Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why you should play Skyrim

In recent posts I pointed out what I don't like about Skyrim. It is much more difficult to point out why I love it.

Words are insufficient to explain why Skyrim is probably the best single-player RPG of the last decade. It's obviously not the gameplay. Nor is it not the character power progression mechanic. Instead, it's the atmosphere. I tried to capture this atmosphere with a few youtube videos.

First, the dialogues. This dialogue is nothing special. All NPCs in Skyrim have voice acting and I have yet to meet a bad one. If you like to skip dialogues like this one, I can't help you.

More important, however, is the landscape. Every single mountain, city and castle you can see on the horizon really exists in the gameworld. In this video I try to reach one castle that I saw from afar. Remember that this is youtube quality.

This very short video demonstrates the intelligent use of graphical effects. This is a mage with an activated spell. If something is big and bright in Skyrim it is really dangerous. No unnecessary sparkle when you buff yourself. Thanks Bethesda.

If you thought Skyrim has only snow, you're wrong. While all areas in Skyrim are cold, some are at about 0°C. This one has lots of fog in the morning.

Of course, all these areas are available at all times of the day and with different kinds of weather. It's not always snowing or windy.

If you miss out on Skyrim, you miss out on the best single player RGP I have played in a very long time.


  1. A decade is a long time.

    Mass Effect 1&2, Diablo 2, Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur's Gate 2, Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy X, Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights, The Witcher, and so on.

    My question to you, since gameplay and progression are irrelevant, is how Skyrim differs from Bethesda's Fallout in terms of immersion. Is it simply that you prefer non post-Apocalyptic settings? I definitively remember seeing a ruined power plant off in the distance and then setting out to explore it in Fallout 3, for instance.

    My other question is... if gameplay can be brushed aside, why even bother with RPGs? Have you played ICO, for instance? Is it that RPGs are simply bigger than most games in other genres on average?

  2. This is one of those rare, but good, occassions where I am in total agreement with Azuriel. You'e basically said that Skyrim isn't good because it's fun, it's good because it's got a great looking world.

    Only a previous TES fan could make such a statement. I think you've lost your objectivity on this, and more so than usual. Skyrim is a good game, but no different than the last 2 games in the TES series and in fact exactly like them with minor flavor changes.

    So basically, people looking for great wallpaper should buy this? And I don't think even for a moment this is the best RPG of the decade or even of the last 5 years. Not even. You'll have to do a better job making the case this time around.

  3. I can't give reasons beyond what I have already done, Azuriel, Doone. This is how I feel. Story-focused RPGs can't compete with an open world.

    @Azuriel, Fallout and Fallout:NV were good, but I like Skyrim more. Maybe because Fallout is all a brown nuclear wasteland. I certainly prefer the fantasy setting. However, I didn't really like Oblivion. Maybe because the NPCs were too absurd.

    @Doone: To accuse me of having lost my objectivity after my last post, is a bit ...
    Even more so as I never was objective, obviously. For me the setting and the immersion make up for the other flaws. For other players this can certainly be different.

    It's not just graphics. It's the feeling they transport. Please note that I play in front of a 30" screen with a surround system of speakers. I guess this also makes a difference.

  4. Nils,

    I'm with the others here. Your last few posts methodically broke down everything that you found unsatisfactory with the game. So much so that I became quite ambivalent towards purchasing it.

    Now you've come in with a short post for your standards, (I don't really consider sticking youtube videos up as post content, sorry), and you've decided that all the other shortcomings are acceptable because the world is big, open, and beautiful, (sounds a lot like my ex-girlfriend). Not only that but it's now the best RPG of the last decade.

    Your blogging to show a game's shortcomings is among the best on the web. But you need to do a bit more work on when something makes you feel good.

  5. Hey, Nils. NO offense intended bro, at all. But I did find the need to jab you on this one. I stand by my position, still. I'm not seeing how having a beautiful game makes up for all the shortcomings you've posted yourself.

    I'll be trying to post my thoughts next weekend once I've got 24 hours played--should be a good point to have a strong grasp of what exactly I must be missing. I only got to play it some 4 hours so far and I'm not feeling any urge to turn it back on again (snorefest for me).

  6. Well, I did say from the start that you should buy this game. Read my last post more carefully. Yes, I also criticized it and I stand with my criticizm ...

    Remember that I also criticized WoW more than a little? And I played WoW for more or less 6 years (with breaks) and consider it the best MMORPG on the market .. ok, maybe not anymore, but still.

