Game:  Skyrim

Genre: Action Role-Playing Game

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Score:  So Bethesda It’s Bethesda

I have never liked the Elder Scrolls series.

Now that that’s out of the way, Skyrim is different. Skyrim presents me with a teaching opportunity: that Fun is different than Good. This is the first of three recurrent themes to be featured in this commentary. The second is the disappointment at the lack of freedom in a game supposedly famous for it. The third is the concept of lowered expectations. Enjoy.

The story begins with you on Dark Ages death row for literally no reason. The Roman Hitlers are going to separate your head from your shoulders, right after they kill a rebellious traitor and his friends. A disappointingly small dragon shows up and doesn’t hurt anyone while you are herded through town by invisible walls. Skyrim then gives you a “choice” to make – join the unlikeable, violent rebels or join the Roman Hitlers who were going to kill you, again, for no reason.  The obvious choice is to just leave town, but no, this is Skyrim, the game where you can do anything you want, as long as it’s one of two moronic things no one in their right mind would do.

After a pointless, very long, and definitely unskippable tutorial (teaching point for future game developers: don’t do this), I’m finally free to ignore the unbelievably boring and stupid main quest and carve out a name for my character by Role Playing in a Role Playing Game.

I was Genghis Khan, a ruthless barbarian king ready to strike terror into the hearts of his enemies with a massive two handed sword.  I walk into town and some asswipe mouths off to me so I smash his face in. Well, not really, since he has an MMO-esque fetch quest in his programming, he’s INVINCIBLE. In a lord’s court some smart mouthed kid gives me lip and I just take it I guess because he’s INVINCIBLE. The only thing I couldn’t take was the lord’s crown off his head because he’s INVINCIBLE. I did kill a dragon at level 6, by standing immobile and hitting it while all its moves missed me/did no damage/bugged out, so that was pretty heroic. Obviously, I was doing it wrong, so I promptly quit the game and made a new character.

That’s okay Skyrim, I’ll try the subtle approach.  My second character was a smooth talking rogue type.  An easily exploited oversight in design allowed me to be level 30 before I even left the first town – I just spent some time sharpening my daggers on an INVINCIBLE WOMAN. No one cared that I spent 66 hours stabbing her in the tits, but once I failed to pickpocket a hunk of cheese from her and DOZENS of guards spawned and killed me.  Skyrim.

I entered the world with max stealth and assassination skills, again, because of obvious game design flaws that could have easily been found if anyone had tested this game.  I was a ghost able to sneak anywhere and steal anything – well almost.  Some locks, no matter how deft my hands were, were impossible to pick.  They required a quest key.  I don’t mean some magic object.  That might’ve made sense; I mean a fucking PEASANT’S HOUSE KEY quest item.  Even after becoming leader of both thief and assassin guilds, this paragon of subterfuge was unable to pick the lock on a child’s toy box if the game didn’t want me to.

The most insulting thing of all was when I went to fence my hard-earned goods.  Vendors had a tiny, exhaustible gold allotment and a psychic bond to every stolen good in the kingdom, from any distance, no matter what.  For instance, if I stole a Sweet Roll from the pocket of a guard, no vendor (save the special thieves guild vendor) would buy it from me.  I had a hard time suspending my disbelief.  The game is realistic in the ways that are not fun, and yet unrealistic in the ways that are also not fun. Bravo, careful balancing act.  It didn’t take me long to find a loophole though: If I kill the guard and loot his corpse, then they’ll buy it no problem. This is another theme of Skyrim: Theft is infinitely worse than murder. Explains their restrictive DRM, HOOO.

The dragons are poorly implemented in Skyrim. They are too small, and look stupid. They are trivially weak for a main plot monster. As I said earlier, I killed one at level 6 while partially afk.  Later, my horse would kill them while I picked berries. The Dragon Encounter System allowed for hours of waiting for the motherfuckers to land before letting my horse kill them. Skyrim.

The combat in Skyrim is bad. If you choose melee weapons, you get to slash one of two ways. These ways vary slightly, I guess. Sometimes the game decides you should do a FINISH HIM sequence, where you sorta hold something and jerkily swing somewhere and the guy dies in a somewhat irrelevant way. The animations are horrible across the board. You could choose to cast magic spells in combat if you want your boring, choiceless mush to be blue or orange in color. I’d advise against it, since spells are completely weak and scale terribly. This could have been addressed, again, if anyone had tested this game.

The menus in Skyrim are about as bad as I’ve ever seen in any game, ever. I cannot overstate how awful these menus are. No one tested this – but this kind of thing is par for the course. Bethesda fans have allowed the Elder Scrolls games to invent their own grading scale.  Innumerable, game breaking bugs are forgiven because That’s Bethesda!  As if the game were some old uncle who shits himself at family reunions. Any one of the amateurish flaws from Skyrim would’ve (and has) doomed other games, yet this one is the biggest hit. The graphics are alright. Nice big world. Quests are better, if MMO-ey. Story is boring, worse than Morrowind, better than Oblivion, so, whatever.

Where is the fun so many people had in this game? Lowered expectations, brain problems, desperation for a fantasy title, I dunno. Where is this fun I had?  So Bad It’s Good. The game hits the magic moments when you get to Mystery Science Theater 3000 it with friends nearby. Almost nothing in the game is good, but, wonderfully, a lot is hilariously fun. Dragons will fly upside down and backwards away from horses that spin like tops into the sky. You’ll get hit by a giant and fly into the stratosphere. Your companion who is holding all your treasure and glitchily fights next to you will sometimes disappear forever, taking everything with them never to return even 50 hours into the game. Your horse will sometimes kill dragons, but other times dies after tripping on a tiny stone to fling you off a cliff at GTA: San Andreas speeds. Actually, why should I keep listing them? Watch this.


This game was reviewed on PC.