Sunday, 22 January 2012

My usual Spiel: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, give it a chance son, you won't regret it‏

Also Known As: Skyrim, Elder Scrolls V: Sky Rim, Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
Also on:
X360, PS3
Bethesda Softworks
Bethesda Game Studios

I for one am not thoroughly schooled in the world of RPG’s (Role Playing Game), I only ever tried Diablo 2 once and frankly I felt it was all too late as I couldn’t really play with the dated graphics and interface and also you just seemed to be a bit too far away from your character. During Diablo’s heyday I was much more involved with RTS (Real Time Strategy) inc Warcraft, Starcraft and Total Annihilation. I’m not exactly sure what exactly classifies a game as an RPG, I think though the easiest way to tell is that with an RPG the user usually has an inventory to store weapons/armor etc and other items most of which they can browse and use usually at any point, such as The Legend of Zelda, whereas in a more action style game such as Grand Theft Auto you still control one character and the game has a storyline but your ‘inventory’ is very minimal and usually just restricted to weaponry which you select by the number keys or the mousewheel. Speaking of which, I have played all the GTA’s I have played Just Cause 2, I have played Spyro the Dragon and American Mgee’s Alice games, but none of these different types of games can really be classified as proper RPG’s. Of course I have played ’the’ MMORPG of all of them World of Warcraft but I have never delved fully into classic titles such as the Chrono Trigger, The Secret of Mana, Deus Ex and KotoR (don’t even ask me about Final Fantasy). I’m not exactly sure why this was, maybe because I was into more action and RTS games that were more multiplayer based and simpler whatever it was I never played an RPG for a lengthy amount of time until I happened to give Dragon Age: Origins a try.

Dragon Age Origins
Dragon Age was a big step for me, I just decided to delve right into to a predominately challenging game in a genre which I hadn’t really had much experience in, but to be honest I liked it, at the start at least. I liked the way that your selected race, sex and class determined where your starting area would be, what the story was behind it and what would happen in the initial stages of the story, also you did actually choose a class (Warrior, Rogue, Mage) which no matter how simple is something I thought I would want mandatory in an RPG with no predominate named character that you play as. Dragon Age was fun at first, but then there was a few problems, firstly the game, as I had mention before was quite hard especially the boss fights, even on easy, secondly I found that throughout the game you were accompanied by NPC companions. What this meant was, throughout the game you not only had to make sure you were doing the right thing in battle and organising all of your own gear and items, you had to organise the battle tactics and gear/items all of your group members as well, this made things very complicated as say you found a ring which granted extra health, which pretty much all of your group members could use you had to check the inventory of every single group member and check if their rings were worse or better, and when you have the 5 or 6 other group members, this is one hell of a lot. This coupled with the game being fairly difficult in certain parts made it quite a hassle to play and I found myself (as Zero Punctuation described) starting new characters and using different classes, races and sexes until I got bored of it, so that was that, until….. 

Skyrim title and Logo showing a portion of Alduin's Wall
Skyrim, just the name sounds epic, this time, I told myself, I was going to give it a decent go, which was not the case with Oblivion. I actually tried Oblivion before I tried Dragon Age, it was the first of the Elder Scrolls games I had tried and although I did have a brief play of it, the whole classless character, (semi)complicated inventory and weight system along with the seemingly hundreds of items you had to sort through to see if you needed them and also the fact that at that point I was heavily into World of Warcraft may have had an adverse effect on my likeness of the game and I only played for a few hours. So in short I feel I didn’t give Oblivion enough time and thought, the only thing that made me seem to want to go back as the visuals, which I found be stunning. But this time was going to be different, and I was well rewarded for my patience things just had to be worked out I quickly and easily got by the non-class problem by deciding to be a warrior from the start and choosing the appropriate race for the style of play, choosing the Warrior Stone I made a good choice with the Nord as Skyrim is home to the Nords and also they well fit for using a two-handed weapon in which I used different kinds of greatswords and warhammers for most of the game. My character ended up looking quite freaky as I had selected a big tall bulky guy as fit for the two hander, then I had decided to choose the almost entirely white eyes and the black eye paint so along with his yellow tinted skin made him look half-dead, so for a bit I was roleplaying I was some invincible warrior who was back from the dead but I stopped after a while as there really wasn’t any way of expressing it in the game, and also I got married (more on this later).

