So instead of doing the smart thing and leaving Skyrim – a game that I know I will be playing for 100+ hours - as the last game I purchase this holiday season, I went ahead and picked it up on 11/11/11. Because that is just how I roll. Long list of must-have games be damned!
My experience with The Elder Scrolls series dates back only to Morrowind, a game which took me a long time to "get", but once hooked I was blown away. I sunk in well over 100 hours into Oblivion and I never even completed the main quest. After Fallout 3, which I also enjoyed for the most part but never completed, I began to get a little tired of the Bethesda "formula" (now that I think about it, looks like I have never completed a single Bethesda game).
Their games are huge. Offer a great level of freedom. A rich history. Great ideas. Plenty of bugs. Weird design choices. And are hit in miss with a lot of what is going on. NPC characters can show intelligence by going about their day, having routines and giving off a real world feel. Yet you can place a bucket over their heads and rob them blind, or walk into their homes at night and wake them up from their slumber to ask them what they have to sell and they behave as if that is a perfectly normal thing to do. Like I said, it is a give and take.
But one thing I will give their games is that they are extremely addicting. The type of game where once you complete a dungeon or quest, you tell yourself you will just check out that one landmark off in the horizon, or do one more thing before you stop playing, and next thing you know another 2 hours have passed. You get addicted not so much to leveling or finding gear as you do in other RPGs, but in exploration and discovery. I have my issues with some of the design and play mechanics, but they work well enough to keep me plowing ahead.
I am not sure how much time I have devoted to Skyrim, but I'd estimate about 15 - 20 hours or so. Some random thoughts and observations:
- Textures can be pretty awful (360 version). Yes, I did install it onto the HDD, but I tested it out without the install and they were still pretty bad in spots.
- That being said, when the visuals align at the right moment, they can be very effective and atmospheric. Still not as big a leap as I was hoping from Oblivion, but massive open world games like these will always have to compromise in the visuals somehow.
- God I hate having to go through load screens whenever you are entering/leaving buildings. Technical limitations of the hardware, I know, but still very annoying.
- I have discovered that I have a very distinct play-style that I gravitate towards in all Bethesda games. The stealthy long-range fighter/magic user. I just love sneak attacks with the bow and then going off to hide. Sure, it probably takes me three times as long to complete dungeons this way, but I find the stealthy approach very satisfying.
- Bears should not be this difficult to take down! A bear should not require 10 arrows to the face and 5 or 6 fireballs to take down!! These things are monstrous! WTF?! It is a bear, not a furry tank!
- I do love the dragons. I love how they show up randomly patrolling the skies and the audio cues you get when they are near. It is really damn cool. And scary if you are in a spot with no cover, because going toe-to-toe with a dragon (at least when you are a stealthy archer) without a place to hide is a death wish!
- I do love all the random events that seem to occur based on the game's rules, like coming across a bandit camp that just happens to be getting attack by a pack of wolves, or leading a dragon to a populated area and having guards come to defend the town (aiding you in the process).
- I really like that the "main" quest does not seem to be as urgent as in Oblivion, allowing me to veer off and explore and do side-quests without breaking character. Seriously, it felt really odd ignoring the main quest in Oblivion to help someone deliver a message, giving the urgency of that storyline. In an open world game like this, with so many options, you want to let the player feel like they can explore without breaking the immersion of the world and storyline. Something that happened in Oblivion to me by me choosing to gather herbs instead of, you know, saving the world! Felt guilty about that.
I'll continue to sink most of my free time into Skyrim. Believe it or not, I still dabble in some Dark Souls every now and then. I also caved and ordered Rayman: Originas and Batman: Arkham City from Amazon during the Black Friday deals, so I should have those in my possession very soon. Yup, gaming overdose indeed.