Before I start, I should point out that throughout these chapters, I will make comparisons to Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. They’re both, in my opinion, good examples of RPG’s, and I will use them as a benchmark.
Unfair, you might say. I disagree. One of those games is made by the same people who made Skyrim. I will judge the makers both on their own terms, and compare their efforts to that of people who KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING.
But I warn you right now. Clear your schedule. This will not be a quick read. There is a reason I call them “Chapters” rather than “Pages”.
The game starts with you, the player, as a prisoner on a cart, rolling through the wintry wilderness of Skyrim towards a small village/mountain outpost called Helgen. On the way, the other prisoners talk, and you’re made aware that there is a civil war raging between the Imperial army and a group of rebels, known as Stormcloaks, and that the leader of the rebels, Ulfric Stormcloak himself, is among the prisoners.
After a while, you arrive in Helgen, where you and the other prisoners are led from the wagon, and a guard asks you your name.
Cue character creation menu.
Well, So far, so good. You get a basic understanding of what’s going on, and then you get to create your character. Seems perfectly reasonable, right?.
You’ll be shocked to know that I don’t think so.
Let’s compare this opening to Fallout 3. That game opens with a radio sparking into life, playing “I don’t want to set the world on fire” by the Ink-Spots. Pan out to revealing the radio is in the dashboard in an old, broken bus. It pans out further, showing you the blasted remains of a city street. And finally, a Knight of the Brotherhood of Steel hoves into view. Then the narration by Ron Perlman begins with the catchphrase of the series.
War… War Never Changes
It then proceeds to explain the world in an abridged history lesson.
Nuclear war, humanity didn’t end with the war, and is now doing its best to survive.
Then the game itself begins with you, the player, being born.
From there, you’re creating your character.
In Fallout New Vegas, there’s a similar approach. A slow panning out from a poster on a casino wall, with the song “Blue Moon” by Frank Sinatra echoing out over the Vegas Strip, further past an NCR Ranger firing a gun. We follow the bullet through the air, until it hits a guy in the head. We then see a group of scouts from Caesars Legion surveying the city from afar.
We then cut to a bunch of people digging a grave, one person bound and on their knees and a man in a checkered coat smoking a cigarette.
What follows is the narrator explaining the world. This time, it’s less of a general description, and more an explanation of the current situation of the Mojave Wasteland. The NCR, Caesars legion and their history is explained in easily understood terms. You also get an explanation of what you’re doing in the world. You’re a courier. You’re also the person with their hands tied in front of the open grave.
Then the guy in the checkered coat shoots you in the head.
The game proper begins with you waking up in a hospital bed. You then start creating your character.
So I’m sure you’re wondering what’s wrong with Skyrim. They gave some exposition, and then you get to create your character. What’s wrong with that?
The answer: As is so often the case, the problem is in the execution.
The thing with the intro movie in Fallout is that it’s a MOVIE. You’re just supposed to watch it. It’s just an introduction given by the omniscient, impartial narrator. A factual description of the world setting up the style and feel of the game. Not a biased, unreliable account from people who are about to be killed.
Oh, and this might just be a small thing, but in case it’s your second time playing, you know what the great thing about an intro movie is?
YOU CAN SKIP IT!
In Skyrim, you press “New Game”, and you’re on the cart. And what follows is four and a half minutes where you’re stuck. you can’t click anything. You can’t talk to anyone. You can’t move. You can’t do anything other than look around, marvel at the scenery and hear idiots and assholes say things you already know.
So the opening explanation for what the hell is going on is clumsily given. It’s annoying, but it’s not really that bad in the grand scheme of things, I admit…
You know what is really bad?
The Character Creation.
Skyrim is a role-playing game. The idea with a role-playing game is that you create a character, and then you play that character. You decide who he is. What is he good at? What is he bad at?
Let’s look at Fallout: New Vegas, shall we?
The character creation in New Vegas is made in 5 steps.
First you pick your Name.
Then you pick your Appearance. Gender, Race, Face (how you look) and Hair (hairstyle, colour, beard etc).
Then there’s your basic Stats. In Fallout, they’re referred to as S.P.E.C.I.A.L.
