Elder Scrolls — Skyrim: Some early thoughts

I just went look­ing for some snap­shots from Elder Scrolls — Skyrim to post here.  I looked in my own col­lec­tion and the I looked online.  There are many shots, but none of them (so far) con­vey the vast­ness of the game or the scale of the expe­ri­ence.  I sup­pose I’ll have to get back to you on that.  Right now we’re here for some ini­tial impres­sions of the game and some ini­tial thoughts on what’s good and bad.

I’m not doing a full review here.  The game is vast and it will be quite a long time before I approach fin­ish­ing it.  I’ve only bare­ly scratched the sur­face of the main quest and only fin­ished one quest­line (for the mage’s guild).  There’s like­ly going to be a few post on this top­ic here.

On the good side, I’m favor­ably amazed with the new dia­log sys­tem.  There have been a num­ber of things tried.  In Obliv­ion, we zoomed into the tar­get face for a wood­en pre­sen­ta­tion.  Sim­i­lar­ly in Fall­out 3 and New Vegas, a sta­t­ic shot.  In Mass Effect (the orig­i­nal), we tried to have dia­logue “scenes” that were semi-direct­ed.  There were even some scenes of dia­logue with more than two peo­ple (the scenes in the con­fer­ence room after major mis­sions, for instance).  This was expand­ed in Mass Effect 2 where few­er mul­ti-per­son dia­logues were had, but the direc­tion and shot-to-shot cut­ting was more com­plex.

New in Skyrim is that you’re not entire­ly frozen.  You can look around to a lim­it­ed amount.  You can even (most­ly) hit tab and walk away … force­ful­ly end­ing a con­ver­sa­tion you’re not vest­ed in.  The “look­ing around” is some­what lim­it­ed … your head turn­ing gets slow­er as you get fur­ther away from the speak­er.  Maybe this is a con­ces­sion to the idiot fac­tor, but it feels like an accept­able one.  You’re still choos­ing from a list of top­ics, but I don’t think we’re going to loose that one for awhile.

The most amaz­ing new thing, how­ev­er, is the mul­ti-per­son chats.  You start talk­ing to one char­ac­ter.  Anoth­er char­ac­ter walks into the con­ver­sa­tion and you are unlocked from the first char­ac­ter … in effect “passed” to the next char­ac­ter to which you’re going to address.  This can hap­pen flu­id­ly with even more than two oth­er char­ac­ters.  The only down­side I see here is that the game must pre­dict which char­ac­ter you’re going to address next, but it’s a small down­side in that hit­ting ‘tab’ releas­es you.

Also good is the drag­on com­bat.  I was a bit appre­hen­sive at first, but the game sor­ta drops the drag­ons on you … I don’t know how ran­dom the event is, but it seems to trig­ger and “hap­pen” with­out too much rela­tion to what you’re doing.  There might be some places where you won’t fight (like inside?), but one drag­on dropped on me in the small court­yard of the mage’s guild (which is pret­ty tight quar­ters for such a large crea­ture) and anoth­er fight hap­pened in the near­by town — it large­ly land­ed on the rooftops where the town’s main street is too nar­row for it.

But the com­bat itself is chal­leng­ing with­out being over­whelm­ing.  The drag­on is a fly­er, but it stops every so often.  I choose the dark elf for 50% fire resis­tance as a race abil­i­ty — so far the drag­ons have been fire-breath­ing, but that might not hold.  Cer­tain­ly in Obliv­ion, where most of the Obliv­ion mon­sters were fire based, the dark elf was a good chioce.

But that leads us to the one real down­er I’ve encoun­tered so far.  When you fight your first drag­on, you learn your first shout.  It’s a pret­ty big deal.  And you’re going to try it a few times.  More than a few.  Your words are so pow­er­ful, they knock peo­ple back. Cool.

Short­ly there­after, you head back to the near­by city where shout­ing a few times will bring the city guard to ask you to stop as you’re keep­ing peo­ple awake (might also only hap­pen at night, I don’t know).  You also quick­ly talk to quite a few peo­ple who tell you that you are “drag­on born” and that your appear­ance dur­ing what amounts to a civ­il war seems to have mean­ing.  Cer­tain­ly drag­on born are rare.

But then (and here’s the down­side) you go off to do things in the world and peo­ple don’t seem to notice this “dif­fer­ence” of yours.  Even though it’s loud or rather obvi­ous.  Then you end up killing a drag­on sin­gle hand­ed­ly in front of some­one and then absorb the drag­ons soul (it’s all very dra­mat­ic) and they hard­ly notice or com­ment.

I get it: cod­ing for every con­tin­gency is time and bud­get con­sum­ing in a game.  dou­bly so when it needs to be voiced.  But the sin­gle thing that makes you (the play­er char­ac­ter) spe­cial in Skyrim is being “Dovahki­in” (drag­on born) and it seems pet­ty that this isn’t rec­og­nized more often.

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