Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Skyrim. A Game That Taught Me How Boring Greatness Can Be



The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a massive open world action packed RPG. It's massive, packed full of content and can give anyone who plays it an overwhelming sense of scale and adventure as they brave awe inspiring snow covered mountains and grand fertile valleys. You can traverse the most decayed landscape or some of the most beautiful and alive environments which I have ever experienced in a game. It's reconnecting with nature, but without the effort of actually going outside. It's stunning, it's long and it will become addictive enough that even when you leave Skyrim for the outside, you'll crave to be able to get back home and play it some more.  

But, it's also exceptionally boring and one of the most repetitious games that I've ever played, forcing me to grind more than if I was a mule working in a mill forced to pull a grindstone all day until I go lame and buckle under the futility of it all. But obviously I can't stop playing. So what the hell is in the water in Skyrim? On that note then let's jump randomly between thoughts until we can pull a conclusion out of our asses.


Ask anyone if they'd ever want to be put in a situation where they had to spend several hours on endless journey time of gruelling walks, with only the most boring and inexpressive people for company. Most would say no and the only people who would seemingly ever want to live this life are the care workers of autistic children on a day out. Let's add in the extra bonus of; randomly you could be attacked by bears and killed, oh and sometimes the world around you might spaz out and glitch itself into oblivion. Every type of person I can think of would immediately say Hell No and run from your sight. Any who stayed would be a mad man. Yet strangely I see 10 million beady pairs of eyes still before me staring with an emptiness in their soul, raring to go. What the hell is going on?

Fundamentally then, what do you do in Skyrim that takes up so much time? Well, although there are varied numbers of ways to play, basically you will do the following things. You will meet a boring asshole who will 95% of the time, tell you a boring story. If you don't have the subtitles on, you will have to listen to all of it, but if you're smart, you can read faster and so leave them faster. Then you will head out into the wilderness and walk, or ride your fellow and expensive stallion across the land. You will see many landmarks along the way. You will go to them, discover them, possibly explore them if you can spare the time, but it's always off to the next mission. Once you get there you will most likely receive 5 other quests, expanding your already hefty quest list with yet more tasks to complete. You will then fight some stuff, maybe interact with a few objects to progress. You will then find your item/kill the person who had your item and then return it to your quest giver.

She may look lovely, but she's about to bore you into a forced enema. And then you'll have to go and do very tedious things for her.

It's a very rinse and repeat experience. Your quest book will grow exponentially until you will even forget which quest is the main storyline as they all start to look the same; all time consuming and endless. But you cry, I can go to any dungeon or cave I want and loot it for all its worth. Yes, yes you can. You can go into a dungeon filled with enemies, kill them and then take their gold and other valuables. Then from these you select which ones benefit to make you stronger and then you can sell the rest of your items in the local shops. So you can do missions and you can find items to sell, to make more money, to upgrade items, to make doing the quests easier. The quests which aren't interesting.

I'm being overly harsh of course, because some quests are interesting and some have genuinely gripping internal plots that can be both well executed and eerie as hell. There are enough dead children and secretly vampiric prostitutes in a few missions for them to stand out as great pieces of design. But aside from that, the quests follow an incredibly rigid structure. You can kill, or you can pick an item up, or while killing or picking stuff up, you can interact with an object so you can continue to loot and kill. For the most part there's nothing to spend your money on other than upgrading items and yourself simply so you become more proficient at killing. It's also incredibly rare to find items substantially better than you'll have after your first dungeon or two, and so it makes sense to invest all your money into getting people to teach you skills to upgrade yourself. You will however upgrade very slowly, and as you upgrade, so does the world around you. You will spend the entire game making money to make yourself more powerful, and the rest of the world more powerful and so inevitably be spending money on literally nothing, as everything will remain as difficult as it was in the first place.

