Skyrim, Early Review

Calling this an “Early Review” is kinda weird, as I managed to clock at least 40 hours playing the game and rolled a new character after 20 hour (more about why this later). But since when a bad idea stopped me from doing something stupid?

WTF Is A Skyrim?

No, it’s not a game that will teach your kids how to perform homo erotic maneuvers[1]. Skyrim is the 5th game in the “The Elder Scrolls” RPG saga, which I’ll be upfront and say that I never played any other game of the series (I may have played “Morrowind”, but damn if I can remember).

In this installment of the series, you assume the role of a character that suddenly finds him/herself being a “dragonborn”, someone capable of using your voice as a weapon and the only person capable of stopping the dragons from taking the land again.

This is one of the first RPG games I can remember playing that don’t force you to pick a class upfront. You can’t chose that you’ll play a warrior or a mage or a ranger or a mix of any of those: You have access to all spells (if you learn them), you can wield any weapon, you can wear any type or armor — it’s just by using a specific weapon, spell or armor that you become proficient in it. For example, if you keep using your bow to kill enemies, you’ll eventually become a ranger in the classical RPGs ’cause your Archery skill will be pretty high; keep firing spells and you’ll be a mage, and if you wear heavy armor all the time… well, there is nothing stopping you from doing it (although the game favors light armor for casters due the skill “trees”).

The Stars Shine For You

Skyrim have a visually pleasant way of showing your skills and perks: Constellations.

It’s an interesting way to display the skill perks: It provides some references to the Greek mythology (which started this whole “I see an archer in those stars” thing) and gives a sense of “The Gods grant you powers” feeling.

The only problem with it is that it’s a pain to navigate through the perks you can unlock.

Sure, you can click in one star/perk to go directly to it (and then click again to add a point to it) but you still need to use keys to return to the root of the constellation. You can also use the keys to navigate through it, but the movement is, sometimes, unpredictable: You press left and instead of going to the star to the left, you end up in the one behind the one in the left ’cause the current perk/start is not really alignment to the one in the left.

Fortunately, you don’t go through the constellation all the time and you don’t do lots of changes there.

And how do you get points to unlock those perks/stars?

Remember when I said that you can use any weapon or spell? Constantly using them will, slowly, increase its skill level (for example, because I’m only using two handed weapons since the beginning of the game, my Two-Handed skill is already level 34). Continuous use of a skill will grant experience in it; when you level some skill, you also gain XP towards your level; when you level, you also gain a perk point, which you can use to buy a perk in any skill. You can also find especial NPCs around the world that can train you in certain abilities, but you can only do that 5 times per level.

But, again, nothing is so simple.

Some stars require some levels to be applied. For example, “Champions Stance” require at least a skill of 20 in Two-Handed weapons. So you can’t simple level your Alchemy over and over again and then apply all points in Two-Handed weapons and go killing everything with your axe.

And here is the explanation for rolling a second character: As far as I went with my first character (around level 17), I couldn’t find a way to “respec” my perks. And with him, I picked perks based on the skill I was using most at the time: If I found some Destruction spell interesting, I spent my points in Destruction; if suddenly I found a nice One-Handed weapon, I spent points in One-Handed weapon and Block; if I got a good Two-Handed weapon… well, you got the idea. In the end, I had a “balanced” character but master of nothing.

This Seesaw Balance of Yours

“Being a generic character can’t be that bad”, you may be thinking. Well, not quite so, due the way the game balances enemies: Everyone follows your level of everything.

For example: If you use the “cheat the system” way to reach level 100 Archery (I won’t tell you, you’ll have to search Jesse Cox videos to find the answer), you’ll suddenly find fights a lot harder ’cause enemy archers will also be level 100. The problem is that you reached Archery 100 without really firing arrows at your enemies, so you’ll have a lot to catch up.

But that’s not the only issue with the difficulty level: Every dungeon have a “boss” that needs to be killed to clear the place. The skill level difference between normal enemies and this boss is incredible high: Enemies can be so easy to kill you’ll reach the end of the dungeon one shooting everyone, but the boss can two shot you as easily as he one shoot your companion.

(Fret not! I’ll dwelt into “Dungeons” and “Companions” soon).

Apparently, this problem also exists in “Morrowind”, but Bethesda added two things to solve this:

The first is that enemies have their levels froze at the time you ender the dungeon. Finding enemies too hard? No problem, turn around, level a bit and then come back and destroy everyone.

The second way is that you can change the difficulty level at any point, including during combat.

That cures the problem, but not the disease: That there are some difficulty spikes floating around. How can you take three enemies at the same time without even scratching your health bar and suddenly one guy, wearing the same armor of those three guys, wielding the same weapons suddenly two shot you?

