Bozzley

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

FUS RO DAH!

Steam says I’ve put 70ish hours into Skyrim (across two save games, cos the first one went when I had to rebuild my PC after 10 hours play). I’m inclined to believe it.

For Skyrim, Bethesda have made a user interface that is tailored to the consoles. No doubt they playtested Oblivion to, er, oblivion, and detested whatever the inventory and all that was like. I do have Oblivion on the 360 somewhere, but I hated it and stopped playing after a few days. Can’t remember what the user interface was like, but it must have been real shitty. I’m playing Skyrim on the PC, but I can imagine how quick and easy most of the interface must be with two control sticks. PCs, of course, have a keyboard and mouse. Bethesda have tried to adapt the console stuff to the PC, and it almost works. There’s niggling stuff like the menus not picking up on mouse clicks. Kind of a problem, really. Doesn’t happen all of the time, but it happens often enough. There’s also the reliance on the scroll wheel to constantly flick up and down the massive inventory list. You get used to it, but you shouldn’t have to. Even Excel has fucking scroll bars.

With all that said, there’s a fundamental problem with the UI that applies to both PC and consoles. It doesn’t tell you the stuff you need to know. There’s no easy way of comparing one bit of armour with another. You have to flick between the two and do the math. Computers were invented to prevent idiots like me from having to add things up, for fucks sake! You shouldn’t be expected to memorise the stats of all your armour and weapons to determine what to pick up and what to leave behind.

And this is where I feel sorry for my console peeps. PCs support mods that do wonderful things; they increase the graphics far beyond the standard game with higher resolution textures, they add new graphics shaders so that everything glows beautifully, they can add new textures for the mining ores so you can actually see the bastards, and….. they can make the inventory useable. I’d been using the QD Inventory mod, but this has just been replaced by the SkyUI mod, and it is a thing of awesomeness. Puts your shit in a nice, concise, easy to read table, adds filters and a search text box so you can find your shit quickly and easily, and adds a bit more info to each item so you can make your decisions that little bit quicker.

So, now that I’ve covered that the mods for Skyrim are pretty much mandatory on the PC, what’s the game actually fucking like? Is it better than Fallout 3? Is it better than, eek, Morrowind?

Kind of. Oof, that was a lame cop out! I shall explain.

What I loved about Morrowind was that the game world was fucking weird. Almost alien. Most of the appeal lay in the fact that you would turn a corner, or climb over the top of a mountain, and you genuinely had no idea as to what to expect to see. For me, nothing clarifies this more than the trek through the desert I made, sand storm blowing in my face, couldn’t see shit, until it cleared and I was stood in front of a town made in the hollowed-out shell of a massive fucking huge crab, with stalls and shops and houses around the outside of it. A proper, “holy fuck!” moment. Morrowind had plenty of them.

Skyrim has some too. The map is generally based on Scandinavian land, so most of it is covered in snow, and there’s mountains all over the place, but getting on a horse and going for a nosey will turn up some unexpected odds and ends (the first time a statue started speaking to me, I almost shat myself). It’s a beautiful game (made even beautifuller with the afore-mentioned mods installed), plenty of eye candy, and you want to go on a massive trek across the place. What stops you from doing this is (I think, I couldn’t tell from a Google search, but I am on painkillers, so forgive me for being dense) on the front cover of the game, the dragons. The fucking cunty bastard dragons. Yes, you can avoid them by diverting from the main quest as soon as the game lets you. I know this. But I wanted to fight a fucking dragon, so I did it. What I didn’t expect was the game to get bored with me every ten minutes and throw a very angry dragon at me (OK, it’s not ten minutes, it’s every hour or three, but I’m exaggerating, cos that’s what I do). The dragons are essentially boss characters; in every other game, you pretty much know when you’re about to fight a boss and can prepare accordingly, in Skyrim the cunts jump down at you from above and start twatting at you with fire or claws, you’ve generally got no chance. This can be frustrating, and curbs any thoughts of going on a massive cross-country trek you may have had. Using the fast travel mechanism lets you bypass some of the dragons (or at least stalls their appearance), but that prevents you from tooling around outside and finding shit.