Strength determines how strong you are (duh). How much you can carry without being slowed down, how hard you hit, and so on.
Perception means how observant you are. Apart from skill checks, this determines how far away an enemy is before they appear on your radar.
Endurance means how healthy you are. How much your body can endure, how much damage you can take before you become crippled, which may impact your mobility, your aim or your hearing and vision.
Charisma determines how good you are at charming, intimidating or bluffing people.
Intelligence decides your reasoning and common sense. it also affects how many skill points you get when leveling up.
Agility means how fast and limber you are. This has an impact on your action points, draw speed etc.
Luck determines how fortunate you are. How likely are you to get a critical hit in battle or how well you do when you gamble. It also gives a minor bonus to all skills
You get 33 stat points to assign to the stat you want. You can have 1-10 in a single stat. The higher the stat, the better that stat is. Nothing complicated.
All stats also affect certain skills. Strength affects the Unarmed and Melee skills, Charisma affects the Speech and Barter skills, and so on.
Next come the Skills themselves. You’re given three “tags” to assign to skills. Whatever skill you tag instantly gets 15 points towards the maximum of 100. You use skills for skill checks, of course. The higher the skill, the easier it is to do.
And finally, you get to pick Traits. For example, you might shoot slower, but more accurately, you’re harder to hit, but easier to cripple or you get +1 perception when you’re wearing glasses, but -1 perception when you’re not.
After that, you’re given a set of clothes, a gun, a wrist computer and go out in the world.
There you go. 5 steps, and you’ve got a character fit for a role playing game.
Now let’s compare that to Skyrim.
Skyrim as 2 steps.
Name, appearance, and that’s it.
What’s that? What about how strong, fast, smart or tough you are? Skyrim says “Fuck you. That’s not necessary in a role playing game”.
And you don’t get to pick what skills you’re good at.
Ok, that’s not strictly true. That’s all determined when you pick your race. Every race gets racial traits and a bonus to certain skills.
Wood elves, for example, get a bonus to the archery skill. The Khajiit get a bonus to sneaking. Nords get a bonus to two handed combat.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there a word for when you take an entire race and say “This race is good at this thing and that race is good at that”? Can you recall what that word is?
Here, let me make it clearer, in case you can’t think of it,
This is like if, in Fallout New Vegas, you said that Caucasians get a bonus on speech, Hispanics get a bonus on sneak and Asians get a bonus to science. There is no difference.
Now, the traits they have, I don’t mind as much. The Argonians are immune to poison and breathe under water. The khajit have low-light vision. The Dunmer have a resistance to fire.
And there is nothing wrong with that. You cannot LEARN to breathe underwater. You cannot LEARN not to catch fire. Those are anatomical facts, distinct to their physiology.
But surely you can have that, without having to remove stats and skills in some ludicrous attempt to streamline the character creation?
And here’s the big problem.
Let’s say I sit down to play Skyrim. I scour websites and books, looking for a good name.
I go “Hmm.. I’m going to name him… Laertes, after the Shakesperian character.”
I decide that Laertes is going to be a Dunmer, since they have a natural resistance to fire and get a bonus to destruction spells.
Then I spend HOURS configuring and changing the appearance of the character. The nose should be a bit longer, the hair should be jet black, I’ll give him one red eye and one clear white, with a scar over it. I’ll make him tall, but not too muscular, and a tattoo in bright orange under his left eye… Perfect! *Enter*!
I have now created a character.
Then you sit down, start the game and go “ Name? Uhm…. I don’t know. Bob. Race? hm… Dark elves look pretty cool… appearance? What do I care?! Standard type 1. there.” *Enter*
You have now created the same character I have. There is NO difference. You’re not smarter, stronger or faster than me. You’re not better or worse than my character in any way.
SO WHAT IS THE FUCKING POINT OF THE CHARACTER CREATION?!
The character creation is a joke! You just get the Illusion of choice. You THINK you’re creating a character when, in fact, your choices make no difference.
The point of an RPG is Choice.
And if there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that Skyrim doesn’t like giving you a choice.