    Honestly, I would like to explain more analytically why I like Skyrim so much. But I can't. I've spent almost a day thinking about it. That's why I made the videos. I like walking through the landscape and exploring every single spot enough that it overshadows the rest.

    Of course, Skyrim could be much, much, much better. But to compare it with games like Dragon Age is like comparing a broken Ferrari to a brand new bicycle: I prefer the Ferrari.

  7. Besides, have you read my Dragon Age : Origins Review ?

    I don't think if I reviewed any other RPG my verdict would be better than that about Skyrim. All (MMO)RPGs are bad. Skyrim is just the best of them right now, so to say :)

  8. So... have you played ICO?

    I can understand the "immersion > everything" thing - my own criteria is a narrative that makes me feel something - but what I don't necessarily understand is, again, why RPGs? You have said it twice that the gameplay/progression of Skyrim is crap; the very two items traditionally associated with RPGs!

    The immersiveness of Skyrim probably makes it worth playing. But calling it RPG of the decade just rubs me all the wrong ways when everything that makes it an RPG is bad. ICO, for example, is NOT an RPG and yet is by far the most immersive game I have ever played - you are a little boy fighting off shadows with a stick in a huge crumpling castle, and it doesn't stray far from that.

  9. What is ICO, Azuriel?

    Gameplay typically is associated with RPGs? In my opinion gameplay is typically assiciated with all games and especially strong with abstract ones, like any deathmatch or chess or tetris where the simlulation background can be ignores.

    Progression comes from RPGs historically; yes. It turned out to be a good gameplay element.

    The one thing that is typically associated with RPGs, in my opinion, is immersion. Feeling like you are the character is something most other games can't offer, because they aren't about playing a character.

  10. I was referring to the gameplay inherent in Skyrim, e.g. stat-based and/or loot-based progression; emphasis on XP, HP, and mana/energy; and so on. The difference between Super Mario and Paper Mario, for instance. :P

    If you have a PS2 or PS3, you must play ICO at all costs. It is essentially a puzzle game with zero interface and THE most immersive games I have ever played. You can read about it on the Wiki page or watch it in action on Youtube.

    I wouldn't watch many videos of it though, especially reviews, because of the 3-4 I just now browsed, almost all of them (including the one I linked) eventually show a puzzle solution perhaps unintentionally.

    Anyway, ICO + Shadows of the Colossus was recently released in an HD pack on the PS3. If I had a PS3, I would have picked them up on Day 1.

  11. @Azuriel - "stat-based and/or loot-based progression"

    I'm now level 6 having played a few hours over the weekend and stat/loot-based progression doesn't seem that important.

    I don't actually know what my base stats are, what the best spells are for dps/hps or where to get decent loot. I'm certainly not conscious of grinding XP.

    The environment and characters are interesting enough that I've given up trying to beat the system and am just enjoying it for what it is.

    It's strange that a single player game can be far more immersive than any MMO I've ever played - even on RP servers.

  12. I own no consoles, Azuriel. Never understood why I should invest hundreds of euros into a computer which is worse than my PC and less upgradable .. only to then pay more when I buy the actual games.

    Moreover, I don't like the action- and execution-focused style of slouch-in-your-armchair games. I usually try to stay away from console rants, though ;)

  13. Surprise surprise but I disagree on gameplay. I think for once Beth got it right.

    In Oblivion I could stay at the main city and get my character to level 30 without fighting a single mob if I really wanted to. Skyrim will punish you for doing that. You NEED gear plain and simple.

    In Fallout or Oblivion you could game the system with stuff like 100% sneak (FO), chameleon, 100% resistances, OP gear or other stuff. basically you got the skills or gear where you were Op and never had to worry about anything.

    Not so in Skyrim. This game forces you to go out in the world and explore and do things to level naturally. And the vast majority of the quests are many times better than the other games. Most of them allow you to do things multiple ways and have twists in them.

    In the game there is a big civil war going on in addition to your personal main quest. The world changes due to the civil war. You are sucked into it even if you want to avoid it. Eventually outside world events overtake you.

    So if gameplay means that you want to mathmatically be uber or get that special gear piece then gamplay is poor. But if gameplay means you have to interact with the world, level up naturally and build your character both skill and gear wise then this has some of the best gameplay in any RPG ever.

