Monday, October 1, 2012

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, part 4

As I noted in my previous posts (here, here, and here), I'm really enjoying Skyrim. It's a lovely game with a lot of strange ruins, dungeons, crypts, and other dangerous locations to explore.

But I also have some problems with the direction of gameplay in this Elder Scrolls game. Well, I mentioned some of those previously, but let me give some more examples here.

While I was waiting to upgrade my computer, I watched a lot of YouTube videos about Skyrim, mostly just the very beginning of gameplay, since I didn't want to spoil my own eventual play of the game. (OK, I watched a little more than that in Lumin's videos, since they're so much fun.)

And in every start I saw, the player chose to stick with the Stormcloaks to escape that first dragon (rather than the people who'd just been trying to cut his head off - imagine that). Well, I thought I'd do something different when I started the game, so I stayed with that Imperial soldier, instead.

So what did that choice do for me? Absolutely nothing. It made no difference whatsoever. Everything played out exactly the same way, right down to emerging with a single survivor who - apparently forgetting he was supposed to be an Imperial soldier - headed home to Riverwood, just like the Stormcloak survivor would have done.

In neither case did anyone in that town of less than a dozen people ever miss that other hometown boy who ended up dead in Helgen. So what was the point of giving us such a meaningless choice? Why give players a supposed option (I can hardly consider it a real option), if that decision means absolutely nothing in terms of gameplay or story?

There are other problems with our choices in the game. A couple of times, so far, I've had to help a young woman decide on a suitor, but I've never had any reason to choose one man over the other. I could not learn enough about either of them to make an informed choice, so it was just a matter of picking one of them - either one, since it made no difference.

In Riverwood, right at the start, there are two men - Sven and Faendal - both in love with Camilla Valerius. Both want you to give her a forged letter making the other one look bad. If you speak to one of them, you have the option to give Camilla the letter or to tell her the truth. But if you speak to both of them, you only have that option with the second person who gave you a letter.

In other words, you can never tell Camilla that both of them are acting the same way. You can only choose between the two of them, and the game gives you absolutely no reason to choose one over the other. Furthermore, it makes no difference which one you choose, since it doesn't seem to affect anything.

OK, whichever man you help will offer to join you as a follower, apparently (which seems kind of odd for a man in love). But if you betray one of them, he doesn't hold it against you later - or even seem to notice. And as I say, there seems to be no reason to choose one instead of the other. There's certainly no way to tell which would make the better husband for Camilla.

And that's the same way in Ivarstead, later. For Fastred, the young peasant girl, you can choose between Klimmek and Bassianus. But there seems to be absolutely no reason to choose one over the other, and both will end up the same way, anyway. So what's the point of giving us a choice, if there's no way to discover the best choice (and if neither will make a difference)?

Similarly, I've tried to find a way to fight the Thieves Guild, rather than joining them. I'm role-playing a hero, not a thief (and I'm crazy about Mjoll the Lioness, so why wouldn't I want to help her?). But that doesn't seem to be an option. There are a whole series of quests, and lots of benefits, from joining the Thieves Guild. But although you can skip all that, you can't choose an alternate path. You can't choose to clean up the town, instead. That's really disappointing.

Frankly, there are a lot of different quests in Skyrim, but most boil down to the exact same thing: go to a dungeon, kill everything, and retrieve an item. And, commonly, you are led by the hand the whole way - not just which dungeon, but exactly where in the dungeon the item lies. (Most dungeons are terribly linear, anyway, so you just have to get to the end of it.)

For many quests, this can get completely ridiculous. In Morrowind, when you were tasked with finding a book, you could visit a few bookstores or just keep your eyes open. But in Skyrim, when someone expresses interest in a particular book, you're shown exactly which bandit cave contains the book (bandits are big readers, apparently) and exactly where in the cave that book is lying.

Honestly, it's just embarrassing how this game leads you by the hand. Do modern games really need to be dumbed down to this extent? But also, as I say, this just makes all quests the same. What real difference is there if it's a book you're retrieving, or a sword, or anything else? It all boils down to going somewhere (often, clear across the province, which is frequently annoying enough in itself), killing everything, and getting an object.

