Eight Hours In: Skyrim
We in the gaming community are well-versed by now when it comes to the propaganda infection of “game hype”. We’ve seen it before, and we’ll see it again; the marketing and media machine stir up excitement and fervor, like a beef stew being cooked in a Crock Pot, filling the house with promises of glory and flavor in the form of heavenly scents. Then you take that first bite, anticipating the delight… and it turns out someone put WAY too much salt and pepper in. The stew, metaphorically representing the game here, of course, is simply not what you expect, and not as good as the silent promises made it out to be. With gaming, it’s worse in effect, because the promises are not so silent.
The hype machine was in full effect for Skyrim, somewhat driven by the lack of much information being released and a hunger for more. The good news this time, my friends, is that this is one of those somewhat rarer cases in which the hype is deserved.
Truth be told, I’ve put more like 12 hours in on Skyrim so far (a number that would have been higher if not for certain beta tests happening this weekend), but this will be the first of many articles where I give my impressions on a game, once I’ve put eight hours into it.
Let’s hit the details after the break!
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a perfect example of how a developer can maximize content without hitting the point of sheer overload. There is a vast amount of gameplay possibilities here, but they all manage to fit within the possibilities of a 360 controller, if only just. Not only do you have the different play styles (archery, magic, two-handed weapons, one-handed weapons, shields, and many mixtures of these), and each of these is rich in possibilities, but then you have the additional system of Dragon Shouts added on top of that, a certain type of magic that is grown and leveled in its own fashion with a dedicated button for quick release. Leveling has seen massive improvements from previous Elder Scrolls games; it’s entirely based on your actions in game, and happens much faster than before. For example, whenever you hit with a one-handed weapon, your skill in One-Handed goes up slightly, contributing towards your level in One-Handed. When you level One-Handed (or any other skill for that matter), it contributes towards your progress in overall levels. The result is a system that rewards you for your play style, no matter what you do, as long as your doing things or killing enemies. I believe, in my progress over the weekend, I gained a level just from Alchemy level-ups alone.
Of course, Alchemy is just one of the trade skills in Skyrim, and these have been refined as well. As a character, you’ll want to choose at least one of the available options of Alchemy, Enchanting, or Blacksmithing, just to supplement your progression. Certain skills benefit certain play styles, such as Alchemy’s ability to create poisons benefiting the rogue or assassin style, but the freedom of choice is yours.
Perhaps the system that has seen the most improvement is the magic system, giving huge amounts of new options. Spells can now be “dualcast”, which means using both hands for the cast as opposed to one at a time. When you dualcast a spell, an improved version will be triggered; for example, a dualcast Invisibility spell will last twice as long and affect enemies much higher in level, and a dualcast Fireball will essentially create a Hadouken that can knock an enemy yards away. Let me tell you, blasting an skeleton against the wall with a dualcast Fireball, shattering him to pieces from the impact, is EXTREMELY satisfying.
The “one option in one hand, one in the other” aspect of combat is certainly one of the greatest improvements to the game, but my favorite improvement, personally, is the new philosphy behind the world’s design and how it affects your gameplay. Skyrim is huge, alive, and ever-present, but it is much less distracting than Oblivion. The overall plot doesn’t feel like such an urgent immediate world-ending terror, giving more tacit complicity towards your side-questing. The side quests themselves are less insistent now as well, with a lot fewer instance where a random NPC will come up and demand your attention. The only cases where this happened to me were when I had been listening to the conversation that preceded the request anyway, hanging around with the intention of asking about the subject matter. There are many more collectibles to find, many of which grant great boons in power, and little to no punishment or guilt tripping for seeking them out.
For those who have felt that previous games were perhaps a little TOO open, Oblivion has a new spell called Clairvoyance, which actually shows a blue glowing trail that shows the best path leading the player to the next objective in their active quest. This provides some much needed structure, leading the player along the right path, but allowing them to deviate off the path when desired, and providing the best way to get right back on it when exploration has completed.
The story is standard fantasy fare; a prophesied hero has the power to defeat the ancient reawakened evil, and must explore his gifts and destiny in order the save the world from an invading re-awakened force of dragons. So far, there aren’t exactly any twists or turns, but this does little to quench the excitement and fun.
If you’re a fan of action RPGs, this is a must-play. Many of the complaints from Oblivion have been directly addressed, leading to a refined experience of vast proportions. Hell, I’d even recommend a strategy guide purchase on this one; sure, details on the Internet aren’t too hard to find, especially after a week or two, but for right now, you’ll be glad to have the 650 pages of guidance for all those collectibles, crafting recipes, and side quests.