Please Rate This Review: Skyrim
The Good: Immersive game world, brilliant soundtrack, and a streamlined progression screen.
The Bad: Game-breaking bugs, nasty glitches, and the botched PS3 release
WTF?!: Why didn't that dragon give me it's soul?!
To note: This game was played on the XBOX 360. This is a spoiler free review.
Go to any website where the primary objective is to review a plethora of different video games across a litany of genres. Click on their Skyrim review or any other article pertaining to the game, and you will see nothing but love and admiration, praise and aggrandizement for it. The aura of the reviews practically emanates right from your computer screen, minus the backlight already present on your device. The halo looms large over Skyrim for those who've reviewed this game, and for the most part, these tendentious peoples are correct. Skyrim is worthy of all of the worship thrown towards it, all the passion present in reviewer's written/spoken lines. It is a game that almost demands your affection, and you would be hard pressed to not obey the "bowing standard" after playing it. However, with Skyrim being a "big picture" game, it's easy for one to get lost in it's carefully crafted seas and all the while forget about the many facets and abnormalities that break down it's foundation, not just including the glitches. Skyrim is eminently enjoyable, but it's game-breaking flaws, daft design/writing, and an awkward engine tear it down immensely.
Skyrim starts you off as a prisoner (surprise?) who is about to get the axe dropped on their head before a dragon comes and stops the ordeal (surprise?). Once you make your way through the hell-beat landscape incinerating around you, you'll eventually find yourself walking through the cave hole that leads to a glorious shot of Skyrim. From there, who you are is up to you, where you go is more based on whims, and an epic journey that will take you hours to complete is laid before you. Right off of the bat you are greeted with a panoramic view of a mountainous landscape adorned by brilliant clouds and organic colors, all capped off by hues that hint at the frigid landscape. The sound design's mastery is easily apparent from these early moments in the game. The terrain changes bring forth different audio cues from your foot, and the level of immersion is positively augmented when you begin to hear birds in the background.
However, almost as immediately as you begin your journey to the wonderful sights and sounds of Skyrim, you are plunged into the all-to-familiar realm of Bethesda awkwardness. I could write a whole essay on the individual aspects of their engine/design features that are most perplexing, but I have a life unfortunately. To start off, character faces are completely dead wrong. Static, stale, no emotion, little movement above the nose aside from blinking. These models are improvements over Oblivion and Fallout, but that's not saying much. The faces are dreadful, half-assed, and pull you out of the experience. Mass Effect has been out for four years Bethesda, get with the times. I know it would take a lot of work and memory to finally get the character faces right, but the time spent correcting the issue would be well justified. And why does my main character not have a voice exactly? The every-man approach to video games doesn't work for an experience like this, where you can tweak the smallest detail of a character's face, right down to their dirt color. It's an old game mechanic that's alright for games like Zelda, but not immersive experiences such as this.
Then you come across the combat. Two words: floaty and odd. You've heard floaty before surely in other reviews, and for good reason. The weapon strikes lack any sort of dynamic traction or force. Swinging sword sword at anything feels the same across the board (meaning, hitting a wall feels the same as cutting through a Markarth guard), and in general it just lacks polish. Future perks that you might get in the game would help to remedy this to an extent, but not by much. Aside from this, the animations on the characters are woefully stiff, as if no one was mo-capped for a single action. Characters don't move gracefully even as they're walking, and too often have I found myself snickering at something that a character was doing when I should have simply been acknowledging their presence in the game world.
Along with stiff, awkward conversations that are emotionless and devoid of any sort of conviction (the oddly always-placid voice acting doesn't help) and the animations ripped right out of KotOR, Skyrim has many, many bugs. Bad bugs. Not the bugs you swat away as a quick remedy, but bugs that outright destroy the foundation of the game and turn it into a Bethesda comedy. Or tragedy, if you will. Mammoths falling out of the sky? That's nothing. How about entire quest-lines not having a conclusion because of some rule the game doesn't allow you to break, like having a quest item before triggering that quest and not being able to use said item for no apparent reason, leaving it perpetually unfinished? How about NPCs always standing in your way, all the time, whether they be standing right at the doorway or in the middle of a hallway? How about things that get stuck in your inventory because they're quest items, even though the quest is completed already? And my personal favorite, how about Bethesda not adding additional character save slots, relegating all save files to one pool and therefore running the risk of you losing prior save data because of an infamous autosave glitch? Seriously, how hard is it for an RPG to include different save pools for different characters? KotOR 2 managed, as did Mass Effect. Quirky bugs I can deal with, but bugs that ruin the fabric of this game are unacceptable and impossible to ignore.
