The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim – Not the game of the year 2011 despite the fact that I spent more time playing it than any other game.
I played the living shit out of Morrowind, a game that came for free with a motherboard I bought back in the day. It was fun fireballing the shit out of some necromancers and then flying around with my pants of +1000 flying and then being stealthy and stealing shit, but when it came to the last, say four hours of gameplay, the game was no longer playable as a mage/thief. As soon as you were in caves with guys who looked like the narc-lephant tubesteak from Mos Eisley, you were getting smashed in the face pretty regular. The way they “fixed” this, at the end, was to give you Sunder and Keening, which (along with the handcondom Wraithguard) turned even the most weenie bookworm magenerd into a God amongst Gods, physical stats inflated like a pro athlete on horse steroids, ready to stuff some Ash Vampire asshole full of magical artifact and slice the Corprus cure right out of their prostates. There were annoying parts, it was crashy for me throughout the time I played it, the Rock Gliders were fucking terrible and it was far too easy to accidentally smash through from Starter McEasy’s cruise to pick up a rock for some guy into Holy Crap there’s some Daedric shitstorm happening please let me escape. But it was a good game, and by the time I was done, I was just as happy to put Dagoth Ur into the big sleep with a hammer and a chisel as I would have been with some spells. This game was probably 20 or so hours (with some side questing), which at the time was epic beyond epic, and it had a bunch of expansions (that I never played through). On the whole, it was fun, engaging, and I never felt too much like the interface wanted me to hate it to death.
When I heard that there was going to be TESIV: Oblivion, I was pretty excited. Hell, I could put up with some rock gliders again if it means I can stuff two enchanted ebony gauntlets into somebody’s nosehose and make their brain explode, right? Here’s the rest of my Oblivion review: Un. Fucking. Playable. Boring, unengaging, with a difficulty curve about as steep as a wheelchair ramp to a public library. Whereas wandering too far off your path in Morrowind could get your balls mounted on an Orcish mantle, wandering too far off the path in Oblivion was the quickest way to accidentally get mired down in some impromptu Clannfear population control “quest”, where you slowly start to wish you were watching Jurassic Park and masturbating instead of playing this shitty game. Never finished this one, despite FOUR attempts to go back and play it.
So, seven hundred years later, when I heard about Skyrim, I instantly ignored it. Who fucking cares, they’re gonna get good voice actors and it’s gonna have two well-modeled characters in it and then I’m gonna be beating up palette-shifted imps that scale in level with me for no readily apparent reason, right? Fuck off. Not interested. But then a ridiculous number of my friends started to play it and rave about it, so I decided to buy it. Good decision? Yes. Good game? Yes. Game of the year? SO FUCKING NO. NO NO NO. Now, I’ve dislodged like a full waking week’s worth of time into the game, so I can’t argue about the gameplay per dollar value proposition of the $59 retail price – Dollar for hour this game is an enormous bargain, better than drinking with my friends, movies, novels, or any other non-advertisement subsidized entertainment I’ve indulged in this year. So… why isn’t it my game of the year?
Lets talk, for a moment, about console porting. “Console port” is one of the nastiest phrases in PC gaming, usually spit out in a huff when gameplay mechanics are so kluged to fit keyboard and mouse play that it’s obvious someone’s retarded nephew headed up the PC port team. Lots of initially-console-only games that get released for PC three or four months later have this problem, the game is simply designed and tested for play with a controller, and using a keyboard and a mouse to simulate a controller input is frustrating and horrible. Burnout Paradise (and several other similar driving games like Midnight Club 3) is really pretty, fun to play and fun to drive in on the Xbox. On the PC it was horrific, almost exactly the experience you’d expect trying to use a mouse and keyboard to drive a car. GTA IV (a game I was very exited about before playing it) wasn’t exactly crisp on the console, but on the PC it becomes a bleary vague nauseating headbob nightmare. These “console ports” are usually hindered by graphical bugs, gameplay bugs, crashes, poorly bodged UI elements, and frequently a keyboard completely mapped out with random commands spread across the keyboard “intuitively” (press H for help, press P for put your dick in it, press Y for yes). Skyrim has ALL OF THESE PROBLEMS AND MORE. The person responsible for the dialog tree/system menu/inventory menu should be forced to play games with clean UIs for a fucking year for the sins of Skyrim. I can’t tell you how often I have scrolled down a list of items (Skyrim is a traditional TES game which means, basically, you’re going to have four million things in your inventory at any given time) and clicked, only to have the UI randomly decide what I WANTED to click on was the thing at the top of the list. I’ve actually had to develop a system of rabidly scrolling up and down with the mousewheel and then up and down on the movement keys to