My son came into the room the other day while I was playing Dragon Age II, asked me why I was still playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and walked out. That got me thinking: “Why am I playing this old, non-award-winning game with a host of flaws in it instead of a new, award-winning one with a host of flaws in it?”
While I like them both, I would really like one giant mashed-up uber-game, if you will. Sky Age, perhaps. Or Dragon Rim. No, scratch that last one. Ew, just ew. Hell, let’s just begin with a look at what Skyrim really should improve upon, using Dragon Age II’s example.
Better voice acting
First up, what is with the same five guys voicing all the parts in Skyrim? Yeah, there’s Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, and Joan Allen to raise the bar, but in a game as expansive and fully voice-acted as Skyrim, there have got to be hundreds of parts.
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I’m not suggesting that publisher/developer Bethesda hire hundreds of actors, but how about someone who can convincingly do a Norse accent without sounding like the Swedish chef? Dragon Age had Claudia Black (and who wouldn’t, right?), and Dragon Age II has Eve Myles. The supporting cast, however, really shines. I care about the side characters as much (or more at times) as the main ones. Skyrim just feels like local theater.
Better lip syncing
This might be more of the reason why, of course. In Dragon Age II, the lips, teeth, and tongues generally move in the way I expect them to, even given the fact that it’s a video game, uncanny valley, yeah yeah, etc. The facial expressions and the synchronization between voice and mouth allow me to suspend my disbelief and engage with the characters.
In Skyrim, however, I might as well grab a couple of ventriloquist dolls and act things out on my own. The puppet-y lip sync and facial movements just make me look away in pity. Honestly, Bethesda, you can do better.
Easier quest management
While some might complain about the quest map in Dragon Age II, I found it to be a lot easier to use. Yes, Skyrim’s map looks cooler, what with all the 3D and cloud cover, but boy is it fiddly.
I get the point behind making me travel to far-off places before I can fast-travel to them, allowing me to see the expansive environments of the game (really, the best part of Skyrim). But the little arrow always points in odd directions, mountains get in the way, and I just want to get to the next quest.
If I’m not engaged in the story, I’m not playing the game. I can only roll so many cheese wheels off a mountain before I’m longing for some direct gameplay.
Better combat animation
Look, I like Skyrim’s combat a lot better than Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s, but no one is using the word “visceral” to describe the battle system here. Fighting still feels like controlling a marionette with rigid strings, and even the dragon skirmishes are more about toddling around in circles until they land and then shouting at them to death.
Frequent weapon changes are encouraged, but the lag between choosing a new weapon and actually getting to use one is, well, laggy. I can’t count the number of times I switched to the Axe of Whiterun only to be stabbed to death by a dead Nord in the time it took to do so.
Dragon Age II, while more of a button-mashing fun-fest, is responsive and quick when choosing tactics, selecting spells, or even switching weapon sets.
More variety to colors/environments
Oh man, Skyrim designers, I get it. Skyrim is a cold, brown, and gray place. Even the underground is brown and gray. And cold. The monsters there are brown. And gray. The dragons, for the most part, are a variety of grayish-brown.
Please, Skyrim, can I have some color? Just a little? The northern lights at night are pretty, but they are not enough to counteract all the…wait for it…brown.
And repetition? It’s like they got the same guy with the bad Nordic accent to design all the inns. Every. Single. Inn. Has the Exact. Same. Layout. And some minor variation of an annoying bard whom I continue to want to shoot in the head.
Dragon Age II, with all its maze-y back channels and Deep Roads and such, at least has some variety in color and in environment.
Not everything’s perfect in the world of Dragon Age, though. What can DA2 learn from Skyrim?