My Goodbye Letter to Skyrim

Dear Skyrim,

I think it’s time for us to part our ways. Not that those 165 hours were bad or anything, it’s just because I have the feeling you’re slowly turning into some sort of “crazy cat lady”.

Sure, sure, your main quest was interesting and such and the philosophical conversations with Parthunaxx if the world should really be saved or it was in its fate to be destroyed for a new world was really deep and interesting but I did follow all the way to the ethereal world, met the heroes of the past and finally saved everyone in it, didn’t I?

Oh, and the story about the guys who work in the shadows but refuse to kill anyone? That was really interesting and I gladly traded sleep hours just to see where it went.

But… After all that, after all those discussions about this world and a new world, after fighting in heaven, to save not just the world but also the spirits of great heroes and you want me to join a cult that kills anyone without asking any questions? No. Hell, NO!

You see, I kinda liked you. But then you kept pushing me into decisions I didn’t like. Put out a lighthouse so a ship would crash? But I’m the good guy!. Ok, ok, I’ll be the ambiguous “I don’t care” guy, just to make you happy.

Oh, and then you give me the choice to join two different factions, but put both with the same underlying ideals so you don’t have to change anything? Oh sure, one doesn’t like half of the world, but the other doesn’t like the other half. That doesn’t change anything, does it?

So… yeah, time to move on, I guess. Call me again when you decide that what I think counts and it’s not just about you, you and you.

Love,

J.

The Weird Things That Go Through an RPG

Ah, RPGs. That kind of game that you can chose if you’re going to play the good guy or the bad guys (it doesn’t matter if you’re saving the world or destroying the word — You can be the “I do everything that’s morally right” or “I’m going to kill everyone to bring peace to the land”, it doesn’t matter).

Ah, Skyrim. The empty canvas Bethesda created, where there are no rules to follow.

I must admit that, maybe, total freedom have corrupted me.

When I started playing Skyrim, I chose to be the “morally right” guy and I refused some quests that I knew I would do something wrong (wreck a ship, kill some person, steal, that kind of stuff). But, again, total freedom may have corrupted me ’cause, now, I simply don’t care anymore: Bring an innocent to sacrifice? Sure, BRB.

I’m still refusing quests that require pickpocketing or such, ’cause my light armor skills are too low at the moment, so I can’t really move stealthly and pickpocket someone that easily. Besides, I’m level 50 already, and in that the number of perks I can unlock (necessary for stealth and pickpocket) are greatly reduced and far.

But if I want to be the good guy, why I’m worried about this kind of quests? The reason is that I have nothing else in my quest list that can be done in the right way. So I’m stuck with a problem of lack of freedom.

Woah there, didn’t I just say that “total freedom” corrupted me and now I’m complaining about lack of freedom? What the heck is going on here?

Well, thing is: There is no real “freedom” in games, what you get is just illusionary freedom. Let’s not be naive and think that games can be so really open that they will let you pick any option and do anything — specially when narrative is important — ’cause that would be so much work for the developers you’d either get a broken game or no game at all.

But, for a RPG, when you can only chose your weapon… that’s not much freedom. You can’t chose your alignment, which is basically who the character is. The weapons don’t make the character, its moral alignment that does Am I going to be the good guy or the bad guy? Can I be the valiant noble that will save the people in that ship ’cause I heard some smuggler mentioning taking the lighthouse out or the really greedy guy that put out the lighthouse in the hopes of getting some cut of the loot? That would be the kind of thing you’d expect from a RPG, but not in Skyrim.

So yeah, I’m doing the “I’m the bad guy” just because I have no freedom to do anything else.

Which brings another point: Are we so used to corridor FPSes that suddenly a game that lets you play in whatever order you want called “total freedom”? Have games descended so much into the depths of scripted play that a single illusion of freedom can be called game of the year?

PS: But yeah, good girl (it’s my second character) warrior is going to be in a saved game forever, here comes chaotic cat thief.

The weird achievement stats on Steam

or “Why did they buy it, anyway?”

