I went into this game expecting a pulse-pounding, high speed, throbbing, innovative, foot race simulation game. The live action trailer depicted people running away from a dragon so I thought that’s what it was all about. What I got was a broken mess that didn’t support endurance marathons, short sprints, or racing of any kind.
The opening does a great job at cementing your roll as a runner who has room for improvement. You’re a border jumper from another province to Skyrim but you got caught. I think this shows well that you’re good at what you do but not good enough to outrun the long arm of the law… yet!
There’s all this pointless dialogue about Stormcloaks, the Empire, and other politics. I think a stronger opening scene would have been depicting your character during the border run but this is serviceable. I guess it’s necessary to talk about it in order explain why you’re going to be executed instead of imprisoned for the crime of jumping the border. You got caught up in this political conflict and it’s just safer for the Empire to kill you.
You’re taken to the execution grounds and it’s at this point you get to design your racer. You can choose from a bunch of different races but there isn’t a lot of differentiation. They’ve got very slightly different speeds but they all have the same braking and handling. Redguards are clearly the best though because they have an ability called Adrenaline Rush which increases their stamina regeneration immensely which allows them to run more. I appreciate it but there’s no reason not to play a Redguard.
You’re taken to an execution block and it seems like things are over before they’ve begun but a dragon attack interrupts the headsman. You’re released from your bonds and can do what you do best, run. On your way out you can accept assistance from the Imperials or the Stormcloaks. I thought the Imperial armor was lighter and looked cooler so I went with them. You escape the burning village by running through some underground tunnels and when you emerge the world of Skyrim is your oyster.
It’s really difficult to race in this game though. There’s no interface supporting it. There’s no multiplayer and most NPCs don’t want to run with you. It’s also really strange that you initiate races with people by punching them in the face. Give them a slap and they’ll chase you to the ends of the earth.
Racers can use their weapons and even environmental monsters and hazards to slow you down or kill you. This makes armor a viable trade off. Take less damage but move more slowly. But this interesting trade is destroyed by another piece of design, the Steed Stone, which makes it so armor doesn’t slow you down.
If you want to play with your friends then you’ve got to find an accurate starting position, ending position, and then trust that they time things appropriately, aren’t using a horse, and don’t fast travel to the location. Mod support, like the dragonrider mod, also make it difficult to verify who actually won the race.
The game also has a glitch that makes even Adrenaline Rush pointless. If you take out a torch and, start sprinting, then let go of the sprint button you’ll keep running even and will keep running even when you run out of stamina. It’s also a likely glitch to find because I imagine a lot of people would try to make the Olympic torch runner joke.
Every step this game takes forward it takes two steps backward. Everything that’s interesting in this game is destroyed by another piece of design. I don’t know what Bethesda was trying to do but it certainly wasn’t to make a satisfying foot racing simulator. I can’t recommend this game to anyone because it utterly fails its mission.