14 November, 2011
I purchased Skyrim, the fifth game in Bethesda’s ‘The Elder Scrolls’ series. The previous game in the series was called Oblivion. After playing Oblivion all the way through, I had no hesitation dropping $60 to pick up Skyrim.
27 November, 2013
After two years of playing this game, (only interrupted by occasional bouts of Mass Effect and Dragon Age,) and 376 hours of gameplay, I can safely say that I’ve “Finished” Skyrim. I backed up the 1,195 saved games and uninstalled the game client. Done. Moving on.
I’ve said before that many ‘open world’ games are not as open as they claim, but Skyrim does a good job of feeling like an open world. And while Skyrim modestly admits to a single Master Plotline, it actually has MANY major quests. Some quests are easy, taking just a few minutes to accomplish. Some quests are chains in a series of epic, story-arcing, world-changing, mind-blowing, time-sucking adventures. View the complete list of Skyrim quests here.
Thankfully, Steam compiled (and tracks) a list of the 75 most important, defining achievements you can experience in Skyrim. They encompass the master plotline and all the major quests. I used this as my grocery list to guide me through the game.
After 376 hours of gameplay, I’ve finally achieved 100% of the “achievements” in the world of Skyrim. I’ve helped the Stormcloak Rebellion to overthrow the tyrannical Empire/Government, embraced my dragonborn nature, harnessed the power of dragon speech to defeat Alduin The Worldeater, recovered many Daedric artifacts, mastered both Werewolf and Vampire abilities, returned the Thieves Guild to its former glory, made half a million in gold, got married, built some houses, adopted some kids, found the first dragonborn and kicked his lily ass, tamed and rode on the backs of 5 different dragons, and for the cherry on top, I slayed a Legendary Dragon.
Skyrim – Awesomesauce
The depth of the Skyrim game world is sickening in a good way. I’ve spent hours just reading books in this virtual world. I know more about the flora, fauna, politics and history of Skyrim than I do of Minnesota. The variety of quests, and your freedom to switch between them at will, (or ignore them completely and just explore) make the game so fun and freeing that it never felt like I “had” to do anything at all, only what I wanted to do. And sometimes all you really wanna do is don some assassin’s armor, quaff a fire-immunity potion, mount your nightmare horse with glowing red eyes, charge up to a dragon and pick a fight… like ya do.
Skill trees were great, and the skill system was as wide open as the world. If you want to focus on thieving or fighting or magical skills… help yourself. You can wear heavy armor and cast spells if you like, something many games won’t let you do. Changing play styles was as simple as changing what you do. The more you do something like lockpicking, the better you get at it. In fact, you gain experience from doing things like lockpicking and successfully casting spells. So slaving over a blacksmith’s forge or mixing ingredients at an alchemy bench helps you gain experience points as well as add to your arsenal.
And for the PC version, there are tons of user-created mods available through the Steam game client, and I’ll highlight my favorites at the end of this post.
Skyrim – Room For Improvement
Before I even get started complaining, I want you to understand that these are nothing more than minor quibbles compared to the awesome gameplay. These are ways that Bethesda can improve their next incarnation of The Elder Scrolls, but in no way should these issues prevent anyone from enjoying the game:
The mapping system and the inventory systems tied for the Poor Design Award. Why can’t you sort inventory items by weight? Why are my healing potions and poisons scattered under a dozen different names, then sorted alphabetically, instead of grouped by type? I tried a couple different mods that claimed to make the inventory system more useful, but they didn’t work well for me. In the end, I just tolerated it. The map interface was clearly designed for console gamepad use, and mouse use was an afterthought. Placing the quest marker on the map where I wanted it was frustrating and sometimes not possible. I would often move the quest marker just beyond where I wanted to go, so it would at least show me the right direction. Seeing a limited section of the map at any given time was a lame attempt to make the world seem ‘bigger’ than it was. I don’t care how big the world is, you need to be able to zoom out enough to see the whole thing at once.
I understand that it must be hard to find hundreds (yes hundreds) of people to do the voiceover work for a game of this scale, but I really don’t like hearing the same person’s voice coming up for different characters. Whomever did the voice for Belathor (of Belathor’s Goods store in Whiterun) kept showing up. He must have voiced over a dozen characters, and that wore off quickly.
