Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Comprehensive Review 

The following is my comprehensive look at a game which really needs no introduction. Bethesda not only makes rocking RPG’s, they do PR RIGHT!!! Anyway, today Skyrim is under the microscope, and while you might argue that any further review of such a game, which everyone is going to buy anyway, is moot, we're going to see if we can add something to the world of Skyrim review.  My evaluations tend to focus on what can be improved in a game, and that’s what we’re going to really explore.

Skryim – Comprehensive Evaluation

The following review format is based on the review for FNV. I will look at a large number of relevant game aspects, and when appropriate, list the positive commentary on each and then look at where that area could use improvement. I did greatly enjoy the game, and wish to see its sequels and patches greatly improved, and less reliant on hobbled console conventions. I have put more than 300 hours into this game so far, and anticipate many more. 

So that there is no confusion: I do like this game, and because I have to, in order to be listed on meta review sites, I will give it a numerical score at the bottom, but as has been my philosophy for more than a year and a half ( certain other review sites JUST NOW coming to the same conclusion ) I don’t believe in numerical scores, as they are highly misleading, and reading the review will garner the reader much more value. That said:

skryim - 186

I have completed the main quest on two characters, completed almost all of the achievements, visited most of the map markers and completed ALL major quest lines, but due to RAMPANT stability and performance issues ( the majority of play through was done pre patch 1.3 ), long term video recording of this run was simply not practical. Even the usual screen shots were interrupted constantly. However I think that qualifies as sufficient to render a final comprehensive Review and Evaluation:

Rather than introduce a game you all likely know, I'm going to focus on doing this based on categories.

As this is a PC and console game, designed mostly with the limitations of consoles and console controllers in mind, you will see a lot of  scathing commentary  in this regard. If you're what we call a "console kiddie", and cannot see the limitations of the platform, or want to argue that consoles are somehow superior, well, you're on the wrong site. This site is about high end hardware and high end gaming. Consoles are indeed more “ecosystem” based, and this often makes them more stable and convenient, but when done right, PC gaming outclasses console at every mark. Just so that there is no confusion based on this and the previous review, yes I DO own the current consoles, and yes, I can use an Xbox 360 controller to run circles around you. I've been doing this for 32 years. I choose to use the more precise control schemes when they are appropriate, and console controllers only when there is no other alternative for the situation. 

The issue of console vs. PC development has come up in quotes about Skyrim from the developer and I will address same during portions of this evaluation. In the not too distant future, I will be publishing a huge feature article about what constitutes an actual “PC game” vs. merely a “console port”. I will be addressing this issue from a variety of angles here in the meantime.

What might be viewed as harsh or negative is really just commentary on where a flawed but promising game could improve. Early reviews of Skyrim saw scores as high as 100 out of 100 if you use such systems. This is utter nonsense, as no game in history would deserve a PERFECT score. The sites that doled out such reviews did so to fan the fanboy flames and get more site hits, and these are not sites you should ever bother to return to as they are run by children, not professional product evaluators. My “reviews” are often highly criticizing, but that just means that they are “critical” in the strictest definition of the word. Even if I love a thing, and I wouldn’t spend 100’s of hours looking at something if I didn’t, I can still see it for its every last flaw, and in the case of Skyrim, there are more than a few. In some cases, these flaws are fairly major, and I don’t just complain, but call out the flaw, and offer some suggested direction to improving it. In order to keep this evaluation at a readable length, I am limiting my suggestions to the basic idea and not to a comprehensive redesign, as this is impractical and unlikely to see implementation anyway.

We will also be hearing from vet Elder Scrolls player and contributing editor James. His remarks will be denoted by the color blue.

Enjoy.

STATS of review

Played on Normal to Master difficulties. First two point releases were skipped. Upon release, Skyrim did not feature configurable controls. As you know, this is a huge boo boo with me. A proper PC Game has configurable controls, period. Not to have such is unforgivable. As of patch 1.2 they added some, but not all. As of the patch I began playing in earnest, 1.3.7, I still had to add a few mods to make the game work. As you know from my New Vegas review, I don't want to add any mods until after the review is done. In the case of Skyrim the following two mods were required for me to function: 

Interface Hard Coded Key Tweaks - Made necessary by the developers insistence on releasing an incomplete PC game. I love you guys, but c'mon, get it together on this!

Skyrim Esbern Sound & Door Bug FIX - I'm sure James will chime in on this too, but "community bug fix patches" are unforgivable. A game of this size is daunting to program, we get that, but when a quest goes SO broken for SO long that someone outside of the developer beats you to the patch, that's just wrong. Taking off points for that. 

Game Platform and Release Stats

Game acquired on Steam through Bethesda directly. 

Spoiler Content

The following evaluation is more than a mere “review”, and is a comprehensive content and merit evaluation. Therefore, you will see some spoiler content. When possible and appropriate, I refer to general game mechanics and overall story arcs, and try to stay away from SPECIFIC spoilers. This evaluation will reveal the overall nature of quest content and story arcs, and if you choose to play games PURELY without spoilers, as I do, you shouldn’t be reading reviews anyway, but you could just hit up the micro review for now, play through a few quest arcs, and then come back here for the full eval. Otherwise, if you want to know what you’re getting yourself into before investing potentially hundreds of hours into content, read on.

Skyrim deserves to be handled carefully. In the case of my walk-through video for Duke Nukem Forever, all relevant content and boss battles are included in the full version, thus obviating the need for you to buy the game at all. There is no real interactivity to that game, so it’s the same as watching the videos. Here, that is not the case, and spoilers will be handled carefully.

All spoiler content is denoted, and the more specific content is hidden.

Overall Impression

Main game - After playing through every quest arc over two characters, and around 300 hours played at this point, ( actually quite a bit more since I usually go into “offline mode” on Steam when video recording ) I have a number of observations about the overall experience. The first thing we should know is that this is a true blue Bethesda style game. From the skills to the way enemies drop weapons that you can either loot directly or from the body, to the “wait” mechanic, vendor mechanics, etc. Skyrim isn’t terribly groundbreaking in overall play mechanics. This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because you can jump in and just play, but you also hope for but never see anything particularly new.

Unlike a lot of recent games, Skyrim holds attention for more than 100 hours easily. It’s easy to get lost in the world, assuming it doesn’t crash every few minutes. I had a lot of stability issues pre patch 1.3.10, but things are better now.

Does Skyrim break any new ground at all, or is it just a pretty skin for the same game we’ve played for the last decade? Depends on what you expect going in.

The Game Categories

Installing and Patching

As this was a Steam Game, installing and Patching is transparent and easy. Steam is the best.

Areas for Improvement

Game is absolutely riddled with bugs and crashes. If these get patched up, I may increase my score a bit. As it stands in patch 1.3.10 the game still crashes far too frequently. When it doesn't crash, there are random bugs, and when it's not buggy, it's slow. Here's to hoping 1.5 brings FULL control configuration, nips that "close to desktop" issue, and fixes a million other little bugs. Only a Bethesda game can be so buggy : )

First Impressions and “Draw”

The first thing you see in game is a shadowed wilderness path and several highly detailed NPCs. This is soon followed by a brightly lit view of the outside world through a locked but swivel-able view from a town that is soon attacked by a dragon. One could hardly ask for a more dramatic entrance to a game.

