Sunday, January 29, 2012

Skyrim: Thoughts, gripes and hopes for the future

So like many people, since November I’ve been in what we have taken to calling a “sky hole” which basically equates to logging a staggering number of hours into the game without really being aware of it. For fucks sake I’ve played something like 200 hours or more and I haven’t even beat the main story line yet. Regardless, after five characters I think its time for a bit of analysis because I’ve gotten to the point where I need a break from skyrimming. So here we go with a bit of retrospective consideration about the game that has consumed my life and derailed my studies for the past few months.

The good:
This game does a lot right as far as improving on oblivion and in general kicking the ass of most the games out there now. I hear a lot of computer nerds howling from their wank caves about how this is a baby RPG and can’t stand up to the likes of the Witcher and Dragon Age. Setting aside criticisms that they are a bunch of whiny cunts that hate when anything isn’t specifically made for their over priced virginity machines I will point out that I look at this as not really an issue of what games are better but a difference in approach to the RPG format. With Dragon Age and the Witcher we have essentially linear (I know there’s choice elements and different paths to take but the story is all set out and you travel along it so its linear, just hidden well) and controlled main characters with either no or limited choice. Skyrim is a sandbox approach where you design your character from the ground up and the game goes “Here! Go fucking nuts” and you are left alone in the world to do as you see fit. I mean just check the paragraph above, 200 hours and 5 characters and I still haven’t beaten the main story and that's because I don't have to. A lot of people see the sandbox element as just a gimmick to appeal to the GTA and Call of Duty crowds, you know dumb it down so those outside the PC gaming world will actually buy it. This is wrong. The way I view Skyrim and Oblivion is that they are imagination centric RPG’s; the sandbox is there as a tool for you to write your own fucking story, not have it told to you. The story quests you do are not so much about the written content itself but the way you approach it with the way you have developed your character. Take my current game. I’m an Argonian shield and sword type. I don't allow my character to wear a helmet because the horns wouldn't fit, and I don't do any enchanting because I aint no pussy. As a rule I don't consort with dark elves but the Nord’s can also go fuck themselves for being separatist turds. With this in mind I have a unique context in which I approach the game, the missions I take, the way I do them and who I choose to be nice to and who I choose to piss off. Its this kind of shit that makes the game for me, the ability to really apply your imagination and have it directly influence the game. You just don't get that with other games. Oh and Dragon Age and the Witcher were so fucking boring to play that I never got all the way through them. Why I think such things will be saved for later blogs I suppose, unless thinking about those games will put me into a boredom coma again.

There’s other things that are in Skyrim’s favor, graphics, dungeons that are actually interesting, variation in missions throughout different campaigns (not much but its enough to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside) but that shit doesn't matter much in comparison to the workings of the game which they have improved a lot. It feels a lot more real and active than Oblivion, less game like and closer to that near perfect feeling of hand to hand you get from Condemned. When I shield smash a dragon in its fucking stupid face and then shout fire all over its asshole it feels way more satisfying then anything you got from Oblivion. All that coupled with a lot of functional time killers you can do like mining, cooking, and all the little jobs like woodcutting sets up a world you can really get lost in, especially if you are taking full advantage of its imagination enhancement function as I do. Still, my honeymoon phase with this game officially ended in 2011. Time to put some rage to it. Bethesda you better be paying attention because I’m about to drop some hard fucking truth nukes all up in this bitch.

