Thursday, 15 March 2012

Best Games of 2011: Number Three

This is Day 3 in a series. You might want to check out the previous day, or start at the introduction.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

So, this was the most difficult choice. I couldn't decide if Skyrim should get third place or second place. Apparently, I decided that it deserves third. Interesting...

Skyrim was a very difficult game for me to get into. I loved its predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, when it came out in 2006. I bought it on launch day, and played it for hours. Over 110 hours, actually. I couldn't get enough of the massive, vibrant, alive world. There were so many quests, and I had to do them all! And I did. I memorized the towns, and to this day I can still name most of them and put them on a map.

The Dragonborn, standing on a rock, surrounded by mist.
Dovahkiin, Dragonborn!
Skyrim, on the other hand, I didn't like right off the bat. I played it for a little while, but stopped shortly after the introduction. I went on to playing other games. I've been trying to figure out why this is, and I think that I have an answer. The games aren't that different from each other. The basic idea behind both of them is the same. You have the same massive, beautiful landscape full of places to explore and creatures to encounter. They both have many vibrant, populated cities, full of people with stories and quests. No, the change was in me. Back in 2006, I had different expectations and wants from video games. I had just bought my first Xbox 4 months before, and so hadn't played all that many games yet. Oblivion was a new thing to me: complete freedom, with the ability to explore at my own pace. The main story was not the focus, the adventure was. I ate it up.

Now, it is six years later, and I have played many, many more games. My view of RPGs as a whole has changed, due mostly to Bioware. Mass Effect is a completely story driven experience, which is counter to the idea behind The Elder Scrolls series. My favourite game ever, Alan Wake (which the mountains of Colorado are reminding me of right now...) was originally going to be an open world game with freedom, but the developers changed their plan part way through the dev cycle and made it a linear story driven experience. I think that this was a great plan, because it allowed them to set the pacing and directly set the atmosphere and the suspense of the game. Another game that I loved, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, was also a story driven game. Well, actually it was gameplay driven with the story existing to move between set pieces, but the story was good.

All that to say, I have come to appreciate story over any other features of a game. As such, Skyrim does not fit that bill. That is why I hadn't spent all that much time playing it. Over Christmas Break, while I was in England I lent my Xbox and Skyrim to my sister, who spent the entire week playing it. She loved it to death, much like I had done with Oblivion six years ago. Some time in February, I decided to give it another crack, and I ended up far more captivated by the game. I found the quests less boring, the combat more exciting, and the exploring more fulfilling. I'm not sure why. It may have to do with the fact that I had seen many other people playing it and having a good time, so I had realized that I could have a good time too. I'm not entirely sure. All I know is that the game was fun again.

The gameplay is fairly straightforward. You run around doing things, and whatever you do, you gain experience points in that skill. That way, the game will tailor your character to your gameplay style. If you want to be a mage, all you have to do is use magic. If you want to be a warrior, use weapons. You have multiple choices of what weapon classes you want to use, or what schools of magic. It's all fairly standard fantasy stuff, but that's not a bad thing. The camera allows for third person, but it still sucks, so the game is played from a first person perspective.

A screenshot in the first person, with a sword in one hand and a fireball in the other, about to attack a troll.
Gameplay in Skyrim is first-person.
The story is, like I was saying, unimportant. I haven't finished the main quest yet. Or really any of the side quest lines, except for the Collage of Winterhold (Mage's Guild). However, the other questlines are shaping up in pretty interesting ways, so I'm excited to see where they're going. The number of quests that exist is through the roof. I can see that if I try to do them all, I will easily break my record for time spent in Oblivion.

One of the biggest improvements over Oblivion is the menu / inventory system. Instead of having a massive table with all of your info in it, it is condensed into a sleek hub system that is quite intuitive, and fairly quick to navigate. Not always fast, but quite straight forward. They introduced a new way to do the favourites menu, which doesn't have a cap on the number of items that can be placed in it, so the "quick" favourites menu can actually be quite slow to use at times.

A problem that I have with it is the fact that it is a game by Bethesda. They always release games that are full of bugs, so it was quite broken when it was first released. In fact, it is still broken. However, none of the bugs has erased my data or anything yet. Mostly just quirky things that are fun to laugh at.

Skyrim is a massive game. Although it can have a steep learning curve, it seems to be a good game for people who are not casual gamers, but beginners. However, unless your games must be flawless, or you can only play story driven games, I recommend it to everyone.

Full Series

Day 2Number Four
Day 3: Number Three
Day 4Number Two
Day 5Number One

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