I’ll say it several times, but the biggest letdown of Skyrim is the extremely muddy and low resolution textures. It really just brings the whole presentation down. There are several mods that add 2k or even 4k replacement textures, and the difference they make is more dramatic than still images can convey.

For example, take a look at this before and after of the Deadric Armor set:

That said, the overall look gives the impression of great detail, and handcrafted touch. The early few hours of the game can be quite awe inspiring, but once all of that settles in, you realize that a huge amount of content is generic and recycled.

From Contributing Editor James 

One memorable encounter was a giant walking alone across the farms. He was peaceful, but silent. Away from his mammoths he had no desire to fight me and I had no cause to attack him. Later on I found him dead in a field. What killed him? I don't know. Yet, it was a memorable moment. The game allowed something to go on that I didn't see and furthered the illusion that this world existed outside my range of immediate awareness. Seeing him dead, I hoped that I had no quests that required me to hunt mammoths. They belonged to the giants just like livestock belonged to the farmers. Either would defend their livestock.

Another “moment” was when I came down a mountain in a snowstorm and hit the first town – and the snow kept on falling. If followed me almost to Whiterun and it was really quite lovely. The varying weather adds much to the mood

Best Skyrim moment yet

I was wandering to a mine or something in the hills behind the Castle at Windhelm. A wolf attacked (with another in the wings) and I decided to build Destruction, so I whipped out a frost spell. It was snowing like crazy and between the wind and snow, the visibility was low.

How low was the visibility, you may ask?

How about low enough that maybe five tons of dragon LANDED DIRECTLY ON TOP OF ME out of the blue. I had dragon belly when I looked up and dragon legs around me. It seemed to surprise the wolves as well! I was frantically swapping weapons, swilling potion (and had almost no heal stuff) and whacking away. I ran off at one point to heal and the companion jumped in. I flanked and we killed it without dying on Expert.

It was hilarious and a great game moment. It must have come in from behind when I was facing the wolf and simply dropped. The last dragon fight I could see coming from a great distance. This one was “Hello. Thought I would drop in. I think that wolf is now the LEAST OF YOUR CONCERNS right now.”

skryim - 168

Areas for Improvement

The PC version of a console game should have higher resolution textures. Different developers are going to handle texture creation in different ways. Some will create highly detailed textures, and then dither them for console release. If this is the case, why not release the original textures for PC? Some of us have rigs that handle the game at full details and not break a sweat. This really drags the whole thing down a notch.

Yes, I know there is an official “high resolution” texture pack for Skyrim. It is quite a let down. There is very little overall difference, and many of the mod packs are much better. It’s a nice effort, but ultimately isn’t enough.

Character Creation and Personal Story Arc

Built into the story itself; creating your character is a fluid part of developing your character arc throughout the tutorial. You begin your story riding in the back of a horse drawn carriage, bound and sharing the ride with the condemned. As is par for Elder Scrolls, it seems that you must start your journey as a prisoner. The fade in and level of detail combined with the title overlay tells you that this is one of the biggest, baddest RPGs ever, and it is. It really is. I know, big spoiler right? 

Once you reach your destination you are herded off the carriage and asked for your name. This is where you stop and choose your race, gender, appearance and name. You do not choose stats or a class. For Skyrim we've got a purely "usage based" leveling system. Go do things, get better at them, and level.  Of course, this is rampantly exploitable if you’re patient, but it’s almost impossible to stop it from being so.

The UI for creating the appearance is fairly thorough, and offers a lot of controls. Compared to a modern MMO it will feel very light, but it gets the job done, you will rarely stop to look closely at your own character and no one else is looking at it either.  After a while you’re going to be clad in full armor and see no skin anyway.

While you do not choose stats, your choice of race will have a MILD effect on game play. You get stat bonuses for different stuff, and each has an activated ability, which I should note I never once used on any of mine. 

Areas for Improvement

The choices you make seem meaningless. Citizens of Skyrim seemingly don’t care who you are or what you have done. It has a metric ($#ton of busywork, but none of it changes anything.

For example - On my second character I went through the entire Dark Brotherhood quest line, and immediately after the entire Companions quest line. Two very opposite and conflicting sides. Did anyone care that I was not just a member, but the leader of the Dark Brotherhood? No. Did they care that I murdered the Emperor? No. Did the world change any now that I did? Not really. Some guards lament it passingly, but everyone just goes on about their business as though nothing had happened. I went on to become the leader of the Thieves Guild, help the Imperials win the war, and killed Alduin the World Eater, and still NO ONE cares. I could go into the Companions stronghold, and this girl says “Hey, I killed a bear yesterday. Did you kill anything?”. I’m thinking “Yes, the main enemy of the game, and about 300 other things.” But no, nothing. I’m quite disappointed that there is seemingly no real connection between your faction status, or you actions, and the world in general.

You don't really notice or care until you really stop and look around. I know a lot of reviews called Skyrim the greatest thing ever, but when you really LOOK at what is going on, It's a lot of potential and not nearly enough delivery.  Why? Well this is slightly spoiler itself but . . . Every last quest line follows the exact same pattern: Do a favor for a random stranger, get recruited into some club, where you’ll get quests from three NPCs, one will act like they hate you, you’ll rise in the ranks shockingly fast, some huge tragedy happens and a bunch of people die, and you become the new leader of that faction. Every . . . Time.

Ultimately I think that the problem is that the game behaves like an MMO. Your choices FEEL important until the quest line is over, and then it's right back to business as usual. MMOs have to do this by design, even with the super clever implementations WoW uses to get around this by phasing parts of the world for characters depending on whether they have finished certain quests, and will only be visible to other characters in that same phase.  ( A mechanic I predicted as far back as 2006 )

For example, in the very start of the game, you have a choice to follow an Imperial or a Stormcloak. The main opposing factions of the game. I've done both. You'd think the path out and the resulting quest would be different, but no, they are virtually EXACTLY the same, down to the dialog, which is probably even the same guy. Your choice has no effect on who you support in the civil war later. 

Later, you can get involved in the war, and change up who runs what towns, but it doesn't ultimately CHANGE anything. Everything settles back down. The first time I got into a huge battle of Whiterun, there was burning and soldiers everywhere, and I thought "damn, this is going to change everything. What if I'm not allowed in the town later? What if tensions are too high?" but no. Nothing really changed.  From a role playing standpoint, I expected too much of the game, even when there is plenty of precedent for these expectations in much older games.

Ultimately your choice of race feels like it has virtually no effect on game play either. Pick what you like, and just play. It’ll be fine, I promise. This isn’t an MMO, and no one is there to care if you have properly Min/Maxed your character.

Game needs to offer a “skip tutorial” option and dump a second and subsequent character off at the first stones with a reasonable assumption of the loot from the caves, as the tutorial is quite long, much like Fallout 3 and Oblivion. With New Vegas, it looked like this trend had reversed, but no, if you want to make several characters to experiment, you are forced to slog through an excessively long tutorial.

