Saturday, January 14, 2012

Skyrim - My beef!

Last week, I finished The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on my PS3.  I had to wait until Christmas to receive it, as I didn't want to go through the expensive process of shipping the game all the way to Taiwan.  For clarity, when I say I 'finished' Skyrim, it means I finished the main quest, and all of the quests in the big four factions (Companions, Mage's College, Thieves Guild, and Dark Brotherhood).

There are really some incomparable moments in Skyrim.  It is truly a remarkable game, but in many ways I think I favor The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  Not in terms of combat or graphics or sound design... in these categories, Skyrim trumps Oblivion in every way.  However, today I want to go into detail about something that had the potential to ruin the game for me.

Okay, so here it is.  Level progression in Skyrim is terribly rigid, and borderline broken for any but the most generic path characters.  Sometimes people like to slag off the Elder Scrolls series because they have scale-able enemies.  This means that as your character levels up, higher level enemies befitting of your character's level start to appear, and the weaker ones disappear.  Enemies that always appear regardless of level, such as rats or bandits, will power up as well in order to match you.

In Oblivion, this was handled very well, because you had standard stats (Strength, Magic, Agility, etc... the RPG staples).  This meant that if you had leveled your character up so much that you had 100 strength, you might conceivably begin to power up your agility or speed with your excess points.  If you had a perfect warrior, you could then easily redirect them to becoming a perfect rogue.  The skill system supported this.  At every 25 levels (if I'm remembering right), you would be given a bonus skill that naturally benefited your character, my favorite of which would be armor class abilities, which meant if you had spent time to level your Heavy Armor skill, you would soon be given the natural perk of having Heavy Armor weigh nothing on you - an amazing thing.

However, Skyrim does away with character statistics, and you only have your skill level per skill.  Your damage done with a one handed weapon is entirely dependent on your One Handed Weapons skill level, and 'Strength' has nothing to do with it.  When I first saw this change in Skyrim, I must say I really liked it.  It cuts one unnecessary aspect from most RPG games, and had me second-guessing why they were in there in the first place.  However, what Skyrim adds is a perk-system into each skill.  As you gain a level, you are given one perk point to put into a skill, giving you some special abilities akin to the leveling perks gained in Oblivion.  However, there is far too much depth in this system, in a way that actually hurts the player.

I decided, as I do in Elder Scrolls games, to play a jack-of-all-trades type character.  In a game where I can invest as many as 120 hours into a single save game, why would I want to split my time into three different characters, most of whom would have to do the same quests, have the same loot, making the differences in them irrelevant.  As you level your character down a particular path in Skyrim, you are pretty much forced to sticking to one combat path: Melee/Bows, Magic, and Stealth.  If you begin to level outside of your one chosen path, the enemies you start to face can become impossible.  This came to a head on my first magic/melee based character, when I found myself in an impossible battle with a snow cat that could one-shot kill me in my full plate armor.  Keep in mind I was playing on normal difficulty, and was not going to compromise and go down to easy for this one fight.

More aware of this system, I decided to restart my character, and went a full melee combat path for the first 30 levels or so.  For this time, things were good.  My character could wade in, exploit enemies power moves for a chance to bash them with my shield followed by a brutal execution animation.  As I reached the top level in my Heavy Armor, One Handed Weapon, Block, and Armorer skills, I really felt like the true dragon born, and unstoppable force decked out in my hand-made dragon bone armor.  But, I hit the cap of these skills and decided to save some of my perks for the magic and stealth careers.  However, in all, there are about 150 - 200 perks (in estimate, some single skills can have as many as 15-20 perk points in order to master).  In the entire lifetime of a character, you may receive about 80 points, or 50 for a normal player who wants to finish everything without getting too obsessive; a player like myself, for example.  But, given the limited range you can customize this character, I found that it would be impossible to ever reach any kind of worthy skill in any of the other combat trees.  So, in a game where you are pushed to create your character in any way you choose, why is this system so restrictive?  If you want to experience the true life of a warrior, mage, or a thief in Skyrim, you had better have a whole lot of time on your hands, and a tolerance for repeated material bordering on the obsessive.

Learn from my mistakes, dear readers.  Don't be deceived!  Play Skyrim like WoW, not Oblivion.  Otherwise you'll get double Elder Dragons laughing at the puny fireballs and electric blasts coming from your level 50 character, while you wish you hadn't left your god damned enchanted demonic armor in the closet at home.


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