On top of all this, the writing is hit and miss. The Dark Brotherhood quest-line was one of the best I have ever played in any RPG, while conversely the Civil War missions are nothing short of vapid and repetitive. As stated earlier, the voice acting leaves much to be desired, and it is apparent during both main quests and side quests. At times, the poor or annoying performances drag down the quality of a story. I can think of one character in particular from an aforementioned side quest, but spoiler-free is the way to be. A lot of times, you'll pass the same character and hear them say the same thing over and over again. And over again. Additionally, characters will utilize two, sometimes three distinctly voice actors. This is an inexcusable mess that would make the most jaded of gamers scratch their heads. It is lazy and embarrassing, to put it plainly. The excuse that "it's a big game" simply doesn't cut it for this one. I don't remember that problem reaching prevalence for me in Fallout from 2008, so it shouldn't have achieved prominence here.
So what did the game do well, you say? Everything else, and that is the truth.
Once you look past the bevy of problems and flaws (many of which I didn't name), Skyrim is too much fun to be had. It's a time sink that has very little regard for your daily life. It will absorb you in ways you thought unimaginable. Each nook and cranny is teeming with life, adventure, and excitement, unmatched by other games of it's kind.
The scale is the best I've ever seen. The graphical fidelity of a vista view rivals what you would see in Eastern Europe, and is only made better if you happen to see a dragon passing a treacherous cliff. All of this is strengthened by the soundtrack that might just be the best I've ever heard. It's sweeping brilliance is heard at every possible interval, always elevating the level of excitement for whatever you happen to be doing. It's medieval tones that sound familiar if you're a LotR fan, but nevertheless, it's rich, dynamic, and easily the best individual accomplishment of the game.
Speaking of music and dragons, encounters with them are as pulse-pounding as anything else in the game. While at first they might be tough to defeat, once you understand their movements and start predicting their patterns, they become much more tolerable in the difficulty department, and defeating one gives you the ultimate "bad-ass" feeling that even Dark Souls can't compete with.
In general, combat is rewarding despite how awkward it feels. The rush to loot a fallen enemy remains with you until your twilight hours of playing, the promise of rich rewards never escaping your thoughts. While at times the looting is not as fruitful as you'd imagine, constant and vigilant pillaging will eventually be rewarded with a bundle of gold or superior weaponry or armor. Granted, most people will end up devoting points to smithing and enchanting anyway, but finding weapons is a good way to fill up your display cases.
The seamless integration of the quests into the world gives the game a uniqueness over other RPGs. Side quests don't feel disjointed as they normally tend to do. Unfortunately, they still do boil down to fetch quests, escort quests, and the like. Unrivaled is it's sense that this is a world you are forming, a story forging itself into the annals of greatness, you name etched in stone. You truly feel that this is your game, your story, and that no one else is playing it the way you are. In all honesty, with all the variables this game has available, it is safe to say that your experience is wholly unique, a special and rare achievement for a video game.
What makes it all better is how well the RPG mechanics work. Gone are the days of major/minor skill progression, gutted instead for a simple school progression system that's simple and easy to understand. You dump points into whatever school you want to learn more about, and that's it. The game takes care of everything else for you, Gods be praised. This makes the game accessible, more fun, and gives it infinite replay value because of the number of combinations you can go with, though the game seems to prefer people who decide to invest in Destruction magic. Bethesda finally understood that people want to spend their time playing the actual game than gawking at a clunky progression screen. One minor gripe I have is separating the Map/Magic/Skills/Items screen from the pause menu with quests, statistics, and system management. I understand the purpose, but it's an awkward transition from other games that I still haven't gotten used to. It helps to streamlines the menus, but I can't help but feel that all of those items would be better served in one accessible menu, with the "B" button serving as some sort of alternative function.
With all said and done, 150+ hours over two different files and a sense of overarching accomplishment that no other game has provided me in the past, Skyrim is a wondrous achievement. It is a labor of love made specifically for those that want an RPG experience that is true to it's genre. It will consume all of your free time, especially if you'd like to get fully into the minutia of the game. It can easily take you over 300 hours to fully complete, and even then there will be things you simply haven't seen. Skyrim has far too many faults to be considered anywhere near a perfect game, with some glitches in the realm of insanity. And if Bethesda did find it in their right mind to ship a broken game for the PS3, then it makes the process all the more shameful and inexcusable. I know this is a large game, but that's what play testing is for, and no doubt they came across file-size problems for the PS3 edition. Problems such as these is what delays are for, and I'd much rather have a more polished game two months later than a rushed, buggy one that tries to meet the holiday demand, punishing early adopters senselessly.
Still, Skyrim manages to be a complete game, and one that keeps me coming back for more each and every day. There's simply too much to explore to leave it lying on a shelf, meaning that months of game time can be put in before it's taken out of the disc tray. I can't even imagine what the DLC will consist of. If you decide to go into Skyrim, know that you are going into experience one of the finest RPGs of all time; however, also know that bugs, game-crippling problems, and a dated engine might negatively impact your experience.
Re: Please Rate This Review: Skyrim
Oops, didn't see Naik's review when I posted this originally. Sorry for taking up space.
Re: Please Rate This Review: Skyrim
Only problem is that it was a tad too long :) but apart from that, excellent!
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