Skyrim, and Its place in the Elder Scrolls Series

Posted: December 9, 2011 in Reviews, Video Games
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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the latest addition to the Elder Scrolls (TES) series of Role Playing Games (RPGs) released by the developer studio Bethesda. The Elder Scrolls series has a long history, beginning with The Elder Scrolls: Arena released in 1994 for the PC. Followed by The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall released in 1996 and a few unnumbered titles (Battle Spire, and TES adventures: Redgaurd) in the latter part of the 90s. In this Article, I will compare Skyrim to its two predecessors, Oblivion (the fourth game in the series, and the one that Skyrim followed) and Morrowind (the third part of the series, that Oblivion followed).

Skyrim

First let’s look at Skyrim itself. The original release build was riddled with bugs (something Bethesda fans now expect and accept), some of which were debilitating (preventing players from advancing though the main storyline). Historically, Elder Scrolls games tend to be relatively bug heavy. However, the extensive nature of the game makes releasing a bug free build near impossible, so it would be difficult to fault Bethesda, especially since patches were made exactly for this type of situation. Beyond the bugs, the game is absolutely fantastic. The game landscape itself is incredibly detailed and gorgeous, and this is an opinion from someone who is fanatical about their hatred of snow! The old trademark of the TES series, a wide expansive world where you can essentially do and be whatever character you wish, continues to be a dominant theme within in Skyrim (perhaps even stronger than it is in Oblivion arguably, but I digress. The main story line and various side and faction quest lines are well done for the most part. In fact, my only real gripe is with the Bard College quest “line” was inherently less robust. I was greatly disappointed that the Bard College quests lacked depth and were essentially a collection of disconnected fetch quests devoid of any overarching theme or quest chain. Moreover, not only could you not advance in the college, once you were done with the quest line, the college basically becomes useless, unless of course, you’re interested in the few skill trainers available. You can’t even learn to play an instrument!

The change to the skill system was awesome. Instead of the original system, where you had to have a specific class, and you could only level up by increasing your major and minor skills, you can level up from any skill increase. However, as you level up, you need more skill increases to level (as opposed to Oblivion and Morrowind, where you only needed 10 skill level ups, regardless of what level you are.) In addition, I really loved the new perk system that was introduced. It allowed them to simplify the skill system by reducing the amount of skills you have to keep track of, while letting you customize your character as much or more than you could in either Morrowind or Oblivion. Personally, I think it might have been better to have changed how many perk points you get per level. At a certain point, even with a high level in something, it becomes less useful than it would be in, say, Morrowind, because you may not have spent your perk points. For example, I can have a character with 70 smithing, but I wouldn’t be able to make iron or leather gear unless I invested skill points down that tree. When you get to a high level, leveling up, and obtaining perk points is more time consuming, so it becomes difficult to get to a desired skill level since you can’t just level up the skill anymore to be effective.

The crafting system in Skyrim is also vastly improved from that of its predecessors. In this current iteration you can actually make armor and weapons with the smithing skill, instead of just being able to repair your armor and weapons (via the “armorer” skill). This not only provides a function for the various mines you come across in Tamriel, but it’s another way to “be what you want!” When it comes to the enchanting skill I have mixed feelings. On one hand I like what they’ve done with disenchanting , basically giving a purpose to all the otherwise worthless magical items. However, I disapprove of their decision to make disenchanting the only means of learning now enchantments. Personally, I prefer the Morrowind system, where the enchantments you can do was based on the spells you know.

Comparison

As is the case with any sequel, inevitably there will be a comparison made between the sequel and its predecessor(s). Skyrim of course is no exception, so using my perspective let’s take a look at how Skyrim compares to Oblivion and Morrowind.

Many people (myself included) thought that Oblivion, while excellent in its own right, was a step backward compared to Morrowind and even Daggerfall. However, Skyrim does not follow this path. In my opinion, Skyrim is leaps and bounds ahead of Oblivion in nearly every aspect of the game. Skyrim improves on many of the more lackluster elements in Oblivion. For example, Skyrim’s crafting system is far superior to it predecessor.

