When I got tired yesterday, I decided that it's probably about 11 pm and time to go to bed. It was 3 am.
First let me say that Skyrim is a great game and you should buy it now. It is the only AAA-RPG on the market with a focus on exploration. The nature is very beautiful and you will find yourself playing and forgetting time while you become the leader of the mages' guild, or the fighters' guild or the thiefes' guild or the Dark Brotherhood, or any other. The options are vast.
That having said, Skyrim is 100% an Elder Scrolls game. The incentives to optimize the fun out of it are huge. Immersion seems to be the strong part at first, but at second glance not so. It sometimes feels like Bethesda created a huge and beautiful fantasy land, added a quest to every NPC and then tacked some gameplay to it. Blizzard would probably consider this gameplay a failed alpha.
For me, personally, it is a huge disappointment that for some obscure reason Bethesda seems unable or unwilling to iterate on the gameplay of the TES series.
I usually like to play a mage in games. This was never the strong part of the TES series, but this time I can dual-cast spells. So I figured I should try that. That was a mistake. The mage gameplay works like this:
- You run towards an enemy and activate ice/shock/fire spray by keeping both mouse buttons pressed until he is dead. If you run out of mana before he runs out of hp, you run away for about 30 seconds (you are always faster) while your mana recharges. If you run out of hp you switch to healing spells and heal up. Of course, this way you run out of mana much faster and need to run away more often to recharge.
- Alternatively, you 'shoot' a magic missile. The advantage is that you don't need to run into melee range. The disadvantage is that the entire challenge consists of holding both mouse buttons pressed and releasing them in such a way that the missile (that has a traveling time) hits the enemy, who often strafes. If you run out of mana you run away to recharge.
- Alternatively, you shoot an area of effect spell, like a fireball. Works like a missile, but is easier to aim due to aoe. They also cost much more mana. If you run oom you run away to recharge.
- Alternatively, you place a fire/ice/shock rune on the ground. Enemies are stupid enough to run into these if they are between you and them. If you run oom you run away to recharge.
Now, fire spells do more damage than the others, ice spells also do stamina damage. Stamina is important for fighters. Shock spells also drain mana. Since you have no idea how much stamina/mana your enemy has, this can either be a smart move or not so. Draining mages off mana is usually not worth it, as they are pretty effective in melee against an unarmored mage.
The main challenge is to kill an enemy with as little running away to recharge as possible. Therefore you want to go for dmg/mana and that means fire spells.
You have a lot of spells. But don't think that pressing a button on your keyboard activates them. Consoles have no keyboards! Instead, you mark some spells as favorites (as many as you want). These favorites can be accessed by pressing 'Q'. This stops time and opens up a menu which you scroll through with the mousewheel to select which spell your right hand/left hand (left/right mouse button) fires.
For somebody who has played modern MMOs for quite some time, this seems to be the most cumbersome idea ever; especially considering that gameplay is otherwise quite fast. Pressing 'Q' is like having a pit stop every 10 seconds.
Thanks, console players. Also thanks for the low resolution textures *sigh*.
To increase your skills you use them. You gain a level every 10 skill points. This is the moment you select one of many, many perks that are talents in talent trees. Every skill has one talent tree. Many perks seem a bit uninspired, but overall this is quite fun. Since a character in Skyrim never stops leveling it provides interesting decisions. Talent trees in games become bad at 'choices' only after you stop leveling. And there is no way in Skyrim to max out all the talent trees unless you are insane in the membrane.
Most enemies gain levels as you do. Since you don't even see any numbers in combat, the fact that you do more damage with higher skills is completely lost on you and could just as well have been skipped. You usually do reasonable damage compared to the enemies' health bars - good.
Now, I like the basic idea of gaining skills while using them for immersion reasons. But it creates incredibly strong incentives to be gamed. For example, I pushed my illusion skill to 50/100 by simply recasting a pointless illusion spell while I was running around. That made me raise in level and made the auto-adjusting mobs harder. Unfortunately illusion spells don't really help me at fighting. Ok, theoretically I could use them to charm/fear mobs. But practically, pressing 'Q' and stuff is too cumbersome to be fun and you need the mana to actually kill your enemies. Casting illusion spells might be useful for super-challenging fights against many mobs. But super-challenging fight means super-much running away to recharge mana. No thanks.
At the end of the day, I became higher level but not more powerful at fighting. Relative to the mobs I became weaker as I leveled.