However, that criticism isn’t exactly fair. I’m playing mostly as a sneaky thief bastard; I got my Thieves Guild armour on, I’m fairly deadly with a bow and arrow so long as I can get a few sneak shots in, and I’ve got an enchanted sword and an elven shield for when things get up close and personal (and that enchanted sword happens to be a massive samurai sword that steals the souls of my victims, which is pretty fucking awesome). As you may have gathered, I’m all about skulking in the shadows, sneaking around, unseen, ready to snipe from afar or backstab if I can get in close enough. This style of play is not compatible with having the occasional size-of-a-small-house dragon on the horizon aiming straight at me whenever I step outside. My first character was a heavily armoured warrior of death; enemies could hear him coming a mile away, but if they didn’t run in the opposite direction they would get cleaved in twain. For dragons, he’d be all about the frost and fire spells, and when the dragon presented a suitable side, he’d run in with his fucking huge sword chopping wings off and shit. He could eat dragons for fun. Sneaky thief, not so much. And god knows how a magic-only dude would do it. They don’t get any armour at all, only flimsy robes that give them mental magic skillz. I think they can buff themselves up to fuck, but who wants to do that when a dragon is already trying to eat your face?

Having said all that, I still get a thrill out of encountering a dragon. I might have to reload a few more times than usual, but I’ve stopped trying to get away from them now. They are always doable, I just need to work out how. Some of them can be glitched (unintentionally; I’ve seen one get stuck on a tree, so I spent ten minutes planting arrows into its face from afar, easy kill), some of them are more susceptible to certain attacks than others (although I might be imagining this, cos it feels like no matter what I do they always take ten minutes to put down), and some of them unwittingly bring along half the population of Skyrim with them (which can lead to the comedy of being chased by some baddies and bears, while a dragon flames them from behind for you).

So now you’ve read about the dragons, what else is there? Fucking tons, that’s what. You rarely get bored of trekking round Scandiskyrimnavia, cos there’s usually something pretty round a corner. I saw some mountains this morning. Literally went around a corner, and saw some mountains. Mountains that were fucking massive (although, what with them being mountains, you may have deduced this for yourself, for which I apologise), and topped with them fluffy clouds what hang around the tops of mountains. They were gorgeous. Spectacular. I went “ooh”. And then I went looking for something equally gorgeous. And found something ten minutes later. It’s that kind of game; there’s usually something different or nice to look at or dragon-shaped and angry every ten minutes.

And if you don’t want to be a tourist, the game will provide ample quests to structure your explorations. These can range from the banal (“find me this book”) to the epic (“kill that fucking nasty dragon bastard”), and they’re generally of a high standard of presentation and reward. There’s one I found by reading a book (in the game) about some dude called Red Eagle; once I’d read the book, the game says “go find Red Eagle’s tomb”, so I did, and then I got his sword, and then it went a bit Raiders of the Lost Ark, and then I had to fight the zombified Red Eagle himself (along with his skeleton buddies), and I got some soul gems and an enchanted sword as a result. All from reading a fucking book! In a game! But that was a small quest; at the moment I’ve only gone near the Thieves Guild and Companions (kind of like the Fighters Guild from the previous games) factions, but they’ve both got a much more interesting storyline than in previous games. So interesting, in fact, that you stop seeing their quests as chores to tick off a list and you do them cos you genuinely want to see how it all pans out, you want to know whether you can genuinely affect their eventual outcome.

And now that I’ve put another 10 hours in (since I wrote the above, like), I can tell you, you genuinely can affect their eventual outcome. Well, the Thieves Guild, anyways. (Sidenote – there’s a lovely bit in the Thieves Guild quest lines that explains exactly why the Master level locks can still be picked. Cos if you’re not good enough at picking Master level locks, common sense would dictate you need to learn the skill to do it, but in this game, you can pick them right from the start. It’ll take you ages and a fuckton of lockpicks, but you can do it. The point being, this could be one of them quirks that a game this size is bound to have, and you’d probably not even think twice about it. Bethesda have noticed it ahead of us, and thought about it, and then made an in-game reason as to why you can do it. A reason which makes sense and fits in with the mechanics of the world and plot. And I’ll bet no-one else went “ooh fuck that’s clever!” when they were told why, cos I’m sure I’m the only idiot that spent a whole two seconds thinking about it, but I noticed it and I thought it was a brilliant touch. Well done, Bethesda writer peoples. Anyways, sidenote over). The Thieves Guild questline can go several ways depending on how you want to play. Do you believe in the “honour among thieves” that most of the guild believe in? Or do you want to fuck them over and get all their loots? And there’s at least two other ways of doing it that I’m not going to spoil here. It’s a brilliant questline. It has twists and turns, and it goes to places you’d never think it would go near. Then again, Oblivion might have done a bit of what happens in Skyrim, but I didn’t play it, so to me it was amazing and original and a big surprise.

