Skyrim is far from a perfect game. Anyone who expected it to be has entirely irrational standards. It is definitely a great game but like all games it has it’s flaws. Bethesda may be great at providing us with games that immerse us within them but when it comes to actual gameplay mechanics they always seem to drop the ball in some pretty major ways.
In leu of adding another review of Skyrim to the already massive pile of reviews that involve more fanboy rhetoric than critique, I will instead list the biggest problems I have with the game so far. These are not listed in any particular order.
While the animations are far from horrible and get the job done, they are also far from amazing. The way you run is just a bit odd; like you’re trying to find the nearest bathroom at all times, and NPCs look odd when they ‘walk-run’ as well. Their travel speed is not as fast as the speed their animation implies; the same applies to horses.
Things like swinging a warhammer or mining for ore seem extremely pathetic and weak; like you’re barely chipping away at the rock or hardly hitting an enemy very hard. This isn’t very satisfying to look at. A dragonborn should be wailing away at a rock inside a mine with the force of a thousand giants as chunks of boulder explode everywhere from his thunderous blows. Instead you get an animation of your character lightly tapping on a rock with a pickaxe.
The flying animations of the dragons are nice but a bit rough around the edges when they transition from one move to the other. Their turns are very jagged and they lack the majestic sort of fluid animation you would expect from something that flies. Needless to say, dragons would be that much cooler to fight if something like this was done more properly. Attention to detail is important in these areas and Bethesda never seems to give them enough of it.
There were a few animation ‘flubs’ which were not bugs or glitches that I just could not get over. One was the scene where you (spoiler alert) drink the blood of a werewolf to become one. When the blood is being poured into the basin from the werewolf’s arm, it just appears in the basin with a loud splash; No trickles, pouring etc. My jaw was on the floor at how lazy this animation seemed. I expected more from Bethesda even on this specific level.
This is the most obvious flaw that’s been pointed out time and time again and one that has already started being fixed by modders. Regardless, the stock inventory of the game is ridiculously counter-intuitive and wastes a lot of your time compared to the inventories of Oblivion or Morrowind. It has almost none of the primary functions an RPG menu should contain mostly because they would be difficult to navigate without a mouse pointer. Instead they opted for an aesthetic based menu and added a clunky hotbar. They also removed the map and quest menus from the inventory screen which is none too convenient.
This is the original inventory.
This is one of the superior modded inventories.
Stealth has never been a strong point of the Elder Scrolls games but Skyrim has taken many steps backwards. It’s one thing to get your sneak up to 100 and steal the armor off of guard’s backs left and right; it’s another to only be in the 30s levels of sneak and have AI be looking right at you but not discover you. This happened to me several times, mostly in dark places. While it’s nice that level of light is incorporated into the game, I feel it’s a bit OP when an AI can be looking straight at me but not ‘see’ me. I relied heavily on invisibility potions and spells to achieve this in Oblivion but they seem a bit unnecessary in Skyrim and considering how much I like to play stealth based characters, this is a bit disappointing. A guard who has just been shot in the face with an arrow should not conclude his short search for the culprit with “I must have been hearing things.”
It also irked me that although some torches were removable in some dungeons, most were not and created permanent areas of light you couldn’t extinguish. Overall the game encourages you to run into bandit camps with arrows and shouts blazing left and right and punishes you for playing any other way.
They also removed the stealth sheathing and unsheathing of your weapons. In Oblivion you would slowly and more quietly take out your weapon when crouched. This was both more realistic but also more satisfying to watch as you stalk about, preparing to get the upperhand on a target. In Skyrim you take it out normally whether you are crouched or not. Why would they not include this feature? While you’re silently stalking an NPC to try and get a stealth kill you take out your dagger only to hear a nice loud ‘SHHIINNGGG‘ that breaks the silence but also doesn’t alert any NPCs of your presence. That is a gaping hole in the immersion factor of the stealth mechanics.
The hero’s story
In Oblivion you played as a prisoner, arrested for unknown crimes and you started out in a cell. You didn’t know your character’s backstory and you were basically a nobody. You earned your celebrity status slowly by doing things like rescuing the town of Kvatch from the Oblivion gate. You start out as a nobody and become a somebody through your actions. Obviously you are an important character in the story no matter what you do but the things that happen are not at all centered around something specifically related to only you. This gave you the sense that you were not only participating in the events occurring in Cyrodiil and altering it’s timeline but that you weren’t the only important character. This was a major factor in the appeal of Oblivion because it made you feel heroic in a realistic way.