Even with regards to choice within how to tackle the missions and the people there isn't really much if any. As far as choice goes you can either refuse or accept a quest, either way it'll add it to your quest list anyway rendering the choice pointless as you have chosen to undertake later anyway had you accepted it. When talking to people alot of the time you can choice either to make them happy or piss them off and fight them, but the outcome of the quest is the same anyway. As for what kind of character you want to be, you can be stealthy and a good thief to some extent, but the missions will always force you to fight at some point, so levelling up your fighting and magic is vital to your survival. People complained about this railroading in Deus Ex: Human Revolution's boss battles, but the exact same problem is strangely ignored for Skyrim, even though it's the same issue; a promise to tackle the game anyway you want, but with strict parameters within which you must play it. I will go into the problems with Skyrim's combat itself next.

I used to play Skyrim, but then I took an arrow to the k...JESUS CHRIST CAN YOU PLEASE just SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LEAVE ME ALONEE FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCKCK, WHY ARE YOU SO FUCKING BORING, YOU MINDLESS GREY SLUDGE, MONOTONE CHAINMAIL WEARING TWAT.
 SHUIT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP


You quickly hit a cycle. Do quest, get gold, spend money to stay relatively the same and then repeat. This is true of any game. Any 'GTA' suffers from this problem, with 'GTA IV' in my opinion being the worst victim of this. However. At least with GTA IV there were other activities to do. You could drive, be involved in mayhem with numerous ways of killing people, take on varied side missions and heaven forbid if you ran out of stuff to do there was even bowling with Roman. But here in Skyrim, you're in a game of side missions and unfortunately they're all the same, and only when they have a good internal story am I engaged with them, other than pressing the mouse button to swing my sword or throw magic out my hands. The combat itself is satisfying when against easier targets. But as soon as you're against a stronger enemy there's not really many ways of tackling the situation other than crouching and shooting arrows from far away for hours until they're weak. You can also run in, hit them with mace or magic and then run away, restore health and run back in again. The combat system isn't built to have sustained sword play or magic duels. You die too quickly and will either find yourself just repeating an action of attacking and fleeing or just mashing the attack button while shovelling health potions down your gullet as fast and you can pour.

How many times I wished I could of turned the bow on myself

There's nothing interesting to buy aside from weapons that are used in combat, which as I've stated is repetitive and doesn't work well for sustained battles. But really the main problem with Skyrim is that there isn't really much else to do aside from killing and looting. Your character isn't particularly manoeuvrable and there's really no other activities to do. Listen to the pretty music and go into a dungeon yes. But in reality it's probably a dungeon that you'll just visit later on a side quest and so it didn't really matter that you chose to go there in the first place. Hack down the same enemies over and over again. Have fun, cause either they'll be too easy and you'll fly through it with no victory, or they'll drain your health and you'll spend the next quarter of an hour in the repetitive regime of hiding and striking until you've slowly whittled them down. The world isn't interactive. I feel like an abusive husband, trapped in the cycle of everyday mundanity. All I can do is strike those around me, pawn my stuff and then spend all that on alcohol to make my vision go fuzzy. But it's a cycle none the less.

But I'm not criticising everything. I feel like a bored wife beater yes, but I'm more of a wife beater who's stuck in a very pretty meadow. The environments are nice at least and it is fun to traverse the environment. As I've said I still can't stop playing Skyrim. I've sunk endless hours into it, but I'm also aware it's an insanely repetitive, boring and frustrating game at it's heart. I can only hope I've demonstrated clearly why I think this. But why is it good then? Well I think it might just be for the opportunity it presents itself as. It's a chance to escape to somewhere you can never go. A lot of games promise this, but they're mostly linear and story driven, so it doesn't feel like you're existing in the world, but simply playing a plot through to the end, and then it does eventually end. No matter how long you piss about or waste your time, if you play that game for 20 hours, it's gone.

But Skyrim, that's a game whose whole philosophy is built upon the idea of pissing about and wasting your time. That will never end, it will beat you. There are endless objectives to tick off the list with satisfaction, but this is a satisfaction stemming from OCD and completionism rather than enjoyment. You'll never finish it because it's too big to bother finishing. There's always somewhere new to go. It follows the path that only MMOs seem to tread. It's a single player grind-a-thon. A place where you'll finally have the opportunity to feel just like Bastian Bux did. It's somewhere to escape to. For me personally, I like the feel of being in an almost medieval world, where you could just strut into the hills, kill and loot a man's property and get away scot free. There's long walks to be had, and nice background music to listen to, as well as endless mods, which actually when implemented do make up a fun and varied game and at that point I do relinquish that there is varied fun to be had in Skyrim.

