Saturday, November 19, 2011


This post targets a very specific demographic. If you don't play very many video games it probably won't appeal to you. If you're thinking about giving this as a gift to your kids or someone else's, be aware that it IS an Mature-rated game. In my opinion, most kids in high school can handle it, but don't give it to anyone under, say, twelve or thirteen. There's no curse words or nudity, just good old-fasioned violence, blood and gore.

For those of you in the demographic I'm referring to, that is to say, the Nerd demographic, there are a few spoilers in here, some from older games. None of them will be news if you've done any reading up on this game in advance, though.

For those that play video games, but have never played an Elder Scrolls game (or the recent Fallout games), Skyrim is an open-world, first-person Role Playing Game. The Elder Scrolls games have always emphasized versatility and player freedom. You can choose to ignore the Main Quest completely if you want to and still experience the other 95% of the game. I usually end up doing this because getting better equipment and leveling up a few times before the game throws something big at you is always a good idea.

Skyrim's improvements on Oblivion, the previous game, are not as dramatic as the improvements Oblivion made on Morrowind. Here's a list:

1: The story is better. In Oblivion, you were Robin to the game's Batman. Actually a better comparison might be that you were Link to the game's Zelda, since he sits around the whole time figuring out the backstory reading while you do all the work.

In Skyrim, you're the hero. In this respect, the story is similar to Morrowind, where you end up being The One The Prophecy Foretold. You have dragon blood in your background, like Martin and Uriel Septim from Oblivion. Since the dragons return, this is kind of convenient. It's your job to stop The World Eater, a giant black dragon named Alduin.

2: Graphics are improved. Oblivion's graphics are from 2006, although to the game's credit, it's only beginning to show its age. Skyrim's landscapes are absolutely stunning. Watching aurora from the top of a mountain is incredibly pretty. An album of screenshots I took is here. (No spoilers I'm aware of)

3. The landscape is more interesting. Oblivion's landscape was fairly homogeneous. It was basically all meadows and forests, maybe some snow in the north. Skyrim is reminiscent of Scandinavia, so there's a lot of snow and mountains. There's forests, plains, the sea, a swamp or two, and each ecosystem is distinct. Every city also has unique architecture and design, something which was barely noticeable in Oblivion.

Also, there are children now. As far as I can tell, you can't hurt them, but I only tried once or twice for the sake of Science. When I cast a fire spell at a little girl, she scolded me, saying "you shouldn't play with fire," and the incident didn't seem to register with any townsfolk. However, another time I wanted to see what would happen if I hurt the Jarl's kid, so I swung my sword at him. It looked like he took some damage, but the guards jumped on me before I could test this hypothesis any further.**** (Outraged people, direct your concerns to the bottom paragraph)

4. Non-Player Characters are more varied and have more personality. Each NPC has a different voice and manner of speaking. Even if multiple characters are voiced by the same human, the human at least tried to change his voice for each one instead of having one voice per race and gender. Some NPCs are even played by celebrities, the main commander of the Evil Empire is played by Michael Hogan, who some may know as Colonel Tigh from Battlestar Galactica.

5. Gameplay is simplified without sacrificing precious flexibility. They've completely done away with the usual D&D-based character sheet with Strength, Endurance, Agility, Intelligence, etc. The only stats left are your vitals (Health, Mana and Stamina) and your skills. Every stat (damage with a weapon, armor rating) is calculated based on your skill with the thing in question. You improve your skills by practicing them, as usual, and you level up every few skill improvements. Every time you level up, you can increase your Health, Mana, or Stamina by 10,(If you pick stamina, your carrying capacity increases by 5lbs), and you earn a new perk.

Every skill has a "perk tree", with more benefits the higher up you go in this semi-metaphorical tree. For example, the first perk in a skill tree is usually "You do it 20% better," but higher up the One-Handed Weapons tree, there's a perk that lets you do a charging attack for a critical hit. A perk in the Light Armor tree is "you can move as freely in light armor as you can in normal clothing." And so on.

6. Fighting dragons in 1st person is incredibly thrilling. 'Nuff said.

I've encountered a few things that I don't like so much about it.

1. Some bugs here and there. I have two quests that are interfering with each other, and the two questgivers are stuck in an infinite loop.

2. There's no way to improve your speed. They got rid of the Athletics skill and the Speed stat (which actually makes sense), so you can't get faster by buffing that. They DID add a Sprint button, which consumes your Stamina and I'm a big fan of that. But as far as I can tell, every character moves at the same speed by default. You can go faster by buying (or stealing) a horse, or by sprinting until your meter is drained, or by being naked (armor slows you down).

