No Daggerfall. No Morrowind. No Oblivion.
I have always been a J-RPG kind of guy. Give me a good Final Fantasy game, and I’m set. Bioware was an exception because ofKnights of the Old Republic, but for the most part, American-made RPGs never sat well with me for a number of reasons.
The most prominent of which is the exact reason I love MMOs: they never seem to end.
You see, The Elder Scrolls series intimidates me. There is so much to do that I have never been able to make myself start one because I am afraid I’ll never finish. Not in the “I must have 100% of every game I play” way, but in the “I will get side-tracked every 30 seconds and never even finish the main narrative” way.
Lately, I’ve been tired of the MMO grind. The endless points-mongering and hotkey combat has grown stale. I need a story–an interactive, epic story–that the themepark questing and pseudo-storytelling of modern MMOs can’t provide.
So with all the hype about Skyrim, I figured I could give it a shot in the month before The Old Republic releases and redefines MMO storytelling.
I am so glad I did. Because Skyrim is the best RPG I’ve played since Final Fantasy IX on the Playstation all the way back in 2000.
Here There Be Dragons
So far, I’ve dropped nearly 15 hours into Skyrim. I’ve killed one dragon, found three power words, and completed maybe–maybe!–an hour of the main narrative.
When Bethesda says there are 300-500 hours of content in Skyrim, I believe them.
The main story arc follows our hero as he (or she, depending on your preference) learns that dragons have returned to the world and that he (or she) is one of the Dragonborn, heroes who have a kind of natural magic called Shouts.
And that’s about all I know right now. Seriously. That took about an hour to get, and the rest of my time has been spent wandering the countryside, doing sidequests, exploring dungeons, mines, and ruins, and getting into all kinds of trouble with giants and wooly mammoths.
FYI: Until you are around level 10-15, don’t mess with the giants and mammoths. You’re not nearly as badass as you think you are.
An Explorer’s Dream
Skyrim does one thing better than other RPGs I’ve played lately. It makes me actively want to explore. I’m not rushing to the endgame or through the main story because the world is littered with interesting things to do.
Go over here, and you find a bandit camp with some neat loot in a chest. Go ten yards down the road, and you find a cave to explore. Go through there, and you’re suddenly in a new town where the locals are being oppressed by their leaders and you have to find out why in this lengthy sidequest. Before you know it, you’re three or four hours into a questline you didn’t even know you had started.
I’m not much of an explorer, but I love exploring in Skyrim. I want to know what’s in every nook and cranny. Usually, I’m rushing to an endgame where I can get the best gear, fight people in PvP, or make sure that my friends aren’t outleveling me so I have people to play with.
Not in Skyrim. No, sir. I’m taking my time, and I’m enjoying it. I’m playing a game to play the game, not to win. It’s liberating, and I have seriously considered not playing The Old Republic next month because of how much fun I’ve been having.
Lightning, Fire, and Ice. Oh, My!
Now, I’m a magic user in games. I always have been, and I always will be. So Skyrim‘s option to dual-wield magic spells is lovely for me. It makes me a very happy man that I don’t have to swing a greatsword to slay me some dragons–I can blast them out of the sky with lightning!
On top of that pinch of awesomeness, if you choose the way of the wizard, you can travel to the College of Winterhold and get involved with scholarly politics and artifact pondering to your heart’s content. It’s completely separated from the main Dragonborn storyline, and I took a break from them to kill my first dragon and meet up with the Greybeards. Once I finish there and dragons start spawning in the world, I’m heading back to Winterhold to finish up what I can there.
(By the way, if you’re interested in how to get to Winterhold, the college is easily accessible through a fast travel carriage outside of Whiterun. Don’t steal a horse and/or run all the way there.)
The thing is, the combat is great. As a high elf, dual-wielding lightning spells is awesome. I summon a flame atronach and then start blasting my way through necromancers, frost spiders, and just recently, giants and wooly mammoths (with a great deal of circle strafing and a perk invested in Impact).
Console, shmonsole. PC or bust!
I’m playing Skyrim on PC. My specs aren’t the best–Windows 7 64-bit, 2.6gHz, 5gb RAM, and a GeForce 9800 GTX+–but I’m able to play the game on High graphics settings with no clipping or lag during fights. I’m not sure of my FPS.
The mouse controls are great for spell-slinging, but I find myself really wishing I had a gamepad. I may stop by after work to see if the local GameStop has a USB dongle for my Xbox 360 controller. I may miss the precision of the mouse, though. We’ll see.
Keybinds are easy, and swapping between the myriad of spells is intuitive. You won’t have any problems learning the controls, as they’re far simpler than most first-person shooters I’ve played on PC. The hardest thing to get used to is hitting tab to close menus instead of right-clicking them into oblivion (hehe, Elder Scrolls pun FTW).
To Infinity and Beyond!
Like I said, I’ve though about not even bothering with MMOs anymore, specifically with The Old Republic. However, I was lucky enough to have a beta weekend a while back, and even though the NDA won’t let me give any details–in fact, even saying I was chosen may be too much–I can say that the story is worth it if you’ve been wanting KOTOR 3 as long as I have. Online or not, it has Bioware storytelling.
I figure I’ll be finished with the main narrative in Skyrim right around the time that The Old Republic allows pre-orders our early access. I’ll get my Sith Inquisitor on for a while, see as much story as I can until level 50, and by the time Bethesda releases the first Skyrim DLC in–most likely–late Q1 2012, I’ll be ready to take a break from TOR for a little while and kill some more dragons.
Until then, however, I’ll be content exploring the world and just taking in the sights. I now see why everyone has been so gaga over the Elder Scrolls games for so long. And I’m sad that it’s taken until now for me to literally disconnect long enough to enjoy one.
Better late than never, though.
So yeah. Skyrim. Awesome.