Skyrim Woes: A World of Difference

I could write a piece evangelize how great Skyrim is, and I could go on and on about the wonderful nuances of the design or the character of the world, and how refreshingly open it is. But that’s boring, and I’m sure that it gets tiring to hear nothing but praise. Skyrim is a wonderful game, but it has its flaws.It’s definitely gotten to that point where the newness and initial excitement of Skyrim has tapered off a bit, and we can finally start talking about what the problems with the game are. They may be few and far between, but they can be substantial. Whether it may be the observation that only a mere illusion of choice exists, making most quests boil down to a “do it this way, or don’t do it at all” structure, or whether the world feels severely disconnected, to the point where NPCs don’t seem to be paying attention to any actions the player has been doing. Those are fine things to talk about, but one thing that I could have done with more of, was the main storyline.

Before the game was released, it was reported that the main quest line could be beaten in just over two hours. I have to assume that is with no exploits, but just a very expedient, knowledgeable run. Either way, that is a pretty quick main story. Even when I played it after exploring for thirty hours first, the main quests came and went like any other quest lines. At the end, I just thought to myself, “Oh, is that it?” and continued on my merry way. And it isn’t just the number of quests, which is only a few more than something like the Dark Brotherhood quest line, it’s the content. I never feels like something special is happening.

I love the opening of the game. The dragon attack was sensational and exhilarating, while completely preparing me for an intense battle against vile beasts. Unfortunately, the rest of the quests never gave me a feeling like that. Yes, it was cool to actual find a titular Elder Scroll, though getting it was like going through many of the dungeons I’ve gone through before. Yes, it was cool to fight side by side with ancient heroes of lore, though it made the final battle a bit easier.

Maybe that is it. I expected one thing and got another. I felt that within the framework, the main story would have a little more pull towards my emotions. I guess that has been the case for most Bethesda developed games. Fallout 3’s main story line was quite lackluster, especially in comparison to the quality writing in other aspects the game. Oblivion’s main quest was barely touched upon by most people, given that it was never really that interesting to begin with.

But Skyrim has dragons, and dragons are really cool. I wanted to continue the story. I actually wanted to go on an insane adventure, ridding the world of dragons one wyrm at a time. I got some of that, but just not enough. Not enough to feel like I did anything of substantial value to the land of Skyrim. Even the NPC’s around the game did not notice a difference when I had finished vanquishing the evil that nearly wiped them out. I saved the world from ending…apparently.

The end of the world! Maybe that could have had some urgency to the storyline, or some directing of the player. Dragons are coming back to life by a devious monster bend on destroy humanity. Hold on. The thieves guild wants me to sabotage a brewery. Oh, well, that’s cool. I guess you’ve got some time, or whatever. Because the game didn’t treat this stuff with importance, I think neither did I. In reality, I could have never done the main story and it would not have made much of a difference. That’s the kicker, I feel like I didn’t make a difference. Like I stopped destruction for a fling.

For something that pertains to your entire existence in the game to some extent, the main story just feels incomplete. It contains all of the ideas for something much bigger, including being the goddamn “chosen one”. But it all gets condensed into a few fetch quests and dungeon crawls. Then, has a couple of quests that consist of having conversations with people. I don’t want to come off as someone who just wants pure Modern Warfare style action in all of my games, but with material this dense, and a situation this dire to the world, I expected something a little more grandiose.

The best example I can give to sum up my experience with the main story line is the encounter with Odahviing, a dragon you capture in Whiterun. You eventually convince him to help you, and he says he will fly you to where Alduin, the main antagonist is holding up. I start thinking, “Oh man! I’m going to fly on a dragon and it’s going to be so cool!” Then the screen fades out, fades back in and shows the dragon flying away, with my character sitting on top. Needless to say, it was disappointing.

Most of what happened felt like a tease towards something much cooler nearly every step of the way. Fighting Alduin at the end felt like fighting just another dragon. It just didn’t feel special. It is a bit disappointing when the main quests become:

  • Go through dungeon, but it’s just longer
  • Fight dragon, he’s just tougher
  • Find this artifact, it’s just more important sounding

There were chances for much more memorable events to take place in this potential beast of a story, and overall it feels like more hammed up versions of other quests instead of unique instances. It felt shorter than it should have been, it didn’t feel as pressing and it didn’t feel as extravagant as it needed to be.

Exciting.

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The Joy, The Love, The Frustration, The Anger, The Tears, The Springs: Super Mario Galaxy 2

"I slipped on some star shit!"

