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Platinum Review – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3)

My fourth Platinum was a hell of a grind to finish.  I had accumulated many of the trophies over the course of what was probably a hundred hours of normal gameplay.  However, there were some notable ones that required me to make very specific decisions, which I realized I had failed to do after the fact.  Namely, I had decided to destroy the Dark Brotherhood, just to see how differently it played out compared to trying to join the assassins from other playthroughs.  Further still, I had made the decision to not become a cannibal in the The Taste of Death quest, so I failed to acquire one of the necessary Daedric artifacts required to achieve the Oblivion Walker trophy.  Both of these “mistakes” are irrevocable, so I had to start a new character just to run through those the way the game intended.  (From a design standpoint, I find that frustrating, by the way. )

Sadly, that meant not using a character I had leveled up and crafted extremely powerful weapons and armor for.  Instead, I found myself playing through the tutorial area yet again.

Best Trophy (Tie): Master (Silver) — this one requires that you level a character to 50, which is an obscene investment in time.  That said, the net result of this is that you will end up completing much of the quests, including the Civil War and the Dragonborn, as well as a myriad of other faction storylines like the Thieves Guild and the Companions.  There’s also a strong likelihood that pursuing this trophy will also result in you trying to learn other disciplines besides the one you chose at the beginning (be it swordplay, archery, magic, potioncraft, enchanting, smithing, etc.).

Dragonslayer (Gold) — the Alduin storyline, especially as it relates to the Elder Scroll component, is actually very cool.  The lore is complex, the artifacts and ruins you visit are fascinating, and it feels every bit as epic as an enormous game like this should feature for its primary story.  I was able to do both of these on my primary character, thankfully.

Worst Trophy: Oblivion Walker (Silver) — you are required to collect 15 Daedric Artifacts for this one.  Fifteen!  That means fifteen different quest lines that can range anywhere from a half hour to several hours.  This one took forever, and I was always afraid of running into some kind of bug, which was a real threat at times.  (The game’s hidden artifact counter can get screwed up in a few different places, I read.)  What’s most insulting is that this is only a Silver trophy.  Bathesda felt like it had put in 50 trophies to cover the breadth of the game’s experiences, which led to some serious dilution.  (There’s a max value that a game can have, so the developer couldn’t throw too many Golds around, for example.  In fact, there is only one Gold trophy in the entire game.)  Oblivion Walker is such a nuisance that a mere 3.6% of players have it.  Compare this to the one Gold trophy, Dragonslayer, which a staggering 30.3% of players have.

Special Mention Trophy: Master Criminal (Bronze) — in order to earn this trophy, you have to have a 1,000 gold bounty in all nine holds in Skyrim (which are sort of like confederated states).  This was hysterical to earn because it largely entailed me straight-up murdering guards in broad daylight and then fleeing for my life when everyone in a given city would try to seek revenge.

Rating: B- — there are many great trophies in this, most of which are quite satisfying to pursue.  Many of them feel natural to completionists, like me.  That said, there are too many trophies, several of which are merely used to designate incremental progress, like a trophy for reaching level 5, then 10, then 25, and then finally 50.  I would rather have seen some condensing done here, to find ways for the developer to assign higher values to some of the more difficult trophies, like Oblivion Walker.  Speaking of which, the pursuit of that one was ridiculous enough that it docked the entire score down one letter grade.

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Written by Michael

16 February 2015 at 12:26 am

Posted in Games, Reviews

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Snap Judgment – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3)

I think I’ve now played through Bathesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim at least three+ times, across the Xbox 360 and PS3.  It’s simultaneously an amazing title, a tour de force accomplishment in the breadth content a single-player game can possess, and also a frustrating one, riddled with countless bugs and glitches.  Despite these well-documented technical difficulties, it’s beautifully scored and the graphics are still quite impressive more than two-and-a-half years after its initial release.  Voice acting is generally good, and the various quests are mostly well written, too.  What’s more, much of the game is built upon AI, with scripted events that become organic as they unfold, and an ever-growing save file that contains the million different decisions you’ve made as you’ve played, tracking such things as who’s alive or dead, how different factions feel about you, and a ton of quest-specific items that can make or break a mission — it’s incredible it works at all.  Its breadth is astounding as well, with two major plot lines that can take many hours apiece to complete: the Dragonborn Questline, and the Civil War.  Then there are the different faction quests, including the Thieves Guild, the Dark Brotherhood (Assassins), the College of Winterhold (Mages), and the Companions (Fighters) — each of these takes many more hours still to finish.  Beyond that, there are the insane Daedric Quests, the somewhat involved Sidequests, and the random dungeon encounters you’ll just run into.  Speaking of, there are something like a 150 dungeons to plunder in this game, across nearly 15 square miles.  And I can’t even find a straight answer about how many items there are, except to say that it’s somewhere in the thousands, many of which are distinct lore books.

You get the idea.  This game is huge.  Expect to sink in 150 to 200 hours to really do everything, including leveling a character up to 50, which is about as powerful as a character needs to be.  (My level 50 character can murder anything in the game very, very quickly.)  And the game never really ends, with procedurally generated tasks and auto-respawning dungeons.

Skyrim’s performance on PS3 was surprisingly decent as well, given its infamous release problems on Sony’s platform, which included profound amounts of crashes and frame rate drops.  These problems seemed to get worse as the save file grew in size, making Skyrim more and more unplayable.  That this slipped through Quality Assurance and Bathesda released it this way is borderline criminal, and it still took the developers more than a year to fix it despite this embarrassment.  That said, with the now corrected optimizations, its performance is more or less on par with the Xbox 360’s now, which is not to say it’s perfect, but the number of frame rate hitches and game freezes is about what I remember it being on Microsoft’s platform.

Despite these issues, combined with the delicate nature of the quest system (with how easily it can break if something doesn’t go right with a character or item), I still love this game.  Enough to spend yet another 150 hours or more to earn the Platinum Trophy!  But I’ve always lamented the The Elder Scrolls’ conceit of always starting your character as a nameless prisoner, devoid a background or even voice acting.  Bathesda maintains that this is meant to allow you, the player, to author your character’s identity yourself, but in truth, you feel like a disembodied eye floating through the world, occasionally killing things or scrolling through lists of written dialog responses.  With no backstory, no sense of motivation, and no tangible desires, the main character doesn’t really exist narratively speaking.  Sure, as the Dragonborn, you will save the world and end the Civil War, but the citizens of Skyrim will barely take notice; there’s surprisingly little consequence in the NPC-to-player dynamic.  As such, you foster no relationships with these virtual people, and because of this, these NPCs do not meet the classical, storytelling definition of Character.  In truth, there is but one well-defined, compelling character in this entire series: the world itself.

In the case of this title, that’s the Province of Skyrim, and is it ever incredible.  I’m sad there isn’t more, though, which would have gone a long way to raising the stakes for the game’s two major plot lines — if you actually cared about the people living in this place.  Had the game featured characters as evocative as those found BioWare’s Mass Effect or Dragon Age games, Skyrim might have been my favorite game of the last generation, bugs and all.   B+

P.S.  Anyone seeking to earn every Trophy or Achievement in this game should note that you are at the mercy of a lot of bugs, especially in the Deadric Quests.  Create multiple save points, often.

Written by Michael

9 July 2014 at 11:31 pm

Posted in Games, Reviews

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