From Contributing Editor James 

I admit that I favored the baked-in racial differences that made the choice of starting character races/genders and their birth-signs far more important. An Orc mage was NEVER going to be as powerful as a Altmer (high elf) with the Sign of the Atronach (150+ to mana, but can’t regenerate it organically, so you use potions and the +50 spell absorb). There were even some notable differences between the genders.

Your upfront choices of race and birth signs really laid the foundation of base stats for the character you wished to play (mage, warrior, or rogue).

I can see why Bethesda went to an any class can be built into anything system that is a bit streamlined. Yet, even while it offers greater player flexibility, to me, it sort of homogenized the character classes.

On Stats:

I would have each of the character races start with some differences in their beginning health, stamina, and magicka. It wouldn’t have to be over the top, but just enough so an Orc starts out with more health and stamina than a High Elf or a Breton – who would have more magicka.

You could still put points into these three traits as you leveled and build an Orc mage by plowing into magicka with each level up – but it wouldn’t be an equal starting point. Even a few points of spread would make a difference, so a High Elf could cast slightly more powerful spells early on while an Orc could get a few more power attacks in with a big melee weapon.

It almost looks like something that could be done with a mod.

Classes

Skyrim uses an entirely “Usage Based Skill Progression” system, which has been tried before, and never really “works”. You ONLY gain XP when you use skills, and NOT when you complete quests, which creates an odd motivation system. I have an elegant keyboard macro system. In theory, I could level a character to nearly level cap without ever completing a single quest, and without doing it myself.

So why bother completing quests then? You get loot usually. The type of weapon you favor and the skills you use create your “class”. It’s all viable, and it’s all easily level-able. To level Restoration and Destruction, simply create a macro to simultaneously heal and flame your horse. Leave it overnight and come back to 100 skill points in each and quite a few character levels. Need more? Go sit in a tavern and make a macro to crawl backwards. Come back in a few hours to 100 Sneak and more levels. Want 100 in One AND Two handed? Thwack your horse in the butt for a few hours with a low DPS weapon, bam 100 each. Get the idea?

I’m not entirely critical of this system though. If I want to make a Paladin, I sort of can albeit a very shallow one. If I wish to make a PURE mage, the tools are there but the spells are all extremely simplistic and redundant. There is functionally zero difference between Fire, Frost and Lightning. Yes, the stat nerds will scream that there is, but when you get down to it, if the thing you’re aiming at requires freezing or burning to kill, you aren’t killing it fast enough. This is what I mean by “functionally”. At the end of the day, you point a spell at something, and in a second or three it dies, or it doesn’t, but your choice of spell class makes no difference in the end. Each set of spells is identical, down to the names, and there is no functionality for fusing spells into custom spells. You can either fling the same spell with both hands, or two different ones, but there is no “rotation”, and no real utility to the spells.

However, If I’m feeling a “Battle Mage” I can do that easily. Two Handed, no magic, and light armor only? Hold the mustard. Archer with Heavy Armor? Why not? Part of the fun is mixing it up, not just going with the known “class roles”.

Areas for Improvement

While all of this sounds fun on the surface, ultimately it’s impossible to make an unusable character, as virtually everything works. So choice and planning take a back seat to “Hey, better weapon than I have, I’ll level that now”.

Also, there are no truly unique class skills. So what if you can use two summons at 100 Conjuration? I can get that by hitting my horse with Soul Trap a few thousand times, and still wear heavy armor and use a two hander. Trying to use magic with melee is far clunkier than it should be. You can only “use” two weapons or skills combined at a time. This feels suspiciously like the two weapon limitation in Duke Nukem Forever. MMO’s, which to fans of games like this are sometimes considered too “simplistic” have EXTREMELY complex “rotations” of optimal skills or spells available to use, all at individual pushes of a button. This is console controller limitation rearing its ugly head.

To use WoW for example:

An Affliction Warlock in WoW uses an extremely sophisticated priority based DOT and Debuff system, wherein the player begins by preparing a “mage armor” spell, and possibly a series of potions or other buffs, and then opens the attack with a debuff, another debuff or a DOT, another two or three DOTS, a spell that punishes the enemy for having DOTS, and finally either a spell similar to a fireball, or a life or mana draining spell. If there is more than one enemy engaged, the player can DOT up multiple targets at once, causing their DPS to skyrocket and creating an impressive amount of spell animations at once, and this is to say nothing of what is going on with their demon companion. This is an oversimplification, but compared to what a magic user in Skryim does, it’s rocket science. ( or more accurately “theoretical physics” )

This is just an example. Any given MMO has magic users requiring just as much attention. By contrast, a Skyrim player has only two skills at their disposal at any given time, and game mechanics really drive them to dual wield the same spell, which is functionally the same thing as an MMO character running around spamming the auto shoot. Yes, I know that there are armor boosting skills and a simple set of buffs, but they are completely unnecessary, and with the “two things at a time” limitation, just too much bother for the benefit. Yes, I am aware of the favorites/shortcut options, but they are a clunky and poor replacement for the more elegant PC controls we PC gamers expect.

Melee is the weakest I’ve ever seen in a game. You swing a weapon.

That.

Is.

It.

Seriously. Go play the Warrior or Deathknight Class in WoW then come tell me that Melee doesn’t suck in Skyrim.

So what can they do to improve things? Well, that’s going to be mostly for mod creators to tinker with I suspect, as it usually is, but I would like to see a bit more structure and variety to class roles.

I would really love to see the ability to use more than two spells at once, but due to the way the game is coded and balanced I know we’re not going to see this.

Perks

Why are there no perks for having high levels in two different Skill Trees? How about a nice reward for having 100 in Block and Restoration? See where I’m going with this? A new spell that heals the Dragonborn and allies AND increases Shield rating for X number of seconds. This would go a long way toward having a Paladin that FEELS like a Paladin.

How about combining Archery with Alchemy? Give us the ability to create arrows with unique properties. Archery + Illusion = Arrows that control mind.

Archery + Lockpicking = An arrow that can blast open a lock.

Archery + Restoration = Healing Arrows!

Illusion + Pickpocketing = Control NPCs to steal things FOR you

Alteration + Speech = Can you guess? Think about it . . .

I could go on and on, but this is just to get the ideas going. I’m sure mods will cover all of this and more, but more variety should be part of the base game, which is disappointingly shallow when it comes to what we ACTUALLY get in skill building.

Skills

So what about the individual skill trees? Are some better than others? Some are certainly more active or noticeable. Each has its place, and while various sets combined can create a play style or “Class”, some are just plain boring or redundant. Sacrilege, I know, but everyone else will tell you flatly that Skyrim is the best thing ever, and if someone didn’t mention the myriad little ways it goes off the rails things wouldn’t improve. Sure some of this is good stuff, but the way it’s set up, a lot of it is just simply redundant or nearly worthless.

Most skills are completely unnecessary for finishing all content in the game. Once you have a few “battle” skills up around 50 and a couple of support skills, you’ll be in the mid 20’s and able to take on anything. The funky level scaling that Bethesda is so fond of has advantages, but the downside is that there is no real “wall” stopping you from finishing the game at ridiculously low levels.