3. AI is marginally better, but it isn't even close to what they were hyping it to be. I haven't found even ONE real example of "Radiant AI" yet, and they largely all act like blockheads. One thing that still ticks me off that they haven't gotten right since Morrowind is that if you accidentally hit a Town Guard while trying to help them, for example, kill a dragon, they will STILL immediately stop fighting that to pursue Justice. They've had literally 8 years to solve this problem and they haven't yet. The frustrating part is that they actually fixed that problem with non-guard NPCs. If you're in the Mages Guild, and you accidentally shoot them with lightning while you're fighting something, they just say "Hey, watch it!"

4. It's crashed a few times, but never catastrophically, and it's probably because my graphics card is tired of having to work so hard.

That pretty much wraps up my concerns. In conclusion, this game is tons of fun, and it's absorbed the lion's share of my free time for the better part of a week (which the Tigerhawk Dad is THRILLED about, let me tell you). It's addicting, beautiful, fun, and has enormous replay value.


I can understand why you might be alarmed that I wrote a paragraph about hypothetically hurting children. My curiosity is only due to the fact that games are a relatively new form of media, and things are changing all the time. The concept of having children in violent video games is pretty new. Fallout, another game by Bethesda which takes place in a post-nuclear apocalypse, has children for the purposes of showing how horrifying the landscape and scenario is, but you can't hurt them. You can shoot them with an assault rifle and they'll tell you to "Quit iiiit" the way they'd talk to a schoolyard bully. Developers are sensitive to societal issues, which is why most games are pretty black-and-white as far as morality is concerned, and most of them don't even bother themselves with the moral implications of the player's actions. This is the key point: just because people do sadistic things in a video game doesn't mean they'll do it in real life, because most people can tell the difference between them. And besides, dead prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto are infinitely preferable to dead prostitutes in real life.


By Blogger John Foster, at Sat Nov 19, 08:25:00 AM:

Nice review.

I greatly enjoyed Oblivion, but have held off buying Skyrim because the specs are a bit steeper. According to "Can you run it?," I meet the minimum requirements, but fall short for the recommended specs on RAM and my video card.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Nov 19, 09:18:00 AM:

Was disappointed in being unable to thrash mouthy, annoying children.

"don't give it to anyone under, say, twelve or thirteen. There's no curse words or nudity, just good old-fasioned violence, blood and gore."

I find it hilarious that a 21st century 20-something would fit so snugly into the moral majority circa 1992 concerning, say, Mortal Kombat.  

By Blogger Aegon01, at Sat Nov 19, 01:06:00 PM:

Heheh, have you seen any videos of the new Mortal Kombat? The original one looks somewhere between PG and PG-13 in comparison.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Nov 19, 01:58:00 PM:

You're playing on a PC? Are you using the default keymap?

So far that's been one of my two major complaints. You can pick whatever keymap you want, as long as it's the default. I tried to set up the same keys that I used in morrowind, oblivion, and all the fallout games and they don't function at all or only partially function.

The other complaint is the crappy change to their weapon/spell loadout arrangement. I'd much rather go back to binding loadouts to the 1-8 keys. It's possible that their 'favorites' menu would grow on me, but that features been broken since I altered the keymap, and setting them back to defaults didn't fix that one.

A more minor quibble - one that might be remedied by a menu setting I haven't found yet - is the lack of on-screen status indicators. If I'm under the effects of a spell for instance it'd be nice to see that at a glance rather than having to go into my character sheet to check it.  

By Blogger Aegon01, at Sun Nov 20, 04:39:00 AM:

I've changed the keymapping marginally, I made the Shout button C and the Sprint button Q, but that's it. Sometimes C craps out on me, but I think that's just 'cause I've had this keyboard for awhile now and some of the other keys sometimes don't work, like G.  

By Blogger Aegon01, at Sun Nov 20, 04:41:00 AM:

I also don't really use the "favorites" page, I hit TAB and re-equip stuff. It's a clunky way to do it and it probably isn't as exciting, but if the situation changes dramatically, like I get hit for half my bar or something, then it gives me some time to think about what I want to do about it.  

By Blogger John Foster, at Sun Nov 20, 07:50:00 AM:

Well, based on your review, I went ahead and bought it yesterday through Steam. Seems to be working fine on the "high" video setting and looks great. Assume that the story will be as good as Oblivion or Morrowind.  

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