I'm one freaky looking Nord
Once I had my thoughts set on a Warrior style character things just fell into place from there, I’m not going to spoil the opening for you but it’s quite epic I have to say, in the middle of this you pick your race and sex and can change your appearance and name and as usual with the Elder Scrolls no picking class, that’s it. Race plays a big part in Skyrim as I said before I chose Nord because I wanted to use 2H weapons but this is really just the opening stats and abilities, I really didn’t use the Nord main “scare enemy” ability at all you can really do anything with any race it’s recommended and/or easier to do a particular playstyle (for example to play a pure Mage it would be recommended to go as either High Elf or Breton). So after the epic opening there is the usual linear cave to get you used to the controls and gameplay, and after you get out it’s the same reaction as Oblivion, “wowee do the visuals look awesome” I’m probably a bit more enthusiastic then that but you get the idea, but they truly are, Bethesda definitely have a tick in that box, it’s something that’s very hard to describe (and that’s why I have screenshots), everything looks pretty much up to scratch as you’d expect, the shadows, textures and models are pretty realistic and have ragdoll in death though being a WoW player as I always seem to have fairly low expectations when it comes to graphics, but I quite impressed not so much blown away as in Oblivion, or when I first played Vietcong for that matter. The actual land of Skyrim itself is beautiful, rolling hills, rocky ledges, snowy mountains, dragons randomly appearing etc, the game actual has a very interesting physics system when it comes to ledges as it seems if you move slowly enough you don’t seem to fall of any of the rocky ledges no matter how steep they are. Overall Skyrim looks fine, it has the difference that Oblivion lacked which was basically just copy one beautiful area over and over again.

The Area near Riverwood
The gameplay in Skyrim is what makes it shine, I have only really scratched the surface with abilities at the moment as I’ve played a lot of the game now using only a Greatsword or Warhammer and have forgone all spells apart from the shouts so I don’t exactly have much feel for other weapons or spells. I feel it’s best to pick a certain style of play and pick the correct race and manage your perks (or ‘talents’ ‘specialties’ whatever you want to call them) to best fit your style of play, you don’t have to block yourself into playing a particular style for the whole game although you can change from a warrior to a Mage quite easily, but unfortunately (unless you use PC console commands) you can’t change around your perks. I played a as a Nord Warrior the first time around and I started off thinking I was going to use the safe option and use a one handed weapon and shield, though I soon found that using a two handed weapon was way cooler and that’s how I worked it out, and let me tell you it makes things a lot easier in the perks department, of course I did have to use the console commands to change around my perks to reflect my new chosen style of play and you aren’t able to do this with consoles so that’s the risk you take. The perks take in the form in the manner of constellations in various trees which you zoom around to view each (which can I say makes them freakin difficult to navigate, no pun intended) There is a tree for skills in one-handed weapons, one for destruction spells etc letting you specialize in your chosen field, there is also minor trees such as speechcraft which improves your skill at persuading and intimidating people and bartering with merchants.

A Nord with a two handed Sword.

The Skyrim perks screen
Some things I found kind of annoying but forgivable is that even though I was swinging around a big 2H Sword or Mace I didn’t feel as though I was quite making the impact until the killing blow, the reason for this is of course when you strike a killing blow on an enemy they ragdoll then fall in the direction they should after your strike, but unless you land a power attack which sometimes staggers your opponent they don’t always seem to be adversely affected by your swings which makes it seem like your wildly flailing around until you land that killing blow, the best ones of course are the cinematic kills (which can only be done with melee weapons) which there is no question that you didn’t finish off your opponent proper brutally. One other thing I did find a bit limiting is the way that you can only use 2 spells at a time “one on each hand” thing, it means you’re constantly freezing the game so you can switch spells and equipment around, of course this is all up to you, if you want to use 4 or 5 abilities or weapons in the one fight then that’s your decision, of course your always freezing the combat anyway to skull, health, magicka or stamina potions or some other kind of elixir that gonna help save your weak ass.

Yahh get away from me!
 And weak it may be when you first start playing the game but to be honest, the game isn’t exactly too hard and has a difficulty setting too and you’ll pretty much start out finding it kind of hard and put it down to a nice friendly novice then find it easier and easier and put it back up again, at least that’s what happened with me, I of course who is not the best with action RPG’s but any hardcore RPG fan will have no trouble at all. The most annoying problem I think for people of any skill is the vendors, I’m always trying to sell things that I make or find but don’t want as the NPC’s have limited money for bartering and of course with your weight problem (that’s weight that your carrying thank you very much) your only carrying the very expensive things worth bartering which the NPC’s never have enough money for, this situation can be remedied by joining the thieves guild who supply fences who have a much larger pool of money or taking the ‘speechcraft’ perks, which I admit I am going to give myself all of them using console commands as soon as I start my first character as I am sick and tired of running around everywhere trying to find a vendor which has some money left.

