Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Skyrim just isn't that good

Every now and then I feel entitled to some whining, and I feel like today is just such a day - the weather is boringly gray, I've probably got too low blood sugar and not enough sleep. In any case, it's the perfect time for me to hammer down on some of the things I just don't like about Skyrim. And the reason I am going to do this is because of all the hype and thrilled comments I had heard and read about it before I decided to give it a try myself. Now, I've played games before that were well received and that I simply didn't enjoy - Bastion is one example. But in most cases I can at least write it down to the game just not being my kind of game, I can see what other people like about and still not enjoy it myself, that happens. It's different with Skyrim though. I am enjoying Skyrim and think it's a moderately fun way to spend an hour here or there. But there are so many things wrong about this game, fundamentally annoying if you like, that I honestly wonder how it could make it to anyones "omg this game is the shizz omgomg"-list. Do they not notice these problems? Are they not also annoyed by them? It's not just that they are annoying, they are ruining a lot of the fun and especially immersion of the game - at least if you ask me. So far I've played more than 70 hours of this game, which I know compared to some is close to nothing, but I think I have a pretty good idea of what is wrong and needs to be fixed about this game now. I do play it mod-less, and as an avid mod user in WoW I understand that mods can alter the feeling of a game quite a lot, and also remove many of the annoyances that the original game creators lovingly have left in there. But still. This is what the game looks like and that's what I am going to judge it on. Maybe I should get more specific about what I am talking about before I let this rant run really wild.

Some of you will recognize these issues, and if you have any familiarity with other Bethesda games I am sure you know what I will complain about. There are a couple of problems that run like a theme through many of Bethesdas latest games, the things I will talk about here I know are also prevalent in Oblivion and Fallout3 for instance.

That pretty much looks exactly like my current character -

Let's start with the predictability of the game. Skyrim is a big place and there are really very many things to discover and do in it. So far so good. But although I've been running around for the above mentioned good 70 hours of the game, I don't really feel like I've been going anywhere. It's not just that everything looks the same, beautiful and snowy - I don't mind that. Rather than just the visual aspect, what keeps making me think like I just made a u-turn wherever I go, or like I'm stuck in a hamster wheel, is the way people and animals around me react. Almost every inn keeper will greet me with roughly the same words, not to mention almost every inn looks exactly the same. The cities have their jarls, the abandoned castles have their house squatting forsworn/draugr/bandits which although they carry different names all react the exact same way - they will attack you. What is up with that anyway? I strongly dislike that I know exactly what will happen before I even get close to the area. If I know there is a giant ahead of me, I know what he will do and if I see a bear I know what that is going to do. Wolves attack me like they've all been starved for two weeks regardless of where I am. I'd expect and accept this kind of simpleton AI in a playstation game, but not in a game like Skyrim that is trying to fool me into thinking that I am actually running around in a vibrant and living world where things go on their merry lives regardless of if I am around or not. Right now I more often get the feeling they're standing around just waiting for me to show up so they can hit the start button on their script.

Setting aside monotonous animal behavior, I can forgive that, people in Skyrim are way to one sided for what the game is trying to be. I understand that with that many NPC in the world you couldn't possibly give them all the backstory and personality worthy of a Kafka novel but I have yet to come across even one NPC in the game that I thought felt alive and interesting and a bit real. I've felt more emotions about a couple of pixels in old SNES games than I do for probably every NPC in Skyrim combined.

The castles/dungeons/caves that you come across also all follow a generic formula. Go into one and you have literally experienced them all, or close to. If I encounter someone who claims they need help along the road, I know it will mean I am going to be ambushed by bandits. After more than 70 hours I have done two quests that were a bit interesting - one with an abandoned lighthouse and one where I infiltrated a party. I want more of this! Right now Skyrim offers quantity of quality and most of the time I find myself running around desperately trying to find the raisins in the cake (ok, no one wants the raisins, but you get the idea). In that sense it resembles grinding in WoW - do this boring stuff for X hours and you might be rewarded with something cool/fun/actually interesting. I never did grinding much in WoW, and I can't say I'm a big fan of it in Skyrim either. My bf often looks at my screen asking me what the game actually is about, commenting things like "all I ever see you do is run somewhere". And yeah, that is often it. I run somewhere, often towards a quest, find a cave, explore that and kill the bear/bugs/bandits in there, find some item in the end I don't need and continue towards my quests. Rinse and repeat. This exploration part of the game could've been so damn good and it just isn't, leaving me frustratingly disappointed.

Let's talk a bit more about the AI in the game that I briefly mentioned already. The AI in the game is so bad, I barely have words for it (but I am sure I can find some). I don't even know where to start. How about the fact that most people I revisit tend to say the exact same things to me every dang time I see them. A while ago there was a very popular meme going around about how so many NPCs in Skyrim where complaining about their arrows in their knees. I loved that meme and was almost sad when I heard they had patched it away, but there are still tons of similar things like it in the game. I happen to sell a lot of my stuff to the vendor in Riverwood, and every time I open that door I know he is going to greet me with a thank you for "taking care of those bandits". Yeah, that was early game I did that for him, I am sure you don't have to mention it and thank me for it every time I enter this shop, especially not considering how often I do it. And it's just not that the one NPC will be repetative, if I enter a city, or any place with a handful of people, I am sure to hear the phrase "you don't look well, are you sure you are ok?" at least every five minutes. If I was any amount of immersed in this game right now, I'd be extremely freaked out by the way people are behaving towards me.