And it’s not inside dungeons that this weird scale appears. If I had to compare “fighting a dragon” versus “fighting a bear”, I’d say “fighting a bear” is incredible harder ’cause bears hit like trucks and dragons… well, not so much. The story revolves around the problem that dragons are awaking again and everyone fears them, but they are so flimsy even horses seem capable of killing them. But bears and trolls… Oh, that’s the real problem is this land.

Still about dragons, at some points of the game they seem more like pests than mythical creatures of power. You’re going to, say, enlist in some guild when a dragon attacks; you are picking flowers for your potions and a dragon appears; you just killed a dragon and a dragon comes out of nowhere. There may be an easy explanation for this[2], but the fact that they pop out of nowhere every now and then just makes them more like a nuisance than a problem inflicting the land and the destroyers of peace of Skyrim (unless you can count crickets as destroyers of peace).

Finding Your Way Home

Let’s trace back to the “Dungeon” part. While you’re walking around the map, you can find some places that you didn’t know existed before.

Dungeons, in this case, appear as a cave in the “radar”. Different things appear with different icons: dungeons appear like a mountain with a hole, giant encampments have their mammoths icon, different types of camps have different icons, cities have their shield… Things like that. Also, quests can be tracked by the map and the radar. If you want, you can TRACK ALL THE QUESTS!

(No, you don’t get the “Hyperbole and a Half” image by selecting all the quests.)

The map won’t show you places that you don’t know: Either you should have been there before or you should have heard about them. Places you know appear with a white icon, places that you just heard about appear with a black icon, same as they appear in the radar — except that the radar can detect nearby places when you’re walking. Which bring another point: Even if the radar detects that there is some unknown place nearby, it won’t mark things on the map; you need to get near till it’s a known place for it to appear in the map.

Speaking of quests, the tracking system is pretty simple: You have a list of main quests and a list of sidequests.

Quests come form talking to NPCs in the cities, while you drill through the dialogs.

The only weird thing is that some sidequest, suddenly, become main quests.

You Never Fight Alone (Unless You Want)

Skyrim also have a “Companion” system. Some NPCs can be hired to follow you either for the fame or for gold. The companions can help your fights (poorly) and can also serve as mules to carry all the stuff you can’t carry anymore (till you find a vender to get rid of them).

There Isn’t a Control For That

The weird thing about the game are the menus. They are clearly designed with consoles in mind. Fortunately, you don’t have to use them all the time and surely it takes some time to get used to them.

I won’t explore this point further ’cause there are a lot of gaming sites that dissect the problem a lot better than I can. But let me give you an example of something I found: When moving thing from and to a chest, I clicked the chest, which changed the controls from “Take” and “Take all”; but then I moved the cursor back to my character, which changed the controls to “Action” and “Store”, but still displaying the chest content (obviously, I can’t store something in the chest that already is in the chest) — something you can’t really do with a console control.

Of Glitches, Bugs and Just Weird Stuff

For a game of this size, it would be kinda stupid think it would run without any issues. But the problem is the number of issues you will find.

So far I found: Companions appearing in impossible places; dead bodies being teleported from one place to another, enemies moonwalking, NPCs acting like they have a tool in their hands but had none, invisible desks, weird deaths, NPCs talking to you during combat[3] and, obviously, crashes.

I remember playing for 2 hours and thinking “Seems those crash reports were a bit exaggerated, it’s playing find here. Maybe they had pirated co-” and the game crashed.

Conclusions

Thought question: Is it worth the US$ 60 is being sold?

The glitches and bugs can be annoying, yes. The menus are pain most of the time, yes. The crashes will pain you in the worst possible time, yes[4]. But there is a lot of content to be explored, a lot of customization options and, for a RPG fan, that’s a lot of stuff to do. And I clocked 20 or so hours and I’m probably nowhere near half of the game.

The game is enjoyable right now and one can hope that the promise of Bethesda of a patch to fix all the problems will only make it more interesting.

And one can hope what will come when people start writing mods for it.

Footnotes

[1] It’s satire, don’t take it seriously.

[2] I can think an easy one, but I won’t tell you to avoid the spoilers.

[3] During a fight with a dragon, some random NPC came out of nowhere and gave me a piece of armor, saying that “I should hide and tell no one”. And I’m not joking about “during a fight”: I was exactly after a swing at the dragon.

[4] To be honest, the games likes to quick save most of the time: You enter a room, it saves the game; after 15 minutes, it saves the game… It’s like Bethesda saw that the game crashed and had a bunch of hiccups, so they put a quick save on every corner to avoid angering the player by losing 3 hours of walking around because the game crashed.

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