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Monday, November 14, 2011

Skyrim - or the trouble with console ports

Over the weekend I had the good fortune to lay my hands on Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC) for a few hours. A friend's friend had just picked up the game and he let me play on his machine. I was rather excited to get the chance to test it because the hype surrounding this game is huge. It has almost universally garnered excellent reviews.

This isn't a proper review because I only played the game for those few short hours. It is mostly a commentary on the sad state of console-to-PC ports.

First, a little background. I adored Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind but disliked Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. For these reasons, I wasn't sure I was going to like Skyrim.

In the little time I spent with Skyrim, I discovered an amazingly complex universe where my character was free to roam at will. The world of Skyrim is hauntingly beautiful and just makes you want to keep exploring. Well, until you stumble across some vicious monster or other.

I enjoyed the experience a great deal but all this was marred by the game's biggest flaw: the interface. Unfortunately, the developers were lazy enough to slap the same shoddy console interface on the PC version. The fact is that Skyrim wasn't made with a mouse and keyboard in mind. And it really sucks. The menus, the inventory system and character stats are a mess. It's true that after a couple of hours playing it I kinda-sorta got used to it but given enough time one can get used to anything, for example like riding a lame donkey versus a Ferarri.

To further compound the issue, the skill "tree" is so badly conceived that I dreaded having to visit it when I leveled up. The various "perks" are arranged in the form of constellations, a different one for each skill. While nice and shiny, navigating between the different skills and perks with a mouse and keyboard is a nightmare.

Melee combat seemed floaty and imprecise but casting spells was satisfying enough.

Overall I enjoyed Skyrim, which was more than I expected from it. The incredibly open world is rich with places to explore and quests to conquer. Even half an hour into the game you can find youself with at least half a dozen quests in your log and it's more often than not that embarking on one quest will get you sidetracked into yet another side-quest. In my short time in Skyrim quests didn't feel repetitive either and apparently the devs have stated that the game can generate an infinite number of quests, which is always a good thing for replayability.

All things considered, Skyrim still comes out as a great game but it's unfortunate that Bethesda has forgotten their PC origins and have chosen to saddle this otherwise brilliant game with a terrible and shoddy console interface. My dislike for consoles is only hardened by this experience, and I continue to believe that a proper RPG should not be played on a console, or at least not without mouse-and-keyboard. While many reviews have given Skyrim scores of 9/10 or 90%, I can't give it more than 8/10. I was seriously considering buying it but now I'll just wait until it reaches the discount bin.

17 comments:

nemspy said...

I feel pretty much exactly the same way as you do. Gameplaywise Skyrim seems like a step back from the brink that was Oblivion - it "feels" more like Morrowind and a lot of the nonsense like level-scaling and fast travel is gone -- but as you say, the interface is absolutely terrible. I find myself not using my "level up" option because I don't want to deal with those stupid constellations - clearly designed with navigation via gamepad in mind.

I too hate consoles. I don't understand why we are taking a step backwards into a world of weaker, less complex systems and interfaces when better gaming would come from more input versatility and hardware horsepower.

Darth Solo said...

Good point on the level scaling. I hated that "feature" with a passion. However, fast travel is still there. I can click on a previously visited location and teleport there. If that's what you mean...

Why the step backwards? Because gaming companies, like many businesses these days, are catering to the lowest common denominator. Most people play games on consoles these days so why wouldn't they make console instead of PC games? I'm suspecting it might also be the piracy issue. Apparently it's much harder to pirate a console game.

Loque Nahak said...

Short comment here. I'm now sucked into Skyrim. Yes, some textures are ugly. Yes, the inventory sucks as hell. Yes, animations are not hte best. But I have to admit it keeps me involved as it did not happen in YEARS of gaming.

Modders are already worjing on the engin (textures, lights, ...) and the results... well... amazing.

What can I say? It's ... impressive.

Darth Solo said...

It is quite impressive. Too bad that they couldn't put a little bit of extra effort into the interface and skill system. And yes, the animations aren't that great.

Gamespot has a 12-hour marathon of Skyrim. I'm gonna watch that to get my fix.

Loque Nahak said...

@Darth

To be honest, videos and screenshots don't give the right feeling of the game.

I already restarted 5 times, It almost never happened in any game (I had 2 toons in WoW, for 4 years).

I did so because I am now feeling "fine" with everything, plus I am tweaking stuff to make it look as best as possible.

This thing is massive and mods will show us something spectacular, I feel...

Darth Solo said...

Well, I would definitely buy it but not at this price. A complete game is worth full price but this game to me seems half-baked. That's why I will wait until I can get it on Steam for <=$20. Who knows, until then they might come up with patches to fix some of the glaring issues.

I do understand about the multiple restarts. I would have probably done the same thing. After playing a while I realized that I should have probably built my character in a different way.

Loque Nahak said...

If you have a chance to test Skyrim... do it. You wont regret my advice. Yesterday I did a random quest out of nowhere and it was a real blast. 1 hour later I felt I was really "living" in that world. It's since the age of Ultima VI that I did not feel this way.

It has some glitches but the good stuff totally outweighs the bad stuff. And... being a thief/archer is just a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

Darth Solo said...

But Loque, you didn't pay attention: I did test Skyrim for a few hours. These are my impressions after actually playing it.

Is archery really that good? For how much I played it seemed really crappy. I guess if you advance enough it becomes better...

