Like pretty much the rest of the world, I was playing Skyrim all weekend (being sick helped in that regard actually). Anytime you play a game 20+ hours in the first few days, that says a lot about the game, so clearly I don’t hate it. Well actually I do, in a love/hate way.
Skyrim has the worst UI in the history of videogames.
I don’t care that I’ve not played every single game ever made, I’m confident Skyrim beats them in terms of sucking.
There are UI design decisions in Skyrim that should be used as the absolute most extreme example of “DON’T DO THIS” for design courses.
You know those “work sensitivity” videos you watch in Corporate America? The one where the white guy calls the black guy a bad word, and the video goes on to point out that you should not do that? Or the one where the white guy (always picking on the white man…) hits on the white woman by teller her she has a great rack? And you watch those and go “clearly this is exaggerated for effect, this never actually happens”? Yea well the Skyrim UI is like that, except it’s not a joke or an example or an exaggeration; it’s the final UI for a game that has been in development for years from a very respectable studio that spent millions on the game.
The fastest way to switch weapons/spells in the game is to hit Q, which pauses the game and opens up a quick-select menu. For items/spells to appear in that menu, you have to go into the normal inventory and click F on the item/spell. Every time. And nothing says “I’m having a great time in combat” like pausing it every time you want to switch a spell or drink a potion. It’s very immersion-breaking (and I don’t say that jokingly, as Skyrim has great atmosphere you don’t want to be pulled out of), along with just being slow/bad/dumb. Fading hitbar that you can cycle with the mousewheel please.
When you are talking to people, the game world does not pause (awesome), but have fun clicking the response you really want every time with the mouse. For some idiotic reason, the game demands you click the exact center of an option, otherwise it takes the click as a ‘cancel’ click (so if you are shopping, and don’t click the dead-center of an item you want to sell, the game will take you out of selling mode and back into talk mode, same goes for taking/giving items to your companion). Best part? It’s not like that 100% of the time, so you get used to it being normal, and then once every 10 clicks or so it will go into hyper-sensitive mode. Nothing says “I’m having fun now” like clicking the option you want in an important storyline decision, and the game misunderstanding the click and selecting something else. You wanted to save that guy? Oops you ‘clicked’ execute. Yay!
The skill trees. Oh god the skill trees. There are about 20 different trees (smithing, lockpicking, archery, light armor, etc), each represented as a constellation, with each star being a perk or bonus. Cool idea. But you can’t actually see what each star is until you go to it, and hahahaha good luck getting to the one you want. First you have to go into each constellation itself, and once there, the game zooms you in so you can only see one star at a time. Want to see the star above you? Hit up. HAHAHAHA the game took you to three stars above the one you wanted. Hit down. AHAHAHA now you are two stars to the left. I kid you not. Forget planning a character in-game using this thing, that would make setting up Planetary Interaction across six planets in EVE look like figuring out a WoW spell rotation compared to the amount of time it would take you to look at everything in Skyrim. This thing will make you hate just selecting a single star when you level up. Ding -> kick to the nuts -> attempt to select a star. Wheeee.
The journal. Want to see what sidequests you have? Oh we lumped them all into a “Miscellaneous” category, which will close if you move the mouse incorrectly. Have fun tracking those 50+ ‘miscellaneous’ quests you have.
The map. You can’t zoom it out far enough to see the whole world, and you have to go into the journal and THEN go to the map to have it zoom to where your quest objective is. Misclick an icon? Here is a ‘helpful’ personal market. Click again to remove it. Wheee.
I could go on. I really could. It’s just so so bad.
And yet I still think Skyrim is one of the best games I’ve ever played (based on 20hrs). It just is. It’s a better Oblivion. Better graphics (on Ultra), better sound, better setting, MUCH better character faces, better combat, better character advancement (minus the UI aspect of course), better crafting, better itemization. Just better. And Oblivion was pretty amazing for its time, so that’s saying a lot.
The amount of detail in the game is staggering. Little stuff like what your companion says while you are out adventuring. Big stuff like the fact that you HAVE a companion you can equip, and how awesome that makes the combat. Going solo and trying to be an archer is pretty fail. Having a companion in heavy armor charge while you snipe is pretty awesome. Being in heavy armor with a mage companion is also full of win. Double rogue setup? It works, and surprisingly well too.
The pacing feels better than Oblivion as well. Quests take time, but I’ve yet to run into a quest the feels like pure filler. There have been moments during quests that truly surprised me, or had me chuckle. Overhearing certain conversations while you sneak around is VERY rewarding, and just damn entertaining. You immediately get the sense that there is a lot of ‘stuff’ happening in Skyrim, big and small, and you get to interact with all of it in various ways. This might very well be the best ‘world’ outside of an MMO I’ve ever experienced.
And I could go on. I really could. It’s just so so good.
Whoever designed the UI for Skyrim should be fired, tossed out of the office through a window, and run over when they hit the ground. Then whoever approved this UI should be sent next. And the guy responsible for him as well. How you produce such an amazing RPG, and then attempt to ruin it with such a UI is honestly beyond me. The scale of evil now goes: child rapists, Hitler, Skyrim UI designer, murders, everyone else.
I can only hope that the UI can be heavily modded, and all of the suck can be edited out. Until then, I’ll be gaming like a fiend and cursing the UI designer at the same time.