Ah, Steam. Some love it for its easy way to buy and install games or the Steam cloud that keeps your save files remotely, so you can still play the same game when you buy a new computer; some hate it for its DRM, lack of checks during install and its habit of always installing libraries you already have installed on your system.

But there is a more interesting thing about Steam: Achievements and Global Statistics.

The global statistics show how many people who own a certain game earned an achievement. Only Steam achievements are counted, but that’s not a big deal for what I was looking for.

You see, there are achievements that you earn when you simply launch the game and do the most basic thing. For example, Portal 2 have a “Wake Up Call”, which is basically “watch the intro sequence (which is part of the gameplay) and reach the point you have to do things by yourself”. Right now, the global statistics show that of all people who bought/own Portal 2, about 86% completed that part.

You know what that means? Of all people who paid for this game (one way or the other, either directly, with another package or simply bought as a gift to someone), about 14% never played the most basic part of the game.

Another example: Skyrim have an achievement for when you complete the “tutorial” part of the game: Look around, move a bit, hear some dialogs and that’s basically it. The achievement is earned when the player approaches a NPC to remove the rope that bounds his hands together. The achievement is named “Unbound” and was completed by 93.1% of all people who own Skyrim.

Skyrim is an interesting piece ’cause:

  1. It was launched recently
  2. It wasn’t part of any package so far
  3. It costs around US$ 60 and didn’t get into any “deals” yet.

Of everyone who bought the game, about 7% of them all never really played the game.

It’s weird trying to understand who would pay $60 for something and never use it.

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.

Skyrim main theme lyrics

Yes, there are lyrics in the song you listen in the intro of Skyrim, but they are in dragon-language. All credits go to xmvargha in this IGN thread for finding and translating them:

Dovahkiin Dovahkiin
Naal ok zin los vahriin
wah dein vokul mahfaeraak ahst vaal
ahrk fin norok paal graan
fod nust hon zindro zaan
Dovahkiin fah hin kogaan mu draal

ahrk fin kel lost prodah
do ved viing ko fin krah
tol fod zeymah win kein meyz fundein
Alduin feyn do jun
kruziik vokun staadnau
voth aan bahlok wah diivon fin lein

Translated:

Dragonborn Dragonborn
by his honour is sworn
to keep evil forever at bay
and the fiercest foes rout
when they hear triumph’s shout

Dragonborn for your blessing we pray
and the scrolls have fortold
of black wings in the cold
that when brothers wage war come unfurled
Alduin bane of kings
ancient shadow unbound
with a hunger to swallow the world

The Day Lydia Died

Minor spoilers. Nothing huge.

I’m now around 20 hours of Skyrim in the last 4 days. As many, I was hooked in the opportunity to build a RPG character that could fit my own play style; hooked on the chance to build my “melee caster” character, which I seek for ages in every RPG I play. But, after 20 hours in the last 4 days, I’m feeling more and more like this game was rushed into release, even with so acclaimed reviews.

It all started in a mission where I had to take a carriage to a party. For this I left all my gear and my companion, Lydia (which I’ve been saving from the most horrendous deaths thanks to the power of “quick load”). So, all nice and dandy, I was following the quest as it should, fighting my way back, punching guards till I could get some armor, using spells and whatnot and merely surviving each encounter, just to hide in a corner, waiting for my mana to regen so I could cast “Healing” and recover some health.

And then, I reached an open area.

Now, this area was behind the main building, one that couldn’t be reached without a proper key to open a gate (or pick the carriage to simply be “teleported” to the right place). There was a wall which blocked the way from the back to the front (and vice-versa, obviously). And guess what, the game engine decided it would be a good idea to “teleport” Lydia to the front part, where she was gang banged by 3 guards, 1 wizard and one elemental. Needless to say, besides her ability to hit enemies with her 2 hander like a truck, she went down.

But I was too far away in the mission and, that time, the power of “quick Load” would not be enough to save her.

All I wanted now was simply complete the mission, get out of there and, hopefully, that Lydia would simply appear in the other side, just waiting for me to give her more stuff to carry. But the damn building had a guard with two daggers doing a shitload of damage, so I kept attack him for a bit, them turn around, out of the door, healing, and then back into the building to hit more and get hit more. In one of those “back to the yard” walks, a shield popped in the ground. “Oh good, some defense!”, I though. But when I reached the shield, I was presented with a sad message.