Archery

Archery in Skyrim is fairly realistic and convincing. Bows in fantasy games are fun. Bows are ripe for embellishment, but Skryim breaks no new ground here, either in bows or in bow skills.

The one fairly unique skill is Steady Hand. This skill actually does slow time for everyone but the Dragonborn, thus allowing the player to hit things that normally move around too much. Everything else is pretty much par for expectation.

Although there are no skill tree spanning perks, as suggested above, Archery has symmetry with Sneak, which we’ll get into soon.

Block

Hard to level, and frankly completely unnecessary, as I’ve completed the game with a cloth character and a heavy armor one with a two hander. Should have been rolled into Heavy Armor.

Heavy Armor

I wonder if having three of the 18 skills have to do with different types of armor was appropriate, because full perks in Heavy Armor pretty much completely obviates the need for Light Armor. Apparently this was true in previous iterations of Elder Scrolls as well.

Besides, the coolest armor in the game are the Heavy sets. This might be slightly subjective, but the stat benefits are clearly superior.

One Handed

Much like Light Armor, One handed weapons are almost made unnecessary due to the power of Two Handed weapons, or the power of dual casting spells. Why waste two skill trees worth of perks for a sword and board without any combined skill perk abilities? Incredibly easy to level, so use it for free levels.

Two handed

One shot anything short of a mini boss. Nuff said. On a DPS basis the highest along with dual casting as long as you have a big weapon with nice enchants, which is incredibly easy to do early game if you know where to look.

My second character would buff up with spells, or take out a few enemies with a bow, then switch to the two hander to finish them off. No shield needed.

Smithing

Ok, maybe it’s just me, but smithing without customers just feels pointless. Crafting amazing armor and weapons for appreciative players is part of what makes an MMO special, but doing it just for yourself, and having to level the skill with a bunch of useless crap, just feels silly. Like many skill trees, this one is just for fun. You never actually NEED anything you create, it just adds play time. Why not mix in some quests for “customer NPCs”? Extremely shallow compared to modern MMOs.

Fairly easy to level, and likely an activity that anyone is going to do, it’s a shame that the most convenient place to do it is next to the most irritating NPC in all of Skyrim, Adrianne Avenicci.

Adrianne is proof that there should be a “slap NPC” button, and if you hit it, that NPC will stop talking to you for X number of game days, and if you do it enough, it will shut them up permanently.

We seriously need a mod that shuts up random NPCs.

Alteration

You’d think this was Light Armor crafting, but it has something to do with spells. Creates light sources you don’t need ( much like torches. Seriously, when are you ever going to equip a torch? Caves and dungeons in Skyrim are lit up like Times Square on New Years Eve. Dungeons are just FULL of freshly lit candles. I guess those Drauger are expecting some romantic company? Creepy much? )

Could have been combined with Illusion and no one would miss it.

Conjuration

Creating minions is the staple of fantasy mages. The Flame Atronachs are HOT ( har har ). Dead stuff, familiars, bound weapons, filling soul gems, Conjuration is one of the most populated of the skills. No matter what you do, level Conjuration and bring some friends. Of course you should know: Atronach DPS is practically non-existent, and it will take even a pair of them what feels like minutes to take down a basic lightly armored bandit, so bring them for the company and spell effect, not the DPS.

Destruction

Pretty much the staple of the mage play style. Fling some flame, or some frost, maybe some lightning.

When fully leveled it is the highest DPS you can get. Kill a dragon in seconds. Not much variety to the perks, but is incredibly easy to level, so there is no reason for any character NOT to have it at 100.

Why, oh why are there no custom spells in this game? Not even any fusion spells? No Frostfire? No fancy spell that does more than one thing at once?

When you cut the crap, you really only get three spells in Destruction, and frankly they all do the same basic thing. If you read my Fallout New Vegas Evaluation, you know that I’m a big proponent of KISS. See an enemy, stop drop and fire. No need for anything fancy. Such things will get you hurt or killed in real life too. Before my injury I was quite a fighter, and “straight and to the point” beats fancy EVERY TIME. Don’t let any movie tell you otherwise.

Illusion

Almost entirely comprised of skills having to do with stuff fleeing or being made to not flee. As above, should have been combined with Alteration into something a little more varied.

Restoration

In an attempt to make Restoration feel all “Paladin” like, includes perks for making undead flee, which feels too redundant with Illusion. Could have been combined with Block. Otherwise, nothing flashy. Another pointlessly easy skill to level, so if you’re not leveling it to 100, you’re missing out on free levels. Even a pure melee fighter could use a heal spell now and then to cut down on potion use, which is already nearly redundant itself. Or just free levels . . .

Enchanting

One of the two most tedious skill trees to level, and among the least useful. Entire game and all quests may be completed without ever touching Enchanting or its spiritual twin, Alchemy. Fun if you want to max it, but otherwise completely redundant. When high level, grab or craft a full set of completely bone stock weapons and armor, and then go out and see if you really feel any difference in killing and surviving vs. Fancy Enchanted items. They do not make or break your ability to complete quests, and if they do, you are too low level for that content, which is odd as content scales with character.

Alchemy

The world of Skyrim is just LITTERED with potions. You can max your carry capacity over several dungeons full of potions and never need to make your own. Skill tree feels like a waste of precious points. A very good argument for perks that span skill trees. This skill tree really needs a killer app. See suggestions above.

Light Armor

Made nearly obsolete by Heavy Armor. Why bother with a perk that makes Light Armor lighter when you can make Heavy Armor weigh nothing? More relevant early on, but with the right additional perks, mainly something that affects magic, can be made better. As it stands, it is almost obsolete out the gate.

Lockpicking

A staple of Bethesda games. A skill around 30 or so is all that is required to crack all master locks, and perks are not worth the points they take up. Picks are dirt cheap, available everywhere, and you will never run out even if you aren’t trying to shop for them.

Pickpocketing

Other than creating internet memes, this entire tree is completely unnecessary. Until the top of the tree, there are no interesting perks. Even then, the only benefit is making NPCs naked, and what is the point of that, other than immature gallivanting and fueling creeper mods?

Really could have been combined with Lockpicking.

Sneak

Another staple of Bethesda games, and one of the few non combat skills actually useful for any character. A well balanced and wrought skill, but like most skills suffers from unimaginative perks. Is also the most ridiculously easy skill to level. If you can rubber band a stick, or macro a key, you can have 100 Sneak, or if that feels to “cheaty” to you, just hold the button for a few hours.

Speech

Finally, Speech helps alter dialog trees, which makes it the most “lore happy” skill set. Other than that, all it really does is affect merchant prices, but you will have SO MUCH gold throughout the game, you could never spend it all, even if you buy multiple houses. A slightly missed opportunity to truly unlock multiple paths through the game, if the game included a workable faction system.

Which it does not.

Dragon Shouts

We first see the Thu’um mentioned right at the beginning of the game because Ulfric Stormcloak used it against the King and evidently that’s a bad thing.

Or is it? While the game deals with it kind of heavy handedly, the whole assassination of the King issue is supposed to lend weight to the idea that the Dragon Shout is more than just a basic “power” with a fancy label.

