By Kristine Chester, Guest Contributor to Fanboy Comics
I had never played an Elder Scrolls game before and knew little to nothing about the world outside of people’s funny Oblivion glitch and overpowered guard stories. But, as a fan of RPGs and with so much buzz surrounding Skyrim, the latest entry in the series, I had to check it out for myself.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I had played an Elder Scrolls game before; it was called Fallout 3. While I knew both games were made by the same development team, I was shocked to find the gameplay was virtually identical. It’s a simple formula to get Skyrim from Fallout: replace radiation with magic and guns with swords and you’re done. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Fallout 3 was a great game with a ton of content, and Skyrim delivers the same addictive gameplay in a different and fresh (at least for me) setting.
Character creation and development doesn’t require a lot of planning. The character’s starting race seems to make little difference in NPC reactions, or, at least, that was the case playing as a Khajiit. Characters advance skills by using them, thus players are rewarded for playing the game the way they want to play it. The perk system was one of my favorite things from Fallout, and it’s well implemented here, though, since skills can only be increased by training with NPCs or actively using them, sometimes, it’s a real challenge to meet the prerequisites for a particular perk.
Combat is relatively simple in Skyrim, where specific weapons, shields, or spells are mapped to either hand, and then the corresponding bumper buttons allow you to attack/cast with them. While there isn’t a lot of depth to this mechanic, there is a different feel to wielding a sword and shield vs. two daggers vs. a spell and an axe, or any of the other combinations, which makes it fun to experiment with as you try to find the set-up that works best for you. The first-person melee combat has a great feel, as swords clash and openings in enemy defenses are found. The spellcasting seems to be BioShock plasmid inspired with the spells being used as any weapon would. Spell effects can be combined to form some devastating combinations, though it’s slow to change spells in the middle of a fight, which makes it difficult to set up some combinations. One downside to the console version of Skyrim is without a VATS-like targeting system, archery, and some of the ranged attacks are difficult to use. The combat is highlighted best during the dragon fights. The rumble of the controller with each flap of a nearby dragon’s wings and its roars in the distance add to the tension of the approaching threat. Combat with a dragon is frenzied, as you try to dodge its shouts, claws, and bite while landing blows of your own, and when you slay a dragon, it’s very satisfying, with even nearby NPCs reacting to your great victory.
There were some mechanics from Fallout that should have been left back in 2008. Take looting, for example. While highly addictive, it’s tiresome to have to constantly manage your inventory, and there are hundreds of worthless or near worthless items that can be picked up, sometimes by accident. Which takes me to another point, the punishment dealt out for committing minor crimes, specifically stealing. One good example started during a bar brawl, where my character accidentally scooped up a tankard during the fight and had every guard constantly questioning her about the crime. This became ridiculous when, during a fight with a dragon, one of the guards who came along as backup turned to me and demanded I pay the 2gp bounty for the mug I “stole” back in town, or he would have to arrest me. That guard was really dedicated to his job.
The companion characters are equally frustrating. The couple of companions I messed with appeared to have no character story, and I think I heard Uthgerd speak twice the entire time I had her with me, and it was usually because I swung my sword at her, trying desperately to get her to stop blocking my exit from a room. The real reason this is a problem is because companion characters are invaluable when it comes to hauling away loot or tanking, if you’re an archer or spellcaster.
A set of mechanics with some great additions are the item creation systems. These mechanics give purpose to many of the items that can be collected and, unlike Fallout, don’t require a blueprint for every item, allowing you to customize your weapons and armor. It was satisfying to be able to take the spellcasting buffs off of a set of robes and put them onto a suit of armor for my greatsword wielding mage.
Perhaps, the biggest achievement is the setting itself. Where Fallout 3 had a lot of bland wasteland, Skyrim has impassable mountains, marshes, and forests spread all around. When I was finally ready to disembark from Whiterun and the starting area to head to a far corner of the map, it took me several sittings and many hours to reach my destination, because I kept stumbling across such diversions as a bandit hideout, a small hamlet with a vampire problem, and a misanthropic mage’s cabin. These encounters added to the “going on a quest” feel and made the world feel grand in scope. The mythology of the series is beautifully represented in details from characters and especially in the books. In addition to possibly increasing skill ranks, reading a book is an enjoyable process itself with their ability to expand on the game’s mythology and entertain in their own right.
Bethesda’s games are renowned for being full of bugs, and while Skyrim is no exception, it is Bethesda’s most stable game yet. I’ve heard tales of game-crashing bugs from others, but, in my first 15 hours of gameplay, I only encountered some audio glitches, which was more annoying than anything.
In 15 hours, I’ve barely scratched the surface of Skyrim, and even though I have a growing stack of November releases I still need to play, I’m having too much fun to leave Tamriel just yet. Nate, Ezio, I promise to give you boys some attention right after this quest…