Now, you don't necessarily have to kill everything in the dungeon, I suppose. There are quests to kill bandit leaders, but most of the time, to complete a quest, you just need to get an item. But as a practical matter, you need loot. You need the money you get from selling loot. And although you don't gain experience from killing things, exactly, you need combat skills, so you have to practice them (or else get the money for training, which requires loot).

It's a big, beautiful world, with lots of neat places to see, but quests are only an excuse to go from one place to another. It doesn't take long before that starts to seem rather ridiculous. On the other hand, there seems to be a quest to almost everywhere, so it doesn't seem to make much sense to visit dungeons randomly, either. I don't know. I admit that I don't have any real solutions to this.

But the game seems to be dumbed down in other ways, too. I'm playing as a mage, and I've been very disappointed at the selection of spells in Skyrim. What happened to all the great spells from previous Elder Scrolls games? No Unlock, no Mark and Recall, no teleportation spells, no Levitate, no Slowfall, no Feather, no Jump, not even - that I've seen so far - Cure Poison or Cure Disease or Water Walking. Why are we so limited in Skyrim?

Furthermore, the spells we do get aren't useful for very long. So we seem to use the same basic spells for the whole game, even if they're called something different (and require more mana). To survive, you have to advance in skills and perks, but it doesn't seem to be much different than when I started. What we don't have is much variety. Admittedly, I'm not quite to level 30, so I'll probably see additional spells later. But here's how it's been, so far:

In Illusion magic, Fury - which causes an enemy to fight the nearest possible opponent (normally, his own ally) - is very useful at first, but becomes useless very quickly, since it only affects creatures up to level 6. With perks, it's a little better, but I simply couldn't use Illusion magic often enough to increase my skill to get those perks. (I had to buy training, which isn't nearly as much fun.)

The adept spell, Frenzy, does the exact same thing, at a slightly higher level (up to level 14), so as soon as you can cast it, you switch to that. But I've never found a single other Illusion spell to be useful (and, of course, even that spell won't work on bosses, even with perks).

Calm seems to be useless, because I want to kill enemies (and even followers won't attack enemies who aren't attacking us). I've never had a follower run away from a fight, so I don't know why I'd want Courage. And Clairvoyance just seems to duplicate what your compass already shows you. Well, you get the picture. One useful spell in all of Illusion magic.

In Conjuration, I've been able to summon a Flame Atronach for almost the entire game, and nothing else. OK, at very low levels, I summoned a familiar (a ghost wolf) for 60 seconds at a time, but why aren't we given all sorts of summoning options? In effect, we have just one real option at a time. (If that. A Flame Atronach is hardly a reasonable option against another Flame Atronach.) Why is this? Previous Elder Scrolls games gave us far more creatures we could summon.

Early in the game, I could raise a zombie, but first I needed a fresh dead body, the corpse could only be of very low level or the spell wouldn't work, and it would only last for 60 seconds (and couldn't be raised again after that). How could you possibly play this game as a necromancer? And why limit us so severely? What's the point of that? Why not at least let us raise a dead body which would last until it was destroyed in battle? Why not let us raise an army of zombies, as long as we could find the fresh corpses?

And that's not even the worst of it. I haven't found anything useful in Alteration magic, not one spell. I can't believe there's not Water Walking and Water Breathing (not at low levels, at least). Why not? Neither would be particularly useful in Skyrim, but at least I'd feel more like a mage, with a good selection of spells in my spellbook.

Armor spells don't last long enough to bother with, especially since I'm not a melee character anyway. Why waste mana with something like that, when I could just be blasting my enemies with lightning? It would be different if they lasted awhile. And I don't know why the Candlelight spell even exists, since I've never found anywhere in Skyrim - including ancient buried tombs - that wasn't already brightly lit (which is crazy, but there it is).

And then there's Restoration magic. Well, healing is always useful, though rather boring. But no Cure Poison or Cure Disease spells? No Resist Poison? Why not? And when I try to heal my followers, I can't even tell if it's doing anything. (I certainly can't tell if they need healing, but I figure they must.)

Note that warding spells, also in the Restoration category, can't be set. They only function while you're actively casting them. And since they drain your mana, without damaging the enemy at all, why would you? I really don't understand the point of that. If we could set wards for even a limited amount of time, they might be useful.

