Thoughts on Skyrim.

So. Finally bought The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, after the Legendary Edition with the three expansion packs went on sale. I’ve played up to around level 10, with a couple major quests ticked off and various other minor tasks accomplished, and I have a few thoughts, partially in the game itself, partially in how it relates to the previous game, Oblivion.

The most obvious thing, and also the largest improvement over Oblivion, is the leveling system. In Oblivion, you leveled up based only on your major skills, which were set in stone at the beginning of the game. That, and you had to strictly level up your minor skills first, or you’d miss out on large portions of skill advances and get hosed as you got to higher and higher levels. In Skyrim, once you advance ten levels in any of your skills, you gain a level. You can apply the benefits of that level immediately. And you can pick a perk for any skill you like.

And—and this is crucial, and my entirely favorite part—every single perk matters. Some perks are cool, sure, like the “lockpicks never break” perk, but you have to have a high level to get there. End game rewards are expected to be game-changing. But even the first level of perks change the game. Every magic school’s first perk is to halve the magic cost of novice-level spells, which are the spells you have right at the beginning of the game when you’re trying to train yourself. It’s genius. Weapon bonus damages go up 20% at a time, which is enough to matter, and you can jack that number all the way to 100%. You can double your damage. With five perks. That’s huge. And brilliant.

The dialog seems to be more diverse than Oblivion’s was. It helps a bit, perhaps, that the setting of the game has moved from the Imperial capital, the slightly generic white-man’s-kingdom, to the somewhat more characteristic frosted land of Skyrim, home of the hardy Nords, who all have an accent. Even the outsiders, the Redguards and beast races and whoever else, have stronger accents than previously, to set everyone apart further.

The quest system is divided up a bit better. Major quests are shown by themselves, with a little bit of help to guide you through them. Minor quests are just straight-up listed in one block of text, and you can tackle them or ignore them as you please. Some of the minor quests are progressively generated, making the game world feel just a little bit more real. Why every single person in the world can only get help from me is anyone’s guess, and even if the answer remains “it’s a video game” the journey to get there is becoming more varied and free.

Interface runs a lot more smoothly, especially on the PC. You can navigate with the mouse entirely, or you can navigate with the keyboard (almost) entirely, or you can perform some combination of the two. It’s mostly intuitive and simple. This was a big problem with Oblivion, where much of the inventory was mouse-only and poorly organized.

Perhaps one of the things I lament about the streamlining of the core systems is the loss of the outliers. Morrowind was big on having lots of distinctions between item types: there were three (technically four) armor types, seven weapon types, and 27 skills (with 8 attributes). Oblivion slimmed it down a bit, with only two armor classes and three weapon types, and 21 skills. Skyrim gets even slimmer, with 18 skills and none of your attribute bullshit (only the basic Health, Magicka, and Stamina, which are constant between almost all races).

Honestly, with such a wide-open system like Skyrim’s, I’d love for its ease of use combined with the breadth of Morrowind or Oblivion. Give me Birthsigns. Give me curses. Give me persuasion. Give me underwater combat. Give me deeper potion-making. Give me breaking weapons. Give me six pieces of armor in a set. Give me custom spells. Give me spell success rates.

…you know, it wasn’t until I started listing those until I realized what they were: stupid RPG clutter that took you out of the game for a bit so you could fiddle with statistics you didn’t understand. Really, this is probably for the better. Go play Skyrim.