I was going to start off by saying that the last time a game that held me in thrall was World of Warcraft. But then I’d be discounting Mass Effect 3 which I finished twice. With that said though, I’m at ninety hours played in Skyrim on my first real play through and am nowhere near finished yet. Even with every side quest available, I’d finished a play through of Mass Effect 3 in about sixty hours.
I’m not belittling Mass Effect 3 in anyway but rather I’m pointing out the fairly linear progression of Mass Effect 3 against the sheer open world of Skyrim. For example, with Skyrim, once you have completed the tutorial on how the game works and giving you some gear you are free to do whatever you wish.
Oh there are some pointers with various characters saying how urgent it is that you must go somewhere and do something but there is no time limit. The quest remains in your log for when you eventually decide to get around to it.
I never played Oblivion (I possibly missed something there by all accounts) so the last Elder Scrolls game I played was Morrowind which had the same free-style play. However, Morrowind was fairly brutal when it dumped the player into the world as I remember thinking “Okay, what do I do now?!” Either I learned my lesson with Morrowind or Skyrim has significantly improved on guiding the bewildered player.
I’d have to say that it’s undoubtedly the latter. It felt like whoever I spoke to had something for me to do from chopping wood, joining the Stormcloaks or the mage’s college. Or I could ignore all that and go and climb that mountain over there.
Skyrim is completely different to the majority of RPGs in a number of fundamental ways. In most, when creating a character, it’s at that point that you’d choose a class and based upon your choice, you’d be given some basic armour and weapons and then the rest of the game would be spent as that. However, Skyrim’s initial tutorial equips you with a number of items ranging from heavy armour to mage robes, lock picks and spells and then leaves the choice of what you want to be determined entirely by your play style.
In essence, the more you use something, the better you become at it. Whereas you think you want to be a warrior archetype, you may find yourself a heavy armour wearing mage. This is perfectly feasible. This brings me to another difference with Skyrim. Whereas levelling up is fundamental to any RPG, Skyrim doesn’t give an XP (eXperience Points) for dispatching enemies or turning in quests. Instead you level up by increasing your skills. Of course, there is only a limited amount that you can actually do without actually getting out there a killing foes and completing quests so the effect is nearly the same.
So whilst I may not have levelled by handing in a quest, I almost certainly have by using magic and / or weapons whilst dungeon delving. I’ll admit that it does feel a little odd. Another difference is ‘loot’. Generally, I’m used to ‘if it’s not tied down, then I’ll claim it and sell it for gold’. The same is true in the dungeons of Skyrim but certainly not in towns. Whilst it’s certainly possible in towns, if the act is seen, you’ll get into trouble.
Whilst it’s probably expected nowadays, Skyrim is stunning to look at. And I haven’t even downloaded the free high-rez texture pack. Because, honestly, I don’t think it’s necessary. I’m again going to compare to the likes of Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2 and whilst they are also both gorgeous to look at, I’d have to say that Skyrim has the edge because it’s more open and so you can see more. Going back to a previous point whilst both of those games had great vistas, they were just backdrops. That mountain that I mentioned earlier? In Skyrim, if I can see it, I can get to it.
This does has a slight disadvantage at times, though. Skyrim is not shy of throwing loot at you and once your character’s carrying capacity is exceeded, they can only walk. And given that dungeons are usually far from towns and that fast travel is not available to over-encumbered characters, if you’re a pack rat like me, it can take awhile to get anywhere. Eventually, one learns to look at the weight to value ratio.
I’m playing Skyrim on the PC which gives me two major advantages over console version players. The first is the huge range of mod’s that are available. Think of something that needs to be changed and to paraphrase a certain company “there’s a mod for that”.
The other advantage is that Skyrim has its share of defects and by being on a PC; I have access to console commands to get around them. Those that I’ve experienced are primarily due to the open nature of the game. For example, there was nothing stopping me from clearing out a dungeon of bandits only to subsequently be given a quest to clear out the same dungeon. A console command quickly completed the quest but there would be no such facility. Picking up an amulet from a corpse before I’m told to obtain has a similar effect.
This therefore limits the open play style to not going into dungeons until instructed. It’s not game breaking but it’s certainly annoying. Whilst I’m talking of annoyances, all the characters except the player character are fully voiced and for the most part, range from excellent to passable. However, there is one or two such as Farengar who are simply awful, awful, awful.
It’s obvious why the player character isn’t voiced. Given the choice of races one can play, each race has a distinct accent from the European Nords (honestly, sometimes it sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger had voiced some of them) to the purring of Khajit. Skyrim certain caters for a range of players. Humans, Elves, furry and reptilian are all available. No Dwarves though because their race disappeared from the world in ages past.
I’ve talked about everything but the story so far but given that Skyrim feels like your character is the story, it’s a little hard to define. Oh, there is a ‘main’ quest line which involves finding out why dragons have returned to Skyrim but you can effectively ignore this for as long as you want. Get married. Become head of a faction. End a civil war. All of these can be done before, during and after the main quest. So whilst there is a story that does progress (dragons only start appearing when the main quest is at a certain point), it’s a fairly loose story. It starts with a new game and ends…when I feel like it. At ninety hours, I’m taking my time as you can tell but were I purely to concentrate on just the main quest, I’ve read that there is about 30 hours of it at most. I just happen to get easily distra….ooh, shiney!
Overall, Skyrim is a beautiful and immersive RPG but not without its flaws.