The people you can pick as companions are often dolts who get separated from you quite easily, or lost, or refuse to jump down from a ledge, preferring to take a path around the entire mountain instead. More likely, you’ll get into a fight and notice they are gone. “Now where the hell is ___? He was right behind me ten minutes ago!” Lydia was the most dependable buddy by far, but her condescending tone of “I’m sworn to carry your burdens,” will get on your nerves. This plugin changes the tone of Lydia’s voice, so that was easily fixed. Sadly, companions won’t use potions you give them, and they often refuse to use the more powerful magic weapon instead of the less powerful, non-magical one. So you have to take away all their other weapons like you’re their mom or micromanaging boss.
For a game with SO MUCH CONTENT, I expected the DLC to be pretty amazing, but being a vampire (from the Dawnguard DLC) and flying around on dragons (from the Dragonborn DLC) was a rush at first, but in the end, not nearly as much fun as I thought they would be. And the Hearthfire expansion was a huge disappointment. The very idea of gathering resources like Iron Ingots… then forging them into nails and hinges… to construct sections of your virtual house… Are. You. Serious? If I’m gonna do work, then I really should be paid for it, and not the other way round.
Cooperative play would have been nice, and I see that Bethesda is launching an MMO version for the next incarnation of The Elder Scrolls. I also see that it will cost $15 per month. Have fun with that. I’ll wait for Dragon Age 3…
Was It Worth It?
Yeah, you could say that. Because of the sheer number of quests involved, and the size of the open world, I was able to complete 376 hours of gameplay using a single character and never got bored. The variety of quests felt like playing through many different games.
Even if I never play Skryim again, it’s still the best entertainment value I’ve ever got for my money:
- I purchased The Hunger Games trilogy of books for $30 and I read all three books in about 12 hours total. That’s $2.50 per hour.
- Watching the four Hunger Games movies will probably cost me over $40 for about 10 hours of entertainment. That’s at least $4.00 per hour.
- For $60, I played Skyrim for 376 hours. That’s about $0.16 per hour.
Best part is, I could go back and keep exploring and killing dragons till I hit the level cap at 81. Or I could also create a new and completely different character, start over and play through again with a different style of gameplay. I played through as a Bow-Wielding, Female, Cat-like, Khajiit Assassin (named Bastet), but I could restart as a Fighter “Come at me, dragon-bro!” or I could play a Mage “Nuke the site from orbit, Only way to be sure…” And I could play as any of the other 10 different playable character races.
And the game mods? I’ll get to those later, but let’s just say mods like My Little Pony extend the re-playability of the game to preposterous levels.
Advice For Skyrim Noobz
Go Legendary – If you end up enjoying Skyrim (and you will) you’ll pay less by purchasing the Legendary Edition package with all the DLC included. If you’re buying individual DLC, don’t waste your money on Hearthfire. It’s silly and pointless, unless you are trying for 100% of the Steam achievements.
Be A Joiner – Everywhere you go, there will be groups, guilds, cults and secret societies. The Companions. The College of Winterhold. The Thieves’ Guild, The Assassins’ Guild. The Blades. Join them All. There’s no drawbacks to joining a group, and the benefits are lots of quests, and lots of resources, including companions to take with you on future adventures. If you really want to get levels and check off the achievements, you’ll end up joining ALL of the groups and secret societies.
Embrace The Werewolf – Werewolfery without the Dawnguard DLC is little more than a fun diversion. But if you have Dawnguard installed, the Werewolf gets its own skill tree, which is easier to fill out earlier in your career. This is because enemies are leveled appropriate to your non-werewolf experience (to keep the game challenging, natch) but I found that the werewolf was a heavy hitter early in the game, and fairly lightweight over level 50. If you wait till later in the game to advance your werewolf perks like I did, you’ll spend a disproportionate amount of time dying and reloading saved games.
Ditto The Vampire – Becoming a vampire gives you some really cool abilities. You can turn into a cloud of bats and dash out of danger. You can drain life from others at a distance. But with great power come some really sucky drawbacks. Like sunlight. And the need to drink blood. And guards attacking you on sight. You might wanna zoom through the vampire skill tree as soon as you can, and if you dig the vampire lifestyle, I can tell you that Ariel’s Bow and it’s special powers will make your unlife a lot easier. Otherwise, a quick visit to Aela the Huntress will cure that vampirism, right-quick.
