It’s nearly been a month since E3, since the day we stepped into the demo room and saw Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with our own eyes for the first time. Anticipation was high as so many people were waiting to hear about Bethesda’s latest foray into the Fantasy genre. Could this game live up to the hype? Would it be the next great standalone RPG? Other reviewers seem to think so. But as I sat watching the presentation, a familiar sinking feeling began to fill my stomach. With a game this beautiful, in a presentation designed to wow, why was so much missing?
Let’s back up a minute and talk about the positives. Skyrim represents Bethesda at their finest: A game replete with dynamically generated content, full of breathtaking vistas and a thousand small details that inspire awe when you sit back and realize how complex a thing it is to say, render that one little dynamic butterfly flitting off in the corner of the screen as the player runs down the road. There are about 150 dungeons in the vast world of Skyrim, filled with traps and treasures and huge beasties. What they do well they do perfectly. The UI alone should win awards. Looking up to the sky to select your skill trees from the stars of the heavens, and looking down to inspect your map is a simple but brilliant touch that adds a great deal to the immersion factor of the game.
And the dragons. The dragons. Massive, unique, filled with complex fighting mechanics, these creatures are core to the character progression in the game, since as a Dragonborn you play one of the few people alive who can stand toe to claw with the monsters plaguing the land. The battles with the dragons are difficult, as they should be, but killing one type of dragon may help you fight off others as you reap their souls and apply them to unlocking your abilities.
But when you come down to it, a game is fun to play, not if it has shiny graphics and dynamically generated winged lizards, it’s fun if the world is engaging and the combat is interesting. And here is where Skyrim, like just about any Bethesda game before it, fails. Combat is wooden, with the player character barely moving at all to swing his sword. It looks as if he’s practically rooted to the spot and can only move his arm and his feet when the magic hits the fan. There are high points, as in any combat system, and the ability to dual wield weapons – and even spells – is definitely a clever concept. But the combat itself looks pretty much how combat did in Oblivion, and that’s far from a good thing.
The wooden description also applies to the characters you interact with in Skyrim. They spent a lot of time talking about the life goals of the NPCs, how each of them lives a simulated real life and makes decisions based on their own personal priorities, but when you speak to these people, it’s like talking to brick wall. The voice work is well done, granted, but why is it Bethesda can’t seem to make characters that express emotion? Can’t they build a dynamically generated system for making people seem real?
I had a tough time playing Oblivion because of this sense of sterility in the combat and character design, and it seems that Skyrim hasn’t changed any of these flaws, it’s merely glossed over the previous game’s problems with a new level of pretty. And it’s a great deal of pretty, don’t get me wrong. I guess what it comes down to is that Bethesda promised me an engaging storyline and a game that will sweep me off my virtual feet, but from what I see now, it’s just Oblivion, but with dragons. And I don’t think that’s enough for me.