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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Game Play: Skyrim

Update: Obviously I was a bit hasty, as several PS3 owners are reporting that after save files of a certain size, the game will start to increase in lag while playing until slowly becoming unplayable.

My own file size is about 9mb, and I have had a few issues like what is being reported - but can still make an afternoon out of it. Currently on a thumbs sideways kind of judgement. Bethesda has a patch coming out supposedly after Thanksgiving, but no confirmation that patch will fix it.

I'm still a big fan of the game in general, but feel for the PS3 players. And some of the player stories are of the kind I can't recommend it for the PS3 anymore. This is absurd, Bethesda, just absurd.

Faithful readers of Cathode Tan (and yes, I am referring to both of your) know that I have frequently felt that for the Fallout titles in particular frequently performed, shall we say, less than the standard amount of quality assurance.  I won't bore with a bunch of old links, but let us just say that the terms "buggiest" "game" and "ever" might have been used in regards with words like "New Vegas".

Seriously, a bug which can be fixed by wearing the right in-game hat?  Seriously?  A few months ago Bethesda released an update to New Vegas which reportedly fixed all the crashes, slowdowns, world holes, and other game breakers.  I tried it out for about five minutes before realizing that my experience with all the previous bugs had sucked every ounce of desire to ever play the game again out of my marrow.

So let us just say that I bought Skyrim with some trepidation.  Sure, I hadn't read any previews mentioning bugs - but it isn't like the gaming media has done a particularly good job calling Bethesda out on these issues, usually sidelining it to a paragraph in a review and then just giving the game a 9/10 anyway.

I've now spent many, many, many hours in Skyrim on the PS3.

Many hours.

And I haven't had a single serious technical problem.  I've run into the very rare temporary slowdown. There was one instance where the ground didn't load and I could fall into it.  Compared to the "grinding slowdown to a crash" of the previous games, Skyrim is quality assurance nirvana.  But more importantly, compared to most games out there - Skyrim is easily as stable if not slightly more so.

Why is this so important?  Why am I devoting several paragraphs starting out this review to it?  Simple.  I'm astonished with how utterly complete the experience is without all the glitches and crashes of the previous games.  That Skyrim is more graphically intense than the previous engine is nice, but being able to wander the Nord countryside without worrying about a crash was the real mission Bethesda needed to succeed.

Skyrim essentially takes some of the best concepts from the recent Fallout games, wraps them within the expansive RPG concepts of Elder Scrolls and delivers them in a very eye pleasing package.  Bethesda is declaring the Creation Engine a completely new engine, as opposed to the Gamebryo engine of the past titles.  How much is completely new I somewhat wonder - there is an awful lot about the game which has the identical feel from the Gamebryo titles ... but whatever is new, old or slightly updated - Bethesda has gotten this one right.

Elder Scrolls fans will be familiar with the core mechanics here.  Wander the countryside, stumble onto adventures, advance your skills by using them, and otherwise take in the open world RPG events of Skyrim.  The amount of content available to the player is insane.  I've currently got about twenty open quests, I think, and I don't know when I'll finish them because I'll stumble onto new ones while questing.

There's some streamlining at play here over the older games.  The crafting is simpler, and I feel as if magical items are more functional and useful than they were in Morrowind or Oblivion.  I find myself using the same strategy as I have before - a kind of mage/warrior/thief hybrid which works wonderfully with Skyrim's skill system.  I've seen YouTube videos of more "pure" builds and it seems that the game properly rewards you for either type of play.

My complaints are rather small.  Item management is still a burden, even once you get a faithful companion to offload some items.  Some missions feel a bit too linear, too hack and slash.  There have been a couple of the puzzles which honestly the solution was more annoying than entertaining.  But these are just tiny issues in an otherwise epic game.

Skyrim is simply one of the best RPG games to ever grace any console or PC.  It's the high watermark of the game design and philosophy of the Elder Scroll franchise.  I'm quite glad to now be in a camp where I can look forward to the future titles instead of dreading a soul crushing experience.

Highly recommend.

Unless you have a PS3. Sadly. Until Bethesda and PS3 gamers can confirm a proper fix.