Quests

The main quest in Skyrim is far more fun and engaging than in Oblivion. For me, the first couple of Oblivion gates I had to close were quite interesting, but eventually the game play becomes boring and stale. I found myself dreading coming across Oblivion gates in Oblivion because going inside was repetitive. It essentially boiled down to get in, bash skulls until you get to the right building, and activate the sigil to close the gate. These encounters were also incredibly time consuming. There is nothing I dislike more than being on my way to completing some unrelated quest, only to have to trudge through a long pseudo dungeon in order to continue. Of course, I’m sure I could have just skipped closing the gates, but I was sort of compelled by a sense of duty. It became kind of like a job, which is a description that no game should aspire to obtain. Skyrim’s version of these encounters (dragon attacks) are far superior; they are shorter, making it more of a temporary epic battle, rather than a long trudge through deadre after deadre. Notably, while the story is more engaging, it also feels shorter in its entirety. Despite disliking the long drawn out dungeon crawls to close various gates, I did find the story’s depth appealing. Conversely, Skyrim’s story feels much too short for such an epic tale. My senses tell me that I shouldn’t have been able to foil the plans of the “Eater of Worlds” so quickly, this is one aspect where Skyrim falls short. Morrowind’s story felt truly epic both in scale and in action. Although the actions in Skyrim’s main quest are great, it doesn’t quite have the depth required to meet the bar set by

Morrowind.

The same holds true for Skyrim’s faction quest lines. For example, when traversing the College of Winterhold quest chain, it seemed like it was just a random encounter and they decided that I would handle extremely important tasks right off the bat (well like 2 quests in). A few (in game) days later and I’m Arch-Mage just like that. At least in Oblivion, they have you doing menial tasks first so you at least rise through the ranks, but it seems like the College of Winterhold (and indeed the other factions as well) were just waiting for someone to come along to be named Arch-Mage. All the factions seemed be just an express lane to becoming their leader, rather than an organic guild that actually cares about someone rising through the ranks before they are tasked with important stuff. In Morrowind, when joining and completing quests for a guild, it actually seems like I’m rising through the ranks, rather than just randomly becoming the most important person in the guild overnight. While some people would be glad to be rid of the meaningless quests that acted as fillers before you were deemed important enough to get to the real work, these “meaningless” tasks actually added a lot to the role playing aspect of the game.

Game Mechanics

There are many game mechanics present in TES series that Skyrim really improved upon. Combat in Skyrim is the best implementation in the series bar none. The dual wielding mechanic was expertly done, and really makes combat much more fluid and organic, and dual wielding swords/maces/what have you is an awesome feeling! Casting spells is also much better now because of this new system. In Morrowind and Oblivion, while I loved the magic system, casting magic spells in combat just seemed clunky and awkward. However, sometimes I do find myself instinctively mashing the C key to no avail. As discussed, the crafting system far surpasses the implementation in the third and fourth installment of the series in most regards. I’m glad that they added back the Morrowind style fast travel (where you basically fast travel to preset locations by paying someone to take you there).

Unfortunately, there are also some mechanics in Skyrim that, in my opinion, are not improvements to the previous iterations in Morrowind and Oblivion. One glaring problem I discovered is the complete lack of Deadric armor/weapons in the game world. As far as I know (and I’ve done quite a bit of research in this area), you cannot find Deadric armor and weapons (aside from the artifacts that are rewards for the various Deadric quests) in the game world, but have to smith them yourself. I love the crafting system, but I don’t like being forced to level up a certain skill just to wear the best armor in the game. There should be other ways of getting Deadric armor that, while much harder than simply smithing it, is still available for those who don’t want to have a high level smithing character. Not to mention the need to not only level smithing, but get the correct perks as well.

I miss the ability to create your own spells. The spells in Skyrim are all quite satisfying (at least the destruction spells) but not having a way to create your own simply reduces a player’s choices when customizing their character. While I’m not privy to Bethesda’s rationale was for omitting this feature, I can’t imagine anything that could have justified the decision.

Bethesda also greatly simplified the armor system. Where originally you would have separate pieces for the chest, legs, etc. now you have fewer pieces (for example, armor is now what in Morrowind was a Cuirass, left and right pauldrens (shoulder armor) and greaves. Morrowind was a bit overboard, I think they simplified the armor too much. Essentially, what it comes down to is fewer choices for customization in exchange for simpler game play. I can appreciate wanting to simplify things that were a little too complicated, but it calls for a balancing act and in my opinion they leaned a little too far towards simplification. Moreover, it doesn’t stop at armor. The entire stat system has been completely jettisoned and you can no longer select becoming stronger, faster, or more intelligent. Now you simply pick whether you think you should have more health, stamina, or magicka, an oversimplification in my opinion that takes something substantial away from the game.

In Closing

Ultimately, I would give Skyrim a rating just below Morrowind, but above Oblivion. By itself it is an amazing (albeit buggy) game. Bethesda seems to be going along with the current trend in the gaming industry to simplify their game in an attempt to make it more accessible. However, while they were successful in certain aspects, other areas suffered from an oversimplified. Nevertheless, Bethesda delivered an awesome game, and I hope they keep delivering more!

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