make sure my “selection focus” is on the right subsection of whatever I’m looking at. And even then it’s only like 75% certain I’ll click on the right thing. I’ve wasted many a black soul gem and listened to many an uninterruptable, interminable introduction dialog because of this. I get dumped out of sales dialogues sometimes because I clicked on some non-selective zone of the left hand dialog that happens to be in the crook of the N or whatever. I’ve listened to one Jarl or another talk about his area of the Reach like 10 times because I just couldn’t seem to click anything else. I’ve ended up skipping HUGE sections of story-enriching dialog just because I know it just doesn’t matter enough to put up with trying to get all the back story, it’s going to take twenty minutes of scrolling up and down and clicking and doing random shit to get it to click the right option. The system menu and inventory share this lack of click-zone cohesion combined with lack of comprehensive keystroke options to complete actions. Let me explain. To craft a dagger, you find a forge, go into the “Iron” menu, and select dagger. Then you either click it some random number of times and then click OK to each time, or you click and hit Y, or you hit “E” (intuitively selected as the keyboard shortcut for “craft itEm”) and then Y. Or hit OK. Every time. Ridiculously, this is the BEST crafting interface in the game, requiring the least retarded number of steps. Enchanting is a matter of selecting an object (by clicking), selecting an enchantment (by clicking), selecting an “intensity” for the enchantment (by clicking and dragging or using the left and right keys) then hitting enter, then selecting a soul gem (by scrolling down an interminably long list of gems), then hitting R (to (silent R)enchant) and then click OK or hit Y. Don’t even get me started on creating fucking potions because it’s just worthless. It’s past frustrating, even in “cheating by looking on the internet” form, seriously, look at this page and tell me what the fuck is going on. JUST SELECT YOUR INGREDIENTS BASED ON THE EFFECTS BUT DON’T END UP WITH TOO MANY EFFECTS! I wasted half an hour making healing potions to keep my elfwuss alive before realizing that the “Potion of Healing” was actually healing me for 52 points and then draining 40 points of magica. For… some reason. I’m sure. Recharging magical weapons, of course uses the keyboard shortcut T, for “recharge this Thing” and is the only area of the UI which doesn’t respond to the mouse wheel, and inexplicably doesn’t have a scroll bar to the right to indicate you can scroll down at all, you simply use W and S to go up and down. WHO THE FUCK DESIGNED THIS SHIT. Seriously, were you guys not allowed to talk to each other while programming this shit?
There’s a whole host of other problems I can mention but they’d all be excusable if the crafting and dialogue interface weren’t so fucking horrible. The map is 3D but for some reason you can only zoom from “looking at a topographical map from 10 feet above the table” to “looking at a topographical map from 6 feet above a table”. Travelling to an area doesn’t clear any fog of war, no, no, your map has active cloud cover that obscures the very, very vague paths that lead you through mountain passes (which are sometimes intentionally misleading, making it look like there’s a wide winding path up a face when in fact it’s a ski-slope of impenetrable rubble). Stealth is a joke, guards will regularly detect you even when wearing magical stealth boots and gulping invisibility potions, but it’s OK because only rarely will a mission involving stealth NOT be fixable by just murdering everyone in the current area code. I completed all the Mage’s college quests with a warhammer and the two default spells they give you at the beginning (plus the ONE spell I had to purchase to gain entry). There were two pretty cool puzzles (the big dwemer sphere that you had to “align” the crystal with fire/ice and the dungeon you had to use elemental spells to unlock doors in) but then there were 40 more dungeons whose only “puzzle” was to turn some pillars to the symbols CARVED IN THE FUCKING WALL BEHIND THEM. This is the ancient Nord version of putting your password on a post-it on your monitor I guess. The MOST interesting and engaging quests were completely optional Daedric shrine quests. And worst of all… I’m not done yet. I’ve got hours and hours in and no sense of completion. I’m the Archmage of a whole college, the king of thieves, the master assassin and not at any time has it felt like “woo, that was awesome”, it always just feels like putting a line through a to-do item and completely un-like, say… portaling Wheatley to the moon, or exploding an enormous, armor and laser encrusted RadScorpion, or even finally fucking killing a mob in minecraft — any number of other awesome gaming moments I’ve had this year.
Brad and I had a discussion about Skyrim in which he very astutely pointed out despite all his problems with the game that he had 80 hours of play in it and it “didn’t owe him anything”. It’s true, I don’t feel like Skyrim owes me anything. In fact I feel a little ashamed I’m not gamer enough to finish all the food left on my plate (there are gameless kids in africa who would LOVE to enchant just one dagger), but ultimately my time in Skyrim is going to go out with a whimper and not with a bang. Instead of a sense of ultimate badass completion, it’s gonna feel like quitting a shitty job.