This is a review with emphasis on the graphics of the game I’ve been waiting for for 5.6 years: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I’m not a gamer, but I try out a game if it’s said to have ground-breaking graphics. This was the case in 2007 with The Elder Scrolld IV: Oblivion, back then I got hooked and completed the main quest and all guilds. Skyrim uses the same graphics engine, although they taught it a few new tricks, but it’s no revolution.
As an optimist, I’ll start with the praise and save the rant for later. In 38 hours, I’ve completed the main quest, the mages guild quest (becoming the arch mage of the college of Winterhold), lots of side quests all over the map, and got my mage character up to level 23. And I enjoyed almost every minute of it.
The landscapes are nothing short of art, the story is great, even most of the side quests are entertaining compared to the goto-X-get-Y-return of other RPGs. The sound effects, voice acting and the sound track add to the atmosphere, the game really pulls you into the world of Skyrim if you allow it to.
Where else can you enter a cave, find a dead body with a scientific notebook, read the story of the poor dead lad and find e.g. the artifact he was looking for or complete his experiment. In what other game can you hear people in the street chatting about a haunted house in a remote area and go there yourself to check it out and maybe help the ghost or clear the house of ghosts? I’m talking about the freedom to explore all those little details and side quests, which I had a hard time ignoring when I rode my horse from A to B to get on with the main quest. I always got distracted by the diversity of everything in Skyrim, which is a good thing!
Let’s compare some screenshots. Here’s Riften in the morning and at night:
Staggering. Indoor scenery looks awesome too:
as do the light effects (this isn’t the ordinary sky, it’s in Skyrim’s kind-of nirvana):
But here comes the turning point. See those edgy mountains on the right? That’s just one of many things that spoil the realism. Let’s take a look at water in Skyrim. It can look gorgeous:
or quite last-gen:
Oh, wait, what’s that blurry thing on the right? That would be stone stairs where the artists forgot to add high-resolution textures. My biggest complaint is that there are so many low-resolution textures all over the game world. For example, take a look at this nice alchemist’s room:
What spoils the fun and hurts the eyeball? The bad textures of the chest and the wooden table (apart from the not-so-round mushroom that could use a little more polygons). The mage herself looks okay…
…which cannot be said of Olfrid’s hair and fur cloak. In fact, there is no hair in Skyrim, it’s all static polygons, not blowing in the wind:
Skyrim is all about dragons, so here’s a great-looking specimen:
But this one is, although it’s an important character with lots of dialog in the main quest, just blurry and ulgy (in this picture it’s caught in a trap):
So here is my 6-point Skyrim rant list:
- Blurry textures all over Skyrim. This may be acceptable on consoles, but PC gamers playing on ultra high settings expect things to be sharp. Oblivion had the same issue and some genius created a 2GB texture pack that vastly improved it. Maybe someone is already working on a texture pack for Skyrim as we speak-ehm-write.
- The animations are last-gen. Apart from the killing animations (which imho are unnecessary in an RPG) they look like they were stitched together. In a 2011 game, we expect fluent transitions between standing/walking/running/jumping of NPCs and animals.
- There is no hair. NPC hair, animal fur, fur clothes etc. need to be made of small strings that blow in the wind. Skyrim only uses static polygons, hair looks like it’s made of stone.
- Puzzles are too easy. In all the main and the college of Winterhold quests, I didn’t encounter a single challenging puzzle. Reading 3 symbols from a wall in the same room where they need to be input, or from a crawl shaped artifact, is not hard. Trying all possible combinations of 4 switches (that’s 2^4 = 16) isn’t challenging either.
- Dumb dialogs. Don’t get me wrong, 90% of the dialogs are great, but the other 10% spoil the realism. I’ve visited a trader in an alchemist shop after every other quest, and he always greeted me with the words “So, you’re an alchemist, then?” – even when I was already arch mage, proudly wearing the arch mage cloak, Whiterun’s mage told me to “join the college of Winterhold if you’re interested in magic”. Gee, thanks!
To be fair, I’ll mention some good dialog too: After you made the two Jarls agree to the peace conference, people on the streets are chatting about it. And when you killed a dragon, people gather around and authenticly act amazed.
- Dragons still attack after you’ve killed Alduin. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that the other dragons would come to their senses after I pierced a sword into their leader’s brains.
Thoughts about the future
Having played Battlefield 3 for it’s state-of-the-art graphics, Skyrim looks quite last-gen. I’d just like to mention here that I hate Battlefield 3 for being a narrow, scripted and brutal war game, but its graphics are over the top. I wish for an RPG like Skyrim with BF3-quality graphics and animations. Bethesda, can you hear me? Please take your time to develop a new 21st century graphics engine for The Elder Scrolls VI. But I guess we’ll have to wait another 5 years for it, so I’ll be on the lookout for another RPG that fulfills my requirements in the meantime.
One day in 2012 I’ll get back to Skyrim, join the murder’s guild, collecting blood samples from all species for an interesting side quest, then learn the invisibility spell to play through the thief’s guild and do a few side-quests in the cities. The replay-value seems to be endless!
Some more screenshots…
The awesome ice cave north of Winterhold: