This last Christmas, I was gifted with a last-gen copy of Skyrim by someone who swears by the game as a religion. This isn't my first foray into the world of Bethesda, as I've tried in the past - and failed - to get into Morrowind, Oblivion, and Fallout 3.
I'm giving an honest go at the game, trying one more time to understand the love for this developer and the Elder Scrolls series as a whole. And I'm liking much of what I've encountered so far. So these are the primary things I've learned in my first dozen or so hours, coming as a latecomer to one of the most popular titles of the last generation.
1. Don't Hoard Lockpicks
The skill of lockpicking comes in more handy than it initially appears - and there is a bit of an artform to understanding it just from a player standpoint. However, the most important thing I've learned is not to worry about using lots of picks just to get through one lock. They appear as loot on many a bandit and are sold by many merchants. What's more, even a broken pick is worth progression in the Skill. Meaning there's really no way to waste anything here.
2. Fast Travel Makes a Big Difference
Prior to Skyrim, the most time I spent in the series was with Morrowind - and fast travel is hands down the biggest improvement between these two titles. In the latter, it would take disproportionate amounts of time to complete even the simplest of tasks, while I would slowly trod between paid travel points. Skyrim fixes this by making every locale accessible via fast travel as soon as it's discovered. It really opens up freedom within the game: travel quickly between spots to complete a quest, or wander casually across the landscape. Whichever you prefer.
3. Combat is Unrefined
If there's one thing I'm glad I knew about going in, it's the mediocre combat. As has been consistent for the series, combat is very unwieldy - there's no way to focus on just one target, and most melee encounters can get messy and confusing fast. Still, given the goals of the game, it's probably about as good as it needs to be. And thanks to scaling and the lowest level of difficulty, I can one-shot plenty of enemies. Meaning its inherent flaws aren't hindering my enjoyment of the overall game.
4. Game Freezes Do Still Happen
This is not the shiny new next-gen revarnish I'm playing, but rather a used copy of a five year-old game on my PS3. Meaning that thanks to that big open-world, it still plagues my console with issues. Framerate dips, various bugs and glitches, and worst of all a total seizing up of the game and console altogether. It's the price of the game's ambition, but it's hard not to become frustrated while having to do a manual reboot and hope that nothing gets corrupted in the process.
5. Music is Ambiance, and Ambiance is Everything
Jeremy Soule has been doing marvelous work for this series a few generations now, and that's no less the case here. What's more, it's one of the most defining attributes of the experience. Music is key to building the proper kind of fantasy atmosphere - whether it be while on a quest to defeat Werewolf killers, facing off against a randomly spawned dragon, or even just wandering the landscape in search of that new waypoint. No other single element sells Skyrim as well as its amazing soundtrack.
I doubtless have many more hours still to go in my time with Skyrim and I eagerly anticipate whatever else awaits me. Are you a Skyrim newbie like me? Or are you a veteran Dragonborn with wisdom to dole out? Please share in the comments below.