Wednesday, November 16, 2011


If you're a fan of the Elder Scrolls series of games you'll probably like Skyrim as well, regardless of any flaws it might have. I suppose it'd be fair to say that I fit into that category of fans, but despite that it's my intention to be as impartial as possible in presenting you with this glimpse of Skyrim gameplay.

As far as getting started is concerned, Bethesda hasn't altered the formula much from the previous games. In Skyrim you start as a prisoner and must escape an Imperial dungeon before you can get on with it. (Sound familiar?) There's a long animated sequence of you and your fellow prisoners being hauled around in a horse-drawn wagon, a scene which I have no doubt was designed solely to show off Bethesda's handiwork this time around. The sequence is nice enough to watch the first time through, but after that you'll be wishing there was some way to skip the whole thing and get straight to naming your character.
For the sake of continuity (and because there are no Ainmhi in Skyrim yet), I created a Nord character complete with the war-paint.
Much as it was with the character generation in Oblivion and Bethesda's Fallout games, it appears that you can fine-tune the facial features of your avatar just about however you want. I say "appears" because it seemed to me that all the sliders were moving along a series of presets and couldn't stop anywhere else in between. Still, there are enough variations that I think it would be difficult (but probably not impossible) to create exactly the same face twice.

Once that's out of the way, you can go put your head on the chopping block so the Imperials can execute you. But don't worry; your untimely demise will be promptly interrupted by the first of the game's many "Look! We can animate dragons now!" scenes.
One thing however is distinctly different about this game's tutorial sequence. Depending upon your actions (or in-actions), you will be led through the escape from the dragon attack by either a Nord rebel or an Imperial guard and will have some encounters with one faction or the other as you make your way out of the dungeon. The end results are basically the same, but knowing what I do about how intricate quests can be in Elder Scrolls games I can't help but suspect (and hope) that the rest of the game will contain such alternate paths as well.
As usual, among your tasks in the tutorial are to learn how to sneak and pick locks. Here it's worthy of note that the lock-picking interface/mini-game in Skyrim is basically the same sort of thing as it was in the Bethesda Fallout games.
But enough about the tutorial; let's get out and take a look at the world...
As you would expect from an Elder Scrolls game, the world of Skyrim is huge with plenty of room for exploration (and later, modding). I haven't traveled far enough yet to know whether or not the world is surrounded by a "You can't go that way! Turn back now!" border. Fast-travel is available to locations you've already visited, and other places of interest such as quest locations get markers added to the 3D world map as you go. And speaking of quests and maps, fans of Oblivion's compass and map quest markers will be pleased to know that in Skyrim you can follow a floating marker to your goal without wasting any time with RPG stuff like trying to figure out where you're supposed to go.
(I haven't figured out yet if that marker can be disabled by default, but if it can't you can bet that someone will eventually make a mod to get rid of it.)

Wandering around towns and talking to NPCs is just as you'd expect it to be in an Elder Scrolls game. You can gather information, get side-quests, barter and so on just as you're accustomed to doing.
As I've been playing thus far I've felt that the developers actually took some cues from Oblivion modders this time around. Many things that weren't available in Oblivion without an overhaul or some other major mod have been included in Skyrim. Notable among these are the dual-wielding of weapons or spells (or both), minstrels actually playing instruments in taverns, sprinting, containers with lids that open when I activate them and flora that changes visibly when I harvest ingredients from it. I've also been told by a blacksmith that I can craft my own weapons and armor, though I haven't gotten around to trying it yet.
And yes, there are followers and companions! So far they remind me of followers using some of my favorite companion mods; interaction such as giving orders or accessing the companion's inventory is accomplished through the same sort of dialog interface used with other NPCs and so far they follow and fight just as I'd want them to do.
And speaking of NPCs, fans of mods like Children Of Morrowind and the fact that there were children in the Bethesda Fallout games will be pleased to know that for the first time ever in an Elder Scrolls game (that I'm aware of) the developers have finally aknowledged the fact that folks are not spawned fully-grown into the world. There are indeed children on Tamriel (or whatever the heck the world is called).
Dungeons so far are pretty much what we're accustomed to from Oblivion. There are zombies, skeletons, Necromancers, bandits and such... and some traps that look very familiar...
So that, in a quick nutshell, is the good stuff. As is usually the case with Bethesda, the bad stuff is mainly in the technical aspects of the game. For starters, the interface takes a bit of getting used to and re-assigning certain functions to certain keys will make those functions not work at all half of the time. Visually, the graphics don't seem to be quite as breathtaking as I think many fans expected them to be. I should note that I took all these screenshots with FRAPs while playing at 1280x720 resolution with the textures set at medium, so there is some room for improvement and possibly pushing the specs of my system. Still, even with the display settings maxed the game doesn't feel like it's being as hard on my system as I had expected it to be. Better performance is always a positive thing in my opinion, but still I think visually this game has not lived up to the expectations of many players. I should also note that many players have reported having issues with the game depending upon their GPUs. Until I had downloaded and installed this mod (a d3d9.dll tweak), things like spider webs and the lighting effects surrounding the Standing Stones were totally invisible to me.
So, in closing, I'd say the game is pretty great overall so far, but as usual the developers have left us plenty of room to mod, improve and fix their product. On a personal note, I hope one of the things that can be edited is the loading screens. While the 3D renderings of the dragons and various characters are pretty cool, things like this floating mace are just plain boring...


