First, I'm sure Skyrim is going to be an extremely popular game with very high ratings. It'll certainly get game of the year. What I'm saying is that you will enjoy Skyrim if you're even vaguely the sort of person who likes things like Oblivion or Fallout 3. Hell, even I might enjoy it, maybe. It's not a gamble, it's not a mystery, there's not even any need to see gameplay videos. It's a well-funded game from an experienced studio that has put out many of the most successful games in this genre.
But let me tell you why I don't like it.
There's a stench crawling up from below, and I smell it in every press release and article. The stench of... streamlining.
Let me start with the most obvious example: they've taken out the the "restrictive class system" and allow you to gain points in skills just as you use them. Of course, the earlier games had a class system... and still improved your skills as you use them. So we can ignore the "improve your skills as you use them" chaff. All they're doing is explicitly removing classes.
At first glance, you shrug and say "why not? Sounds fine. A lot of successful games like Fallout 3 don't have classes. They're an outdated design philosophy."
So, let me ask a simple question: what was your favorite part of Oblivion and Morrowind?
So far, most of the people I've asked have said either "the first ten hours" or "character customization". Which are basically the same answer.
I played Oblivion for at least two hundred hours. The vast majority of those hours were the first ten hours over and over. This was possible for several reasons. One: character design is fun and has ramifications. So you can simply change your design and be playing a different game, right from the start. Two: you can easily strike off into the world in any way you like, so you're not stapled to the same starting narrative. We'll leave that bit alone for now, except to say that you'll probably be stapled to a starting narrative in Skyrim.
Character design - choosing not just your visual look but also your stats - is a core part of RPG gameplay. The "class" was simply an extension of this, allowing you to radically alter your growth curve and quickly develop different ways to play the game. If I want to play a warrior, I walk out the door as a warrior and do warrior things right away. If I want to play as a thief-mage, I roll it up and run with it.
On the other hand, in Skyrim that's not what you do. At least according to the press releases, you start with potential in everything. Like Fable, perhaps.
It is still possible to become a warrior, or a mage, or whatever. But not until you're ten hours into the game. The first ten hours are almost always nearly identical. You can't skip them: you need to grind character skills during them.
Oh, yes, those restrictive straightjacket classes. Oh how I hated the way they let me play the game any way I wanted. I really hated being allowed to be competent right from the starting gate. It's much better to ditch replay value in favor of locking characters into a sluggish, long-term path that you won't know whether you like or not until ten hours in.
I guess that might seem a bit overstating it, but it's not. That's the purpose classes serve, and the damage done by ditching them.
There are a million things I react poorly to. For example, they say that there are X spells - a specific number, something like thirty.
Um, why? Where did spell creation go? I really hated being able to create my own fun custom spells! I especially hated being able to enchant stuff, I hope that's gone, too.
They mention there is a focus on blunting and preventing exploits.
Um, why? A single player game doesn't have to be balanced. The exploits are a big part of why all the other Elder Scrolls games were fun. The only reason I can think of to aggressively balance the game is that there will be some kind of ranked multiplayer situation where game balance suddenly matters. I actually hope that they just did it out of a random brain fart instead.
They mention they dropped mysticism. Because who needs a school of magic about magic? Well, obviously, not our avatar. Since he can't roll his own spells or anything.
Three fewer skills? Stinks the same way. Let's guess: is alchemy one of these missing skills, or is it just blunted to the point where you might as well just buy healing potions from the shop?
My complaints could go on basically forever. I have loads of more tenuous concerns. For example, this being a cross-platform RPG, it will almost certainly have "the Console Blight". This is a disease where custom content is verboten, and PC installs come with a gig of malware to keep you from accidentally having any fun. Sure the earlier games didn't have it so bad, but that was then. There's a universal trend towards the console blight, I hardly expect this game to ignore it.
The menu system is mentioned as being more "in game". Like with Fable III and its hilariously, game-breakingly bad "in game" menus? They mention the "horrible" menus from Oblivion. Which menus were those? The ones that let me see the things I needed to see within two clicks using distinct icons? The ones that didn't make my character seem like he was having a psychotic hallucination? The ones that didn't take a second to scroll between submenus? The ones that actually allowed for complex gameplay?
So, yes, Skyrim. Game of the year, guaranteed. You'll love it. Maybe I'll even like it. But it throws away a lot of good stuff in the name of "streamlining".
Because players are retards! We hate designing our characters, having fun with exploits, and playing with complexity. I mean, sure, those'r universally considered the best parts of your earlier games, but those people were all deluded.
... it's been a while since I've done quite so much ranting on this blog. I'm probably the only person on the internet who dislikes what I see about this game. 50% marketing speak and 50% lowest-common-denominator game design. Ugh.