MorePop: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – First Impressions

Since I first heard it was happening, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been my most anticipated game of the year, promising a return to the vast world that ate up my life in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. When I first bought my Xbox360, Oblivion was among the first round of games I bought, taking it on faith that I’d enjoy it, since I hadn’t played any of the previous Elder Scrolls games. I ended up spending over 120 hours on the initial playthrough, and being completely unready for it to end when I finished. I’ve even restarted it a few times just to spend more time in the world of Tamriel. Of course, I’m cheap, so I didn’t get the expansion packs right away – in fact, I didn’t get them until a few weeks ago, when Xbox Live had an amazing sale on them, and I didn’t get to finish them before Skyrim came out. I’ll get back to them, but for now, my life belongs to Skyrim.

So far, I’ve only scratched the surface of Skyrim‘s world, so this is not a review, but just a catalog of the some first impressions of the game so far. I’ve put in roughly ten hours, and have completed only a very little bit of the main quest line. I tend to like doing the other things first, so I’ve done a lot of little tasks like clearing out a cave of bandits, sorting out an unhappy love triangle, recovering a family sword, those kind of things. You get those just by wandering around and talking to people – it’s amazing how many people need stuff done for them! There are also larger, multi-part side quests, and I’ve done a few of those as well. Then there are guilds and factions you can join, each of which starts its own questline. I’ve joined two of those so far. If you’ve played Oblivion and all this sounds familiar, you’re right. This game is essentially exactly like Oblivion from the general design to the branching questlines and random tasks to the hack-and-slash combat. If you’ve played Oblivion, you already know whether you’re going to like Skyrim or not. I haven’t been disappointed one bit – it’s like being back in the world I love with updated graphics, slightly better combat, a face-lifted menu system (which I quite like, actually, compared with Oblivion‘s), and what promises to be an even bigger world.

The events in Skyrim take place some 200 years after the end of Oblivion. The line of Emperors has died out without an heir, and Skyrim (the northern section of Tamriel) is embroiled in a civil war between those who want to stay loyal to a declining Empire and those who want to secede. There’s also strife with the Elves, as a major natural disaster forced the migration of many dark Elves out of Morrowind (where the third Elder Scrolls game was set) and into Skyrim, where they are unwelcome by a large portion of the population. At the beginning, you’re captured along with a bunch of secessionists who are about to be executed (though you’re not necessarily with them; your backstory is unknown) when a dragon attacks. Dragons haven’t been seen for ages, but they’re back now, perhaps heralding the end of the world. You don’t get to fight this one yourself, but believe me, you’ll get to fight others. And it ain’t pretty. Turns out you have a special connection to the dragons, and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten in the story.

A lot of people disliked the combat in Oblivion, because it isn’t very nuanced, and it’s pretty much the same here. There’s no turn-based element or VAT system like Bethesda added for Fallout 3. You basically just run up and slash at something until it dies, or you die, but there is some amount of strategy to be employed. You can also use ranged attacks via bow or magic, you can heal yourself during combat via potions or magic, and you can boost specific stats with other potions for a brief period of time. You have a limited amount of magic you can use before it has to recharge, same with stamina (which controls sprinting and swinging melee weapons). Balancing all that against a powerful enemy (or a large number of smaller enemies) can be quite tricky, and I’ve already been through several fights that required multiple tries, regrouping and trying different tactics each time. You can have companions who will help you fight, but you can’t control them or give them direct orders, like you can in Mass Effect or Dragon Age. I’m perfectly okay with that, frankly – I have enough to deal with handling myself without micromanaging NPCs.

Let’s talk customization. You can choose any of about ten different races – various races of human, elf, even orc and khajit (a cat-like creature) – which all have their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of skillset. Some are better warriors, others are better at stealth, others have an affinity for magic. Of course, you can still do all these things no matter what race you are, but you’ll have to work harder at things your chosen race isn’t good at. You have enormous control, too, over your physical appearance – I think I spend an hour just creating my character. After getting into the game, I really like how skills are leveled based on how much you use them. Using destruction spells a lot with increase your destruction skill, using the bow a lot will increase your archery skill, etc. This is pretty standard (and just like Oblivion), but it always gives a little thrill to be using something a lot and see the skill climb high – after all, why bother leveling things I never use? There is a system of perks on top of the basic skill leveling that’s good, as well – reaching certain levels in a skill unlocks perks you can add – like if you’re high in destruction magic, you can get a perk that decreases the amount of magicka the spell uses. (I keep using destruction magic as an example because I’ve found it very useful, and have already leveled it up a lot and gotten several of the perks.) But really what this means is that depending on your starting class and how you choose to play, you can get through the game a number of ways. Most of the questlines would be the same, and the game doesn’t have a strong good/evil balance the way a lot of current RPGs do, but you can focus on melee, ranged, or magic combat, or on stealth and avoid combat more often.

The main questline can supposedly be completed in 20 hours or so, but I’m expecting to spend over 100 hours on this, with side quests and all. And the developers have even promised that there will be an endless number of the “miscellaneous” tasks based on an auto-generating algorithm so you can keep playing ever after finishing all the main quests and major side quests. I’m not sure how endlessly entertaining these endless tasks will be, but I know I certainly would’ve continued playing Oblivion if there had been anything left to do in it, so we’ll see. The pacing of the game, split between frenetic real-time combat and walking around talking to people, works really well for me – games full of only combat are not my favorite anymore. I prefer a little quiet time in between to explore and enjoy the world, and world-building is something Bethesda does really well. Each race and city has its own characteristics, and they’ll respond to you differently based on your own race and clothing – not enough to REALLY matter in terms of getting things done, but it adds a touch of nuance to interactions.

