So, I got the game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as a gift. When it came out years ago, I mentioned I didn’t care for the sword-and sorcery fantasy-setting, which was why I didn’t get it earlier, even as it won tons of Game Of The Year awards.
I still don’t care for the setting, but I will admit that it is so beautiful and atmospheric I can kind of get past that–it is a seriously gorgeous game, and it is really fun just to wander around the huge open-world with no aim, admiring the scenery.
But of course, this is a Bethesda production, so the minute you start to run into anything related to the plot or characters, things get silly. The major issue so far in the game is that dragons are attacking the land for some reason, even though everyone thought they had been destroyed a long time ago. The opening sequence of the game involves a dragon attack, which is a shock to all the characters around.
Naturally, we learn that the player character is special, being a “dragonborn”, which gives them the power to absorb dragon souls, or something. And of course there is a prophecy about it all. (First rule of fantasy: there is always a prophecy. I guess they make their prophets in volume.)
My character has already been in five or six battles with dragons, and won all of them by hitting the dragon with a hammer when it lands ten yards away. This makes the dragons seem, frankly, stupid. They could win continually if they just stayed up in the air, or perched somewhere I couldn’t get at them with my hammer. But no, they obligingly allow themselves to be drawn into my kind of fight. It’s the “Cthulhu Problem” all over again.
Then there is the dialogue. In one town that I rolled into while running away from monsters, there is some mystery that has to do with a house being burned down. The locals are too afraid to investigate, because they are, according to the “Jarl” (the executive of the town) “too superstitious”.
I wanted to say to the Jarl “Of course they are! We live in a world where dragons attack people and sorcerers openly summon evil spirits. Just yesterday I was attacked by a gang of reanimated skeletons. You’d be an idiot not to be superstitious in this world!”
(The house mystery, by the way, turns out to be the fault of vampires. And the clues to solving it are provided by ghosts. Yeah, I’d say the people are right to be superstitious.)
Also, there is the recurring problem of people saying essentially “well, hello there, heavily-armed stranger who just ran in three seconds ago from the vast wilderness populated by legions of bandits and bloodthirsty monsters. Here are all the secret intrigues and problems of everyone in town.. Please help fix them.” This problem is to some extent inevitable in a game like this, but I think it could still be handled more deftly.
And then there is the criminal justice system in Skyrim. It’s set up so the guards will attack you if you commit crimes against the people of a given town. Neat idea, but I don’t see how it is that stealing a carrot can be punishable by death, whereas hitting the Jarl in the face with a sword can be forgiven if you put the sword down afterwards. (And yes, Fallout: New Vegas suffered from this too, a bit.)
In short, so far it seems to be Fallout 3 all over again, only more so: awesome scenery and landscape, laughable character interactions, plot and dialogue. And like Fallout 3, I’m having fun with it. More than I expected actually. If they had only gotten Obsidian Entertainment to write it, they would have had another masterpiece on their hands.