Mario, you and I are on shaky terms these days, and do you know why? We used to be the best of friends. I would press A and you would jump exactly where I needed you to go in a quick and orderly fashion. I feel like we’ve grown apart because the communication just hasn’t been there recently. I would tell you to jump forward, but you would kind of, jump and float a little in the general direction but not quite how I meant. If I wanted to do a power jump, I have to face you the opposite direction of where I wanted you to go, because, Mario, you go backwards for some reason. This is something I got used to. It was not a big deal. What was a big deal was that new mushroom you ate that one time. It turned you into a Spring Mario. This is where we no longer could be friends. You broke me then.

I do like Super Mario Galaxy 2. I really do. It’s fun, and the levels are clever and interesting. But it’s like a beautiful field of flowers that are soft and fun to run through barefoot, when suddenly, a swarm of bees relentlessly attacks your face, and you try to swipe them off with your hands, but your hands keep missing and swinging past your shoulders because you never know how far away your hands are from your face. Except that it’s embarrassing to get so angry at the bees because they are all bright and colorful, have large shiny eyes, and are smiling and screaming “I’m a-so a-sorry!”, then blinking quickly, giggling as they fly away.

Oh god! Giant Mario is destroying planets!

The business leading up the total breakdown of sanity started with one of the “special” worlds, or rather one of the Prankster Comets. A Prankster Comet takes a  normal galaxy and turns into some sort of time trial, or kill-all-the-enemies world. That’s fine and swell, but underlying is the most devious of inner-workings. When you don’t finish in time, whether or not you actually lost all of your health, it’s one life down the drain. I’ll accept that. It’s not good, but I can understand where the concept if coming from, even if running out of time should not “kill” you, as it does. The worst of the Prankster Comets is when you have to murder and collect the coin of every living thing that you find. This would have been a total joy if the enemy had not always been that fucking thing that shits a rock out of its damned mouth at the most perfect angle. The rock hits Mario and he decides to go flying twenty feet in the other direction, most notably over a cliff, or off the fucking planet. You’re always timed, giving you exactly as many seconds as possible to actually win, and it always comes down to the last second every time, and to accumulate the most points quickly you have to string bouncing from one enemy to another. Good luck with that; Mario doesn’t give a fuck which direction, or how far you want to go.

Those levels are shitty, but tolerable. And I’ll be honest, only one level; only one obstacle conjured the rage and fire of a thousands suns. It starts with some evil contraption called the Spring Mushroom. Fuck the Spring Mushroom. Fuck everything about it. It’s not clever. It’s not fun. It’s not game changing or innovative in the least. It is simply, a piece of shit. With the Spring Mushroom, you constantly bounce around. No, not up and down. Fucking around. All over the damned place. Back and forth, and side to side. Into lava. Into enemies. Into obstacles. The directional stick becomes near obsolete because it does not care. Then it gets even worse: to jump higher, you press A at some point when the spring compresses. Sounds easy, right? It’s bullshit. So here is the level in question done right:

The designers put a 1up mushroom right above the checkpoint because they know that people will die over and over and over on this shit. It looks easy. It seems easy, but in practice, it’s not (I suck at Mario). I constantly press A. The spring won’t work. I hit the chomp. -1 health. The chomp pushes me into lava. -1 health. I have to go back and try again. Same shit, again and again.

Was it me? Was I having a bad day? Do I suck at this stuff? I was playing the entire game just fine up until that point, then all of the sudden, I couldn’t hit the A button at the exact right time? Did I lose all of my motor skills for that 30 minutes it took me to get through that? What happened? I’m going to look past all of the reasons that are my own fault and say that the Spring Mushroom is awful design. The randomness of direction that it decides to take is absurd. The precision for the spring is unclear. The description says, “Push A at the right time to jump higher!” Great! Does that mean press it right before to anticipate the spring? Do I press it at the compression of the spring? There was no consistency to whether or not it would work. I bounced on the main area practicing the big jump, over and over, nailing it every time. Then when I decided to go down the platform, it suddenly decided that my thumb on A was not good enough for it. The chomps had their way with me. I cried.

Mario, please stay away from the Spring Mushrooms...

In conclusion, I suck at Super Mario Galaxy 2. The jumping is fine when the camera allows you to see depth, or how far away from something you are. Countless times I’ve missed platforms or enemies because I miscalculated their distance. It’s probably just me. Video game journalists absolutely love this game, and I can see why. But I went so crazy playing this game sometimes, it ruined the rest of the beauty. I found a disgusting hair in my delicious soup and I threw up everywhere because of it.