In Skyrim you also start out a prisoner but as soon as you find out you’re the dragonborn you become a central character to the story right away and many events of the game not only revolve around you but depend on only you to do them. There are still plenty of events outside the main quest that still carry a sense that you are the outsider rather than the center character, but I dislike how the main storyline forces the role of ‘chosen hero’ upon you. This is fine for some but Oblivion let me have the choice to not play this way. In other words, Oblivion had you play alongside a dragonborn with all the real responsibility and Skyrim forces you to be one with the same amount of responsibility. I much prefer to be the unexpected hero rather than the one that bards sing about in pubs before he’s even done anything heroic.
Sleep is pointless
That isn’t to say that sleep does nothing in Skyrim. If you sleep in a bed for a certain amount of hours you gain a several hour buff that increases the rate at which you improve your skills by up to 10%. My question is, is this buff actually necessary? Not only is it not difficult to level up rather quickly, but you often don’t feel any need to do so anyway so what motivation is there to needlessly spend 10 seconds waiting to sleep in a bed for a buff you don’t really need?
Oblivion required you to sleep just to level up at all. This meant sleeping was mandatory and if you couldn’t find a bed to sleep in (a safe one) you couldn’t progress your skills any further until you did. This gave sleeping a purpose and also an opportunity for the game to surprise you. I think we all remember how freaky yet awesome it was when we woke up to Lucien Lachance standing in our room to invite us to the Dark Brotherhood. Now beds are just used for a pointless buff and as a novelty decoration item, which is sad since they look more comfortable this time around.
Dragons < Oblivion gates
This is up for serious debate as many people were ecstatic about Skyrim containing dragons and getting the chance to fight them. I’m sure they’ve enjoyed them just as much as they thought they would. The dragons in Skyrim are the equivalent of Oblivion gates in Oblivion since not only do you encounter both semi-randomly throughout the map and have the option to best them if you want some sweet loot, but they also play a key role in the storyline. I personally prefer the Oblivion gates in the last game over the dragons because they were far more in-depth and seemed more daunting. You were entering another dimension where Daedra and a Daedric prince reigned supreme. You didn’t know at all what to expect. The first time you passed through one you would try to reassure yourself you knew what you were getting into, but then you stepped out into the hellish landscape on the other side, took one look around and immediately wanted to go back.
With dragons you know exactly what to expect which dampens their looming intimidation a bit. You don’t have to enter another plane of existence to fight them (until the very end of the main campaign of course) and the overall experience tends to become a bit boring and repetitive once you’ve fought a couple of them. They are still wicked awesome badass and make you feel epic when in combat with them, but overall I thought their difficulty was a bit synthetic since it turned into a game of cat and mouse with me ducking in and out of cover while widdling them down with arrows. There’s no real challenge there unless you make a mistake yourself. The planes of Oblivion were often somewhat easy as well and overall just added more dungeons to a game full of dungeons, but they offered exclusive enemies, puzzles and items you couldn’t encounter or obtain anywhere else. I suppose if I was attacked by more than one dragon at once I would enjoy the challenge more, but that has yet to happen.
Generated quests are boring
While the auto generated quests are far from MMO-like as they do often involve much more involved gameplay, I found them a bit pointless at times. NPCs would request me to deliver certain items to other NPCs and when I did so I would receive some money, but that would be it. It would not segue into a larger more important quest like I would expect from an Elder Scrolls game. I have an enormous list of quests in my ‘misc’ quests tab that I have neglected simply because they are probably just easy ways to make some gold. I have more than enough gold to fit my needs simply from how much of the damn stuff is lying around in dungeons. There aren’t that many things which require a ton of gold to purchase that are that appealing so obtaining money is hardly a valid motivation to do an errand quest. It was neat when Bethesda announced that Skyrim would contain an unlimited amount of quests but they failed to mention that many of them would be something you didn’t actually want to do. I’ll stick to the Dark Brotherhood quests, thank you.