Loque Nahak said...

My bad, I didn't express myself in the proper way: if you have time to play it a bit more, going deeper into it, you will get used to inventory and other "nasty" console-like annoyances. At that point, you will be blasted.

I really needed a lot of test-n-repeat to feel comfortable with WASD+mouse management. Now I love it (but I still wait for a mod).

Archery? Yes, I love it. I am now a level 6 hunter-rogue like character an I like it a lot. It's not a point'n'shot game of course, it needs some practice (moving targets are hard). Plus I am playing the 2nd hardest level (forgot the name) to have more challenge.

Sword and shield combat... still have to get used to it, I can't properly "feel" the fight. But things are getting better and the world is awesome.

Anonymous said...

I would think folks would have noticed by now but a lot (if not the vast majority) of games are developed for consoles. Developers have to make a living and they can't make that much money by developing for a platform where a hundred million people will play the game and ten thousand will pay for it. The money is in the console market and that's where it will stay for the foreseeable future. When developers try to incorporate DRM into their games, the console gamers complain. I guess it's time for the rest of you to give up console gaming, since it's pretty much for WoW now.

Darth Solo said...

@Loque I did kind of got used to the controls after a couple of hours but that was through necessity, not ease of use.

@Anonymous unfortunately the interface sucks for both console and PC so that's still not an excuse. While some may discount the interface as not important to the enjoyment of the game, I disagree. In any game, the interface is a very important intermediary between the player and the game world. If the interface is broken or crappy, no matter how beautiful the game world is (and Skyrim is plenty beautiful), it still messes up your experience.

Other reviewers on mainstream tech/gaming sites have noticed the same problems I have: here and here and here and here.

I will have to repeat myself: Skyrim's world is quite brilliant but to me it's not worth full price with that broken interface.

Lugnut Daffodil said...

Although I'm currently loving Skyrim to death on my PS3, I can still step away and see the faults.

Even on the PS3, navigating those stupid constellations is annoying. Thankfully you only have to do it once a level.

And yeah, even though consoles are the big money maker, that was no excuse for shafting the PC like they did. I think how if Blizzard, for example, had developed Skyrim instead of Bethesda, Blizzard never EVER would have let that game out with the UI it has, because Blizzard never would have committed themselves to a cutesey little 11-11-11 launch date. So yep, they certainly could have done better. And it ends up having a BIG effect too. We know there's a good chance Darth would have LOVED Skyrim if the UI didn't have him beating his head against the wall lol.

But hey, it is what it is. Done deal. Maybe modders will make it better in a few weeks.

Darth Solo said...

From what I understand there were 300K people playing it on Steam alone on the first day (not to mention those who bought the box) so it wasn't that insignificant on the PC.

Loque Nahak said...

@Darth #1
> A complete game is worth full
> price but this game to me seems
> half-baked.

I can't believe I am saying it (I bashed the game for few days until I actually managed to go deeper into it)... but it's absolutely worth every penny. It does have its flaws, but they are acceptable considering the amount of stuff/fun it provides.

@Darth #2
Yes, there were more or less 280K concurrent players within the first 48 hours. Steam numbers refer to both digital AND retail thogh. The same rule applies to COD:MW3 (that featured 1 third of the players, in the same hours).

@Darth #3
Still waiting for you on Google+, got some nice people/players to share the passion (Diablo). Coem on man, step into the modern age and open your account damint! ;-). Just go anonymous, G+ will be officially supporting nicknames soon. And if you really don't like it, just close the account.

Darth Solo said...

#1 I think I'll wait, maybe they'll sort out some of the more annoying things and perhaps the modding community will fix the rest of the mess. Apparently that's the norm with Bethesda's games.

#2 Aha, ok I didn't know that :)

#3 I don't know man, I'm still not digging this social thing. You should know me by now... otherwise I might have named this blog "wowsocial" or something :) One thing that I DON'T want to do no matter what is associate my blog with G+. Too many things can go wrong.

Loque Nahak said...

> One thing that I DON'T want to do
> no matter what is associate my blog
> with G+. Too many things can go
> wrong.

You're taking this issue too seriously, man. It's really easy peasy. You don't need to associate it to your blog by the way, it's just an option.

You're already a "public" figure (because you run a public blog). What are you afraid of? As long as you don't publish real names, phone numbers and similar stuff, you're safe.

Plus, you can always backup your blog whenever you publish something new. If bad luck strikes you, BLAM! use your backup and ready-to-go.

Well, that's my contribute. I hope to meet you in G+ soon. It's a good platfrom and contrary to other places (FB) it's very "quiet", unintrusive, not spammed and -let me say so- much more mature and "concrete".

Darth Solo said...

You know, it's funny because I'm really backward with certain technologies but advanced with others. I still don't have a smartphone (nor a data plan on my cellphone), a tablet, a gaming console, Facebook, Twitter, an HD TV and other stuff like that. I'm not a Luddite by any means but I'm a late adopter in some cases.

Now let me ask you something and I'm perfectly serious here. How would G+ improve communication between, say, the two of us, better than old fashioned email?

Another thing I'm afraid of is having to manage yet another online thing. I've already got a bunch of other blogs I'm involved with, along with other hobbies and real life duties.

The lack of a smartphone with data makes this even harder because it's a lot easier to update my status or reply quickly to a message when I'm not at home.