Overall Skyrim doesn’t add a lot to Oblivion other than being another chapter in the (very long) saga; there are no vast changes to gameplay and, indeed, a lot of the sidequests seem like they’ll be pretty similar. You can again join a mages’ guild, a mercenary guild, an assassin’s guild, and a thieves’ guild, and I think another one I haven’t found yet, plus you can choose to join either the Imperial or rebel legion. Character creation and combat are pretty similar. The menu system and to some degree the leveling system are overhauled for the better (fewer attributes, but more skills, and the addition of perks). They’ve also added or improved the ability to create and improve your items at forges, workbenches, alchemy labs, even cooking spits – not something I’ve done a lot of yet, but I definitely forsee myself doing more of it in the future. But most of those changes are minor or cosmetic, so if you were so-so on Oblivion and were hoping Skyrim would vastly up the ante, you may be disappointed. But if you, like me, only wanted Oblivion to go on forever, then go get immersed in Skyrim today. And if you’ve never played either, then, well…assess very carefully how many waking hours you want to spend on a game before you jump in. 🙂 I’m already getting antsy to fire it up tonight, the first game I’ve felt that way about since…Portal 2.

Anyone else losing their life to Skyrim right now? What other games are you playing?

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David Brook
Guest

God. I want it I want it I want it!

I’m holding out for Christmas, hoping a family member will be generous – I’m way too tight-fisted to fork out for new titles. 🙂

I had a funny relationship with Oblivion. I got it with my 360 and didn’t quite get into it straight away. Then I played Mass Effect, which took me a while to get into, but then totally sucked me in, so I went back to Oblivion as it seemed similar. I really started to enjoy Oblivion then, but some other new game came around and I lost touch with it yet again. So I saw the potential in Oblivion and loved what I played of it, but never had a long clean runway to let it take over my life. I’m feeling like Skyrim could do that if I let it though 🙂

Jonathan
Guest

I have been out of gaming since playing through Oblivion back in 2006 during college, but I could not resist this. I have clocked about 10 hours the past week and I feel that old teenage video game addiction trying to grab back onto me.

I have been playing the Elder Scrolls games since ’98’s Redguard (then going back to the original two after that) and I still considered Morrowind to be a candidate for my favorite game of all time. Oblivion was great, but took out a lot of the things that made Morrowind great.

Skyrim, on the other hand, takes the same approach as Oblivion, but smooths over a lot of the problems that I had with it. It’s deliciously addicting.

The question that keeps coming up though: why is the wildlife so similar to our world’s wildlife? Bears, deer, wolves, etc. – it is so boring and uninspired. Where are the fantastical Alits and Atronachs and half-octupus sea monsters and Golden Saints and the weird dinosaur-like creatures with tusks and flying jellyfish things. Where are the giant silt-striders? These are the creatures that really drew me in and made me feel like I was in another world completely.

Still, the game is just unimaginably great.

Jonathan
Guest

Also, as cliche as dragons are in the fantasy world, Skyrim does a pretty damn good job of implementing them. It’s pretty exciting when they pop up out of nowhere and whatever you are doing become irrelevant until the battle commences.

Jonathan Hardesty
Guest

If I weren’t already trying to complete other games in my queue at the moment I’d be all over this. As it stands, I’ve still got to beat the last boss in Demon’s Souls, finish Dragon Age: Origins and then finish up the Prince of Persia Sands of Time Trilogy that I’ve got rented from Gamefly. Not to mention I just started Bioshock a bit ago and need to complete that and the sequel for Infinity when that comes out. Lots of games, far too little time. 🙂

Andy
Guest

Jonathan,

‘Red Dead Redemption’?

Andrew James
Admin

Best game of last year. By leaps and bounds.

Jonathan
Guest

Oh yeah, I forgot Red Dead Redemption. I played that a bit, although it was my friend who played through the most of it. Also played Fallout 3 a bit back when that came out too.

Jonathan
Guest

If you get Morrowind (you can buy a copy with all expansions for $10 nowadays), there is a collection of mods (I think it’s the Morrowind Overhaul pack) that updates the graphics to near modern day standards. Just FYI!

Andrew James
Admin

I’m planning on picking up the new Halo Anniversary addition. It’s the original Halo (still my favorite one) with redesigned graphics and online multi-player. At the push of a button you can switch back and forth between original graphics and new graphics. That’s pretty cool to look at the difference in game design of ten years at any point during the game.

Jonathan
Guest

Some of my fondest memories are linking up 4 Xboxs with 15 buddies and playing Blood Gulch.

David Brook
Guest

Although I enjoyed it, I was never the biggest Halo fan. I was too much of a PC shooter fan in those days and didn’t see what the fuss was about. I still played through 1 and 3 though and had a lot of fun with them, I just didn’t see what they were doing new or better than anyone else out there. However, Halo Reach really surprised me. It’s probably my favourite of the series. It wasn’t doing anything exceptionally different from the rest of the series, but the one player experience just really grabbed me. There are some spectacular sequences in there.

Scott
Guest

So start with Oblivion first before Skyrim?

Jandy Stone
Guest

Scott, no, not necessarily. The stories aren’t really related and certainly don’t depend on each other. You can jump into Skyrim no problem without having played any other Elder Scrolls games. I only mentioned Oblivion so much because Skyrim is so very like it in gameplay that it was an easy reference point for me.

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