He's only crouching from the lower back pain of a never ending journey

But as the game stands I like it. Hell everyone likes it. But please for one second don't pretend because it's a deep game, or that it is varied or fun. Because it's none of these things. Obviously that depends on your definition of fun. I've seen a lot of gimped out pornstars with baseball bats halfway up their ass, dribbling cum from their noses and claiming they had a great time. Good for them. But if you're having fun in Skyrim, I'm gonna class it as the kind of fun that I will never experience nor understand.

Skyrim is a great game, but it isn't because of it's gameplay. So saddle up (press the interact button), leave town (press the interact button), kill a peasant (press the interact button), steal his things (I'm just gonna put the word interact from here on in), sell them at the market (interact), wonder around a meadow (I've got to hand it to Bethesda, this actually involves pressing the arrow keys) and have a great time lost in the world of Skyrim. But don't for a second believe it's because of it's gameplay.

Skyrim is a lot like Noel Edmonds of 'Deal or No Deal'. He's good because of what he presents, not because of what he is.

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for this very thoughtful and interesting critique of the game. I have to agree that the game mechanics and structure are repetitive in nature but that's not what brings me back each time.

    You touch upon this reason by talking about an endless list of things to do to waste your time. I think it goes deeper then simply this OCB need to do complete everything.

    For me, it's the immersion, the roleplay you do to breath life into your character and justify your actions, the way you bring the world alive around you and write your character's story. I don't do all the quests with each character: I only do the ones that make sense to the persona I'm creating and make their choices coherent. Being the goodie-two-shoes demi-god isn't fun: its boring as hell.

    Force yourself to create flawed characters, or those that will think differently than your own beliefs. I find it an interesting way to look at things in a different manner and question yourself this way. If I decide to play an thief/assassin, what's my moral ethics and why ? What if I create a high-elf mage: how should I react to all those Nords I hate ? As a Nord, what would be my actions ? In terms of gameplay, change your style as well (here, mods help a lot and make things much more interesting, challenging and balanced but you correctly pointed that in your article)

    The beauty of Skyrim isn't it's incredible revolutionary game mechanics or exceptional story. It's a platform for you to create your own world and story. D&D players do this each time with only a pen and paper. I do the same in Skyrim.

    It's not a perfect platform (bugs and all) but that's what the developers want to give us and why they allow the game to be so modable: to allow their playerbase to make full use of their imagination and creativity to create their own stories, bring the world of Skyrim alive and kill the boredom.

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    1. My persona in the game is a goodie-two-shoes demi-god, which explains my experience. I'm going to be changing his persona very swiftly as soon as I can find a stable killable children mod.

      But yeah you're right about the mods really improving the game beyond measure. To some extent skyrim kind of has to be judged more like Little Big Planet, in that it's the commuinity's input that makes it great. I still think this is a failure on Bethesda's part, but there's more than enough of Jeremy Soule's soundtrack to keep me happy with the original product..

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    2. For some reason I think Skyrim's mods just suck.

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  2. Agree with every single point you made! Skyrim is BORING as hell, but something about it makes me keep coming back!

    I have personally tried EVERY possible character race/class/perk design I could think of. I even made a strictly boxing character (unarmed). The weirdest one of all was a spell caster with a shield in one hand and a destruction in the other, with no duel casting whatsoever.

    Then I even made a strictly illusion magic character. That's right, no destruction, conjuration, one handed, or anything else that does damage. If I needed to kill some people, I just cast frenzy and then invisibility and just sit there and watch them kill each other. The obvious problem with this build was that a single enemy couldn't be killed, I could only make them run away or sneak around them w/invisibility.

    I tried everything, and have 20 characters to prove it. Guess what? NONE of them leave me with very memorable gameplay experiences.

