Skyrim: The Awesomeness Begins

FOR THE LAST WEEK, all my reviewer buddies have been telling me how awesome The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is. How open the world is, how much stuff there is to do, how time seems to vanish while you’re playing it. I’ve just started playing myself — I’ve barely logged a few hours — but after some false starts and weird issues, I’m rapidly grasping why so many people are putting Skyrim on a shortlist for Game of the Year.

Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Elder Scrolls series. I took a whack at the last two games, Morrowind and Oblivion, and I  couldn’t get into either. But something told me this time would be different. I had a decent amount of fun with Bethesda’s last opus, Fallout 3, and wanted to give it a fair shot.

The first hour, honestly, was frustrating. I’m playing the PC version, and there was something off with my mouse control – it was too loose and swimmy, if you get my drift. One of the nice things about playing Bethesda’s games on the PC is they’re usually pretty tweakable, so I found some good suggestions to improve things online:

 - Disable the “Xbox 360 controller” option in the Settings menu.

 - Set mouse smoothing to 0 in my skyrimprefs.ini files (just search for the filename on your hard drive – there will probably be two versions – and add the line mousesmoothing=0 to each in the Display section).

 - Set VSync to 0 by opening the skyrim.ini file (search for it, it’ll be in your MyDocuments/MyGames/Skyrim folder) and adding the line iPresentInterval=0 to the Display section. This seemed to have the biggest impact on input lag.

After that, I played through the introduction section, which does a nice job of not feeling like a run-of-the-mill tutorial. There’s a lot of story, a lot of action, and very little PRESS C TO CROUCH, NOOB. In a lot of ways, it echoes Fallout 3, except you’re making your way through an underground passage instead of a vault. I’ll admit, the setup is another one of those ridiculously coincidental right-place-right-time things I’m not a fan of, so I wish they’d sold it a little better, but it’s a better tutorial than most. 

THERE WAS ONE MOMENT early on that I thought I was going to lose it, which was my first time searching a chest. I took all the items, but couldn’t figure out how to escape back to the game – ESC didn’t work, there was nothing to click, and the tooltips at the bottom of the screen didn’t help. For five minutes, I sat there like the dumbest person on earth before quitting out altogether. After a few more false starts, I eventually figured out it was the Tab button, which magically started showing up as a tooltip AFTER I’d finished the tutorial. Good job there, Bethesda.

Eventually, as I made my way into the land of Skyrim and started exploring, it all began to make sense. For the first two or three hours, I wasn’t even trying to “do” anything, I just wandered through towns and talked to people, seeing what would happen. And it became clear how anyone could get lost in this world not for weeks but months, digging up every little side quest and getting involved in the supporting character stories and skilling up professions without paying much attention to the “main” storyline.

THE CORE QUESTLINE has a pretty interesting setup: dragons have returned to this world, which freaks everyone out, and your character discovers he is a Dragonborn, a rare person who can absorb powers from dragons and use them for “shouts.” And so you enter this path where you travel the world and learn the ways of the Dragonborn, taking on various quests along the way. And when the dragon fights happen (I’ve killed two so far), they have a wonderfully epic feel to them.

Skyrim has its own spin on dungeons, which mix in some puzzles and booby traps to go along with the combat. I was so unprepared for the traps that I actually died once from a giant spiked gate slamming me in the face, which was pretty comical, and while the traps aren’t numerous, just the fact that they exist makes you a little paranoid as you proceed. I don’t think I knew what I was in for when I went into my first Skyrim dungeon, but at this point, I’ve cleared three of them, and know going in that each one is probably going to run close to an hour.

And now I realize this post is about three times longer than I initially expected it to be. My intent was to talk about the first hour or two, but then I went back and plowed through my first dungeon. And did a side quest. And killed a dragon. And ran halfway across the world and scaled the side of a massive mountain to continue my Dragonborn quest.  Which is always the sign of a great game, one that you don’t want to put down and keeps sucking you back in which describes Skyrim perfectly. It’s got some weird little technical issues and other bits of weirdness, but if it doesn’t win a bunch of Game of the Year awards, I’ll be shocked.

To be continued!