After playing Skyrim for some time, here is my opinion about the lack of difficulty concerning RPG elements like quests and map markers, puzzles, crafting and more. This is one long post!
Skyrim is a great game, and since its announcement I was looking forward to it till the day of the launch. Although it had its share of problems, some more major than other; it’s still fun to play and with the latest patches, the performance is even getting better and better. There is just one issue that keep tugging at me while I play Skyrim, how easy some RPG elements are. This has been talked about before, but here is my opinion.
I am going to use Morrowind as the main example here as it fits what I am talking about, and is part of the same series. A lot of people that have played Morrowind will tell you, including me, that Morrowind was a lot more immersive than Skyrim. Yes, Skyrim’s graphics are better and the game play (for example Duel Wielding) is a welcome addition, but it lacked the RPG elements that RPG’s are all about.
One of the main things that always bother me is the map markers. For example, you will get a quest to find clues about a Dark Elf’s past, but instead that you are left to look all over Skyrim for clues, you get a waypoint directing you straight to where to find information. To compare to Morrowind, when you first start the game and have to go to the town of Balmora, you’re not even shown where it is (unless you look on your physical map, the in-game map didn’t even show you until you reached it). The best thing to do is to ask local NPC’s then where it is and they will either tell you who to ask or direct you where to walk. There was nothing like map markers in Morrowind, and you had to depend on the description of NPC’s to figure out where a certain person, town, house or item is.
The same goes for when you go into a dungeon or house. Let’s say you have to find a specific item but you want to do it with stealth instead of killing everyone. You sneak throughout the house, looking in rooms and even risking it in some guarded rooms for in case it is there. In Skyrim, you are pointed directly to the item, making it a lot easier with not even bothering with the rooms you know it isn’t in.
I remember the quest from the Balmora, where you are sent to find a Dwemer Cube located in a Dwemer ruin east of Balmora. I eventually killed everything in that ruin and still couldn’t find the item, until finally, I saw a room I missed and found the item in there. Although I wasted hours looking for it, I felt really good in the end that I found it. Now all satisfaction you get with Skyrim is that you can understand how to follow a map marker.
Another example is in Skyrim(not going to mention a lot for in case I spoil anything), is a quest where you have to find a murderer and you have to investigate who did it. Instead of getting the option to choose who did it and by that maybe false accusing someone, you only get one reply saying who it is. For anyone that did not figure it out by then, your character knew more than you did about that, which in an RPG is a big flaw.
One option to fix the map markers is by basically just turning them off in the journal system for Skyrim, but sadly that is not really an option, because when you turn a map marker off, you are lost. There is no option to ask a NPC for directions (for specific people or places) and the amount of information you get from the NPC giving you the quest is limited, only saying the basics, with the directions being replaced by map markers. All Bethesda had to do is give more information, like describing where the ruin/house/dungeon is located, for example West of Riften, where you can then use your physical map, ask directions or look at the town signs to find Riften and then look for the location west of it. Although this takes longer, it is a lot more immersive and a lot more satisfying when you find it.
Then there are the puzzles. Morrowind did not really have detailed puzzles, so I am happy for the Skyrim ones. Sadly, Bethesda seemed to have thought the circular doors will be too difficult for people to figure out so they showed exactly how to do it in the 20min game play videos that was released before Skyrim came out. Anyone that was hyped up about Skyrim wanted to see more and watched the game play videos, in turn spoiling one of the main puzzles of the game. There are some other puzzles I have seen so far in the game, and some are smart, but still not close to anything challenging. One thing that is a nice addition is the treasure maps, although some of them are way too easy.
Something mentioned by a friend of mine is the journal system. What happened to the detailed descriptions? All you get now is a very brief description of the quest that barely scrape what was explained of the quest, with the targets being more a bullet point system than information. The old Morrowind journal (improved with the expansion packs) description was detailed, entertaining to read, and if you wanted even more information you could get the dialog of the person that gave the quest.
Crafting is something new to the Elder Scrolls series and something I was really looking forward to in Skyrim. I do enjoy it, but it could have been so much more. Crafting armour for example, you are showed exactly what you can craft and the same goes for cooking. The only one that seem to have done it right is the making of potions, where you only discover after making the potion how to make it, or if you find some recipes around the world. This should have been done for all the crafting, needing you to find out how to make something with certain items/ingredients by means of trying different methods or finding recipes/books explaining it. I was really disappointed seeing everything listed on the cooking menu after finding the book “Uncommon Taste” and thinking if I have right ingredients, I have to manually select them and see what happens.
I have been trying to understand why Bethesda decided to make this so easy and one of the reasons in conversations with other Elder Scrolls players that always come up is... mass market. I have to agree with it, but I do not get why they did it. People love a challenge, which is why we buy a game with the tag of Role Playing Game. We enjoy looking for more powerful items, figuring out puzzles and spending hours on a game, sometimes even with pen and paper on our desk to take notes off riddles or puzzle hints.
If Bethesda was worried that people will get bored of the game if they have to spend too much time looking for something, they were worried about the wrong thing. The game is tagged as a RPG, and everyone that buy it knows it’s a RPG, knowing that is isn’t going to take 5 minutes to complete a quest, 7 hours to complete the game or have everything spoon fed... although the latter seems true in Skyrim.
To improve the experience for the map markers and information, one thing to do is mods. With the Creation Kits, more information can be added to the dialog topics and map markers can be removed. The only problem with that is it won’t be the original voice actors. The puzzles, journal system and crafting I am sure is going to see changed in the near future by the modding community.
It would be great if Bethesda included it with their next expansion, increasing the information you get for quests, add directions options and making the puzzles a bit more difficult. They could still keep the map markers, but at least make the game playable for anyone that think the map markers is making it way to easy.
To conclude, Skyrim feels like there is no challenge for the mind. The only skill involved is to know what to spend your perks and gold on to make your character as powerful as it can be to defeat the next monster, which really isn’t that hard. I enjoy looking for rumours told by NPC’s, figuring out riddles, puzzles for old treasures and looking for lost items. Sadly, in Skyrim, you will just be pointed toward the “lost” item.
I love the game and the series, it is just sad to see it go this way. I will leave you with this quote from a friend of mine concerning the map markers: “GPS did not exist back in that time, why do we have it?”
I have posted this on the Bethesda Forums as well.