Sunday, September 13, 2015

Up to Eleven with Broken Knobs

Far over the misty mountains cold, my sauron treks 'midst graying boles
Dirty little secret: I'd never played Skyrim before now. I decided to give it a pass in favor of Dragon Age: Origins which I'd originally passed up in favor of Oblivion:Shivering Isles which I got into late because I was still playing Neverwinter Nights 2 and its expansions which I played through slowly because I was busy replaying Morrowind which I bought late because I played Neverw- ... well, you get the idea.

Skyrim's won a very good reputation for itself, yet something about the chatter around the game always set my teeth on edge. It was coming from the wrong people. I got into Morrowind originally because I heard good things about it from dreamy, nerdy roleplayers steeped in fantasy literature and stories of days of yore, from Miniver Cheevy types like myself. If Skyrim has won the respect of such niches at all, their voices were drowned out in a gigantic mass-market chorus of "OMG, totally badass" spewing out the console FPS rabble, from the likes of Halo fans.

And damnit, I must concede that even after just a couple of hours of playing, this game is indeed badass in many ways. If nothing else, the best graphics money can buy go a long way toward immersing you in your new lizard/cat skin. I play so many classics and indie titles that I sometimes forget just how good a show the fatcats can put on when they leverage their obscene wealth toward glitzing the masses in. Reserving judgment as to just how far into the maw of the lowest common denominator Skyrim may have slipped, I will say that even if the actual gameplay proves utter crap, I'll still enjoy spending time in this as an exploration game. However, my first impression has yielded a couple of observations.

1) This was obviously developed as a console game. Not only is every menu designed to be navigated with a gamepad's mini-joystick but computer gamers were deliberately given the finger. You can't bind anything to the numpad but, hilariously, the escape key can be accidentally bound like any ordinary key, leaving you at a loss as to opening the settings menu again until you figure out to take a detour through your quest journal.
More relevantly, the inventory system betrays the preference for small-minded consumers instead of megalomaniacal nerds. Instead of opening up an inventory or spell book where you can see your wealth and power arrayed before you in a field of icons, Skyrim's menus, even more than Oblivion's, shunt you through endless subcategories. It may seem like a small detail but it embodies a crucial difference between those who demand large amounts of information and those focused only on a constant linear stream of stimuli.

2) If dragons are supposed to be the 'big thing' don't throw one at me in the opening tutorial. One of the clearest delineations between the mindless masses and a discerning audience is the masses' utter lack of appreciation for scale, perspective and a gradual build-up. Joe Average assumes that if bazookas are teh awesum, then every movie should be nothing but bazookas from beginning to end.
Morrowind's opening sequence introduced you as a prisoner exiled to the far reaches of the empire. You stepped off a creaky boat in a backwater port town and was received through the provincial customs office. You soon got some hints of being destined for greatness, but they were left as hints and there was no need to throw you into a battle full of golden saints in the first five minutes of the game to "wow" you into continuing to play.
Oblivion knocked it up a notch. You meet the Emperor and witness his assassination - but at least it was a fairly small affair. No ogres, daedra or sky effects.
Skyrim's introduction is basically the 1812 Overture but skipping the music and keeping just the cannons. Giant dragon blowing a town to shreds. Biggest thing in the game, right on top of you, right off the bat. No foreshadowing, no anticipation, no discovery or exploration or any buildup whatsoever. What a wonderful way to say that you're marketing to retarded gradeschoolers who just want to clap their handsies at the big shiny boom-boom.

No comments:

Post a Comment