We have had a big year for games, there’s no denying it. Shogun 2, Deus Ex:HR, Space Marine, BF3, MW3, LA Noire, Assassins Creed(s), FIFA, Crysis 2 and there’s still more to come, Saints Row 3, Batman, SWTOR, NFS The Run and the list continues into next year. Its exciting times for PC gamers. In a world in recession the games industry is moving forward and set to become a $90 billion industry by 2015.
My point is I’m sat here in GD Towers and these good games flow through the doors every week. I owe it to you guys to at least get a sneaky peak at those games before they head out to our reviewers. But like many of you, I just don’t have time to commit to a good game. The game needs to be excellent. It needs to really stand out if I am going to play it for more than just a few hours. I am the gaming connoisseur. If I play a game for more than 2 hours then it has something special going on. If I get beyond 6 hours then there is a depth of play that really warrants some attention. I completed the first Deus Ex when it came out. I played BF2 for countless hours. I played Game of Thrones: Genesis for 40 minutes.
Now we all have our own tastes and part of my job is to encompass the tastes of many while upholding the quality of a specialist gamer during a review. If you are missing where I am going with this so far I will try to spell it out very carefully in the following sentence.
Skyrim is the new gaming benchmark
I am scratching the surface of this mighty game when I come before you, but attempt it I shall. Skyrim is packaged up into a tiny 6GB hard disk space. I was shocked when the Skyrim system requirements were announced and I read that. To give perspective BF3 is 20GB. The reason for this is because Bethesda have minimised the pre-scripting. You know, where they have built a part of the game for every AI eventuality, every dungeon and every plot twist in advance. Instead they have created a Game Director, if you will. If you kill a lead plot NPC then the Game Director will see if it is logical to simply reassign the plot to another NPC on the fly rather than the world having to have an entire new path built and stored ready in case you ever do something so crazy. Skyrim makes its name as a free roaming RPG and so trust me when I say, sometimes you just cant help but stick it to someone.
Skyrim is alive and this is its most dazzling feature. Often playing a game I find myself turning a blind eye in order to continue my suspension of disbelief. Let’s take Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Go on a killing spree in a night club leaving no one standing, you may return later to find NPC dancers in the same nightclub dancing over dead bodies. DE: HR devs had to make a design decision. Is it more annoying to gamers to return to a scene to discover the lootable bodies have “vanished” or that the pre scripted nightclub now has new dancers bopping around the dead and risk ruining the immersion? You try this in a civilised area of Skyrim and you can cross off a section of the map, because they will not let you back in without a fight. Although once you are hard enough, that’s always an option.
The moment I realised the sheer magnitude of what Bethesda have achieved was when I came out of one of the first dungeons. I should just say here that you don’t just pop out where you went in. You are travelling around under the world. If you have travelled through a tunnel system of dungeons then you will arrive out a good distance away from where you went in. Further helping the realism.
With the dungeon exit behind me I stood looking down at the valley below. A river snaked through it. I picked my way down the rockface trying not to injure myself. When I got to the bottom I started heading along the river back to where I had began hours earlier. I noticed a little island in the middle of the river. Let me jump in here and say no game has pulled me in enough to make me stand on a little deserted island, so I can breathe in the nature of my surroundings before, as one might do on a camping trip. Then I spotted the head of a stag as it swam across the river against the very real flow to get to the other side because it had seen a bear further up river. The bear was in turn swiping at the jumping fish.
This is all dynamic. Not a pre-scripted event that everyone will see, but natural and only for me at that moment. I could have attacked the bear and plucked the fish out of the river for myself, had I wanted to. This is where I wanted gaming to be when I played Oblivion 5 years ago. I only played it for 5 hours. When peddling a story of player ego, like the one in Skyrim and thousands of books and games before it, the best tool the writer’s have is to make the player believe in the world they have created.