Yes, you actually can switch back and forth between Vampire and Werewolf – Lots of people online giving false info on this one. You can go back and forth between Aela the Huntress (from the Companions) and Serena (from castle Dawnguard) to switch between Werewolf and Vampire. Note that if you suggest that Serena get her vampirism cured, she will, and you’ll lose the vampire option.
Master That Difficulty Level – If the game is too easy then you ain’t doing it right. Work on getting that difficulty slider on Master, or you’re NEVER gonna level up. Jacking the difficulty level raises the XP of your kills. If Master level is kicking your ass, check out the next tip:
Learn Item Creation And Improvement – Its a part of the game I didn’t bother with till near the end, but the smithing, alchemy and enchanting skills are actually quite powerful. With just a few resources like leather and iron ingots, you can improve weapons and armor to be twice as effective and the weight stays the same. Alchemy can help you turn plants into poisons and potions that make the game a lot easier. Trust me, when you start taking down dragons with 3 arrows, don’t feel bad, cuz you wouldn’t last three seconds under a dragon’s breath. Trick out those weapons, son. Thank me later.
Maintain Your Friends’ Gear – They won’t do it themselves. Give them armor, wands, magic weapons, rings and amulets. They won’t use potions. Upgrade their gear as often as you upgrade your own. Note that they decide what they will wear/use, and they might not use that awesome sword unless you take all the others away. Keep their magic weapons charged up. You can tell their weapon needs recharging when it stops glowing. A good item to give a companion is a wand of summoning, or wand of ressurrection. This lets them add another member to your party. Avoid giving them any kind of area effect weapons like wand of fireballs or wand of chain lightning. Just don’t.
Achievements Only Need To Be Triggered Once – Which means you can unlock the achievement, then revert to a previous game save, and you get to keep the achievement. For example, I wanted to get the ‘Wanted’ achievement but getting arrested and escaping from jail has some drawbacks. Simply save the game, punch out a guard, get arrested, and break out of jail. Bingo, you get the achievement. Then reload your saved game, and continue on your merry way without a criminal record. This goes tenfold for the Master Criminal achievement.
Use Steam, Punk – There are two reasons I wouldn’t touch Skyrim on a X-box or Playstation:
First, if your game glitches due to bad code, you can usually fix it yourself via console commands… but only on a PC. While playing Skyrim, I had a major quest glitch on me, but a simple quest reset command saved me from having to load a saved game from months ago, and losing probably 20 hours or more of gaming time. Is your companion lost? Did you get hung up in an awkward rock formation? Game console commands to the rescue! But if you’re on X-box or Playstation, too bad.
Second, the Steam community mods for the game range from astonishing to disturbing to sheer genius:
- Want better quality weather effects? Water effects ? Foliage textures? Blood spatters? Want a more realistic leather pattern on that Thieves’ Guild Armor?
- How about a mod that makes unread books glow? This mod alone will save you hours of no-fun, sifting through tomes looking for the ones you haven’t already read.
- Do you like cleavage? Like your females curvy? Yep, there’s mods for that, too.
- Is Lydia’s tone a little too condescending? Download a mod that not only makes Lydia’s tone more respectful, but gives her some astonishing combat finishing moves.
- Are you afraid of giant spiders? Some arachnophobe created a mod that reskins all the spiders to make them look like bears.
- Want more realistic hair physics? Download a mod to change the hair physics, then demo it in your band video using virtual model exotic dancing.
- Winner of the ABSOLUTE BEST OF ALL SKYRIM MODS goes to Divine Punishment for Mentions of Arrow To The Knee. Instead of dreading this phrase that is constantly mentioned by guards as you pass, you’ll look forward to hearing it. With this patch installed, any guard mentioning how they “Used to be an adventurer like you, but then I took an arrow to the knee.” gets a lightning-bolt enema.
Of course, you can also use mods to cheat and give yourself overpowered gear. And console commands like player.advlevel are easy, if you hate actually playing video games. For the record, I did not cheat! After 376 hours of gameplay, I’m thinking maybe I should have. But at least I never took an arrow in the knee…
Executive Summary Review of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
Best. Game. Ever.
You. Buy. Now.