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Skyrim’s crafting system is robust to say the least. You can’t create spells anymore (for reasons we outline below), but you can still perform alchemy and enchant items, and now you can create and improve items with Smithing, which is divided amongst tasks at forges, smelting furnaces, workbenches, grindstones, and tanning racks. Like the idea of having the baddest-ass set of weapons and armor in the land? You can spend insane hours seeking out rare ores, mining them, and then working them into the exact items you want. You can even cook food now, although it doesn’t have its own skill path and is a simple supplemental way of giving you healing options.
If you enjoy the role-playing aspect of RPGs, the diverse cast of characters to interact with, gain as followers, and follow intrigue plots with is downright staggering. With even better writing and voice acting this time around (with voices provided by no less than Christopher Plummer, Max Von Sydow, and Joan Allen), meeting and talking to people is like its own game.
A little over a year ago we posted an article proposing what we wanted to see from the fifth Elder Scrolls game, so we thought it would be interesting to see whether Bethesda was thinking along the same lines. Let’s break it down:
We asked for an intuitive skill system. Skyrim responded beautifully. The system is extremely simple on the surface, but super deep with options. Each time you level up, you simply choose to increase Magicka, Health, or Stamina, and then you have one perk point to spend. Perk slots are unlocked based on how high of a skill you have in a given area – for example, in order to spend a point on a perk that makes casting Novice level Destruction spells cost half as much Magicka, you need to have built up Destruction to 20 or whatever. That’s really it. However, there are so many perk slots available, the possibilities are staggering. It’s totally freeform, easy to understand, and exciting when you see the crazy stuff available at the higher perk slots. Also, if you can’t decide what to purchase, you can save your perk points for later.
We asked for monsters that scale properly, or don’t scale at all. Oblivion’s weird scaling of monster power meant that as you leveled up, monsters could actually out level you, filling the game with random difficulty road blocks. Skyrim has invisibly solved this problem. The monster scaling is so sublime it’s likely you’ll never notice it – for us the game was always challenging throughout, yet never impossible. If we were smart and used every strength of our character’s specialties, we did fine. If we played lazily, we died horribly. We’ve heard that Skyrim’s dungeons level up as you do – until you enter them, and once you enter one, its level is fixed, so if it’s too tough for you, you can leave, level up, and come back later powerful enough to tackle it. We’ll say, though, that no dungeon was ever too tough on our first pass, yet never disappointingly easy.
We asked for balanced player tools. Oblivion provided tools that became useless (like bows) or became overpowered (like spell crafting). Skyrim has done an admirable job tackling these problems, even if it didn’t solve them completely. Making your own spells is out (sorry spellcrafters, but those super spells were stupidly overpowered), but there are more regular spells available. Bows are better simply because the game provides more enemies that attack from range instead of rushing you and negating the bows’ usefulness – and if you don’t invest in spells, you’ll want bows to deal with flying dragons. We also have yet to encounter the way-too-good vampiric weapons that removed the need for tactics in melee. Summoned creatures are still a bit too good, but overall the balance is vastly improved (taking into account that power players may yet discover the overpowered stuff).
We asked for more than five NPCs. Oblivion had a cast of about 15 (so we exaggerated). Skyrim has 70. Also we don’t recall seeing obvious copy-and-paste NPC faces everywhere.
We asked for better-looking women. Hmmm. We guess they look a bit better? They’re not quite the horror-beasts from Oblivion, but we had a difficult time making our female character into anything other than a geriatric recovering bulimic. We guess the excuse could be that the cold north is not kind to youthful flesh.
We asked for better (or no) encumbrance. Erm, we had a problem with the encumbrance in Skyrim for a good portion of the game, but it’s because we were being stupid. Granted, the game doesn’t do a good job of informing you that you can have a follower NPC carry stuff for you (essentially doubling your encumbrance), but perhaps we should have figured it out. Regardless, you’ll learn to hate dragon bones, because damn those things are heavy and yet valuable, so get ready to drop crap all around every dragon corpse you encounter.
We asked for pallet-swapping of armor. Not important, but we wanted to customize our character’s look. We didn’t see anything of the sort in Skyrim, but then we didn’t skill up the Smithing path where you create your own weapons and armor.
We asked for a better map. Functionally, there’s basically no improvement. You still have to memorize which cities the guilds and your houses are in, and everything just has an icon with a name on it. The map is in pretty 3D now, so thanks, we guess.
We asked for a smaller world (or more level designers). Ah, now we’re getting to the good stuff. Bethesda knew that Oblivion’s copy-paste dungeons got boring, but they did the better solution – instead of making fewer total dungeons, they made just as big of a world… and somehow made every dungeon we encountered unique. We don’t know for sure the game has no copy-paste dungeon design, but we never saw it. Hell, we wandered into random dungeons and encountered puzzles and designed boss encounters. This improvement is the single best thing Bethesda did with Skryim, because that huge world you see truly is huge - you can wander and discover and find delight and wonder at every turn. Bravo, Bethesda, we salute your dedication (and feel sorry for your level designers, who must have busted their asses).
Finally, we asked for a bit less crashing. Believe it or not… they did it. The game did crash on us, but it was exactly five times over perhaps 50 hours of play (on Xbox 360). Compared to Oblivion’s crashing it’s a vast, vast improvement. Oblivion was guaranteed to crash in any three-hour play session, whereas Skyrim ran crash-free during eight-hour marathons. Note that there’s a day one patch that’s supposed to address stability, but then the game froze on us not one hour after installing the patch, so yeah. Also, on PC the game pretty much did what Oblivion did: crash every few hours. Such is the life of a PC gamer, though, and not every PC will have this problem.
On the next page, the verdict!
Nov 11 2011 (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
|Expected release date:||
11/11/11 (Xbox 360) 11/11/11 (PC) 11/11/11 (PS3)
|Available Platforms:||Xbox 360, PC, PS3|
|Franchise:||The Elder Scrolls|
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol
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