Sneaking works the same. To skill sneaking, you find some guys who don't see you and .. sneak. Find some weight for the 'w' key and come back a few hours later with maxed out sneaking and 8 levels gained. The 8 levels gained, make the game much harder, of course. To raise healing spells you find some enemy who shoots at you and then heal, heal, heal ...
Wrong incentives at Wall Street are harmless compared to this.
Now, one could point out that the immersion is worth it. After all it makes sense to become better at stuff as you do it. But immersion is not the reason for this. How do I know? Because I can run around at -20°C in one of the worst snow storms the world has ever seen without wearing winter clothes. And all the NPCs don't care about the weather, either. You can have relaxed chats with pretty women with few clothes and not so pretty men with even less clothes inside winter's hell and nobody seems to think that it's actually cold.
The winter in this game feels like plastic. Yeah, it's white and the wind is loud. But having just swum through the ice sea (at cruise speed) wearing nothing but my mage robe, I can tell you: It's not cold in Skyrim; not even after emerging from the salty ocean with those many floating sheets of ice. The wind is loud and dries my wet body. It should feel like -60°C and be fatally dangerous. But by character acts as if it's comfortably warm.
Please don't tell me giving the NPCs some pelts would have been too much work in a game that is all about Skyrim - a place of permanent winter! I can understand that tracks in the snow are missing for technical reasons. I can also understand that ice is not glitchy and snow never deep, because some players wouldn't like that. But simple winter apparel for me and NPCs? No, I can't understand that.
One thing that is probably contentious is the vast amount of quests. You can't talk to anyone without getting yet another quest in this game. After my journal was full of entries that didn't mean nothing to me, I decided to stop talking to any NPC until I had worked through these. Didn't really work as every merchant that I wanted to sell goods to somehow had yet one more quest.
A lot of content is good. Being overwhelmed by quests is not. This is not WoW where gigantic quest hubs arguably work (because quests are just roadsigns in MMOs). Is there really no way to ensure that I can do quests one after the other? I already find myself working off the to-do list without even knowing why I am here and what I am doing and why I am killing these people!
The fact that you move at lighting speed completely kills any tension when you enter a hall in a dungeon. If you press 'w' a second too long you're already half way through the huge hall. It feels more like Quake Deatchmatch than like crossing a hall.
But what is really annoying is that the quests always send you as far away as possible. This makes use of fast travel (teleport) indispensable. There is no feeling of locality, because the game assumes that the entire (huge) gameworld is not a mystical, large fantasy land for you, but rather your own personal sandbox were you jump from one place to the next. Why do you create a huge landscape if, the next second, you sabotage the feeling of locality by requiring players to teleport around in it?
Note I am not so much critisizing that you can teleport, but that the game is designed in a way that you practically have to.
The game has a few riddles. These can be annoying but are easy to figure out as soon as you understood how stupid they are. Stupid, because only madmen would create a door that is locked by a key and a combination of runes. ... And the correct combination is engraved on the key! /facepalm
Even better: require the poor soul who wants to open your gate to rotate stones which have runes engraved. The gate opens if he finds the correct combination. And then you attach big drawings of the correct rune right behind the rotating stones! /megafacepalm !!
I won't waste much time on the bugs of which there are always plenty in TES games. But let me say that NPCs' feet should get a little bit more work. Characters often don't seem to actually stand on their feet. If it's technically too demanding, the guys who did the motion capturing should have been told to keep their feet as still as possible. Then, I had to temporarily reduce graphics quality to ultra-low so that the game doesn't crash during one quest. And my favorite bug so far was the one which quadrupled my mana regeneration. I had to use a console command to fix this as restarting did nothing.
What I really don't understand is that the majority of these problems have existed since TES: Arena and Daggerfall! It's not like Bethesda has no experience. Apparently they like the game the way it is. Well, I like it enough to buy it. But I can assure Bethesda that they could sell many more copies if they addressed some of these problems. Take a glance at Blizzard to see what good gameplay does to your wallet!
Skyrim is worth buying, because it is the only exploration-focused AAA-RPG on the market (for whatever reason), has very beautiful landscapes and massive amount of 'content' in the form of quests. Unfortunately Bethesda forgot to actually create an engaging gameplay, wants to cater to console players and doesn't seem to care about their one true strength that could make up for all the problems: immersion (I'm in Skyrim and the snowstorms are comfortably warm).