Halo Syndrome: A term that I’ve invented to describe when a particular video game gets so much hype that no matter how good the game actually is, it will still fall short of everyone’s expectations. But still, everyone who fell for it insists that it lives up to the hype simply to justify the fact that they fell for it. The name is, of course, derived from the original XBox launch title, Halo: Combat Evolved. It was being advertised as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) games of all time, and so many people got so excited that they went out and bought an original XBox (one of the worst consoles released since the Atari Jaguar) just so that they could play Halo. And when they did, they got some pretty impressive graphics for the time, and little else. It turned out to be, in my opinion, a completely average shooter. But, if you’ll recall, it was still instantly lauded by the general public and Halo fever didn’t die down even a little bit until some time after the release of the third game. Halo single-handedly allowed Microsoft to continue making consoles and also to popularize gaming among the general population, which is not as good a thing as it sounds. It’s because of all of Halo’s fucked-up hype that I now get called a faggot almost every time I play a game competitively online. So, thanks for that!
So what does that have to do with anything?
Well, I recently played through the worst sufferer of Halo Syndrome since Halo itself, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the game for the most part. A game that suffers from HS is not necessarily a bad game, just hyped so badly that it could never be nearly as good as everyone thinks it will be. And believe me, poor Skyrim could never live up to the hype. You wouldn’t believe the kind of acclaim it was getting when just the teaser trailer was released.
But, unlike Halo, I was actually excited about the prospect of playing Skyrim. The Elder Scrolls games have a habit of at least being good. I had never played an Elder Scrolls game all the way through, but from what I did play of Morrowind and Oblivion, they seemed like pretty solid games, even if they were a little difficult to get into.
I didn’t get Skyrim right as it was released, as I knew it would be a Christmas present. But, I still followed it to see what everyone was saying. And my Arceus, the kind of bullshit that was going around. More than a few people were saying that it was their favorite game of all time, it spawned at least three internet memes almost immediately including the “Arrow to the Knee” meme that makes me want to stomp on puppies at this point, and even a writer for Cracked, a site that, on average, is pretty well-grounded, was saying that the environments in Skyrim were so vast and beautiful that he found himself skipping his daily walk to take a walk in Skyrim.
Everyone was saying that Skyrim was the embodiment of video game perfection. Luckily, I was aware enough to identify HS when I saw it and was able to play the game for what it was and not be influenced by the hype. And when I did that, I found an overall very good game with a few problems.
On the good side, Skyrim is fucking huge! There is so much game to be played. Throughout the course of the game, I never had any desire to find everything. But at the same time, I wanted to get the Platinum Trophy (which is actually fairly easy to do in just one playthrough), so I ended up discovering a couple hundred locations. And I wasn’t even close to finding everything. It would take probably a few hundred hours of gameplay to run out of things to do. I played for maybe 150.
And yes, the environments are very well-rendered and expansive. When out in the world of Skyrim there are a lot of very pretty things to look at. It’s one of the better, more detailed worlds that I have explored in a long time. But the problem with Skyrim’s environment is the insane amount of cliffs involved. There were so many times that I was travelling, and it should have been a short trip, but because there were so many sheer rock faces, the trip took a few times longer than it should have. A sizable chunk of my 15o hours was just trying to traverse cliffs. And because of all of the fucking cliffs, there were a great deal of invisible walls and obstacles that could not be traversed directly. Say you’re climbing a cliff because your objective is at the top and it would take a great deal longer to find your way around to the preset path. So, you’re jumping your way up the cliff when suddenly, the game disables your jump. You can’t continue this way because it’s not the ‘correct way’ to get to where you’re going. I can’t stand things like that. The path would be easily traversable even in real life, but you can’t do it because the game just wantonly decides that you can’t.
And though the environments are really nice to look at, the characters are considerably less so. They are by no means the worst character models ever, but because they put so much effort and detail into the environment, the character models suffered for it. The lip movements don’t come anywhere close to fitting the dialogue, and the textures are far from perfect. They’re not very expressive either. Its rare, when talking to someone, that they’re doing anything besides looking at you blankly with their arms crossed over their chest or just hanging at their sides.
