You often hear that a recent release is “Good … for a Wii game.” Some people would go so far as to say that a third party release like Skyrim has some lessons to teach long time franchises such as Zelda. Well, I got a chance to play that very title a while ago, and Skyrim clearly isn’t good enough to be a Wii (or Wii U) game…yet. Here’s why, and how to bring it up to Wii game standards and allow Bethesda studios to bask in the warmth (and sales) of the near 100 million active Wii audience of hardcore gamers by making a title that is at least that good:
“DLC” means downloadable from the Wii to the 3DS, and free. It’s been widely accepted that paid-for DLC is an insult to gamers, and a failed attempt at getting free-money from them. Costumes and skins have no play-value, and thus should have no monetary value either, and if they DO have function then they allow people who have disposable money to effectively “Cheat” the system against those who have not, or choose not to pay. The bottom line is, if you’re going to develop small perks post-release, then make them free, and accessible to everyone. One aspect of DLC that would be useful for gamers would be the ability to take your game on the road.
Allow us to do side jobs such as alchemy and smithing in a set of engaging minigames on the 3DS while we’re on the bus, for example, and upload our potions and armour back to our character when we get back to our Wii.
Alternatively, create DLC according to player’s desires AFTER the game has been out for a couple of months. Online cooperative challenges? After-the-end content that requires characters that are trained to levels normally considered “broken”? Hold a player’s poll and ask your audience what they would like in extension to Skyrim, then develop it for download to be run off the Wii’s SD Card! Those might be ventures worth paying extra for, since they would take developer time and effort that could be spent on getting Elder Scrolls 6 off the drawing board, and they would “add-on” to the content in Skyrim, rather than just prettying it up. Speaking of online-play…
If it’s strictly a single player game, then customizing little aspects of the character’s appearance really doesn’t matter if NPCs are the only people that will be looking at it. Nose height, eye depth, do any of those things actually affect how other NPCs react to you? Do they affect your Charisma or negotiations with certain characters? Is there someone in the world of Skyrim who is a sucker for people with wide-set eyes? Most of the character customization at the beginning is largely fluff that artificially extends gameplay time and wastes the time of core-gamers who are waiting for this game to grab them before THEY drop IT. And speaking of which…
Grab the player. The intro to Skyrim starts with the hero waking up and having his backstory handed to him. You then have to wait through a talk-sequence that really should have just been part of the manual, before you even get to interact with the game. For the Nintendo gamer, you can trim the fat and have the game begin with the execution sequence where the guards ask your name. When we press “Start” on an RPG, we expect to start RPG-ing right away. Bethesda could have taken the time and effort it took to make that introductory cutscene and explained it much better as a couple of pages of story in the manual. We aren’t allergic to reading manuals!
Drop unnecessary details, and focus on “functional” beauty. The days of 720p graphics at 60 frames per second looking realistic are gone, and playing Skyrim makes this painfully evident. HD graphics weren’t employed to particularly great effect in Skyrim. The characters look like they were designed for the lowest common system (the low-end computer), they move awkwardly around their own meshes, clothing, and armour as if they were motion-captured by someone in a C-3PO suit, and you can tell that these graphics could have been (and have been) easily bettered on the Gamecube with some of its late-gen releases such as Resident Evil 4, just off the top of my head there. By “functional” beauty I mean bring the game into a distinctive style rather than trying to jump across (or climb out of) that uncanny valley, go for a distinctive style, and make sure the movements convey what they need to instead of pursuing that single-minded realism and awkwardly struggling around mesh-collisions. Define brilliant combat special-effects that nobody has ever seen before, fantastic environments that are worthy of their names! This is a fresh-new fantasy world that we’re playing in here, yet it already feels stagnant.
Fix the dialogue. Often, you’ll come upon two or more people with something to say to you, and as you approach them, they’ll both start speaking to you (and sometimes each other) at once! Meanwhile, if you have subtitles on, a set of subtitles will appear, according to the first person to speak, which will then flash to what the other person said before flashing back to the first person’s next line of dialogue! This becomes especially stressful when you’re trying to get some information from one person, and the other one-or-more are trying to threaten you. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what every little NPC has to say, sure, and some people prefer running through games like these as crazed axe-murderers, leaving nothing standing in their wake. That just shouldn’t be the only comfortable way to play through this game.
Bethesda needs to hire someone who knows how to compose a melody. This isn’t the first wRPG to fall victim to this pitfall, but it is the latest in a line that needs to stop. A lot of Skyrim’s music sounds like the composer fell asleep on a midi keyboard. You’ll hear one note droning for a long time, then another while he shifts around in his sleep. Rarely does a Nintendo game release with a soundtrack that the player would want to switch off. Even Monster Hunter Tri, which follows closer to wRPG styles, has its iconic theme melody and numerous memorable fanfares and ditties (oh thank goodness that cooking song just got stuck in my head, saving me from trying to remember any more of Skyrim’s soundtrack). Skyrim has the potential to be an epic game for the Wii, it should have a soundtrack to match.
Why so dull and gray? Historical Mediaeval times weren’t lived in black and white, there’s no reason, if you’re making a fantasy Mediaeval game, to wash the colours out of the ground, the buildings, the hair and cloth you see. A dull and gray environment will heavily suggest a dull and gray game, the longer you have to look at it. The emotion is drained from the player, compelling them less to play onward and more to switch to one of the Mario Galaxies for whatever game time they have left in their busy day. I hope I don’t have to look at dull and gray for 40 hours or more (Spoiler alert! After about 5 or 6 hours of gameplay, when you leave the gray city, some colours do fade into view, but it may just be my eyes adjusting to the dullness). For a Wii game though, Skyrim looks like a product that begs to be overlooked and under-rated.
As things currently stand, Skyrim needs a lot of improvement before it can be considered good for a Wii game. Let’s hope Bethesda rises up to the challenge before Western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls go the way of Wizardry or Krondor.
The way of what? Exactly.