Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer

Reach for the Skyrim

Skyrim is a pretty solid game. I wouldn’t quite put it on the same plateau as Fallout New Vegas (the combat and character dynamics were a bit more satisfying in the post-apocalyptic Mojave), but it’s still a hell of a way to kill a weekend.

That being said, no game is perfect. There are some aspects of Skyrim that are painful – even agonizing. Aspects that shatter my suspension of disbelief and slam me face-first into the fourth wall.

The Shopkeeper Shuffle

A frustration only slightly alleviated by Nord cleavage

You’ve just excavated an ancient Dwemer ruin, plundering it from entrance to exit. You’re encumbered by unimaginable riches, enough to buy the city of Winterhold and turn it into your own personal brothel. You march triumphantly into the Riverwood Trader and pawn off the first of your prizes.

Then you move on to the next city because the shopkeeper is out money.

You’ve just begun the vendor shuffle. You’ll spend the next ten to fifteen minutes visiting every shopkeeper in Skyrim in hopes that they will collectively have enough gold to procure all your ill-gotten gains. This is a returning problem from the last two Fallout installments, and a wholly unwelcome one. I understand there has to be some sort of control mechanism on wealth, but this whole song and dance routine is just a time sink.

At least award an achievement for this nonsense.


You guys are about as scary as Romero zombies

“Oh wow, that idle corpse was actually a draugr. Scary! And that one too. Neat. And… that one as well. And the one next to that one, and the one next to that, and the one next to…”

Set pieces like the sleeping draugr, found in the various barrows and catacombs of Skyrim, only work when used sparingly. Skyrim overuses this scare tactic and consequently trains the player to wail indiscriminately on every corpse in their field of vision. Unless you’re roleplaying a crypt robber with anger issues, this isn’t fun.

If I were to design a dungeon in Skyrim, all the walls would be lined with motionless draugr corpses. As soon as the player attacks one, a disgruntled grave digger would scramble in and start yelling at you. -100 Whiterun faction.

Quest Fatigue

Yes.YES! More of this!

I appreciate that a lot of effort went into designing the quests in Skyrim. Some, such as your sojourn to the College of Winterhold, are meaty and extremely satisfying. The problem is that when you insist on throwing 10 000 quests into a game, quality control becomes an issue.

Fetch this book. Kill this bandit lord. Collect bear pelts. Deliver this letter. Kill this other, identical bandit lord. These side quests are fun on occasion, but the game incessantly floods your journal with them. It seems that every citizen of Skyrim is completely incapable of completing the simplest tasks on their own. It’s like living in an infomercial, and you have to play the role of Billy Mays.

It’s been brought to my attention that some of these quests are randomly generated. It boggles my mind that at some point during development there was actually a serious concern that there might be a drought of content to satiate players. Does Bethesda think we’re sociopathic monsters that never leave our computer screens? That’s only a half-truth.

Backdoor Blues

It's hard to feel badass when you get your ass handed to you by three inches of balsa wood

Of all the design quirks of Skyrim, I find this one the most maddening. Every dungeon, and I literally mean every dungeon, has a backdoor leading to the final chamber. This door is always barred from the other side and can only be used as an exit.

Okay, I understand that the developers didn’t want to force players to backpedal; this is a good design choice. But these doors taunt the player mercilessly, especially when they are placed obviously in the opening chamber of the dungeon. You can practically hear the final boss laughing at when you struggle feebly with the immobile door knob. It appears your massive Nordic muscles and a reputation for crushing dragon’s skulls with your bare hands are powerless against these flimsy wooden portals.

What I wouldn’t give for Gordon Freeman’s crowbar.

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By Mathew
Michael Iantorno PhD Candidate, Game Designer, and Writer