Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Dragons, Dungeons, and Skyrim

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 26, 2011

With a Christmas bonus from the Day Job, I went ahead and picked up Skyrim on Friday. Thanks, Day Job, for the game.

Of course, the following day it appeared on sale at Steam for a third off. Ah, well. My internet connection sucks right now and would have taken me days to download the dang thing (that’s supposed to be fixed hopefully today).

Anyway, one joke goes that Skyrim is “like Fallout 3, but with swords.” Considering how much I’ve enjoyed all of the Elder Scrolls and Fallout games, in all honesty it’s not a terrible thing. The Elder Scrolls series began, by my understanding, as an attempt to expand on what Ultima Underworld achieved. Thus in many ways Skyrim and the latest two Fallout games are spiritual descendents of one of my all-time favorite classic RPGs.

I know I’m late to the party, and many of you who are reading this have already “beat” the game twice before I ever installed it. But I often get games many months or years after they’ve been released, so this feels positively current for me. 🙂  The game is jaw-droppingly beautiful and graphically excellent even running at medium-quality, as I am. Twenty years ago, if you’d asked me to describe the ultimate RPG, from my limited vantage point then I probably would have described something kinda like this game.

Today, of course, I can pick nits… between the crashed to desktop and the what-the-hell-were-they-thinking console port of the UI to PC (anybody who complains about Frayed Knights‘ UI but gives this game a pass is on drugs, IMO – though it does highlight the fact that making a good, usable UI for a game that doesn’t just imitate another games’ gameplay is NOT EASY). And of course there’s my old complaint about how they aren’t making the kind of RPGs I really want to see. But I don’t want to begrudge Bethesda their success, and frankly they were making these games before those old kinds of games went extinct among mainstream publishers, so that’s really a silly complaint. Yes, I’m not entirely sure if I’m playing an action-RPG with FPS elements or an FPS with RPG elements, but let’s talk about what it is and what it tries to be, not about what it’s not and not trying to be.

But there’s something else that kinda clicked in my head while playing this game. Back when I was still in school in the early-mid 1990s, I attended a science fiction & fantasy symposium and went to a discussion on the use of computer graphics in current and future entertainment. At the time, as I recall, the movie Jurassic Park was the hot news with CGI dinosaurs that still look pretty dang cool today. Anyway, they culminated the talk with a video clip from an interactive “game” (more like a walkthrough) done by local simulator company Evans & Sutherland. It was a dungeon, with really cool lighting effects from torches and swinging pendulums you had to time your way through, and a big ol’ dragon at the end that was so large you could only see his head and neck coming. This was supposedly in real-time, and I went nuts. I immediately thought of Ultima Underworld – which was also a pretty recent release at the time.  THIS is what I wanted to play. It’s what I wanted to make! It also made me apply for a job at Evans & Sutherland as I approached graduation. Yes, it was not anywhere close to fair — the E&S dungeon was running on top-of-the-line hardware costing hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not more). But it was so dang cool!

Ironically, while E&S never got back to me (and were apparently having problems and downsizing at or about that time), I got a job at fledgeling start-up Singletrac, founded by a bunch of ex-E&S people, including the principle guys responsible for that little dungeon project that got me so excited. They clued me in on how much they’d faked things to get that demo to work… it wouldn’t have held up to the scrutiny of a true interactive game, but the project had been done largely “off the books” and after hours without official sanction (or budget) anyway.

Anyway, as I’ve played a bit of Skyrim, going through dungeon corridors with timed pendulum-blade puzzles and of course fighting BIG OL’ DRAGONS, I felt that thrill again, and didn’t immediately recognize it. But the game has everything that old high-end simulator hardware dungeon had, only far, far prettier.