The bad:
So I talked about all that imagination enhancement yeah? Well that works really well to a point but the universe you are in has to function in a way that's conducive to creating a character in it. Skryim fails fucking massively in two key ways, moral choice and consequences for your actions. Sure, if you steal from a shop they may hire some thugs to get killed in the face by you outside of a cave somewhere but that doesn't fucking cut it. There needs to be real reward and real consequence for the things you do. Take one of my daedric quests as an example. I do all this shit, get this guy to follow me to a bunch of creepers who I don't really know what they are about so I’m curious to see it through to the end. Turns out, they want me to fucking eat this dude. Well, given how I had constructed my character in my head I was like get the fuck out! But I did it just to see what happens. And you know what happened? Fucking nothing! I just ate a dudes face mother fucker I should have wrath from the gods raining down on me but I can just walk into the nearest town, talk to everyone and nothing is different even though I’m a fucking cannibal. Without punishment it's impossible, after awhile, to maintain the character you have built in the universe because you stop giving a shit and stop placing arbitrary restrictions on your actions because without any moral system all your actions are arbitrary! The same goes for reward. I ate that dude but I considered not to because it seemed off with my character. Why did I do it? Because I knew that by walking out I would get jack shit for my efforts up to that point. Refusing to eat the guy or given the option to save him from his now revealed fate and maybe fuck up the cannibal cult should be rewarded equally with going through the quest but its not. After putting the effort into the quest your only option is to eat the guy to get the reward and that sucks. The universe would be so much more dynamic and interesting if your choices changed the way the universe itself interacted with you. Take this for an example, I don't eat the guy and I kill all of the cannibals and as such receive some divine blessing. At the same time I also piss off the daedra and have cultists and assassins from the plane of oblivion trying to kill me and I would only be able to do the daedric quests given by those who already hated the specific prince I pissed off. That would be way more fun! The story and character you have created within the game would feel so much more dynamic and important but noooo we can't deny people content within their game. What if they are only going to play through once? What if they make a mistake and feel all sad and want to cry in their mommy’s teats? FUCK them. I don't know why games feel like they need to baby us, especially considering this is, if it’s rating is to be believed, for individuals 17 and older. Sure there is enough good guy/bad guy content to last awhile and give you the sense that your decisions matter but that runs out at a point and then the game falls apart on a story and character level. I wish that was the end of my problems with the game but sadly there’s more. Lets list this part up.

1) The perk system. I don't know if I’m just really good at these games or if the perk system is just fucking broken. My first character was Nord with a heavy armor, two handed, smithing and enchanting focus. I cant fucking play that character any more because I’m a walking wall of death who has no match. I’m on master level difficulty and I am absolutely destroying everything with one to four hits. If that wasn't bad enough my armor rating is nearly 1000 and I have 100% resist to all elements. There’s nothing that can stop me so the game got boring. This isn’t me breaking the game or anything this was just me looking at the perks and choosing what I thought my character would be focused in and it made me a fucking man god! Talos himself could come back and I’d bite his face off like it was no big deal! Same thing happened with my assassin character and my mage, shit just got too easy. From one hitting everything with 30x backstab damage to having three people, two atronach’s and a companion, permanently helping me out the game just gets easy and that just sucks ass.

2) They got rid of stuff they shouldn't have and minimilized the usefulness of things they kept.
What they should have kept
-Athletics and Acrobatics: Without these, being a quick and scrappy fighter just doesn't feel the same. Yeah the flipping around in Oblivion wasn't very useful but they could have improved it rather then scrapping it. Now, if you're a light armor guy you just feel the same as a heavy armor guy but with less defense. Fucking stupid.

-Unarmed: Point one. Nothing is more bad ass then killing a dragon by punching it in the face. Point two. Don't even try to argue against point one. Point three. If your going to have a race that one of its bonus’s is an unarmed attack then at least let them have a tree for unarmed, otherwise you make their bonus fucking pointless past like level 5. Yeah I know that there are brawl fights in bars and shit but that doesn't happen often enough to justify it and when the do happen they are easy enough that you don't need the claw bonus. They missed a huge opportunity here to make khajiit unique and interesting and instead just gimped them. Speaking of gimped…

