Ed wrote a wonderful review of Skyrim for the Xbox recently. I don’t want to steal his thunder, but I thought I would chime in on how the game feels on PC.
First, let me just say that I agree with Ed’s overall assessment of the game. It certainly merits the Seal of Excellence from Adrenaline Vault. And let me also indicate that I think Skyrim balances the demands of gamers for an open-ended experience with the needs of others for a CRPG with real structure. Skyrim is pretty darn open-ended; if you don’t even begin the major narrative arc, it’s like there isn’t even a threat of dragons at all. You can immerse yourself in the Byzantine politics of the region, pursue wealth and riches, or even become a hated villain who murders people for fun and profit (with all the attendant consequences). In fact, your actions outside of the main narrative of dragons attacking Skyrim still have a large impact on the world around you. The game is not only open-ended, but you can change the status quo while not pursuing your destiny as the Dragonborn. (I’d say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything related to certain quest-lines or stories.)
But the main narrative is also gripping in its own way. It embraces moral ambiguity over black-white moral decisions (just because you are trying to save Skyrim does not mean you or your allies are the good guys). It has a logical progression and plays down the busy work of fetch and carry quests. The voice acting is top notch all around, and it doesn’t ever get in the way. And thanks to the way the journal and maps work, there should never be a moment when you are confused about what actions to take or how to achieve certain goals. Everything that was right with Oblivion’s fast travel system has been carried over.
I also have to give Bethesda credit for revamping the game’s skill and character rules in such a way as to eliminate the pitfalls and exploits of the old system from Oblivion. Character classes are gone and it is no longer really possible to game the system by under-leveling, or to screw up your game by over-leveling. In fact, since there are no attributes (like strength and so on) anymore, skills and perks are the only things that really matter. There is no race to raise certain attributes by incrementing stupid skills you don’t really want to use. Instead, you simply increase skills by using them, regardless of other considerations. There’s no point in spamming pointless skills that you don’t use anymore. Even better, the perks system ensures that specialization is still possible while retaining a character development procedure that emphasizes freedom of action. It is way too complicated to explain here, but let me just say that the tool tips and explanatory information on the character and skill sheets make everything very transparent. Those who love to plan their characters methodically will not be disappointed, while those that just want to focus on doing things will never find themselves leveled badly.
I am also pleased that alchemy is no longer the skill to rule them all. In Oblivion and Morrowind, alchemy was so profitable that anyone who wanted to make lots of money legitimately in the game would just buy out entire shops worth of alchemy ingredients and process them into potions, which you sold to make money to buy more ingredients. Now, alchemy is just plain more difficult because food items are used in cooking and can’t be made into potions (no more cheap stamina potions from bread). Furthermore, while you can make money with alchemy, you have to have both a high skill AND invest your perks in alchemy in order to make it financially worth your while. Since perks are a finite commodity, abusing alchemy for cash means giving up on better combat skills or magical spells. Along those lines, Skyrim has included several methods of crafting. You can make your own armor, weapons, food, potions, and enchant your own items. Since enchanting is now a skill, you can’t just grab grand soul gems and make awesome equipment. Like everything else in Skyrim, making your own awesome magical equipment requires perks that involve sacrificing some other ability your character might have. So, while I have a character with a full set of awesome Daedric armor and weapons he made himself, enchanted in just the way he likes, he’s just not super great at certain combat tasks like another character would be. Another character would have taken all those perks invested in smithing and enchantment and put them in weapon skills, making his attacks much more deadly in certain ways.
About the only complaint I have is that the menus are clearly designed for a console. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except that they interact poorly with a three-button mouse. It is a common occurrence that in dialogue, I will point the mouse at one option, and the game will register another choice, because the mouse wheel was used to scroll between all the choices, while the keyboard controls have another option selected entirely. I end up using the keyboard to scroll through dialogue choices to prevent infinite loops, but I find this to be a bizarre issue. Also, in case anyone does not already know, the game requires Steam activation, even if you bought it on disk. I don’t find this to be a big problem, as Steam can be offline while playing Skyrim, but those with an axe to grind against Steam might find themselves disappointed.
Aside from these minor problems, I can say that Skyrim is worth every penny I paid for it. I was initially skeptical about certain features, but after playing through with different characters and choosing to do radically different things in the game, I have to say Bethesda hit a home run. Christmas came early for PC gamers!