    One final point. In other games you could pick a character type (like full mage, sniper, warrior etc) and not worry about anything. Skyrim is different. While you can succeed in any role you won't have it easy against everything you face. this means the gameplay is also much better as you are forced to deal with the weaknesses of your role. A 2H warrior has trouble with flying dragons. A cloth mage should have trouble with melee based characters. So the mage needs to conjure some minions. No longer can you just walk into an encounter and blast your way through or just blindly swing a sword and win.

  14. For many of the things you listed, Goodmongo, Skyrim is a much better game than Oblivion. And still I disagree on several accounts. I will go into these in the coming posts.

  15. I'm a practical guy. If the Ferrari can't get me from A to B, gimme the bike. Who cares about a *broken* ferrari?

    I don't think Skyrim is broken. I think if you played Oblivion then Skyrim will fill MORE than similar. Too similar. It's one thing to carry on the franchise and a complete other to do 90% reskin, 10% enhanced feature. However, if you're new to the series, you'll love this if you love RPGs. I told others the same about Oblivion.

    All *good* games are immersive. This isn't unique to RPGs and never has been. However, because RPGs focus on the journey, the means and not the ends, immersion is something that gets a ton more attention than other games, as it should.

    @Azur: I think even back in the days of SWG I still would have felt single-player RPGs offer a more immersive experience, and for obvious reasons: you don't have other players running around in it breaking up the immersion. This is actually difficult for MMOs to pull off because it requires a community that's on the same note. Any moron can break your immersion and by the same hand, any person with a different idea of roleplaying within the world can also break it. Single player RPGs don't suffer from this and, at least for me, always offer a more immersive experience.

    @Bernard: the fact that the progression (stats, levels, and gear) doesn't feel like a burden on you is just a testament to how well made a game is. But it doesn't mean these things aren't progression. In the games that get it right, the player doesn't feel like that stuff matters more than advancing the story or adventuring. This is a really good thing.

  16. I enjoy Skyrim very much so far. I don't find the gameplay lacking at all, to be honest.

    I have great fun playing my thievish archer exploring the world and playing it the way I want. And that's the real beauty of the game. The freedom. I very much dislike linear gameplay (nothing quite ruins the immersion as much as that for me) and while there are definitely parts of Skyrim which are linear (most dungeons, for example) I feel I can do what I want and in what order I want. That was always the best part of Oblivion, and Skyrim doesn't let me down.

    In some ways, it is more of an expansion than a completely new game. It runs very much like Oblivion. But I'm not gonna complain. This game fixes most of the issues I had with Oblivion, making Skyrim a great game overall.

  17. Nils, and others who recommend this game, can you answer some questions for me? i spent many hours with oblivion so i have an idea of what to expect from an elder scrolls game and i've got that rush from seeing a distant castle and then walking there. but, that's about all i'm reading as far as "why you should play this game" here and in other blogs.
    and having played bioware games, the dialogue in tes does nothing for me. that leaves me with non-linear questing as the reason to play the game? but don't i still have to quest? i've read about mining and crafting, but those activities seem to be extremely shallow and in the end what good does it do you? if you're not questing?
    can i run dungeons or pvp with friends for xp and loot? or level simply by gathering and exploring? these are things i can do in wow and other mmos. or can i get creative and build things as i can in minecraft? tame or raise animals?

  18. @Nobody: I haven't finished the game yet and I don't intend to do so anytime soon. I like to relish my games, so I tend never to rush through them.

    The major selling point of Skyrim currently is the fact that it's a very wonderful world to explore and if you're a hardcore RPGer (someone who really likes an immersive experience), don't miss this one. Even if you have Oblivion. Just don't expect it to offer anything you've never seen before. Skyrim is clearly more of an expansion on Oblivion than a sequel.

  19. Doone, this is of course pure semantics, but I don't think you can call it an expansion. What does it expand?

    The only thing that Skyrim shares with Oblivion is the basic idea. Was Quake 2 an expansion of Quake 1? Is the Call of Duty series just a series of expansions of the same game?

    The Skyrim engine is new, the setting is new, all graphics and sounds are new ... and nothing is expanded, really.

  20. @Doone
    imo, immersive and hardcore are both very subjective, but i do enjoy exploring, so maybe if there's a steam sale and i find some ui mods...
    after seeing some side by side comparisons, the graphics are no doubt improved in skyrim. but shouldn't they be? which leads me to ask, is the engine really new? or maybe, which part of the engine is new? because those rag-doll physics look just as ugly as they did 5-10 years ago. nothing breaks my immersion quite like a dead enemy in a marionette pose drifting slowly down a hill.