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Lucy in the Sky with Dragons
Posted on Friday, December 16 2011 @ 22:18:25 PST

By now I’m sure we’ve all seen way too much on the new Elder Scrolls game, about how it is the greatest thing ever and all of that. And sure, it’s a good, solid game, but I’m going to cut to the chase. It does not deserve nearly as much praise as it’s getting. While being above average, it’s too much of a flawed gem, rushed into production and left with corners cut improperly. And the fact that it’s a possible GotY for many credible, professional sources is disappointing, since that means that it’s either been a bad year or they might not be so professional after all. Now I wouldn’t be making claims these big if I didn’t plan on backing them up, so let’s get to that.
Truthfully, the hard part here is where to start with all of this. As the game is first and foremost called an RPG, as well as being called one of the best RPGs of the year, let’s start there. To put it in quite simple terms, Skyrim is an inferior RPG to its predecessors, Morrowind and Oblivion, as well as games that use similar systems such as Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Again, heavy claims, but here’s why. Right off the bat, the big thing that drops it down points below the other games is the overall lack of attributes. Now this is a big loss because attributes do what skills alone cannot, and really help differentiate the RPG genre from the action genre. They are the growth of what your character is, not just what they can do. What this does, more than anything, is adds greatly to the “roleplaying” aspect of the game. It makes each character you make unique, and not just in what they can do. While I can go on much more on that, for time’s sake I’m just going to move on.
So right off the bat the lack of attributes can easily makes it an inferior RPG to its predecessors. However, that’s merely just the start. Another removal was the overall lack of classes, instead starting off all characters as a jack of all trades. In fact, when you start the game, the only choice you’re given is between race, which is hardly the choice it was in prior games. You see, what really defined the differences between the various races was their attribute, which as mentioned earlier has been removed from the game. So now, the only differences between races are a five level increase in a few skills and a single special power. This means that every race start out at almost the exact same skill level for everything. Orcs are just as good with bows as bosmer and just as good at spells as dunmer, and all three of them start with the same health, stamina, and magicka. And since there are no classes, there’s no real opportunity to get a leg up on any skill you plan to use in that playthrough.
Now let’s compare that to other games that’ve come out this year. In terms of RPG’s, the two biggest competitors are Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Dark Souls. While Deus Ex suffers many of the same pitfalls as Skyrim, it does one thing better. As you level up, your character is able to do more, rather than just be better. In Skyrim, everything you wish to do is available from the beginning, with the exception of the two crafting skills. Leveling up increases one percentage, be it damage or ability, and that’s it. New abilities, a greater use of weapons, and other things that create a variation are, for the most part, lost. The RPG system is simply enough to give a sense of progression and character growth, with the actual growth being very little. When compared to Dark Souls, both this and the lack of attributes become more pronounced problems. While Dark Souls has less in the way of new abilities, you can feel your character growth more directly. Increases in endurance allow you to move faster and roll more effectively in heavier armor, creating more dramatic changes to your playstyle. Your stats also dictate which weapons you’re able to use, as heavier weapons cannot be used without a high strength requirement, magic items cannot be used without a certain intelligence, etc.
Of course, the RPG part alone may keep it from really being the best RPG of the year, but that doesn’t mean there are other parts where it excels, right? Well, sort of, but not really. The thing about Skyrim is that it’s one step in ten directions rather than walking far in any direction, which really doesn’t put it so far forward. And because it’s spread so thin in so many different directions, no one part of it really excels.
For example, let’s look at one of the biggest aspects of the game, the quests. While there are a lot of quests to do, very few quests are really that spectacular or original. Most of the quests put you in one of the many linear caves to find an item, akin to quests in an MMO. Of the quests, there are also very few that offer a variance in outcomes or even ways to complete it. Few quests are especially memorable due to these two factors. And then there are the quest lines themselves, such as the Theives Guild and the Mages Guild. The problems plaguing these questlines are that they’re too short and have little to do with the focus of the guilds themselves. After you’ve completed a very simple entrance trial, you’re admitted into the guild, where the main quests involve going through dungeons rather than actually focusing on magic or thievery, as per those examples. In the Companions, you’re admitted into the reclusive inner circle within a few quests and become the head of the guild in a few more. These lines lack the real feel of actual progression through the ranks, instead just moving you from initiate straight to a position of total power.
Because the world and game is so spread out, it’s also much harder for them to tell an interesting story, causing them to mostly fail in that regard. The main quest exists almost solely to give a reason for dragons to exist in a world when they previously did not, without having a major climax or satisfying conclusion to it. The end boss is treated no differently from any other dragon in the game, and again, most of it is rather short.
These sacrifices in story and quests seem to have been made for the sake of the gameplay of the game, which, unfortunately, fails to dazzle. The actual combat is simplistic and somewhat mediocre. As there is no way to avoid damage except to block, you must tank all of the damage in the game while using whatever you use to attack. What this means, in more simple terms, is that every enemy is fought in the same way. The only real difference between enemies is how much damage they deal and how much health they have. There’s little need for any real tactics or altering in playstyle for most enemies save for the ones who can kill you in a single hit, which brings about another problem altogether since, as previously mentioned, there’s no real way to fight without tanking the damage enemies throw at you.
The other aspect of the gameplay is exploration, and while the main part of the world is well done and can be quite beautiful, everything below the ground really fails to impress, much in the same way as the combat. The first time one enters a dwemer ruin, for example, they may be impressed with the steampunk style. However, it becomes more and more evident as you advance through that each of these ruins in more or less the same, with little variation between them. The same can be said of the many other caves and dungeons that appear in the game. Most all of them are a linear path that goes around in a loop, with tiny branches off that lead to small bits of loot, and little else. There are few to no puzzles, with the few usually being either claw puzzles, each with the same, simple solution, or rotating stone puzzles, again each with a simple solution that’s given right to you.
Now most of this gets overlooked due to the fact that the game is entertaining or, for the most simple word, fun. However, it’s very important to remember that fun is a subjective quality, or one that is unique entirely to the individual. While I could easily write plenty on this alone, to put it simply this means that the amount of fun you have playing a game is indirectly proportional to the quality of the game, which is objective. So the amount of fun a game can be said to be really isn’t an indicator of how good the game is, since it’s very possible to have fun with any game.
So, then, let’s look instead at why the game is so addicting. The reason for the addictiveness is akin to that of an MMORPG, or potato chips. Rather than be set up in one continuous set, it’s a bunch of small bites. Each action you do rewards you just enough to placate you keep you interested without enough to keep you fully satisfied, causing you to want more. And it offers plenty, thus providing you with plenty of opportunities to repeat this process for hours upon hours. While this quality extends its longetivity, it cannot be held in the same regard as a higher class meal.
Truthfully, I’m really just touching the briefs on this for the purpose of time and effort on my part, so allow me to cut to the chase. The pointing out of all these flaws in the game wasn’t done to say that the game is bad. Far from it, in fact. Skyrim is a very good game in most regards. However, that’s the very point that I’m making. Skyrim is simply good, above the average. It’s hardly a breakthrough, is far from revolutionary, and is sure not the best game of the year.

Really, all of this comes down to a single statement.
If the best game of the year is really so flawed that someone like me can write nearly two thousand words on all of its shortcomings and faults and STILL have plenty to write about… this year sucked.

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