SKYRIM: First Impressions

Bethesda Softworks has worked tirelessly to bring us the latest installment in the Elder Scrolls saga.  Using the latest technology and a brand new graphics engine they have pushed the boundaries of gaming on multiple levels.

Although the hype surrounding this game brought unrealistic expectations from many, I have tried to stay level-headed in my expectations.  Bethesda has brought us an amazing game and with this game comes both good and bad.

Here are my first impressions including both my praises and my gripes.

Take in mind that overall this game is amazing, thus my gripes should be taken lightly.

 

Five Gripes about Skyrim:

 

1.  The game is buggy on PC

The game is buggy in places, although this is to be expected of a new release.  My wife and I both froze up a couple times while playing.   I had diligently saved, my wife had not and had to start from an auto-save near the beginning of her game.  That alone almost made her quit playing.

Also while trying to rest I find the game stops responding to keyboard and mouse commands.

I’m sure Bethesda performed extensive testing on many different configurations and machines, but to cover all the potential hardware and software configurations is impossible.

 

2.  Cannot sort equipment by weight

One of my favorite pastimes on Elder Scrolls games is plundering tombs.  I have a comfortable strategy that has worked for many years.  I delve into the tomb, plunder everything of any value including armor and weapons from bandits and brigands, and take it to the surface.  I make a pile just inside the entrance to the tomb or dungeon.  After performing this 2-3 times I have a massive pile of gear worth thousands of gold.  I then load up, fast travel to the nearest town, sell everything and repeat.  Ka-ching!  I’m rich!

On the other hand, if I’m in a deep, deep dungeon I may not want to backtrack multiple times.  I prefer to lighten my load often so as not to become over encumbered.  In Morrowind and Oblivion I would bring up my items screen and sort everything by weight (click the feather).  Then I could scroll through all of my equipment and appraise the value of my items versus their weight.  Since I can sort the heaviest items to the top I can get a good look at what I can drop to remain light on my feet while still making a hefty profit.

Sadly, with the new menu system I can no longer sort my items.  Instead I have a list of categories with pretty pictures all sorted alphabetically.  Since alphabetic sorting has no relevance at all I find this system worthless.

Hopefully Bethesda will release an update to remedy this problem.  If they choose not to do so there are always other alternatives.  For example, PC users can surely expect the modding community to develop a “Sort by Weight” mod fairly quickly!

 

3.  No Athletics & Acrobatics Abilities

What some fans find gratifying, I for one miss.  One of the first things I do on any Elder Scrolls game is venture into the mountains or other hard to reach places.  While doing this I jump all the while, improving my ability to leap higher.  I then take gigantic leaps of faith from the highest locations taking damage with each fall.  Sometimes I would die and have to load my game.  Why did I do this?  To become more nimble and land with a cat’s grace on my feet.

I thoroughly enjoyed raising my athletics and acrobatics abilities to astounding heights in the Elder Scrolls.  I could leap from rooftop to rooftop while the guards chased after me.  I could climb the highest building in town and snipe guards with my bow, whilst watching them rush frantically about attempting to find me.  I could do whatever I wanted from these lofty places.  Now, these skills which gave me speed and agility are no more.

Surely they have been replaced with something equally as enticing?  I will only find out in time as I continue to play and attempt to unlock skill trees.  It seems only natural that these trees should unlock themselves based solely on my actions in the world, but I have yet to see this either.  It seems I must unlock them manually.

 

4.  Controls favor Console Gaming

For the first time ever, Bethesda has abandoned one of their core principals.  The Elder Scrolls are first and foremost PC games.  It is splendid that a massive audience has been gained through the porting of these games to Xbox 360 & PS3, but in the end it is a PC game.

Bethesda has created Skyrim with the feel of a console game, ported to PC.  The controls and menus are all geared with the console controller in mind.  Even the dual attack options favor those dual trigger buttons that all console controllers have.

The menus favor controller navigation and for the first time ever I find myself stumbling along with the mouse trying to keep up.  I finally abandoned the mouse and switched to the keyboard to navigate.

For Bethesda to take a step away from PC gamers frightens me.  It brings to mind other companies that sacrificed the ideals which made them unique in favor of mass audience demands.  Surely the path to success does not need to be wracked with alterations which generalize unique elements of the game.   Forcing one’s core audience to sacrifice their favorite features to conform to the limited parameters of a new audience will bring only dissent and misgivings from the core.

 

5.  No Birthsigns

Getting rid of the character class was an excellent move by Bethesda, but losing the birthsigns saddens me.  I feel that choosing a birthsign makes your character that much more unique.  Just look at all these cool abilities that you could obtain in Morrowind or Oblivion just by choosing under which sign you were born!

