Saturday, June 02, 2012

Skyrim vs Scifi

Been meaning to do a mini (okok, I read back before posting as always and it's a Mountain of Text) review of Skyrim for a little while now but I'm going to have to keep comparing it to a few other games as I go.

Skyrim - is the latest in the legendary Elder Scrolls series of games. You're a lone wolf warrior / rogue / mage trying to find your way in the fantasy setting of the Skyrim continent. When you enter the story, Skyrim has unrest bubbling up into a potential civil war (not got there yet). And you're about to get executed for We Dunno What (possibly being in the wrong place at the wrong time).

Mass Effect - is a scifi epic done by Bioware, where you play the central role of Commander Shepard come to save the galaxy from ancient alien machines.

Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) - is a very disappointing MMO where you're forced to run through scripted areas which are hamstrung by hamfisted instancing. Oh and you have to subscribe to play it too.

Skyrim - it's a potential classic but ... Yeah. It's got a hell of a lot going for it but the combat system and other elements are still somewhat frustrating. Let's talk about what makes it awesome :

Completely open world.

This is a very rare thing in gaming. It's where you can walk from one end of the world to the other without a loading screen. Mass Effect 1 had a fairly open world, albeit broken up into separate maps linked by elevators. In Skyrim and World Of Warcraft, you can literally do that long walk without a loading screen. Sure, the loading screen will come up when you enter a city or dungeon but - it means you'll be running from place to place and suddenly you'll come across something unexpected.

If you autorun in Skyrim, you may well end up in autofall courtesy of a giant's club or in autobelly courtesy of a randomly spawned dragon. The Skyrim world feels alive.

Mass Effect 2 and 3 locked down their open world considerably. SWTOR doesn't really have an open world. It has small zones but they're all bunches of mobs. To get from one city to another, you have to go through a bunch of transit locations. Yawn. There's no dynamism in the SWTOR environment. No surprise at seeing the unexpected. It's all part of a story that you're railroaded through.

Storyline ...

Massive Multiplayer Online games are all about the end game. They shouldn't be ... World of Warcraft used to be a very different game. The levelling to get you to end game was much slower. You could play through the storyline connecting the zones without racing past the difficulty level. Now, you're like level 30 playing a level 22 zone because that's how quickly you level. There's no challenge. It's boring. The dungeon instances used to finish off a zone's story, now you race through the zone so quick you don't bother with the instance. The only challenge comes when you skip between expansions and then the difficulty becomes a frustrating cliff.

But that's not the reason I gave up WoW and SWTOR - it's the end game. I really don't want to be playing the same content over and over again. It's boring. And such a waste of all the content available on the way there. It's also dependent on the people you play with. VR, Mercs and Guildlink had a lot of awesome players but all 3 also tolerated and encouraged idiots who repeatedly made us fail.

Mass Effect and Deus Ex HR have excellent storylines that sheperd you through the game. However ... you feel somewhat railroaded by that storyline. I'll still play those games over and over though because I like the storyline.

Skyrim handles it somewhat differently. Most RPGs, you get railroaded through the story. In Skyrim, the story is just some incidental thing that's going on in the background. You can ignore it as much as you like. I need to go see the Hrothgar monks of the main story some time cos I didn't get their horn but they can wait a bit cos I have to sort out the Markarth conspiracy first. The Whiterun people want me to hunt a dragon but it's the other side of the continent from me.

The important thing in Skyrim is that it's the player character's story first and the civil war story second. It's more immersive and keeps you going in the game but ...

Questing system issues ...

While there's a huge amount to do in the game, I have issues with how some of it's done. Better games have branching questlines. 2 Skyrim examples - 1st there's the group of cannibals who try to get you to entice a priest over for dinner. What I'd like as an option is where you realise "They're going to do something horrible here!" and you'd be able to save the priest. But you're railroaded into dragging him along for his untimely demise. 2nd is the group of pirates who want you to put a lighthouse lamp out so a ship will run aground. You then loot the shipwreck. What I'd like to be able to do there is rat 'em out to the city guards and then you'd chase them down. Ship survives. Nah - can't do that, the flex isn't in the quest scripting.

But - compared to the weight of stuff to do in Skyrim, that's a comparatively minor issue. I'm currently at 63 hours playtime, which is split halfways across my two characters. There will be much more.

I'm investing more quality control in my gaming time these days. I give up on them very quickly if they're not for me. Battlefield 3 didn't get 5 hours, mainly due to stability (also the gameplay was not for me). I will never buy from DICE again. SWTOR didn't get long, because I could see the signs of bad endgame from the earlier levels. SWTOR really should have been a single player game. SWTOR + Mass Effect 3 means I'm thinking carefully as to whether I get anything else from Bioware.

Conclusion - Skyrim is potentially a classic. It's ridiculously open, which is a + and a -. Gamers these days like to be spoonfed their content. So a game that lets you do your own thing can lead to a lack of "where do I go now ?"

Spec wise - I don't have a problem on my main machine ... but it's a good one. It's an Intel i5-2500K with 8GB Ram, an SSD boot drive and a 560Ti graphics card. (Translation - high spec for today, it's quick but not ridiculous)

Should gamers get Skyrim ? Hell yeah. But wait for sales. There's no reason to buy things at full price when patience means you could get enough money off to let you buy a pizza. I got Skyrim for 33% off.

And I think that pizza reference means I'm starting to get hungry - pizzahut's online system let me down yesterday - it went ultra slow at about the time I needed food and didn't let me order. Meh. Pizza had to wait.

PS Other stuff - I have a Planetside 2 beta key, this is a massive multiplayer first person shooter. Like Battlefield 3 but in a persistent world. Wondering if I can specialise in piloting aircraft for this. I also preordered Guildwars 2 ...

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