I’m going to skip the main questline, because I kind of have in the game. I’ve done some of it, and I’ve got Max Von Sydow on my side, and that’s as far as I’ve taken it for now. Instead, I’ll tell you about the other quests, the ones that are small and generally self-contained, and are labelled Miscellaneous in your quest log. Most of these are entertaining too. Most of them are fetch quests, but they make you fetch interesting things from interesting places. And there’s billions of ’em. I know the game engine makes some up as it goes along (not all of them are scripted), but they’re done so well that I’d have trouble pointing them out to you. Maybe the ones about finding certain books for people? Dunno. There’s very few quests that have actively pissed me off, unlike my beloved Morrowind (some of the quests were decent, most of them were utterly shite, and a few were just broken).

And finally, I’ll get to the heart of the matter. What is it like to play? Well, if you’re used to Oblivion or Morrowind, prepare for a shock. Ready? It’s actually enjoyable to switch between magic, melee and shooting on the fly. Once you’ve filled your favourites menu with your preferred weapons, spells and shouts, you can pretty much throw yourself into any fight and toggle between anything with a click. The game also rewards you for using your spells and weapons by unlocking CoD-style perks which can be bought (one new perk per level). For example, using a bow and arrows enough will level up your Archery skill, allowing you to buy perks such as adding a zoom function (handy for sniping), adding a slow-down-time function to your zoom function (handy for accurately sniping moving targets) or tripling the amount of damage an arrow does if you are hidden from view (handy for being a ninja death machine). Bethesda have finally got this so, so right; the game recognises your preferred play style, and rewards you accordingly. With Morrowind (and even Oblivion), I’d pick out my character stats at the start, then find whichever murdering method was skilled up the most, and then stick with it. Using any of the others would be utterly ineffectual and would take hundreds of valuable level up points to make anywhere near useable. So I’d spend my entire playing time hitting things with one type of sword, which gets boring. With Skyrim, not only can I be halfway decent with anything (or indeed everything) in a short space of time, but I can properly perk up everything in turn too, so I’m equally good at everything to be as flexible as possible. Or (and this is precisely what I did) I can get an unexpected hard-on for archery and perk the bastard right up, so now I’m lethal from twenty paces, but I’m not too bad with a sword or spells either. I’ve typed enough, let’s sum this fucker up and go home.

It doesn’t take Einstein to work out that the default UI that Skyrim has is utterly fucking useless. And you do spend a lot of time messing around in it. And this does affect how long it takes you to start liking the game, cos it’s quite a hurdle to get over. The PC UI mods take some of the sting out of this one big, fat, glaring criticism, but for anyone who doesn’t have the mod or is playing on the consoles, the criticism stands. This is a massive shame, because Skyrim is a fucking belter of a game. It’s gorgeous (with mods), it’s a blast to play (run in swinging, snipe from afar, or get the blast spells out; however you start a fight, you’ll be grinning by the time it’s over), it’s huge (about the size of the orginal Xbox), it’s awesome. It’s just as good as Morrowind. In fact, and I’m surprised I’m typing this; it’s even better than Morrowind.