I've never bothered with Repel Undead, either, since it only works on low-level enemies, and it doesn't kill undead, which is, you know, the whole point. It just makes them run away, briefly. So why do that, when I could be using a Destruction spell? On the other hand, if Restoration magic included a targeted spell to kill undead, that would be useful (and could have a unique visual effect, too).

OK, I'm not saying that some of these wouldn't be useful in particular circumstances. But in general, I have a bare handful of spells I can actually use. Most of them, of course, are Destruction spells. But again, you pretty much have the choice of using fire, cold, or electricity, and that's it. You use low-level spells until they become useless (or until you can reasonably cast higher level ones). But all fire spells look about the same and don't seem much different. And I could cast fire right from the start.

Now, I don't have any real trouble killing enemies, not with Lydia, or Iona, or Mjoll the Lioness backing me up. But I'm still disappointed in the variety of spells I have available. And that means I basically use the same tactics over and over again. Wouldn't it be nice to have a variety of options? (True, I can always start the game again as an archer or a melee fighter, if I want.)

Furthermore, nearly all of Skyrim's dungeons seem very linear, and the lack of spells doesn't help that any. Without Levitate or Jump, I can't get to a perch high above the ground. I can't even get to the top level of some shelves! I can't swim for long underwater, and I can't cast spells underwater anyway. (Why not?) My limited options force me into a linear path where Bethesda game designers want me to go, and I hate that. I want to choose my own path!

I don't know why they did this, but Skyrim just seems rather... dumbed down. We are led by the hand in quests. We are given a limited selection of spells. (I still miss Athletics and Acrobatics skills, too, but maybe I'm being picky now.) We are allowed to wander around a lovely world, but we're not required - or even encouraged - to think. I can't even manage my followers very well. I can't give them detailed directions, or even directions at all, not really.

I'm having fun with the game, but I'm still a bit disappointed with it. I'm disappointed in the direction they've gone with the Elder Scrolls games. Pretty graphics is nice, it really is. But I wanted more than that.

I don't want to sound too critical. I am enjoying the game, after all. And as I said in my previous post, there are a lot of things I could change with mods. Certainly, there are mods which seem to add greatly to the spell selection (though I haven't tried them yet). I've been very happy with the mods I've tried so far.

But I want to take it easy with mods. I really don't want to ruin the game. And I'd like to see what the vanilla game has to offer, first. Besides, quite frankly, my expectations are usually too high when it comes to games. Or maybe my preferences just aren't shared by the majority. I can still enjoy a game, even when it's not exactly what I'd like to see.

And I am enjoying Skyrim.

PS. That's Mjoll the Lioness in the screenshot above (with the dragon skeleton). She really is a lovely woman, but she looks kind of dumpy in that armor, doesn't she. Maybe I should try one of these armor mods after all. :)


Chimeradave said...

I could nitpick your post and I will a little bit, but mostly I'll say, you are right Skyrim does have many problems and shortcomings, but it is still a lot of fun, right?

Out of all the magic only Destruction magic is very useful. Neromancy is useless, Flame and Ice atronach are cool, but you can't make a career out of using them. Illusion has the silent casting, but it is hard to get to. And if you level up Illusion too quick by sitting and calming a horse over and over you'll end up making all enemies too hard to easily handle. Alteration has one good spell, transmuting iron ore to silver and gold.

There is a small difference if you choose to follow the imperial or the rebel at the beginning of the game, I think it is the imperial who is friends with the blacksmith in Riverwood and if he is your friend you can use his forge area to store your stuff until you can buy a house. When I was doing lots of blacksmith stuff I would leave all kinds of stuff there.

It might not matter which suitor you pick for Camilla, but you could always marry her yourself!

You can't fight the Thieves guild but you can kill the leader of the Assassins instead of joining them.

I played on the PS3 so I can't get any of the cool mods you can on PC.

It is true there isn't a large variety of enemies, but you can up the difficulty if you think it's too easy, this changes the enemies around a little, like a wolf will become a bear or a bear will become a saber tooth tiger depending on the difficulty setting.

If you want more freedom just start going in random caves, sometimes you find enemies way too difficult for you and sometimes you find nothing much.