The music was pretty good as well. It suited the game quite well, and when you were fighting something, it became sufficiently intense and epic. I found myself thinking that a couple tracks sounded like something lifted straight from the Fable series, but I never found myself thinking that the music was ever bad.
I also highly enjoyed the experience system. There are a number of skills that you level up with use such as Lockpicking, Light Armor, One-Handed Weapons, and each school of Magic. Each time a Skill gains a level, it adds to your overall level. Level up so many Skills and you gain a character level and your stats improve. It may sound a little complex, but it’s very good. It allows you to play in many different ways, but not be any less powerful than any other character.
At the same time, Skyrim suffers in much the same way that I’ve gathered that the other Elder Scrolls games suffer. After you get to a certain level or skill, you become nearly invincible. There was definitely a point where the game was at least a little challenging and I needed to think my actions through in battle. But once I got to about Level 40, maybe a little lower, I was pretty much able to abandon all strategy and just swing my weapons at anything I came across without fear of death. I was on Level 53 when I beat the final boss and it took me about forty seconds before it was dead. Let me repeat that. The final boss took me only forty seconds to kill. And that was without taking advantage of the game’s mechanics to overpower my equipment. I know some people would really enjoy being so powerful in a game, but I do not. I want there to be some kind of skill-based challenge to it.
The game was also glitchy as shit. You wouldn’t believe some of the weird shit that was going on due to all of the glitches. Example: I had a magic-user follower. So, naturally, I wanted her to wear some good robes that I found to improve her magic. When I gave the robes to her, she took off the armour she was wearing… but didn’t put the robes on. She was running around in her undergarments. It took me fifteen minutes of trading items around with her to finally get the robes on. And when I did… her head disappeared. You did not misread that. Her fucking head vanished. But I just went with it. At least she had put the robes on. But then, a few hours later, her head came back… but she had taken the robes off again. That follower would eventually disappear from existence with all of the items that she was carrying. But in the end, the glitching didn’t ruin the game. It just frustrated me a few times, and with the exception of my follower disappearing, it was never anything a quick game reset couldn’t fix.
This video by Mega64 actually illustrates my problem here better than a few words can.
But where the game really suffers in in its loading times. My Arceus, the loading times! It’s not that the loading times are especially long, there’s just a fucking ton of them. Every time you enter a new screen, loading screen. Every time you fast-travel, loading screen. Every time you load your game, you get a different loading screen, and then, loading screen. If I ever accidentally entered the wrong building, I wanted to take my own life! I had to sit through a loading screen. As soon as it loaded, I had to turn around to go back to where I was. And hey! Another loading screen! And it was just as long as the first one, which I think is weird considering I was just in that last screen! It really got to me during those times where I had to fast-travel a lot. I get that moving instantly from one map to the next would require a loading screen, but I really wish they could have found some way to reduce the amount. I’d take a small decrease in graphics quality if it meant a reduction in loading times.
One last thing. The huge play time of Skyrim comes from its side quests and exploration. But what if someone just wanted to play the game and see the story? Let’s say for a second that you could beat the final boss and the dungeon that comes before him without gaining too many levels. The actual story quests would probably only take about 8-12 hours to complete. And by doing that, you’d find that the main plot is actually pretty bland. Many of the sidequests had much more interesting story and history than the main questline. The biggest enjoyment of the game does not come from the plot, but rather all of the distractions and sidetracking you do to avoid the main quest.
But again, I really did enjoy playing this game quite a lot. If you can ignore the Halo Syndrome and just play the game, you’d find that it comes out to be a well-above-average gaming experience.
Gameplay: 8/10: It would be higher if it weren’t for all of the glitches, loading, and being far too powerful later in the game.
Music: 8/10: There was nothing mind-blowing, but like I said, it’s sufficiently suited to whatever situation you’re in.
Graphics: 8/10: This score suffers a bit because of the character models.
Story: 6/10: I’m only including the main plot here. All of the sidequests you do have no bearing on the actual story.