I don’t really have a lot to say about this other than I miss it.  I know the guardian stones exist, but they aren’t the same.  One of my favorite abilities to obtain early in the game is the birthsign of the Shadow.  The ability to turn invisible for 60 seconds is an invaluable power for low level characters venturing into dangerous territory.

 

Now that I have the minor annoyances out of the way let’s move on to the good stuff, shall we?  Here are my five praises of Skyrim thus far.  (Take in mind I only have 1 full day of gaming under my belt so more are sure to come in the near future!)

 

Five Praises for Skyrim:

 

1.  Artificial Intelligence of NPCs & Creatures

Rats finally run away from me!  If you played Morrowind and Oblivion I’m sure you recall all the pointless battles with lowly creatures which attacked you on sight.  In fact, everything attacked you on sight.  Your enemies were either friend or foe, there was never a gray area which is far from realistic.  Finally, Skyrim has solved these problems with their amazing and ingenious artificial intelligence.

Characters react to each other and interact with each other in a realistic harmonious way which catapults you directly into another world from which you never want to return.  The NPCs have come alive and you are able to interact with them more than ever before.  You are even able to obtain a wife and have her fight alongside you in battle!

Animals and monsters react to your movements in a manner consistent with real creatures here on earth.  If I injure a wolf from a distance with my bow it may choose to charge me, but most likely will run away if injured badly enough.  Sometimes smaller creatures I approach scatter and run for the hills, while others attack until I ward them off with a few deft blows from my blade.

The advances in the A.I. in this game truly bring the world to life and are a real step forward for the Elder Scrolls games.

 

2.  Locations which come alive

As I sneak through the cavernous tomb the earth above shakes causing loose gravel and debris to come tumbling down all around me.  The low rumble echos through my speakers and I hear the scraping of something moving in a tomb up ahead.

The locations that Bethesda has created in Skyrim blow my mind.  Last night while playing I found myself creeping around attempting to remain hidden after finding a huge troll skull.  I could hear strange noises up ahead and I got lost in the game.  Not like you get lost in a video game, but how you get lost in a tabletop RPG like Dungeons & Dragons!  This was a first for me since only my imagination can usually serve up realistic locales from which to generate real emotional reactions.  Bethesda has done it!  Super creepy tombs with undead which spring out when you least expect it, traps which slay you outright, and puzzles which intrigue and challenge you.  Vast open landscapes dotted with houses and farms, towering snow-covered mountaintops, and thick mountain forests bathed in thick fog.  I could lose myself in this world.

Side note on locations: The placement of enemies is excellent in this game.  They are placed in perfect number and spaced just far apart to make combat something I anticipate like my tongue anticipates the citric acid outer coating of Super Lemon candy.

 

3.  Unique Sections of Tombs & Dungeons

Instead of an entire dungeon or tomb feeling like one repetitious place with copy and pasted walls, Skyrim comes alive.  Within each dungeon or tomb exist many rooms which are unique.  Some host intricate puzzles with a few clues to get your started.  Others are places with hidden doors and passages, winding corridors, or broken walls.  Not once have a felt railroaded in a dungeon or tomb.  I felt like I could explore these places in any order I wished.  Many locations have corridors which break off from the main path or sections which empty into natural caves or climb up to exits leading to breathtaking views from the mountaintops.

The unique nature of each location in this game really shows the hard work that Bethesda’s staff put into this game.  The art department must be beaming with pride over the amazing accomplishment that is the world of Skyrim.  Nice work Matt Carofano and team!  Well done!

 

4.  Dual Weapon/Dual Spell Wielding

Although quite clumsy without using “favorites”, dual wielding spells is actually more fun than I previously had anticipated.  When zombies begin to rush my character nothing brings me more satisfaction that switching to dual wielding fire and bathing my enemies in flames.  The sheer power that exudes from my characters hands gives me a temporary rush of power and satisfaction as I watch the undead crumble and fall to their end.

Something I regarded at first as a novelty has become one of my favorite abilities in the game.

 

5.  Weather

The weather in Skyrim completely immerses me.  As I stated earlier in this article, the locations are unique, the A.I. is nearly realistic, and when you add to those effects the weather… it sucks you in.  The darkness that the gray skies cast over the land as hard rain begins to fall.  The muffled sound that a thick snow brings to the air.  The whipping wind that clears the dense fog displaying a clear sunny day filled with birds and butterflies.

My mouth literally drops with the beauty and depth of this game.  This is the first time I have felt a weather program in a video game deserves it’s own blog post.  Perhaps at some point I will analyze each and every detail of the weather patterns and how the weather program functions in Skyrim, but that is another day and another time.

 

I must get back to my Skyrim game now as my Khajiit awaits my return with stalwart patience.

I am lost… lost in a good way and Skyrim has become a new obsession.

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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games / AdventureAWeek.com, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.