So ok if they can't have too many options for random NPCs around the world, but they clearly haven't made any effort to fix this with the NPCs you meet and hang around for a great amount of time. Worst of all is of course the companion, in my case Lydia. I have made fun of her many times on Twitter. Here is some random Lydia stats;

82% of the time she will say "Oh look a cave, wonder what's in it" just after we've exited and completed said cave. Not once has she said that before we entered.
91% of the time she will stand in a doorway or otherwise obstruct my path, not moving until I am forced to actually punch her out of the way. I've had her stand on things I've tried to move around more often than not. When she stands behind me however she often says "oh" and tries to get out of my way.
86% of the time she will repeatedly walk into the same trap, nearly killing herself in the process.
35% of the time she will throw herself in front me when I am swinging my weapon meaning I've had to reload the save because I killed her.
100% of the time she will say "what, you're a priest?" when I am healing her. EVERY TIME. No Lydia, I am still not a priest. I am trying to keep you from killing yourself (after walking into that same trap five times)!

Lydia is so annoying that if she wasn't such a good mule to me (with literally the intelligence to compare), I would've locked her into a deep dungeon a long, long time ago.

A troll ey? Use tactic "flail your axe around" to win.

Another thing that always freaks me out are how random people will spill random quotes to me in the streets. Maybe it's my swedishness shining through here, as we tend to think people who randomly talk to you in the street also irl are weird, but I wonder - is there any place where this isn't considered really creepy? I walk past someone and they will just blurt out "my husband likes them blueberry pies, I will make him one later". Ok, do I know you madam? I have a kid who stands in my house in Riverwood, and whenever I enter she will stand by the door saying "I'm not afraid of you" and leave. WHO ARE YOU AND GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! This happens every time, or at least nine times out of ten. Surely there must be better ways to make a world feel alive than to have every non-important NPC be something of a creepy stalker.

Lastly, let's talk about the physics of the game. Again, something that Bethesda is well known for is their seeming incompetence regarding game physics, leading to a vast amount of youtube videos titled "Hilarious Game Glitches in Skyrim/Oblivion/other Bethesda game" where you can see NPCs of varying sorts flail around the air like they're part of some Lovecraft game or a David Lynch tv-series. In fact, "Physics Glitch Skyrim" is the top choice when I do a Youtube search on "Physics Glitch", that without having done any search on the subject before. This is because of something I think people call "ragdoll physics", and is far from exclusive to Bethesda games, I've seen it last in games like GTA V. Now, without googling or anything, something in the back of my head tells me ragdoll physics first turned up in Half-Life, but I could easily be very wrong about that. Either way I know that to me, ragdoll physics have gone from something cool making things look more realistic to something silly, making things look mostly very unrealistic. Like I said, Bethesda is far from the only game developer to use this type of physics, they just seem particularly inept at it. The idea is to get inanimate but non-stiff objects, mostly dead bodies, to act a bit more realistic by making them move when you move them rather than just hitting rigor mortis the second they die. The idea is good obviously, but it's far from perfected and sometimes so badly implemented I think I would've preferred the stiff option. Thanks to ragdoll physics, you can have bodies lie and twitchingly "interact" with the ground for ages until the physics engine has decided its in a position where it should lie still. Too often the physics engine is just not clever enough to make this call and you end up with bodies behaving very, very oddly.

I'm not sure how they could fix this, but I know that the end result is a feeling that every body, regardless of size or type (wolf to human to dragon) feels like it doesn't have enough weight to it and like their limbs are just randomly attached and so can go in any direction. All this of course does not help me get into the feeling that I am handling anything real at all, instead it is so unrealistic it just mostly ends up feeling absurd and laughable. Which are great ingredients for spoiling what otherwise could've been a really cool death scene after a fierce and demanding battle. The way it is now I definitely prefer the monotonous deaths of a game like WoW, where each type of creature has its one death animation, over the random results that ragdoll physics can throw in your face, because honestly it looks bad more often than not.


  1. Haha, "you dont look so well" so you mean that you have a disease all the time and are not curing it? XD.

    And yeah, you should play morrowind, I had a more immerse experience with that but maybe that was just me, we are all enjoying different things afterall :)

    1. Oh is that what it is? ^^ I've literally had it since close to the beginning. Well I cured it now and I don't notice any difference. Seems like there should be some way to tell if you're sick :P

    2. There is. It's under magic effects. In bright red letters....

      How could you have played Skyrim for over 70 hours and not know about diseases? At no point did you notice text in the upper left corner inform you that you've contracted Rockjoint, or Bonebreak Fever, or Sanguinus Vampiricus?

      How are we supposed to take your critique seriously when you don't even know how to play the game?