The ultimate shout, Dragonrend, is built up throughout the main story as the end all, be all solution to Alduin, the main enemy of the game. The NPCs hype it up so much, you begin to believe that it will tear apart a dragon with one shot, but it is nothing of the sort. It “forces” a dragon to land for a while, and often does nothing at all. Once you become powerful enough, it ceases to be something you even use as it just wastes time that would be better spent killing the thing.

A few shouts have unique properties but most are utterly worthless, or something you use exactly once.

Areas for Improvement

Dragon Shouts need to mean something, and have more of an effect on quest progress, and not just as a toy you display once or twice to impress an NPC. Once high enough level, I tended to forget that they existed at all, as they simply weren’t needed.

Diseases

Among the many ways you may become icky in Skyrim, and they are many, it is also possible to become a vampire or werewolf. Why? Because robots, that’s why.

Lycanthropy

If a high fantasy game can have robots, and it has those too, why not other mythical creatures. One can call a werewolf a Lycanthrope all one wants, but it’s still a big dog.

My second character went through this process, and honestly after the first two or three transformations, the novelty wore off and frankly my character was much more effective “normal”. From levels 22 or so on I never used it again. The form is touted as being more powerful than normal, but it’s really not. It felt extremely delicate and the loss of every mechanic in the game other than claws was just too limiting.

Really a poorly wrought addition, and should be treated as an afterthought, or something to do for screen shots, but not as a serious play mechanic. I hear they are looking into fleshing this out more in DLC, but we’ll see how that turns out.

Vampirism

While more thought out and maybe more fun than being a big dog, Vampirism is likewise something that might be more hassle than its worth. The stat bonuses are heavily weighed against a huge amount of hassle in dealing with being a vampire.

I might try a full on vampire run, just to see how far I can get after contracting it at a very low level, but I suspect it’ll just be more to do without being more to accomplish. Or maybe it’s the “Hardcore Mode” of Skyrim? If so, then bravo.

The Interface

I mostly don’t like the interface in general. It works, but is so console hogtied as to be absolutely frustrating most of the time, and coming from a specialization of dealing with modern MMO UI’s, this is very limited. The main positive here is that most of the in game UI vanishes when not needed, allowing full view of the spectacularly wrought game world. I know, rare hyperbole from me, but it's true. I'm sold on the game world. While lacking the photo real detail of something like Batman or Crysis, the world is extremely well thought out, and everything just looks hand detailed. 

Areas for Improvement

I said it before, but it bears repeating, the UI in these games sucks. At least it's better than Oblivion, which has literally the worst UI ever designed for a video game ( Yes, Oblivion is highly touted, but take a look at the PC mods section of certain sites. UI mods are tops. The UI was designed to work on the Xbox and a CRT TV ).  What is the TOP mod for Skyrim on the Nexus? SkyUI. Even then, it can only do so much, and is really just a slightly prettier version of the same limited UI paradigm.

Why? PC RPG UI's are not about realism. They are about access. Take a look at any given MMO UI, especially a highly modded WoW UI. What is the main thing that you see? A lot of access to skills, items, etc.

Skyrim has a LOT of items, and each one has more than a mere icon, it has a 3D model. So why is the inventory a non-reorderable text list? Did I miss a memo or something? Why go to the expense and trouble of building such a vast and detailed game world, and really screw up the UI? I can understand on consoles, they're weak and old, but the PC version should have had its own UI. For $60 this is an inexcusable omission. 

To echo what I said about New Vegas, the UI is slow, ponderous, and cumbersome to use. A lot of its functionality should be available on the main window, but I "get" that this is not the Bethesda way. Still, this is almost 2012, and consoles should be taking their UI and gameplay elements from a PC version, not the other way around. 

Developers: When you complain about PC development, remember that PC Gamers expect more than console gamers. The ENTIRE UI of Skyrim should have been scrapped, and an ENTIRELY new one optimized for PC should have been created. This would include things like a hardware cursor with a dynamic switching mouse look mode, movable UI elements, and a choice in what elements are visible. This is pretty basic stuff.

Mods

I’m using SkyUI now, and while not perfect either, it’s much nicer than the default UI. Not surprisingly this is the top mod on Skyrim Nexus as of this writing.

The Controls

If you use a controller or are willing to settle for WASD, you're fine. If not, you're screwed. Patch 1.5, please fix this. 

Areas for Improvement

I am truly shocked and amazed that early reviewers gave this game 100%. With an omission as glaring as non-configurable controls, I wouldn't have rendered a final score at all, as this would not constitute a "complete" PC game release, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of show stopping bugs the game had on release. Even as of patch 1.3 you cannot configure certain keys on a keyboard. To give a game a 100% is to say that the game CANNOT BE more perfect, and this has never been true in the history of gaming, much less now. To fail to include a feature that is considered a BASE REQUIREMENT for something to be a PC game should force that game to lose a lot of points. That this was not mentioned BY ANYONE is truly shocking to me, as I know that I'm not the only one for whom this is an important issue. 

Quests

In total there are:

The Main Quest

6 “Faction” quest lines - Every last one of which is a “FedEx” quest with maybe an “escort” or “Kill X” thrown in for flavor.

2 “Civil War” quest lines - Every last one of which is a “Kill X” quest with maybe an “escort” thrown in for flavor.

16 Daedric Quests - Usually a combination of “Kill X and FedEx”. Some God wants you to eliminate someone and claims ownership of you.

24 Dungeon Quests - Take a guess . . .

Approximately 94 “Side Quests” the vast majority of which are simple FedEx quests

36 “Bounties” which are just very basic “Kill X” quests

And a small handful of misc. Quests.

Hardly the “Endless Questing” touted by some reviewers. If you do EVERY LAST quest, and don’t waste too much time staring at the floor, you’ll complete everything in around 200 hours or so. Some of these quests will endlessly repeat, but that is not the same thing as “Endless Quests”.

This is, all told, about 3% of the total content/hours of an average WoW player, and the above average players have far more than that. For a single player experience, it’s a respectable amount, but hardly noteworthy in the grand scheme of things.

The Main Quest, you know, the one everyone tells you to blow off as long as you can, was actually the only really satisfying one, and had some truly fun and unique twists. Instead of a zillion worthless side quests, they could have fleshed out the main quest even more and had one coherent and truly epic experience. As it stands, the whole thing feels disjointed and pointless, like there’s no real reason to do any of it.

Areas for Improvement

Fallout New Vegas had a reasonably workable faction system, why devolve from that? With one character, a player in Skyrim may complete literally EVERY “Faction” quest line. There is no shut out. NPCs literally could not care less what you have done or not done with other “factions”. The only exception is the Civil War, where you have to pick a side, and even then, once you’re done with that, no one really cares. All NPCs go about their business as though nothing had happened.

The “Bounty” and most of the “Side” quests are redundant. More of the same does not equate to more “content”.

There needs to be more consequences to your actions.

From Contributing Editor James -

I was in a cavern on the fairly far eastern end of the map and found a lute. It had a name, something like Finn’s Lute and I picked it up. It weighed four pounds and I soon I discovered I couldn’t get rid of it. It was a quest item. What quest? Who knows!

