A Tentative Review of the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Trailer:
Well, well, well. Seems that Bethesda has finally decided to show us a bit of the world that they've been making for the past five years. I have to admit that, as a serious RPG junkie, I've always had a place in my heart for the Elder Scrolls series.
Well...Morrowind and Oblivion, at least. I didn't jump on the Bethesda Bandwagon until about six months post-Morrowind, and my attempts to play Arena gave me pixelated nightmares. And let us not speak of the buggy horror that was Daggerfall. But Morrowind got me hooked, and Oblivion brought a much-needed graphical update to Morrowind's sole area of fail.
In any case, Oblivion was an incredible leap forward for the company, no matter whether the subject is graphics, gameplay, story, or even something as basic as their bottom line. I was geeked when Oblivion hit the shelves (I even built a brand-new, top-of-the-line computer just so I could run the damned thing at full specs), and I played it until my fingertips became nothing but keratin-topped calluses.
But I have to wonder...is Skyrim going to be the next Oblivion? Has Bethesda learned from the mistakes (Sea Dogs comes to mind) they've made in the past? I don't know, but regardless of how successful Skyrim is, in my opinion Bethesda is serving up too little, too late.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not immediately discounting the quality or even the viability of Skyrim at this point in time. I LIKE the way Skyrim looks; it's very pretty. Not quite the step-up there was from III to IV, but still damn tasty. And frankly, it's just too early, and we've seen too little of actual Skyrim gameplay, for me to have anything but a series of first impressions.
So what are my first impressions? Well, first is that I'm going to need to drop about $500 on a new graphics card, probably one with at least a gigabyte of onboard DDR5, because I don't think my 5-year-old 320Mb NVidia 8800 GTS is going to cut it, quite frankly, which is the last remaining piece from my aforementioned rig, the processor and motherboard of which decided to fry like crispy, delicious bacon without warning.
My second impression is that combat seems quite a bit more stylish than Oblivion was. There's the familiar first-person standard that's been around from Arena onwards, but there also seems to be a much more polished and fluid third-person-perspective. Admittedly, there were only a few glimpses of it in the above trailer, but it's a definite step up from the almost totally useless third-person of Oblivion. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder, and it seems that Bethesda has learned from what few graphical hiccoughs it made in the previous game. Maybe they've also fixed the creepy fixed-stare issue with everyone that you ever spoke to in Oblivion, too. Here's hoping.
Thirdly, and as a musician this is a big point with me, they brought back Jeremy Soule to do the music, and judging from the trailer, he's been listening to a lot of Wagner, as the droning major key outro in particular seems heavily inspired by the opening bars of "Das Rheingold" from Wagner's epic 14-hour "Der Ring des Nibelungen" cycle. An epic high-fantasy score for what is intended to be an epic high-fantasy game? Bulls-eye for Bethesda!
So there you have it. My first impressions.
And that's the problem.
Five years of building Skyrim, and we're only now getting our first taste of this supposedly epic new world? FIVE YEARS. And with plans to release on November 11th, that will nearly bring it to SIX.
Six years between games. That's a long time to wait. Not quite 'Duke Nukem Forever'-long, but still way longer than it should've been.
Now, I'm not saying that Bethesda should push unfinished products out the door the first chance they get; that's a sure-fire way to total consumer loyalty, and if there's one thing Bethesda can count on to make Skyrim even moderately successful in the unlikely possibility that it sucks a big fat one, it's the rabid fanboy loyalty they inspire.
But again...FIVE YEARS. I'm going to keep harping on it because it's my biggest point of contention. That's five years with nary a whimper on the new Elder Scrolls game, whereas Oblivion had been officially announced after TWO. I really think Bethesda has shot themselves in the foot on this score, with their poorly-timed marketing strategy.
As gamers, we constantly look for the next big thing, the newest, shiniest, sexiest, explodiest, grittiest, funniest, craziest thing that the game industry has put out. That's why game companies are so successful at what they do; they rely on a lack of patience in their target demographics. Consequently, when they aim to release a product that they feel will make them a lot of money and give them a good reputation, they want to ensnare our attention long in advance. They make teaser websites, they release music, they give interviews, they showcase demos, they reveal discarded ideas. They plug their product years before the release date to whet our appetite and to get us hungry for their next big thing.
This is not rocket science, people; it's basic marketing philosophy. Remember the flood of commercials surrounding "Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time"? When they first came out, people actually cheered in response. I should know; I was one of them. But even previous to this, Nintendo Power gave us screenshots and interviews in the years preceding its release. As a result of this (and other considerations, such as admittedly belonging to one of the most beloved and highly-lauded franchises in the history of gaming), Zelda 64 is widely regarded as THE greatest game of all time by critics and gamers alike. Hell, even the Guiness Book of World Records thinks so.
I'm not trying to say that Skyrim can no longer eclipse Zelda 64 as "Greatest Game" or anything like that, nor even that Ocarina of Time even DESERVES the spot. Our likes and dislikes are always completely subjective, after all. But what I am saying is that Bethesda had an opportunity here to get us salivating and to partly satiate our inner geek's desires, to keep us interested and to start a following well in advance, and they dropped the ball, pretty badly in my opinion.
For example, they could have released viral videos with nothing more than a catchy game-relevant voiceover and a brief piece of imagery or music and stamped 'Skyrim' on it at the end, and people would have talked about it for months, raising interest. They could've kept this sort of thing up for YEARS, and on minimum budget, revealing tiny details about the game, but instead we got silence.
Seriously; when is DEAD SILENCE about your next blockbuster product a good thing? From development start in April 2006, we never got so much as a skooma-laced whiff of it until four-and-a-half-years later, in August 2010, and even then it was referred to as just 'a game that [is]...in development'. We had to wait until December of last year before they deigned to give us a name and a trailer.
I have no real doubts that Skyrim will be successful, and pretty damn fun to play, even if Yahtzee lables it as a 'well-polished, HD-rendered turd'. But there has been a bizarre spate of bad marketing decisions from the gaming industry in recent years, and Bethesda seemingly jumping on that particular bandwagon doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence.
I honestly hope that Skyrim is a huge success so that the company can have a chance to wow us with an absolutely perfect game coupled with a brilliant marketing strategy. I WANT Bethesda to succeed. I WANT them to be inspired and to keep adding to the corpus of the Elder Scrolls history. But this time around, they're going to be relying entirely on the virtues of the game and word-of-mouth post-release...which is always a very dangerous place for a flagship product to be.