  2. I sacrificed Lydia to a god, it made me feel that much better.

    1. That is awesome. I feel inclined to do the same

  3. ;-D

    I've read this twice and had to smile whole the time. The way you pointed out (and exaggerate) several things is that fun because in a way you're right. When you pile up all those, and other little (or not so little) "flaws", you can create a huge heap indead. That brazen little kid (You're asking for a spank), Those waitresses who always follow you into your room with their menu (Bugger off, I'm not hungry or thisty!), Lydia (or other followers) who's always standing in the line of fire, falling in traps, or even worse activate trap, which at least hurts me or even getting me killed (.............), A single thief demanding you're spoils, while you're with one ore two other heavily armoured followers (Get lost, dumb ass). .......Aarghhh...! Stop it! This is ruïning my game fun, I hate you!;-D

    I've to admit, as mentioned here before, I'm still playing it a lot and I still have a lot of fun with it. It's true, I'm playing it on a PC and did (and still do) some modding on it which made things better (more better imo ;-), way better graphics (HD, more realistic weather, water, flora, etc. I'm looking in ENB now), better combat (Duel combat ->harder fights, less hack and slash), custom race (Ningheim), easen several annoying flaws (less dumb followers for instance), tweaked or improved game mechanisms (Better vampires and Moonlight tales),etc. That NMM is great btw, without it I would have never get this far in modding Skyrim ever.

    I haven’t played that many videogames (I’m from the boardgame age) and I still think Skyrim is one of the best I do and have done so far. Better, than for instance, Civilisation (The warlike way always wins), Total war (nice but tedious) or Dark souls (too hard for me). WoW was great too but also time comsuming. It’s a pity I’ve lost track a year ago, but I don’t have the time or lust to pick up the thread again.

    BTW, if you wonder why I don’t mentioned games like FF or the Sims, that’s because I only try and/or play my sons games. They don’t play such ‘girly’ games however ;-(. (Pandaren was the expection on that rule though.)

    1. Aww, how is FF a girly game? Ah well, there is no telling how kids think ;) I am playing Skyrim on PC as well, I'm just too lazy to meddle around with addons. But I can definitely imagine that it would improve on some things to the game, I know that is the case with many games that have flaws of different kinds.

  4. Aww, that a pity, playing it in Xbox/PS3 mode on a PC. With a few specific mods you can push the game onto a much higher level, compared to the Xbox/PS3 one.
    Mods like 'SkyUI', 'Racemenu', All unofficial patches, 'Skyrim HD-2K' and 'Quality worldmap' makes the game experience so much better. Adding mods like 'W.A.T.E.R.', Climates of tamriel' and 'Flora overhaul' will push thing up even more.
    And it's so simple, Just install Nexus Mod Manager and it will install (and uninstall if necessery) everything for you at the right way, even when you're a digi-nitwit like me.
    Don't expect wonders btw, most flaws you mentioned will just be easend or concealed by modding. The only exception will be 'Dual combat realism' which makes combat much more challenging.

    My sons rather play shooters, On that point my effort in giving some female input has failed miserably ;-(.

  5. I played vanilla Skyrim for a short while. I told my brother and a friend how it's not special, but full of boredom. They both thought I was being a hipster or at least needed a serious lobotomy. I think for a huge fantasy world, they certainly lack in variation AND fantasy. I mean, orcs, elves, cat people, dragons, giants, standard magic.... yawn. Oh, you renamed dwarves and they're a highly advanced and extinct race. There's really nothing original. Mind you, I played Oblivion for weeks on end - avoiding the horrible main quest at every turn, but somehow it seemed more fantastic.

    At one point I modded Skyrim so that I was running around as Link with the Master Sword all the while having tunes from the Zelda series playing. Also, I had various monster mods and terrain/house/etc mods enabled. It made the game fun for about an extra 20 hours. But there's only so much fun to be had when you can equip one thing in each hand (spells included). And considering the thing in each hand can do two things max, it leaves room for dynamic combat. Mount and Blade style combat would greatly improve a game like this.


    1. I completely agree, I felt like Bethesda went for quantity over quality and that just didn't work for me for very long. Things quickly became repetative and predictable. I never tried Oblivion, I might give it a go sometime in the future but my experience with Skyrim unfortunately doesn't leave it high up on my to-play list.

      What really bugs me is like I feel minor changes could've made this game really good, like you mention. They made it easy for themselves leaving so much untapped potential, it's frustrating.

    2. There's a lot to be said on this. But I think it all goes without saying. Having said that, I'm going to make a few suggestions. I've gotten into Skyrim and more with this. First, improved graphics mods. The game can look quite fantastic with a few of these. Second, frostfall. It's a survival mod that makes the game more interesting. Include that with disabling fast travel and basic needs mod (you must eat, drink, and sleep - and eat a balanced diet or get things like hypoglycemia). Basically, add in the things that Beth left for everybody else to do rather than do themselves - only for PC gamers, and you have a pretty cool game. I still wouldn't put it in amazing award-winning, but it suddenly becomes immersive and fun.