I ended up looking it up to see what I had to do to get this useless weight OUT OF MY INVENTORY. It seems I have to go all the way to the Bard’s College, find a specific NPC, and apparently do some other quest beforehand to trigger the dialog tree where they mention they are sad. The reason for their sadness? They are missing a beloved lute which was taken by bandits and hidden in a cave.

I could quite easily have been carrying this bit of inventory around almost the entire game.

QUEST ITEMS NEED TO BE WEIGHTLESS! If I can’t get rid of it and the game WON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH IT, then don’t penalize me for grabbing a bit of what looks like harmless loot.

Nor is that the worst example. The Dragon Stone in the first main quest weighs 25 pounds. It looks like you could pick it up before you get the quest to fetch it if you do the recover the Golden Claw quest. If so, that is a lot of inventory sucked up by a quest item – especially if it is a mystery to the player regarding where it is supposed to go.

Itemization, Loot, and Inventory

Armor

Yet another area where homogeny rules. Every type of armor has several levels of perk to them, usually a percentage increase or decrease of some relevant skill or ability. Even though there are a decent number of armor sets, it all feels pretty similar.

Weapons

Ditto for weapons

Inventory

Inventory and management is cumbersome and needlessly archaic. For a game so built around inventory management, you’d think this would be a core feature with deep customization and options, but without mods, it’s just a basic text list.

Areas for Improvement

Armor and weapons need to have more unique properties. This is similar to what I said about skill and perk combining. Inventory management is in desperate need of a ground up redesign.

NPCs

In Whiterun there is a snot nose brat who TAUNTS you to kill him. You can’t.

. . .

Darn.

Most NPCs have one or two lines of generic dialog, and they will shout them at you EVERY SINGLE TIME you pass them. Some of this dialog spawned a rampant and irritating meme which I will not repeat here.

Personally, it seems like the NPC designers like the bad girl type as well. . .

From Contributing Editor James 

A couple of things I caught in the game that were nice touches:

The bards in the taverns will sing a song supporting either side in the civil war, by request. However, a town’s leanings appear to be indicated by which song they play by default (or most often).

The roots of the civil war are spelled out in the executed prisoner’s dialog in the opening cut-scene. The priestess offers last rites in the name of the eight divines – and the condemned stops her and demands they proceed “in the name of Talos”. Later on we learn that banning the worship of Talos is the root issue of the conflict.

Areas for Improvement

NPCs need a life. The illusion doesn’t hold up long when the same NPCs stand around the same market stalls day in and day out endlessly. Even the Fallout games had NPCs more diverse than this.

NPCs need a check for how many times the player has heard the thing that they are about to say. If that number is well north of 1000, maybe they could, I dunno, not say it?

AI

Strangely, enemy AI seems to be better evolved than Fallout 3 or New Vegas. Everything is still pretty much "runs at you or stands there shooting until its dead" but this time out it just feels a little more natural. If you manage to evade an enemy they will spend a LONG time looking for you. The enemies capable of doing so actual heal when hurt, and run for cover. Ultimately it's all still "every NPC for themselves" as gaining up on the player and using any form of squad tactics would be unfair to someone who can only use a stick to look around. 

I spent a lot of time grinding about console conventions last time out, and all that same stuff applies here too. Everything up to and including dragons feels pretty easy to handle, so long as you keep your head. My main character is a pure mage class, with no weapons at all. Just aim and fire off spells. Even as weak as magic is early in the game, I almost never die because enemies are not very bright, and will happily stand their ground ten feet in front of something that is SETTING THEM ON FIRE. Would you do that, or would you run like hell? 

Don't get me wrong, the game works well for what it is trying to do but make no mistake, enemies are slow and stupid because they have to be. 

Areas for Improvement

I know I’m just shouting at a wall here, but is it too much to ask for games to be designed with PC controls in mind, and THEN dumbed down for console controls, not the other way around? Just a thought?

Even older console games such as Metal Gear Solid 2 had more sophisticated enemy AI.

Enemies patrolled and rested in shifts until they spotted you.

Once spotted, they would pull out a radio to call for backup.

If you shoot the radio itself, they will drop it and engage you, taking cover, aiming with precision.

If you fail to shoot them or the radio, they would call and an alarm would go off, and the PA would announce something like "request received, sending backup units to deck B".

After a while, the backup team would arrive and begin a systematic sweep of the area. You either engage or HIDE. If you don't hide well enough, they WILL find you. They search in lockers, behind doors, under things . . .

If you killed or knocked out an enemy silently, their radio would sound after a while " Report! blah blah, lost contact with blah blah, sending back up units to investigate".

Enemies searched by noise, and even footprints. The sheer tension was terrifying. Today's games are so simple . . .

From Contributing Editor James 

I was doing the brawl with the bard who was bugging the widow in Whiterun. Somehow the tough chick you can brawl for $100 took a poke in the scuffle. Next thing I knew my companion had left me and she was swinging a broadsword calling for blood.

They really need to make it to where during the brawl sequences in the taverns (and there are two in Whiterun alone) that NPCs don’t go hostile via a stray swing.

Both of the Witcher games had fist-fight mini-games and they kind of isolated the event to where the other NPCs couldn't interact until the fight was over. You could only target the other fighter, which seemed a better system.

Oblivion was famous for NPC brawls that could take out most of a town. You could also trigger them with spells and watch the carnage. There was one kind of infamous place on the north part of the map where inevitably a couple of guards would accidently skewer each other while hunting a deer with bows -- thus triggering a fight to the death.

Companions

A couple hundred pounds of extra carry weight and maybe a portable training dummy.

Areas for Improvement

I know I’m repeating myself a bit here, but companions share the extremely horrible AI of the enemy NPCs, which means that unless you're in open space, and the enemy is weak, they might die. They display no strategy or self-preservation. They do not usually obey commands, and even when they do, they "forget" them immediately. Late in the game, I had to get in the habit of telling my companion to hang WAY back while I cleared a dungeon wing, or else they would rush ahead of me and get killed by whatever giant thing I was trying to set traps for. Even when told to "wait" a fair distance away, you will often see your melee companion ( or your horse ) rush ahead of you, usually RIGHT IN THE PATH OF YOUR magic, if that is your configuration, and die. Even when I switched to melee, it seemed like 9 times out of 10, my horse or companion would be trapped with the enemy in a narrow path ( and the game is FULL of those ) and I’m unable to get to the enemy.

Don’t even get me STARTED on horses.

There is little dynamic buffing, no useful debuffing, no fight stages and no party roles, so there is no reason for them to exist beyond the basic utility of their muling or their “company” much like FNV. The toughest enemies in the game fall easy prey to a direct blast of lighting, but that's assuming your companion doesn't jump right into the beam. Is it so hard to go around to the other side of the enemy? 

Companion dialog seems to have devolved from the Fallout games. Where Fallout companions are unique individuals, with back stories, unique dialog and even quests, companions in Skyrim are generic, sharing everything from meshes to textures to voice actors. Upon exiting a cave, you will often hear something to the effect of “Oh a cave, I wonder what’s in it?” even after you have JUST cleared said cave.

