Chris: Welcome to the first edition of The Round Table, wherein we will have back-and-forth discussions on our expectations for upcoming releases, as well as our opinions on new releases – a sort of review from multiple perspectives in a single article. Today, we'll be focusing on Skyrim and what our expectations are for that game. In a later Round Table discussion, we'll find out if the game met those expectations. I'm Chris, and sitting with me today is someone you likely already know.
Ian: You guys know me, I'm a news editor for Gameranx, you've likely read my pieces. And if you follow me on my twitter, @stillgray, you know I have a mass of opinions to share. Without further ado, let's get on with the show! First, let's talk about what we liked and disliked about the previous Bethesda games first. How about Morrowind? It's a good place as any to start, because most people first became familiar with their games and the Elder Scrolls universe starting with Morrowind.
The greatest defining aspect of Morrowind was undoubtedly it's environments – its lush environments. Instead of creating a regular medieval fantasty style world, we were brought into something completely extraordinary, exotic I should say. Land was populated by towns, cities, and the architecture was unlike anything we'd ever seen in a real world. Furthermore, it was populated by a host of characters that would eventually come to define the Morrowind experience. Why don't you talk about what enthralled you to Morrowind and the Elder Scrolls games?
Chris: Morrowind, as far as I can remember, was largely my first foray into open-world games. I never knew games could so complex, so vast, before its release. Exploring a world and a character entirely my own was exhilarating. I could go anywhere, be anyone, and I loved that freedom. I also had to make tough decisions. The world was populated by a plethora of different factions and guilds. Some of them were intertwined with each other, through quests and competition. I could not join them all, at least not easily.
When Oblivion was announced, naturally I was excited, and had plenty of expectations for Morrowind's follow-up title. I was hoping the complexity of the factions would return. As we all know, however, that didn't happen. Many of the guilds returned from Morrowind, but nothing similar to the Houses and their politics, nor the Imperial Legion. And instead of having to choose which guild to join, you could join them all, eventually reaching the leadership position in each. What were your thoughts on Morrowind's factions and guilds and Oblivion's implementation of them?
Ian: I felt that Oblivion's implementation was extremely limited. You could say it was lacking something that brought a lot of character to the Elder Scrolls. Instead of serving as a deeper political layer of the game, the factions were little more than quest givers. They failed to immerse me in the world, and for Skyrim I would very much like to see a return of the factions as they were in Morrowind.
Chris: Do you think Skyrim will have that complexity?
Ian: I don't. But I would like to see them prove me wrong. I don't think that Bethesda will implement the complexity simply because they haven't mentioned it at all in any of the previews. I might be wrong, but I would be somewhat disappointed if I didn't see at least something that was at least more complex than Oblivion's quest givers.
Chris: Unfortunately, I feel the same way. Our favorite guilds will return, and no doubt their quests will be enjoyable, but I'm not expecting the same kind of tough choices and interconnectedness Morrowind had.
Ian: Even though the factions may not be as complex as they were in Morrowind, I think that the world as a whole has seen a great deal of improvement from Morrowind to Oblivion to Skyrim. The world, at least according to the previews, feels more life-like than ever before, whereas in previous games one could argue that some of the characters seemed little more than cardboard cutouts.
Chris: And that, ultimately, is what I'm most excited to see – the world. Morrowind's world was very diverse, in terms of visuals and atmosphere. The locations were diverse, from marshlands to volcanic mountains to snowy tundras. Oblivion's world felt the opposite. Every region, every dungeon, felt the same. Once you visited one Alyleid ruin or cave, you visited them all. The general land of Cyrodiil was mostly plain forests and a few snowy, unremarkable mountains. It was bland and a little boring.
With Skyrim, Bethesda seems to have addressed that common complaint. I believe Oblivion's dungeons were crafted by a single person utilizing tools to automatically generate the majority of them. This time Bethesda has hired a larger team of level designers to painstakingly handcraft each dungeon. I'm very curious to see if their efforts have paid off, and is something we'll come back to in the follow-up Round Table discussion after the game is released.
Ian: Skyrim appears to have a wide variety of locations, just as Morrowind did. It has a plethora of exotic locations that hopefully will rekindle the hearts of anyone who enjoyed Morrowind. It has architecture unique to Skyrim, like Norse-inspired tombs and towns. Large stone carvings are scattered throughout the world, each of which towers above the player and the world around them. These give Skyrim a real sense of depth and scale, is unlike anything we've ever seen before in an Elder Scrolls game. You truly get the sense that the game is epic, and that is not a word I use lightly.
Chris: And boy do those cities look epic. Morrowind had some interesting cities, particularly Vivec, but Oblivion's were largely all castle towns of simple stone.
Ian: The thing about Skyrim's world is that the storyline doesn't matter as much as the environment it takes place in. As a player, I'm able to write my own story, my own adventure, every time I step into an Elder Scrolls games, and that is the beauty of the series. The same holds true for Fallout 3. Regardless of my views Skyrim as an adventure, many players are interested in what it has to offer in terms of the story. And if Oblivion is anything to go by, they may not have much to look forward to.