What they should have gotten rid of or made actually useful/practical
-All of the rogue skills besides archery and alchemy need to be rethought. Sneak runs into the problem again of being over powered (really good for immersion to have guys be like “I guess that was a big rat making that noise!” when you've just killed the three people he was with right in front of his stupid face) and any of the perks beyond the light feet one are pretty much useless. In fact most of the sneak perks ARE useless beyond the base 5 point skill. Its all you really need to be a mega sneaker.  Lock picking and pick pocketing are fucking useless wastes of time. You can pick master locks at your base lock picking skill (yeah I know its hard but not hard enough to make a difference) and all the perks you get don't matter. You want to find more gold and magic items in locked chests? Really? This game throws magic items and gold at you all time, thus making the slight boost you would get fucking pointless. Pick pocketing could have been cool if it ever mattered but it doesn't. Even in the thieves guild quests it doesn't come up enough and in the normal course of the game the rewards you could potentially get don't really balance the risk of getting caught. Sure, at the highest level you can be stealing the weapons from your enemies but no one is going to do that because at that point you probably are already a master of sneak so your just killing everyone anyways. Speech? Holy shit is this pointless. You will never be short in money regardless of how low your speech is so the prices at stores really don't matter. To make it worse, the opportunities to persuade and intimidate are almost non-existent making it a big fucking waste of time and perks! Basically making a straight rogue is pointless in this game because most of the skills associated with the class are fucking useless.

-Smithing and enchanting. A quick point. I love how they set up smithing. I love hunting for the raw materials to make awesome armor and it really does feel immersive using all the different areas for different upgrades to your gear. Sadly, smithing, especially when combined with enchanting, ruins the game in two ways. First because of making you a walking hurricane like I already mentioned so we don't have to go over that again. Secondly, in a game that rewards you with loot for doing quests, letting the players make armor and weapons that are a million times better then the best weapon you will ever find kind of fucked everything up. There’s no point after a while to get awesome loot, like from the daedric quests, because it will never be as good as what you've got. Both of these skills need some serious balance consideration. Either that or they need to make the loot way more rad. Oh and another point, and this is just me bitching, but I don't like that there is an ultimate armor type. If your trying to make your character all that he can be your going to end up in daedric or dragon armor but I don't like the look of either of those. If I was to set up the smithing perks I would let the player chose to advance in a specific armor type, afford benefits to the different types, and thus allow for a more immersive feel to the game AND let the players feel way more in control of how their character comes about.

-Cooking. This was a cute idea but really its kind of pointless unless you never have money to just buy potions.

-Dragons. The first like, 5 dragons you fight feel epic and you get really stoked. After that they are basically sky rats that you just wish you could walk away from so you can get back to whatever it was you were doing. Using any element in a medium like games or movies too much makes that element boring and annoying. They could have fixed this by having fewer dragon fights that would last a lot longer, maybe having special in battle goals you have to complete in order to defeat them (because I highly doubt that an immortal flaming badass of the sky would die from repeated hits to its ass). “But then how would you get enough souls to get all the shouts?” Fuck that shit. What other shouts do you ever actually use beyond the ice/fire breath and fus ro dah? Besides, they could just give you like 5 shout points per dragon killed. Problem solved.

Ok that's all I have to say about Skyrim. Holy shit that went long. I guess I had more pent up rage about that game then I thought cause that just poured forth from me like a curry shit. Regardless, its important to note that I don't think Skyrim is bad, even with all the flaws I put out there. I fucking loved almost every minute I’ve played of this game and I’m going to keep playing it and ill probably let forth an unrelenting force style jizz bomb when the first DLC drops. All of these problems are much more subdued then me yelling about them makes them seem and I only really considered them problems after playing the game for 200 hours, thus giving me ample time to stew on the things I wish would have changed. Basically, if they fix the shit I talked about and implement a moral system to the universe AND if they focus a lot on racial specialization (like letting khajiit use their claws for serious) id say they were on pace to make the most amazing rpg of all time come #6 in the series. When that happens Ill probably drop off the face of the world and emerge years later, un-bathed, mal nourished and totally stoked about it. 

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