Companions will often comment randomly, and during the dialog of key quest NPCs. This can be very immersion breaking. I use subtitles all the time, but dialog in Skyrim overlaps all the time, sometimes even a few NPCs deep.

“You don’t see that everyday”

“I am SWORN to carry your burdens”

“I have a bad feeling”

You’ll hear these and a few others THOUSANDS of times. Companions chatter ENDLESSLY, but never really say anything. The only one so far that really feels unique is the Assassin from the Dark Brotherhood quests, as he actually says unique things about the various locations you visit, and offers stories about dead people and something about a guy whose name sounds suspiciously similar to Simon Belmont. Even he never shuts up though, and I have actually had to kill him numerous times myself in order to shut him up so that I can complete quests in peace. His VO seems to be encoded at a much higher volume than anyone else, so this is a problem often.

Companions seem to love to stand in doorways, and unlike their FO equivalents, do not immediately get out of the way when pushed. This has led to more than one instance of being trapped in a room during a quest where the quest NPC attempted to leave, and was stuck, and I couldn’t help as the room was too small to force the companion to move. Attacking them gets them going but this should not be required.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve practically screamed at the monitor to “MOVE ALREADY”. This seems to occur most often during quick trips into someone’s house where they are telling me to get out, and standing in my way so that I cannot physically pass them to leave the house. This inevitably leads to guards coming in and my having to reload the save. I do not consider this a game design decision, I consider it a bug in desperate need of fixing. FIX THIS NOW.

Companions of all forms are the worst area of the game. They worked slightly better in the FO games. Subsequently they worked FAR better in Guild Wars. Your team in GW knew how to buff, heal, raise dead, form up, spread out, and basically act like talented players. Companion code has severely devolved over the years.

I say just leave em’ out. Companions in Skyrim are already super low DPS, and very generic. They get in the way far more than they help.

If they are to be a productive and innovative feature of Skyrim, they will require a pretty much ground up redesign.

From Contributing Editor James -

Regarding companions, I need a way to see their full stats, to include their level caps. Some of them stop leveling at as low as level 20. A few go to level 50, and one goes to Level 81. i also need to be able to see the stats of their default gear.

There are fan-built companion guides, to include a spreadsheet of stats, but the game should let me see it as a baked-in feature.

Barbas: MOST ANNOYING COMPANION EVER. Gets in the way all the time and has the ability to shove me around. Must have super-powered doggie nose. He also barks as much as my own dog. Yet, he is immortal in combat and things seem to like to target him. So, he is the Annoying Barky Daedric Doggie of Death!

On Vanishing Companions:

Vanishing companions. I had the elf from the first town decked out in a gazillion in armor and weapons – and now he is simply gone. Where? Who knows? I may find him dead somewhere eventually.

They need to just make it where they are immortal, but can be taken out of the fight (kneeling or laid out flat) when defeated by an enemy. They do that for most combat now and will slowly regenerate health and try to join back in the combat.

However, they can get damaged by friendly fire magic and apparently some environmental items (getting stuck in a trap). And, then they die.

I reloaded a lot of times when that fool would die, but now I can’t find him.

He has vanished for extended periods before, but now I think he is simply gone. A king’s ransom in gear is laying in a ditch somewhere.

I went back to the place we had an epic battle against super-mages an hour or two earlier. I found him standing next to a dead horse. He was still alive and HAD NOT been told to wait there.

I fast-traveled back to the town I was at and he is now with me.

What caused him to stay behind? Who knows!

Marriage

Another afterthought, but a fun one. Complete a quest for a girl, and she’ll marry you. Just like real life, right?

If you marry someone, which you can do cross species, same gender, anything, your spouse will provide a variety of benefits, most of which are financial.

Every 24 hours, your spouse has 100 gold for you. Even if they are with you the entire time, they seem to be able to run a “store” that makes money. Some companions have their own gold inventory, and therefore, you can sell items to them and three days later, they have money again. Others have no gold, but will train you for gold, which of course you can take right back.

Areas for Improvement

Considering the target audience, there are some truly disturbing lessons involved here. You can for example:

Marry someone for the gold.

Marry them, and never again come home, and they will remain married to you.

Kill your spouse, and go get another. You can repeat this until you run out of marriable NPCs in game, which can take a LONG time.

Not to mention that your new spouse will run out on you the MICROSECOND the ceremony is over. You will be stuck until the NPC finishes talking, but the spouse will be in another town by then. What message does this send? You have to book it to track them down to ask them to live with you, which isn’t already implied.

You cannot divorce, but you can kill them and get a new one.

Architecture and Geography

The frigid tundra of Skyrim looks like an inhospitable place. Traveling across snow and ice is slow, treacherous and difficult, but in this game, it looks easy. Characters traverse miles of terrain like it ain't no thang. This immersion breaker really makes me wonder why they bothered to include so much ice and snow to begin with? Why have the entire game world be represented by terrain that in real life physics would slow down and endanger ANYONE, no matter how "hardy" they are, or what access to magic they have. See the LOTR Fellowshp for an example of this. 

That said, everything looks gorgeous from a distance, and the draw distance is incredible, especially if you've got the iron for it. Like most games based on this engine family, textures are too small, and therefore, look like crap up close. There is no pleasure in inspecting things close up. Take it all in at once, that's how you do it. 

At first the game world feels vast and unique, and in many ways it is, but once you've seen enough of it, you'll see that every inn looks exactly alike, and most dungeons are just a variation on one of a small number of themes/texture sets. They're not procedural but hand made, and it shows. The details that matter are in the placement of objects, giving every room in the world a uniquely lived in look ( it's amazing how many people in Skyrim will tolerate living and sleeping in the same room as a dead body or fresh splatter of blood ). 

Overall though you have to really appreciate that this is the main area that Bethesda's artists excel. They really know how to build a world that looks lived in, and make you want to live in it. Again, assuming you're ok with all of the people carcasses everywhere. Seriously, that "bring out your dead!" guy could really clean up in Skyrim. 

Areas for Improvement

A LOT of repetition.

Default textures are downright atrocious. Developing for console has really brought the quality level of games down a lot. Why not release the higher resolution textures, assuming that they ever existed, for the PC Version?

If you’re going to complain about releasing games on PC, release a real PC game, and then we’ll talk, not these poorly done ports. I mention this issue several times, but it’s rather sad when third parties have to “fix” something that’s wrong with the PC release ( textures, quest fixes, controls, etc ). Our computers can handle FAR bigger textures than the default, and yet we’re never given the option.

Combat

While there are about a thousand different stats and skills going on in any given combat, no matter what, it all boils down to aiming at an enemy and hitting one of two attack buttons or triggers. Either you'll swing a weapon, fling an arrow ( They still feel pretty sad ), or cast a spell. The enemy will do likewise, and one of you will die. There really isn't much need for running around, doing different things, and with the exception of some really tight fights in certain caves against more than five enemies, you don't need to plan or do anything special. As a mage, I simply circle straffed and cast while my companion thwacked away with her melee weapon. Easy Peasey!

Areas for Improvement

Not to beat a dead horse, but variety, it needs more of it.