You are a walking arsenal pretty much from the start of the game. Sure you gather equipment from anywhere and everywhere but with magic and powers and skills and weapons and bows, you are formidable. But you will die if you are not cautious too. There are dragons and the fights with them are epic and brilliant [I hope that isn’t a spoiler for anyone]. I was massively excited when I was eaten at one point. The combat system flows smoothly, although the game suffers from a slight disconnect between swing and contact. This has always been the case with FPS style melee games like Skyrim. But Bethesda noticed this and included swift animations as you deliver your death blows, which go a long way to make up for that disconnect. To keep you flexible in your character build you can switch equipment and weapons on the fly. But be careful not to get caught with your bow out when facing a snarling axe-wielding barbarian, as it still takes a crucial second to put away your bow and draw your own 2 handed war hammer.
Levelling up is well paced during the game. You are always offered a nice variety of skill choices without becoming over powered too quickly but still providing you with an upgrade that makes a difference in game. There are dozens of attributes in the game which develop as you use them in game and each has a dozen skills to choose from when you level up. Many of those skills can also be levelled up as well. You can see the full variety straight away which helps you plan your route of development and give you that excited play a little more feeling to get that crucial next skill point. Remember, you have to use your skills to progress them. This levelling approach means you develop the character that fits with your particular playing style. This also means that on your next play through you can totally change your approach and enjoy the game with a different character.
To continue this glowing review I would like to mention that the NPCs are exemplary. They interact and move around the world in a manner that seems to fit their personalities and settings. Chatting amongst themselves, often about things that can be of interest to you should you want to stick your nose in? And if you get bored during a chat you can just walk off leaving the conversation to trail out rather than being cut abruptly short as in most other games. It has all been considered and then coded in, rather than put into the work pile entitled “small bug, maybe patch later?”
The negative paragraph. You don’t really have to read this if you don’t want to. Sure, its fine to skip past this bit. There you go, just drop down to the end of this paragraph and carry on reading. Ok, well if you are still here then I suppose I must. The menu navigation is designed for a controller. I play with mouse [using the scroll wheel to effortlessly flick between cinematic 3rd person and immersive first person perspective] and keyboard. There have been a few frustrating times when trying to explore all conversation paths with an NPC. I simply couldn’t select the response I wanted to give and had to skip through a couple of minutes of dialogue again and again as I chose, through no fault of my own, an already heard dialogue option. Also, why cant I fight from my horse? I mean I can see why, it would mean adding a whole new level of combat mechanics, but Bethesda dont shy away from stuff like that, and it breaks the realism [slightly] when I get attacked and have to dismount in order to protect myself from a wolf pack. And my last gripe, it would be easier on the player if there was more control over companions. An example point, while stealthing up on unsuspecting quarry, my horse, parked a ways back, has got impatient and launched past to get the fight started. Right, thats it. Not a bad moan really, is it?
Have you not bought the game yet?
A final point to make is that the Skyrim System requirements are relatively tame considering the beauty it dishes out. The game felt that my aging 8800GTX would be best played on low. I played it for a minute on that setting before I pushed it up to high. The game ran fine. So far no real stutters. So I advise, don’t be shy, crank it up and then run your FPS checker to see what you are getting and then if you get a moment pop back to our Frames Per Second Rating Page and let us know how it went or have a look and see how other PCs dealt with the game before you make that obvious purchase.
Giving a game a 10 can mean a few things and it is down to how much you trust in my use or misuse of the scoring system. Lets not focus on the fact that it means the game is perfect. Nothing really is. The 10 reflects how this game sits right now, as a new benchmark for all gaming. A lot of talk has been given to the BF3 Frostbite engine setting new standards (I am loving BF3 by the way), but for me Skyrim is the new and complete gaming standard. All other developers will look at what Bethesda have achieved here and if they do not swoon they will certainly gulp hard before going back to the drawing board. For us gamers this means the start of the next age of gaming, as everyone else tries to meet the challenge thrown down by the developer gods at Bethesda.
So far, dozens of hours in, I have not turned a blind eye in Skyrim and I now believe I am Dragonborn...HHooaagghh