    Why do i keep playing this silly game? Maybe I'm just addicted to the beautiful scenery and graphics, because I really can't think of anything else this game has going for it.

    I'm glad somebody finally told the truth about skyrim. It did NOT deserve all the praise it's gotten, that's for damn sure. Easily one of the most overrated games in history.

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    1. Christ, well I'm glad you got round to actually experimenting around with the archetypes. I was honestly done after just one playthrough, a long one at that, as a dual mace wielding Khajit with sneaking and archery abilities - because up front combat is impossible in that game.
      Glad someone else agrees that it is an addictive game that will keep sucking you in with little to no return. I think it's just cause there's always something to be done which creates the illusion of substance and enjoyment, when in reality it's just simply satisfying a completion compulsion.

      I'm impressed/worried you managed to put up with all its bullshit more than once, I see nothing good to go back to.

      Glad you enjoyed the article anyway, and that you also have shared in my isolation of disliking Skyrim, while playing the shit out of it.

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    2. Up front combat isn't impossible, it's stupid. Just like everything else.

      Once you get the Elemental Fury shout and a high forged 2 hander, you quite literally cleave through everything the game has to offer.

      Spend a bit leveling up blacksmithing, get some dragon armor and trash everything in the game.

      Boring.

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  3. After realizing yesterday that I have put in well over 100 hours in Skyrim but I don't feel like I have made hardly any progress at all as far as completing quests goes and that I am SO bored with looting, selling, gathering, organizing, I read your article. Right on, man! Thank you for writing this; it helps put words to what I've been feeling. Plus, you are wicked funny and had me guffawing out loud more than once.

    I appreciate your point of "completionism" being a driving force in the game, a truly impossible goal for Skyrim, at least the way I play it.

    Also, I have spent so much freakin' time organizing things in Skyrim that I am bored, bored, bored with it, almost swearing that I will never loot again. Skyrim is too time consuming and not fun with processing items - these things have to be set aside for crafting, these to be sold to a merchant, these to a fence, these for enchanting, these for alchemy, these for cooking! Plus, if I want to cook, I have to loot barrels; if I want to make potions, I have to gather herbs and such; if I want to level up crafting, I need to get leather from animal kills; if I want to level up enchanting, I need to make or collect daggers and soul gems. It may sound like, great! variety! but it ends up being a huge time suck and not fun.

    For me, I am going to see what playing Skyrim is like focusing on the quests and forgetting about looting every barrel and piece of furniture and enemy (only worry about the bosses and locked chests). I already stopped sneak thieving and pickpocketing because what is the point?

    Again, thanks for the enjoyable and insightful article.

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    1. Thanks, I'm glad you found solace in the fact that someone else feels the same.

      I like your point on the implied variety of the game, when all actions you do, enchanting or otherwise, basically revolve around the less varied gameplay of just going up to chests or enemies and hitting the loot button.

      I still play it every now and again. I guess I just can't quite leave skyrim behind. It's just those faded locations on the map that don't have a "cleared" next to them. Drives me mad. Hate this fucking game.

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  4. I feel that what makes Skyrim "boring" is the fact that elements that are the trademark of MMO's have been used. To reach such a huge amount of content, they had to add grinding for crafting and repetitive quests, which is typically what you get in MMO's.

    But I have to say that crafting in Skyrim is less boring than in MMO's (even in a game like SWTOR, crafting becomes boring after a while) and there are more interesting quests overall.

    But yes, there is a lot to do and this lot becomes repetitive.

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    1. This is why I'm really interested to see how Elder Scrolls Online plays. I agree it is very similar to an MMO in that its amount of content creates a quantity over quality problem. I wonder if ESO can upkeep the same level of quality compared to skyrim and what a new development team will bring to the table (I have a feeling that after 5 games, the original team at Bethesda are just kind of running out of ideas slightly with the quests).

      I think it'll be surprising though how similar ESO is to Skyrim because of their shared MMO backbone. Which I guess with how I found it boring probably isn't the best thing in the world.

      Thanks for commenting anyway. I assume you're a fan of the elder scrolls based on this. Are you looking into getting ESO?

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