Have you made it to the underground world below the Dwemer ruins? It's is a site to see.

I haven't played the game in months but wince you've been talking about it i've been getting the itch and my friend came over this weekend and I hung out and watched him play for a while last night, so I think I might pick it up again.

I love all the side stuff, I could just enchant items and forge stuff and make potions and kill enemies for soul gems and level up for hours without doing real missions.

WCG said...

John, didn't you say that you hadn't played any of the other Elder Scrolls games? The thing is, most of what Skyrim does well was taken from the previous games. I don't comment as much about those things, because I expect them from Elder Scrolls games (and, yes, I've loved them all).

On the other hand, there are things which are missing - or just limited - from what were in earlier games. (And there are some features which I was hoping a more advanced game would incorporate.)

I wouldn't expect you to feel the same way if you've only played Skyrim, or even if you'd only played the last couple of games. And you probably wouldn't feel this way if you played the earlier games now, either, because game technology has really advanced. (Arena and Daggerfall have been released for free download, but it's just not the same as when they were new.)

But I played each of these games, one at a time, as they were developed. And I've had huge expectations of each new game, because the earlier games were just so good. I just expect a lot from Elder Scrolls games.

And yes, I'm having fun. The game difficulty is just right for me. I have trouble with some bosses, but that's as it should be. As I say, I want more diversity (in spells, too), not a harder game.

And instead of going inside random caves, I just do random quests, which ends up as the exact same thing. (If nothing else, I just ask for a quest to kill a bandit leader.)

As far as spells go, there are useful perks in all of the spell skills, but the spells themselves aren't always useful. (As a mage, I'm not skilled in Smithing, so transmuting iron ore isn't useful to me.)

You're missing out on the mods, though. I haven't added any major mods, but I've got six of them installed now. One keeps horses from joining a fight (although I'm not finding horses useful at all, since I can't fight on horseback). Another one keeps followers from tripping traps, because you can't point out traps, guide a follower around them, or even set something on them (not very easily).

Oh, and I'm loving my new pet dog, Meeko. He doesn't replace a follower, which is nice. And I've taken him into some really, really tough battles, but he's survived surprisingly well, so far.

Chimeradave said...

Yes, Skyrim is the first Elder Scrolls game I've played.

And I do feel like I'm missing out on these mods the more I hear about them. Also my friend told me the controls are more customizable on the PC. For instance you have to pause the game to change spells on the PS3 but I heard on the PC you can hot-key it.

And if you want a good way to make money getting the transmute Iron to Silver and Gold spell is a great way. What I did was I'd make the gold or silver jewelry and then I'd enchant the Jewelry, this makes it worth a lot more when you sell it. And it builds lots of skills, smithing, speech, enchanting, and alteration. And you don't have to be a skilled smith, making jewelry is a skill you have at the beginning of the game as far as I know.

WCG said...

Yes, John, I can hotkey eight different spells, at least. I wish there were a few more, but it would really be a pain to play a mage without that, I'd think!

Thanks for the tip about making jewelry. I don't need the money, but it wouldn't hurt to improve my enchanting skills. But it's hard for me to fill soul gems, since the spell has such a short range (I can't cast it before the fight begins).

When I played an archer in earlier games, I just enchanted a bow with the spell. But maybe I can find a mod which will improve the soul trap spell a bit. :)

Chimeradave said...

Yeah that's what I did I enchanted the bow with that spell and used it with sneak.

when I was doing assassin things I had a knife with soul trap. I got so strong I could kill a giant or mammoth in one slash if I could sneak up on them.

WCG said...

I saw that you could get a perk to do, what, 16 times the normal damage when backstabbing with a dagger? That would be neat, John.

And I suppose I'd try that if I started a new game as an archer (mostly using my bow, but trying a dagger sometimes). However, I'm really happy with my mage. I still think that was a great choice for a character.

Chimeradave said...

Yeah I think there are two perk that add up to 15x, I think and then when you join the Assassins they give you these gloved that double the damage for sneak attacks with daggers so it's 30x total, I think.

If I sneak attack with a sword or the bow I get 3x. Only really strong enemies don't die in one shot with my arrows.