  1. Interesting, looks like I might get it after all, despite the UI problems :)

    Can you still decide for yourself the reason you were in jail? (I always liked Yahtzees one)

    Regarding hardware requirements, I'd suspected it wouldn't be that high since essentially the same code has to run on ageing consoles. Maybe Nos can run it ;)

    BTW, I believe Daggerfall had (immortal) children.

  2. @Kirtai:

    Your character is being beheaded because you were crossing some border; pretty stiff punishment for trespassing, that.

    I was also thinking that Nos might have slightly better chances than he thinks; we'll investigate that further when we get a chance.

    Daggerfall, you say? See, I have both that and Arena just for the sake of being able to say that I have them all, but I've not actually played them. Even though at one time I had played the D&D Eye Of The Beholder, going back to that old point-N-click DoS game interface might be just too great a step backward for me now (surprising, I know). This must be similar to the way Nos feels when I start talking about Doom...

  3. IIRC, both Arena and Daggerfall were first person 3D (likely 2.5D) with keyboard movement, rather like Doom. I've only played Arena though, back when it came out. They're not stepwise movement like Eye of the Beholder. Which I also played when it came out. Hmm, now I feel old -_-

    There's an engine reimplementation called XLEngine that will support Daggerfall and the author has hinted that there might be Arena support in future.

    There's already model and texture work for it even though it's not nearly ready.

    Interestingly, there were mods available for Daggerfall and might be more in future :)

    I'm not sure how playable the DOSBox versions are, I haven't tried them and both games were very buggy, surprise surprise.

  4. @Kirtai:

    Last time I checked them, both Arena and Daggerfall required the constant clicking of arrows at the edges of the screen to move around (like Myst or Riven, for example).

    The replacement engine sounds interesting, however. If I'm going to play them, I'd prefer to do so with something like that.

    And yes, there were Daggerfall mods. Last time I looked, they were included with the package that Bethesda was offering for free on their official website.

  5. I decided to look up the requirements for Skyrim, as I had gotten curious about them. It looks like it is possible that my current system might be able to run it, on low settings. The only thing that makes me really wonder is the cpu requirement. They want a minimum 2 GHz duo core (which my laptop was before it died), and my current motherboard has a single 3.4 GHz. *shrugs* Still not overly worried about it, as it will still be quite some time before I bother with it.

    I am only now going through the DLCs for New Vegas. I recently finished Honest Hearts, and am currently doing Dead Money. Still have Old World Blues and Lonesome Road to do, as well as the main quest, so I should be busy for a while. Eventually...maybe.

  6. Judging from everything I've experienced thus far and heard from other players, what's printed on the box isn't an accurate depiction of the game's actual minimum requirements. Many people who thought they wouldn't be able to run Skyrim have experienced some success, and most players report that the game runs better on their systems than Oblivion does. It even runs on all the lowest settings on my old Dell, so I'd say all the hype about the graphics and the worry of "OMG! I'm gonna need a new rig to run Skyrim!" are to be taken with a grain of salt. As Kirtai said, it indeed seems that the game was designed for the aging consoles and as I said elsewhere earlier, as long as they don't create a new XBox maybe a lot of us won't need to build new computers.

  7. Most likely no new Xbox until either Playstation or Nintendo produce new versions. Having said that, Microsquash will now prove me wrong...