“Lydia / Search”.

Yup, Lydia was death. I managed to loot all the things she was carrying, including the two hand sword she used to destroy any enemy that would be a problem to her Thane. But still, the fact that she was dead and there was no “quick load” good enough to bring her back — or the prospect of, in the cast of a quick load, she’d not spawn in the middle of a huge mob — seems to have hit me.

But, thinking back now, it seems I felt more frustrated with the constant glitches and weird stuff than losing a companion.

See, first we have a companion simply appearing in an impossible location; then, we have said companion being teleported from one location to another. I had to fight conversations most of the time ’cause the option under the cursor was not the line my character said when I clicked it. Storing is a pain ’cause the game uses the same key with different meanings when you’re storing stuff and when you’re picking stuff (“R” stores an item, but “R” picks all the items in the store — so you guess what happens when you’re organizing your backpack for the next mission, storing a bunch of stuff and then decided to mindlessly pick that item in the chest: time to start over again).

There are so many of those that even the Elder Scrolls wiki have a huge list of known bugs and more and more videos of Skyrim acting funny are posted on GameFails.

The promise of Skyrim is pretty good, but the game is slowly falling into the cracks of its own bugs, to the point where it’s more entertaining to stay in the city, doing things like disenchanting, alchemy and smithing than exploring to world to be greeted with random glitches now and than — and believe me, I had that experience first handed after losing my Lydia.

And it’s not just the glitches and bugs that can be frustrating. Quests have one way and only one way of being completed, no matter how you decided to play. For example, before that mission I mentioned before, I did another one where one the cat people try to convince me to light out a lighthouse so one ship would crash. Because I’m playing the nice guy, that’s something I didn’t want to do. Could I convince him that this shouldn’t be done? No. Could I talk to the guards and have him arrested before he could do anything? No.

Related, dragon fights are too damn easy. I had a shitty gear and a two hander and still managed to down a dragon. And they are popping out of everywhere, like some kind of rat or pest. Weren’t dragons supposed to be some mythical creature, who destroyed everything around? How can one guy with some gear kill them? Even a Ice Yeti is harder to kill than a dragon!

And, on a deeper level, it seems your presence in the world, your options, change nothing. You can tell someone off and they will still ask for your help later. In the very beginning of the game, you can chose to follow one of the guards or one of the guys who would die in the block, but it doesn’t really matter who you chose: the game follows the same line after that. And hey, even putting a lighthouse off to make an Imperial ship crash doesn’t affect your Imperial affiliation (which I chose before doing the mission). Simply, your presence in the world doesn’t matter. Same as your decisions.

Again, the premise of Skyrim is awesome: An RPG, in a very large world, where you can build the character you want, with the powers you want. But your choices affect only that and nothing more.

PS: And, before anyone says anything: “Faction rewards” is not that hard to implement. You just need a list of factions, add or remove points based on your actions and make the NPCs check your faction count before doing anything. Surely, fixing teleporting bugs, random spawns and making battles really interesting would be better and such concept should be in the design since the beginning but hey, maybe we can hope for a full fledged RPG in “The Elder Scrolls VI”…

Shelf Updates, 2011-11-19

Added to the shelf: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. And yes, this was 3 days ago, but just now I remembered that I didn’t post it.

Also, I’m basically putting “League of Legends” and “Grand Theft Auto 3” in the shelf. I got a bit tired of LoL and fighting the bots over and over again in the same map (it can’t be that hard to change their AI to work on the two other maps — and I’m not really fan of PvP in MOBAs, due my own inability to play it in a decent way [and, before you say it, no, there is nothing wrong with the game itself]) and GTA 3… well… not that good to play, basically ’cause the controls feel bad — but, again, I know that Vice City and San Andreas play controls are much nicer, and the game was released ages ago, so all is understandable.

Guild Wars is still in ’cause I still want to do some quest from time to time, get some gold, get some easy titles (if those exist) before finally settling it down.