(and just to satisfy my own curiosity, I re-installed Morrowind and the 2009 Complete Mod Collection the other day. Had a quick burn around the place. I think Morrowind feels more dangerous and interesting because it is a game world that is massively diverse and original. Skyrim, although both interesting and dangerous, doesn’t feel as much of either because everyone has seen a dragon in some kind of media at some point in their lives, and everyone has at least heard of Scandinavia, which takes some of the surprise out of seeing snow in the game. Also, something Morrowind got perfectly right which Skyrim kinda touches on but then drops like it is heated, is that your choice of race at the start affects how everyone reacts to you. Pick an elf in Morrowind, and the guards in Balmora will be all “state your business, outlander”, like they want to hurt you. Elsewhere, some people won’t even talk to you if you’re not one of their favoured races. In Skyrim, Ulfric Stormcloak and his buddies will be ranting about how they want to drive all the other races out of Skyrim, to you, even if you’ve chosen to be an elf, which I have, and then he’ll ask you to join his Stormcloaks to rid Skyrim of the corrupting influence of outlanders, of which I most definitely and obviously am one. I get how Bethesda is trying to make the point “Stormcloaks might be right, but they’re also dirty murdering racist fucks” and “The Empire might be wrong, but at least they’re not dirty murdering racist fucks”, but then it renders having to pick a side redundant because it doesn’t really matter to either side anyway really. Unless this is a comment on how the BNP have to let people in who aren’t necessarily white, in which case it is genius.)

(and just to satisfy the remaining chunk of curiosity I have, I’ve bought Oblivion on the PC and modded it to fuck too. I’ll have a wander round there and see if my thoughts on it have changed. And I’ve put a mod or two in there that gets rid of the “the whole world levels with you” thing, so that’s good.)

7 Comments

    Because of the lack of levelling the Dragons become a piece of piss later on, 3-5 arrows from my bow sorts them out in no time but if they do feel brave enough to land the chopper comes out and dragon goes bye bye. I’ve put about 110 hours in now and have done most of the major questlines (level 54 I think). There are much worse things than dragons waiting for you in Skyrim 🙂

    I prefered Oblivion except for that one emormous flaw of the whole levelling thing. If there’s a mod to do away with that then I might just invest in the PC version.

    Oh yeah, you were right about my Steam account.

  • Forgot, I’ve just started playing Pirates again, now that’s a real game from a much more civilised age.

  • Hey boy! I guess you’re playing the 360 version of Skyrim? Or just not going online with the PC one via Steam?

    I’ve had several run-ins with them bastard giants and mammoths, and they’ve killed me every time. Although I did kill a single giant the other day, was quite chuffed with that one. Just started the Stormcloak missions, they’re pretty mental. Still loving the game.

    Oblivion levelling mods and more for PC (you’ll be wanting Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul at the very least): http://www.pcgamer.com/2010/07/16/ten-essential-oblivion-mods/

    Pirates? As in Sid Meier’s Pirates from the 80s? Or the 2000 remake? Haven’t played the older Pirates game in donkeys years, always loved it. Although The Wager has been a decent, quick, free alternative: http://www.surprisedman.co.uk/the-wager/

    Can you get into your Steam account now? What game do you want? I want to get you something for sorting out this here blog, thought a game would be the ideal gift 🙂

  • To be honest I struggle with PC gaming so tend to get everything for the Xbox first then if I think it fits the PC better go from there. For Skyrim I’ll be sticking to the Xbox 🙂

    The steam account is up and running, do you know how to link it to an xbox gamer tag? I’ve finally got my laptop mobile so might be doing a bit more PC gaming from now on (a bit, you only get about an hours battery life out of an Alienware…never again), anything is better than the girls Strictly Come Singing Super X Star shite TV. Don’t worry about getting me anything, twas a pleasure to get you back in the land of the blog.

  • I’ve sent you a gift in Steam, one that’s not on the Xbox, and it’s pretty decent. Quality when playing in co-op.

    Dunno what you mean by linking an Xbox account to a Steam account. You can get something like Xfire or Raptr which are chat clients that hook into both Steam chat and Xbox Live chat, so you can talk to people on both systems at the same time. Other than that, fuck knows 🙂

  • […] my first brain-squit about Skyrim, I’ve kept on playing it. In fact, I’ve not played anything else for longer than 15 […]

  • I thought there was some way of sharing profiles, but you can’t 🙂 Never mind.

    Cheers for the game, I’ve given it a quick go and enjoyed it once I got my head around mapping the third mouse button to my pad (Alienware Laptops don’t support the third mouse button, wankers). It is right up my street, tower defense and RPG so once I get the time I’ll be hooked.

    I am ill, oooooohhh sooooo ill at at the moment but as soon as I get all my innards serviced I’ll give you a shout and get out for a beer.

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