It was about this time that I also picked up archery and started using stealth kills with both bows and daggers. Why? Because then I could kill people without them knowing it was me, allowing me to slowly eliminate entire town's worth of people then casually sell all their possessions at the nearest outlet store.
Yes, I did not play a nice person in Skyrim. Which I think says a lot for how much I generally detest TES' universe. In almost every game I play, I'm usually neutral good or chaotic neutral, at least for the first playthrough, yet whenever I see the fake attempts at life in Skyrim and the overt "you are the ONLY one who can ONLY save us because you are the ONLY dragonborn", it seems to send me into some psychotic state of mind where I want to just eliminate the world. And another point of context -- I still can't look myself in the mirror right if I even try to play a Hitman game and Hotline Miami makes me honestly unsettled to a degree I really don't like. And just to raise the mood...
If there's just text here when you're reading this, assume a mod or some glitch has deleted the image of a horse defying gravity.
Well, back to the story of my Dunmer. I learn that Ashley Williams' voice actress is voicing one of my fellow students and I plan to kill her, although then she never appears again unless she's asleep or other people are around. So, after I become Archmage (oh don't even act like you didn't see that coming, this is TES), I can freely venture everywhere and steal all my once fellow student's items. Then all the items of the faculty, besides the original Archmage, who I already had stolen blind, pretty much. But then I kill AW in her sleep, everyone's going "What the hell are you doing!?!" after being fast asleep.
I was so glad to see the AI had become so much more realistic. In the olden days, not only would the faculty and everyone else have woken up, everyone in the town around, and maybe some chickens, would have been chasing me with massive torches and ballistas. Now they were just saying "for doing this, you need to do a stupid quest". My response was to reload to right before I killed AW, knowing that at least in some alternate timeline, I wiped out my fellow mages who wouldn't go along with it, and train a new guild that wouldn't tolerate one of the most annoying characters in the history of gaming to pop up, even if it's just her voice actress.
So with little else to do, I just kept getting better, and randomly explored. Skyrim's got a good idea of hiding all sorts of things for you to find but sometimes they seem so mundane or small scale in concept yet it tries to make everything MORE thrilling than last time. You can't do that, Bethesda -- there's this thing called pacing. I mean, based on what little I played of the main quest line (I couldn't really be bothered to fight dragons, not really my thing to be quite honest), Bethesda's writing is as "average is our high point" as every. The new Dark Brotherhood quest stole some ideas from Star Wars: Episode III but flipped them on its head and it's actually quite interesting, until they once again force tension when I'd have been perfectly happy to just have it be a quirky set of assassination missions. And one character's motivation truly seems to undermine her entire character. And you can't even recruit new members. So your reward is just lame "kill this person, kill this person too" busywork.
Somehow being an assassin gets so banal after all you do is take orders from a corpse with no real story motivation.
I did a few sidequests, slaughtered an Imperial camp, took out more guards than I can count, and got to around I think somewhere in the range of level 30, yet I could take out bosses without detection, had high level gear, and was learning how to craft high grade weaponry. I learned that Solitude is a place for arsehats, and that that place with a name like Riven is actually my kind of town. So much so that I try to get into the thieves guild. Then the game glitches and the guy I need to talk to in order to join the thieves guild never shows up. So I gave up on that, and someone got me Dawnguard. Yes, I know Dawnguard has its own review on here. It doesn't really need need more than a paragraph or so, as follows:
Seriously, 20 bucks for crossbows, a nice vampire lady who abandons you pretty early on so you have to deal with her repulsive relatives, and vampirism. And the Vampire Lord stuff is not cool, it's awkward and unpleasant. When I accidentally contracted vampirism later on while not in the quest line, I actually preferred the "regular" abilities. But far be it from me to question the DLC practices of a company that sold horse armor for more than a dollar. Or who pretty much barely seem to be able to comprehend my preferred console -- there's a reason I played Skyrim on PC.
And in the end, the universe just lost it's challenge, really. The enemies all became trivial to beat because after rank 90 in stealth, only God and a few daedric princes can even tell you're there. I'd repeatedly stolen, killed, looted, ravaged, beaten, set fire to, electrified, frozen, and slit so much of Skyrim that the only things left to do were fight annoying dragons or do more busy work for lazy townsfolk. I'm not saying every fantasy game needs to be an "the world is ending!" type of climatic but when I literally have to repeatedly work to find something to do, it doesn't matter how much content there is, I'd rather it be more directed, which is ironic considering how many linear games I wish let me make up my own mind.
Skyrim's real problem is that it is trying to hard in all the wrong ways. While they want to make it appeal to -everyone-, they make it preferable to no one, when it comes down to it. We've seen what a more niche style of the Elder Scrolls games can give us. Dark Souls. Fable. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Dungeons & Dragons Online. All of which are far more likely to be consistently entertaining because they have a focus and know their niche. Skyrim does not, and when the only way to enjoy a game is to make its world descend into chaos, what's that really say about the game?
Skyrim clearly appeals to a number of people and I doubt most people will agree with this review. I know for a fact that someone's going to think I'm insane for saying this, but at the end of the day, I mean it -- Skyrim is average at best. It's got average melee combat with average FPS style magic with average archery with an average fantasy universe with average characters in an average if very pretty world. If you replaced all the content with LotR, you'd probably only occasionally notice a difference in how the world worked.
If you actually ask the more hardcore fans of TES, they'll even agree. Most actually would tell you Morrowind or The Arena are far more worth playing, citing various reasons. In the end, if you haven't gotten the game by this point, then there's no reason to spend 60 bucks on it. Wait for a Steam sale or for it to be used and cheap at Gamestop, and don't really waste your time with it's DLC -- I haven't tried Dragonborn but if Dawn Guard is any indication, it's just an overpriced piece of an expansion pack.
So, yeah, it gets a 7.5 out of 10. It's pretty, it's far less irritating than Oblivion, and it can provide for a brief cathartic moment of crazy thieving or assassinating, but that's not a lot for a 60 dollar price tag.
At least we get the overclocked guitar remix of Skyrim's theme, that's certainly cool.