The Trouble With Skyrim? It Has No End Game.

Bethesda, I love your work, I really do.  I don't want to make slamming your games a habit here.  However, as I took the weekend trying to finish Skyrim, I'm reminded about how Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Skyrim (and others) scored a lot higher with players and professional reviewers than they deserved.
 
True, these games are gorgeous, the attention to architecture is neigh unparalleled, and (with more suspension of disbelief than Yahtzee Croshaw could spare for them) they provide a more immersive experience than most games can ever hope to.  However, if you play them long enough, you start encountering issues which suggest the gameplay could have used a great deal more refinement.


In this specific focus of gameplay depth and refinement, Skyrim has been improved noticeably over its predecessors, but there's still enough things wrong that its legacy as an Oblivion-derivative preserves.  Here's a list of a few that are currently bothering me during my attempts to get back into Skyrim:
  • Too much to do, too little gameplay to support it.  Whether you charge in swinging a weapon, sneak in trying to pick off the enemy from the shadows, or utilize a myriad of spells, that's simply not an activity that can entertain for hundreds of hours.  Consequently, the game's pacing feels off: the Dovakiin's path should either be lot shorter or a lot more interesting.  (There's no player plugin to fix this, as either solution is beyond the scope of what the construction set can do.)
  • Considering how long this game expects you to play, the encounter diversity is severely lacking.  Crypts, of which you will enter many, are usually lousy with dragr (essentially Nordic-themed zombies), maybe vampires if you're lucky, but skeletons muster out quickly in terms of viability because there's no higher level equivalents.  Forts, of which you will raid a lot,  are going to be full of bandits, Forsworn (essentially primal-themed Bretons), or the occasional coven of spellcasters.  The wilds, over which lots of travel time is inevitable, have mudcrabs, bears, wolves, and giant cats.  That's pretty much it: while there are other enemies, they're going to show up far too rarely to offer the diversity you'll be wanting.  (Tweaking encounter tables is actually is not too hard to create a plugin for, but player opinion will vary as to what kind of monsters make for an appropriate expansion to the bestiary: this should have been in the official release.)
  • Crafting is too powerful.  With a combination of alchemy, smithing, and enchanting, you can eventually improve your weapons and armor to the point where you can take down the toughest foes in a couple hits and shrug off their feeble attempts to swat back.  I'm fine with the idea of developing powerful equipment, but this probably should have been hard capped at about three times the original equipment potency, not soft capped at over twenty times original equipment potency.  Also, in classic Bethesda-screwed-up-the-end-game-enchantment-balance fashion, you can stack mana cost discount enchantment to get free casting, allowing for certain exploits.  (There's at least one enchantment overhaul plugin that can help with this..)
  • Magic is too weak.  While a mana-free destruction magic can be formidable, magic is not crafted, and so the mightiest Destruction spell or Alteration shield cannot hope to compete with higher level crafted equipment.  Level caps on certain spells make things worse: the entire Illusion spell casting tree simply stops working when foes' levels scale up high enough, and the same could be said of attempts to turn higher level foes into undead thralls.  (The aforementioned enchantment overhaul plugin can help here, as well.)
  • Dragons scale badly.  Considering the lacking diversity of enemies, dragons can be a breath of fresh air.  Only trouble is, they don't seem to scale as much as other foes.  The first time you see a giant one-hit-kill a dragon, in this game wholly about dragons, you will palm your face.  (Player-developed plugins for those vary between my preference, resilient dragons, to something far more extravagant and potentially game-braeking.)
  • Shouts seem redundant with magic.  The idea of "shouting" dragon tongue, producing a wide variety of powerful effects, seems pretty cool on paper.  The only trouble is that we've already got a whole "magic" system built around providing a wide variety of powerful effects.  It's hard for me to play a mage in Skyrim because I feel like my spells are competing with my shouts, though it works well enough for characters without many spells.  (Other than getting rid of shouts entirely, or building a character meant to utilize them, I'm not aware of any solution to this.)
All of these issues basically fall under one central umbrella of a problem: the game is too long to support the amount of work Bethesda put into keeping the gameplay balanced and interesting.  If the player stuck completely to the main quest and maybe one guild's quest line, they might be able to get through the game without feeling these acute problems.  However, Skyrim is a game that begs you to explore its vast wildernesses and test the limits of its dynamic quest generation systems.  Before you know it, you've leveled past the point where Bethesda comfortably balanced Skyrim for, and virtually everything falls apart.

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