Commerce

Loot things, sell them. Need it? Don’t sell it. It’s really no more complex than this. The only thing that adds any sense of “economy” to the world is that NPCs will have a finite amount of money, but this can be worked around by simply waiting three game days. That merchant now has their maximum gold on them. There is an infinite amount of gold available to the patient. Late in the game you will have far more crap stowed away than you can get rid of in any reasonable amount of game days. If you get married, you gain an infinite and free income to the tune of a rather generous 100 gold per day, on top of a built in store that will buy practically anything. Sleep three days, collect 300 gold, sell 750 gold worth of stuff, repeat. 

After I finished the main quest I went back to a certain dwarven ruins. I collected about 2500 weight units worth of stuff for smelting and smithing. Sure I had to walk about half of it, but it was worth it and I'm spending HOURS processing all of that stuff and that's just ONE dungeon. There is never an excuse to go broke in Skyrim. 

Areas for Improvement

Removing some of these silly bottomless pits of money will add some meaning to a lot of the commerce, and weaving a lot more skill and perk benefits into the equation will force a player to think more and blindly sell less. As it is, there is no reason to think through any transaction beyond “get rid of everything, go loot another dungeon, repeat”.

Crafting

See my thoughts on Smithing above. Crafting without customers is just silly.

Areas for Improvement

Add quests for crafting, as you started with, but leave off immediately.

Make crafting materials more scarce. Along with cutting off the infinite gold supply, this will lend meaning to crafting each item.

Travel

Fast Travel. Once you have visited a place on the map, you can fast travel there. What is Fast Travel? It’s not instant warping. Once you choose to fast travel, your character will “walk there” behind the scenes, time will pass.   You might even aggro some enemies on the way, although this is very rare.

Areas for Improvement

Some of us Fast Travel, some refuse to. I prefer to do it to get things done. Although it does remove some of the consequences of where you live and what you do with inventory.

Maybe add a penalty for fast traveling? Add some fatigue mechanics and let that come into play?

Some of the pathing to certain locations is frustrating. Not challenging, just frustrating.

Player Housing

You can buy a house in a variety of locations, but I find that the house in Whiterun is the most useful, due to its proximity to the crafting stations. As there is nothing to actually DO in a house, and most of the time sleep is not required, buying the bigger, more expensive houses are just a way to waste time.

Areas for Improvement

Although companions can join you in your housing, they do nothing but stand there. It’s very disconcerting.

Once you marry someone, they can move in with you but then they do nothing but putter around the house all day. It's kind of depressing.

Leveling Pace

Due to leveling ONLY when you use skills, leveling pace is awkward and uneven. You will level like CRAZY at first, and then it quickly tapers off as you settle into using the same skills.

Areas for Improvement

Returning to a mixed leveling system that rewards XP with quest completion might add a bit of motivation to complete those quests. As it stands, after a while, you begin to wonder why you bother to do any side quests at all, as they reward neither XP nor usually any unique gear.

Mods

The mods I have used with this game: ( note that with the exception of the two listed at the top, I did not begin modding the game until after my second character had completed most quests, meaning I had “done” nearly the whole game twice already )

A Quality World Map - With Roads by IcePenguin

Better Sorting by Headbomb

Daedric Armor and weapon Improvement by GarryG

Enhanced Blood Textures by dDefinder

Enhanced Night Skyrim by CptJoker

Glowing Ore Veins 300 by Baratan

Improved NPC Clothing - High Res by BaronDavid

Real Ice ALL-IN-ONE by Yuril

Serious HD Retexture Landscape Skyrim by Z4G4

Skyrim Flora Overhaul by vurt

Skyrim HD - 2K Textures by NebuLa

SkyUI by SkyUI Team

XCE - Xenius Character Enhancement by Xenius

Areas for Improvement

These are in addition to the mods I listed previously. It is completely unforgivable for a game to go on this long with quests that still require third party mods to fix.

Game needs to be a lot less reliant on mods in general to “fix” what should already “be”. Texture mods should not be required, as the original, high resolution textures should already be available to PC gamers.

The End Game

Wow, what can I say without massive spoilers?

Main quest is satisfying but a bit too “on rails”. There is no ending to the game. Once you finish the main quest, you are left simply standing there, free to go back to doing whatever you were doing before, with NPCs who will treat you exactly the same.

Areas for Improvement

How about a nice little ending? Something to wrap up?

Installation Size

My Steam folder with all mods and official texture pack is only 12.4GB

Time Commitment Required

Depends on if you are focused and goal oriented. Maybe 50-60 hours of solid play, and another 150 or so of wandering around doing side quests.

Areas for Improvement

Way too much emphasis on “endless questing” with unimaginative, generic quests. As I said above, most of the side quests could have been rolled into the main quest to create a more memorable and meaningful story. I don’t know what the big fuss is. I’ve played any of a number of PSP RPGs with more moving, more involved stories. The sheer amount of side questing, usually involving very generic goals, doesn’t really add anything to the experience. When you cut the crap, there’s really only a handful of hours of meaningful gameplay and a lot of repetitious fetching and killing.

There will always be core sets of fans who will devote their entire lives to something, but for the rest of us, we’re looking at about a solid 50 hours, kill the dragon and move on with your life.

COMPANY

Bethesda is top notch when it comes to PR and support. They use both in-house and external PR, and I seem to have more points of contact with them than any six other companies combined.

In short, and because I am trying to limit typing time, they rock.

Conclusion

I suppose I have to give it a score. I have not yet published my own proprietary format for review "scores" as I prefer not to use scores at all, but by my logic, and to follow the general idea of metacritic

A solidly addictive experience, often crippled with show stopping bugs, load screen crashes, sleep crashes, random "close to desktop" crashes, missing textures, broken quests, GPU driver incompatibilities, and a list thousands long of of minor issues and bugs, and console conventions, but optimized well enough for PC to get things such as resolution, mouse look, and keyboard commands mostly right. The fact that I cannot re-bind any key I want to is frustrating, as the game assumes WASD control, which makes about as much sense honestly as a console controller, but I digress. I love the game, and greatly look forward to any sequels. If not for the console nigs, the score would be higher, but if I had to pick an arbitrary number to represent the overall score based on the conventions of metacritic:

Some perspective for sequels

Being a blind fanboy does no service to a thing. Skyrim is great, to a point. The worthless companions, shallow skill and combat systems, console UI, and stability issues are nonetheless balanced by a wonderfully wrought game world. Bethesda and Rockstar share one major thing in common. Both create amazing game worlds. The game world of Liberty City in GTA IV is incomparably detailed and huge. Skyrim is similar, although it suffers badly from texture and shadow issues. Both have built amazing game worlds, but weak games on top of them. Either could license out the game world for modders or third parties to build better games. For the amazing game world I couldn’t give the game less than a 90, but the game suffers heavily from too many numerous issues to give it a wholly positive review, so I will settle on:

Final Score - 91

From Contributing Editor James -

I would score it higher, more like 94, though with a caveat that this is based upon actually squashing some bugs. I like “wanderlust” games where I don’t know what is around the next bend. This one delivers on that experience as well as any I have ever played.

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