However, Bethesda has listened to feedback and is intent on putting as much story as they can into this latest iteration. For starters, the story in Skyrim is a culmination of the events of Morrowind, Oblivion, and the Elder Scrolls games before them. It stands to reason that Bethesda does not want to let anyone down. What do you think?
Chris: So you think the main quest will be good?
Ian: Yeah, I think so. Don't you?
Chris: I'm a little less optimistic. Morrowind had an enjoyable main quest, but Oblivion's and Fallout 3's left me very disappointed. The events surrounding their quests weren't epic, even though their narrative tried to paint them as such. The fight for Bruma in Oblivion comes to mind. Skyrim's main quest sounds interesting – after all, who doesn't love the rebirth of dragons – but I'm worried it will ultimately let me down.
Of course, what we all care about are the side-quests. Many of us are likely to just wonder off into the world not even touching the main quest until hours later. I am confident that aspect of the game will be fantastic.
Ian: Fair enough. The storyline in Oblivion, if it was anything to go by, people may have a reason to have low expectations. I would like to see Bethesda exceed everyone’s expectations and deliver a story worth talking about.
Speaking of low expectations, combat in Oblivion wasn't very good, especially when you compare Oblivion to the likes of Dark Souls or even Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. The combat is clearly mediocre. This is not aided by the fact the models in Oblivion looked a lot like mannequins and a lot less like people. All this detracted from the combat.
Chris: It was certainly flawed. I did appreciate the attempt, however. Combat in Morrowind was based on a dice roll, but with Oblivion they tried to make it much more physical and involved. Unfortuantely, I still felt it lacked a certain punch. Skyrim, on the other hand, looks very visceral and exciting. Ranged combat and stealth attacks are more lethal, and melee attacks have impressive finishers. But the new magic system is what I'm most impressed with and looking forward to trying.
I have never been a person who has played a mage. I have never cared for their magic and their pointy hats and wooden staffs. Skyrim may change my opinion. A big part of that is the way they've visually designed the spells this time. They looked weak in Oblivion. They look fierce and powerful in Skyrim. Pardon my crude description, but Oblivion's fireball looked like a little fart of flame. Skyrim's is a charged ball in your hand that creates a massive explosion on release.
Ian: In addition to the visual changes they're giving the magic, I would also say the effects that they do are much more pronounced this time around. For instance, chain lightning affects all enemies within a certain area and you can watch the lightning arcs from character to character. It's small details like these that give the game a much needed impact that was lacking in previous games.
Chris: It sounds like we're both looking forward to the magic system, but going back to the melee combat it seemed like your expectations are much lower.
Ian: I'd like to see it borrow the combat of Dark Souls, where you have to put a lot of thought into your attacks. You can't just spam the button. You have to attack, parry, counter-attack. It's a very skill-based thing, and it's something I'd like to see implemented into Skyrim.
Chris: But you don't think it will be?
Ian: I'm not confident Bethesda has what it takes. Prove me wrong, Bethesda.
Chris: So far we have a few different expectations, but let's finish off our discussion with the new skill and leveling system. For some, it's a controversial change. For others, it's a welcome one. What are your thoughts?
Ian: I think Oblivion was a little too simplistic. As an RPG, it could definitely benefit from some form of specialization that's offered from perks. It allows players to basically design characters as they like, allowing their builds to compliment their play-style. It also allows them to replay the game several times trying out new skills and builds and having different adventures each time they play.
Chris: You felt Oblivion's system was too simplistic, but not Skyrim's? You don't choose your skills anymore or invest attribute points aside from health, mana and stamina.
Ian: No, in fact I think they're simply shifting the way players build their character in a way that really matters. Instead of playing around with numbers players are instead treated to develop their characters in ways that offer meaningful changes to their characters.
Chris: I feel the same way. Looking at the surface, it may seem like Bethesda has simplified those systems. I remember reading concerned opinions when the changes were first announced. But the general way you level up is still running in the background – focusing on major skills and improving them – you're just not locked into your choices from the very beginning like you were in the previous games. I really like that freedom. It means you can experiment before specializing.
As far as the perks, I also agree that offers you more meaningful changes to your characters. I believe they were designed, and it certainly looks to be the case, to give you noticeable improvements immediately upon leveling instead of just incrementally raising a skill. If you invest in your block skill, one perk is a shield bash attack. In another tree, you may acquire a large, passive bonus to your mana regeneration rate. Those are things you will notice, and feel, immediately instead of later.
Chris: There's no question that we're both highly looking forward to the game. I am giddy with excitement in a way not many games can elicit from me. We do have different expectations, however, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Skryim will meet them. This concludes the first Round Table discussion. Stay tuned for another once we've had time with the game. We'll be talking about and comparing our experiences and opinions, on everything we've discussed today and more.