Penny Arcade Comic: Thulsa Broom
One of the best parts of Skyrim is the way you interact with other creates and peoples, you’ve got your usual Bioware style questions and responses in conversation which is always fun to do, I try to take the sensible route each time but the ‘arrogant prick’ responses are sometimes hard to resist just to see how the npc’s react. There are a lot of quests and quest chains around Skyrim, you pretty much just pick them up while doing other stuff and if you’re the kind of person who likes to do things linear and in order i.e. finishing one area then moving to the next then you’re not particularly going to like this as there’s shit to do everywhere especially after the initial part of the game. The main storyline of the game revolves around you being the Dovakiin i.e. Dragonborn, Dragons play a major part in the main storyline of Skyrim, most notably their return by the hands of a certain other that is the basis of the main storyline, and you are a human who was born of dragon blood and can take dragons souls, and you use these souls by finding various dragon words in dragon shrines so you can use dragon shouts which are basically different spells with 3 stages. For example you automatically learn the first word of Unrelenting Force, after you kill your first dragon, which knocks enemies back slightly and gets stronger as you learn the next two words until you belt out 3 shouts in a quick succession and watch as your enemies go flying across the room, or off a cliff which is my preferred example. Though later into the game Dragons seemed to be turning up more frequently and it almost turns into a chore rather than a fun and epic experience, you’d quick travel to a place where you’d battled one before and sure enough then there would be another one, you’re just running along trying to go about your business then sigh as the music starts to get louder and more dramatic and you hear the roar up above you,” Here we go again…” *cue the Benny Hill theme song while you battle the dragon while in fast forward*.

Penny Arcade Comic: Their Name Means Big
There’s various quest chains that you can do some especially the Imperial vs Stormcloak missions do have a lasting effect on the game world there is a main storyline you can do it any time but there is also various things like Mage and Warriors guilds, random game world quests and other activities such as alchemy and blacksmithing to delve into. The game world is vast and you’ll spend most of your time exploring the various dungeons, castles and caverns you find while travelling to your next destination, some of which are important to quests/etc while others are just another bandit hideout or tomb with puzzles and lots of skeletons and minor things such as becoming a Thane of a City, buying a house there and getting married, yes that is a minor thing, in order to find a mate all the Nords do is wear a certain amulet showing their "available" and after you've selected your mate (human or otherwise) you have a full ceremony. and you live life together happily, apart from having them accompany you in battle or move to your home or vice versa, they don't change things all that much just the "fun" of gettin hitched I suppose. As far as completion is concerned, I think I timed my quests very well, as by then time I had finished the main questline, joined the Stormcloaks and ousted the Imperials, joined the Companions and finished their questline, and also finished pretty much all of the other quests I could find in all of the towns, barring of course the ones I missed and the other questlines which I either didn’t want to do or was inappropriate for my style of play, i.e. Joining the Dark Brotherhood or the Mages Guild.

"Lovely to see you again dear, did you remember to get the dragon meat"
 Skyrim on the whole is a very tight package, it can get repetitive at times and I have to admit I was not able to get to level 50 in the one go (I was 37 when I stopped), which begs the problem of why they let you finish the main questline before getting to max level?, I will never know for me it was a kind of anticlimax but that also happened with the whole Stormcloak series. I think Skyrim has restored my interest in singleplayer RPGs (if I had any in the first place) and I could probably guess that if I spent a bit more time with Mass Effect 2 I would have lasted a bit longer. Skyrim was clean cut and (somewhat) simple to play, it looked beautiful and it was easy but technical enough to keep things interesting. There were a few issues but there were overlookable, the Elder Scrolls series just have this feel about them that’s different to other RPG’s of course that could be led back to them all being made by the one developer. You’ll find lots of other Dovahkiin around and be able to chat about shit you gone and done in the world and of course your dragon kill count. Due to the fairly easy overall difficulty of the game I would definitely suggest this to casual gamers and non-RPG players alike. 

I ain't tellin you where or what this place is, it's a great shot nonetheless
I had a great time the first play and look forward to playing again with a completely different style of play (probably Pure Mage), and that what makes Skyrim stand out, you’re not forced into playing separate classes, be one thing and change either 3 hours into the game or three weeks, it’s up to you.

You are not your dragon kill count

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