So, yeah. Skyrim. Is it the perfect RPG? No, there’s no such thing. Is it even an RPG? Yes, I’d argue so, though of course I fret that it’s popularity is helping to redefine RPGs as little more than a subgenre of action games. But it’s a very very cool game, and so far seems deserving of its record-breaking sales. What the series continues to do right is to place such a large emphasis on exploration. That’s a principle aspect of the western RPG experience for me, and so in spite of lacking some other elements that ‘scratch the itch’ for me, the exploration is still plenty of fun and plenty rewarding. While it’s still early in the game for me, it does feel like they corrected most of the parts of Oblivion that sucked and left a game that might not be quite as vast in scope and ambition as its predecessors, but what it does do it does very, very well.

Filed Under: Impressions - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

  • jwmeep said,

    >”anybody who complains about Frayed Knights‘ UI but gives this game a pass is on drugs, IMO”

    I complained about both. I kid, I kid. But yeah, Skyrim’s UI is horrible, intuitive, and has too much wasted space. Not to mention they still haven’t fixed the problem where you click on one thing, and it brings up another.

    For the most part I give the Frayed Knights UI a pass, I just wish there were more hot keys, and I could select monsters by clicking on them.

    But yeah, Skyrim is beautiful game, and Radiant AI actually makes for some interesting events in the game. And yeah, it has some faults and it feels they have taken out a few too many RPG elements. Still fun though.

  • sascha/hdrs said,

    Actually all these timed, blade-swinging puzzles and the Scandinavian-inspired theme made me feel as if I’m playing Tomb Raider Underworld again, a game that was actually more fun to play than Skyrim, so far.

  • sascha/hdrs said,

    Also compared to Oblivion: Yes, they probably fixed the leveling system but in my opinion Skyrim lacks the strong characters, quests and great voice acting that Oblivion had.

  • Noumenon said,

    I just finished Dragon Age: Origins last week, so this review is pretty timely for me! I probably still won’t play the game for another year.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    LOL – I still haven’t finished DA:O, or even gotten that far. I’m sure that if I power through the tedious part I’ll get sucked in by the story & characters. They had an interesting world setup. It started out so well. But then it went flat quickly and relegated itself to “just another RPG” in my long list that I need to finish one day.

    I had lots to complain about in Oblivion, but in the end I still had a great time playing it. Skyrim corrects many of these complaints, but also takes the game system further afield from its RPG core. TBH, I really wouldn’t care about this at all if it weren’t for the fact that there are no more mainstream RPGs out there that are doing anything BUT that. It didn’t bug me when I played Ultima 7 (which was far MORE streamlined, game-system wise, with almost nothing by way of stats or character development), so it really shouldn’t bug me here. But back in 1991 or so, Ultima 7 was simply an outlier in a rich field of RPGs and we welcomed the experimentation with the genre.

  • alfred said,

    The only thing about Skyrim that annoys me are quest items that get stuck in your inventory forever. Really takes the fun out of exploring and looting random dungeons for me.

  • Mike said,

    Dang, everyone seems to be playing Skyrim nowadays. I was going to buy it off Steam but I ran out of money after buying my new desktop.

    What is the general difficulty level of the game? Are there cheats?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    From the RPG rules standpoint, I’d say it’s pretty much beginner level, although you do get some pretty cool variety with crafting and so forth (as has been the case throughout the series). The rules system has been streamlined since Oblivion, so it is more straightforward and simple to play than ever.

    Action-game-wise, it’s going to require some reflexes from you. It’s not quite as challenging as your average first-person-shooter in this respect, but you can’t just stand there and hit the attack key and expect to succeed.

  • kalniel said,

    Mike, the difficulty largely depends on play-style – it’s such an open game and the lack of a class system means that you can make things hard(er) for yourself if you play an oddball build and add in some roleplaying, or find the game a breeze if you play a straight nord fighter.

    I’m very glad for that – it makes different character options a genuinely different experience in how you play the game (as opposed to branching storylines, which in this game, don’t particularly).

    There is always the difficulty slider as well 🙂

    There are the usual console command debug options (cheats) for the PC to give items, use god mode etc, as well as a toolkit coming out soonish, which will allow you to change pretty much anything about the world or give yourself custom items etc.

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