Everybody's heard of it, everybody's playing it, and it's getting stellar reviews. Clearly this game is the jam for a whole lot of people right now, and that's pretty cool. Seriously, no hate coming from me towards those of you who dig it, at all.
For me, though… I have to say I'm just not feeling it.
As of this writing, I've put somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 hours into the game, and yes, I do realize that in the big scheme of things that's barely even scratching the surface of the ridiculous amount of content present here. However, that's still a pretty sizable chunk of time and I'm not too sure how much more (if any) I'm going to devote.
Content. Like I just said, the game has an unbelievable amount of content. I've got something like twenty or thirty incidental quests on my to-do list that I haven't even touched yet, and I've got at least five or six "major" quest lines going at the same time. For any gamer who is concerned about getting the most raw playtime possible for their $60, I'm guessing that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim probably offers the best value of the year.
Landscape. It's pretty damned beautiful. I've found myself looking out at tremendous vistas and often pausing just to sweep the camera around and take in the environment. Really impressive.
Build choices. I picked a fighter-type character specializing in two-handed weaponry and heavy armor, but I could just have easily have gone the stealthy archer route or dabbled in several different kinds of magic use—or any combination thereof. Add in all sorts of weapons, spells, and armor, and there's a lot of toys to play with.
What's not so good?
Character. I'm the kind of player that likes a lot of personality in my gameplay, and I'm a sucker for great writing. So far, it doesn't seem like Skyrim has much of either.
The characters I've met feel flat and unmemorable and I don't feel any investment in what's going on. Without any kind of human connection, the game comes off like a giant laundry list of quests to do because they're there to be done. Furthermore, the game introduces "companions" to quest along with you, and they could hardly be more dull. They barely say anything, they've got no discernible personality once they join you, and they don't offer much in the way of getting to know them.
In contrast, look at something like Fallout 3. Within the first hour, the player stumbles across a nuclear bomb in the middle of the beginning town and meets several interesting characters with a variety of problems. Later on in the game, there are any number of varied and diverse things going on—two dueling superheroes, an orphan that needs a home, cannibals inviting you in for dinner, vampires, robots, and more… and the companions? Some were certainly better than others, but they were all interesting in their own way and had a ton more personality than those in Skyrim.
Although Fallout 3 has several complaints that could legitimately be leveled at it, I don't think anyone could deny that there were plenty of interesting characters and events happening there—honestly, the first hour of Fallout 3 is an order of magnitude more interesting from a story/character perspective than anything I've seen during my entire time in Skyrim.
Quests. Now I fully admit that I've only seen a small slice of the quests available in the game, but what I have seen has not been very rewarding or entertaining, and I'm not encouraged to push forward. Almost every dungeon I've been to roughly follows the same "underground narrow hallways with some larger rooms" blueprint, and each final chamber has a very convenient shortcut door back to the surface. Whether I am clearing out a barrow, "sneaking" in somewhere to get some information, or just exploring, it all boils down to entering the dungeon and killing everything that's inside. There's nothing inherently wrong with dungeon crawling, but with a game that's so huge and so sophisticated, the variety of quests has been sorely lacking—in fact, many are outright boring.
Where are the "tough choices" that make you sit back and think? Where are the quests that are won by tricking your opponent with clever speech, or by winning them over with your charm? Where are quests that don't involve traveling to a location and killing everything that's there? I mean, I've done a few where I'm taking an item to a certain place, but those are so piddling and forgettable that they hardly even count as quests.
Weirdness and frustration. I've heard several reports of bugs and glitches, and I've seen more than a handful myself.
- I was walking through the countryside and a cluster of inanimate bodies fell from the sky to land at my feet. No explanation, no reason.
- A quest giver was on a staircase, and when I approached to complete the quest, they were unable to decide whether they were going up or down stairs and I could not complete the quest without reloading a save.
- I traveled to the correct location for a quest, but the person who was supposed to be there was not present. I spent several minutes trying to figure out what was going wrong and then eventually reloaded to save and tried again—and that time the person was there.
- I was supposed to take an item to a location, and my map marker showed that it was all the way on the other side of the world. I fast-traveled as close as I could and then walked the rest of the way, committing a sizable amount of time to travel. As soon as I got to the map marker, it disappeared and reset itself to the actual location, which was fifty feet from where I originally started.
- There have been multiple times when I've been in the middle of battle, and then an NPC quest-giver approaches me to ask for a favor. I am CLEARLY in the middle of battle, and these people end up dead without ever having given their quest, more often than not.
- I gave a large number of items to one of my followers, and then that follower was replaced with a new one that was required by a certain quest. My original follower disappeared, and I've never seen them again despite going back to the original location where we first met. All the goods he was holding? Gone as well.
Those things were clearly glitches, but there are a number of other things that I personally find irritating… things like the clunky, cumbersome menu system, having to go to different shops in order to sell different goods (yes, I know that this is a perk to be earned, but it's time-consuming and inconvenient.) It was also irritating to not have a place to store goods when over-encumbered… I eventually bought a house after much time and effort, but something so simple should be introduced to the player right off the bat, if you ask me.
…Oh, and the dragons? Talk about underwhelming. At this point, I've killed at least six or eight, and each one was less than impressive. I expected that a game which features a dragon theme so heavily would make each encounter more of an awesome event, but they're just random enemies that pop up in the world, and they're not even hard to kill. More annoyances than anything else, I had a much tougher time fighting giants and mammoths than I did the dragons. These flying lizards are the definition of anti-climactic.
Is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a terrible game? No, not hardly.
I've played dozens of games that were far worse this year, and there's a lot to like if you're inclined towards fantasy adventures. On the other hand, is it deserving of the 25 perfect scores (360 version) currently shown at Metacritic? Is it going to rank as one of the years best games? For me, the answer is no to both.
To be perfectly honest, it feels too flat and dull to consider sinking as much time as it probably requires to get through even half… I'd much rather play something with more variety and better characters, and certainly something that feels less repetitive and checklist-y. I'm glad I tried it and I can understand why some people love it, but I don't think it's for me and I'm very glad that I'm not on the hook to do the review.
Probably going to move on.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
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