Michael Fahey has now played Skyrim for more than 60 hours. Stephen Totilo has now played The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword for more than 40. Surely, these two have something to say about how these two games compare.
They do. They have discussed these two titanic games, tried to find common ground, took unwarranted shots at each other and, well, they forgot to make any Skylanders jokes.
What do Skyrim and Skyward Sword players have to say to each other? This:
Mr. Stephen Totilo, Kotaku deputy editor, irrepressible booster of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: I've played a ton of Skyward Sword. You've played a ton of Skyrim. We should compare notes!
Mr. Michael Fahey, Kotaku workhorse, lover of role-playing games: Notes? Like how none of my Skyrim characters are wearing funny green hats?
Stephen: There you go taking a shot at Zelda right away. Or at Link, specifically. I've been hip-deep in Zelda for the last couple of weeks (also in Asssassin's Creed, somehow), so it's been weird for me to see people losing their minds over Skyrim and calling it one of the best games of all time. I liked what I've played of it a lot, but I feel like I'm in some other universe where I might be playing the best RPG of November.
Mike: Another universe. That's an apt description. It's almost like you're playing the cartoon version of the epic live-action fantasy movie I've been exploring for the past few weeks (with a side trip to Middle-Earth).
Stephen: I must say that Skyward Sword is really pretty. I love the art direction and don't mind that it's not HD.
Mike: It certainly makes things easier. It's the difference between World of Warcraft and, say, EverQuest II. When you strive for realism you're more open for criticism. I think I prefer Skyrim because the places I go feel like actual spots I could visit. You can almost smell them.
Stephen: What do dragons smell like?
Mike: The back of a Petland, I'd imagine.
Mike: "I think I prefer [the graphics] in Skyrim because the places I go feel like actual spots I could visit. You can almost smell them."
Stephen: I hear your game has bad combat. Mine doesn't. The motion controls work well. The swordplay is good. Imagine, if you will, Skyrim played with a Wii Remote. It could be better, yes?
Mike: That is a dream of mine, Stephen. I mentioned it in my Disappointments post last week. Skyrim played with a Wii remote or the PlayStation Move would be a sublime experience. Though...
After experimenting with some of the other forms of combat—shield and sword, straight magic—there are ways to enjoy combat. It's all in the way you choose to play. Is choice a big factor in Skyward Sword?
Stephen: It is. I started picking up on that when I was playing the game at preview events. This Zelda is more of an RPG than others. It's no Skyrim (by which I mean you can't change your class or your cranium), but you have to manage a stamina meter, can upgrade most of your items, craft with bugs to make better potions (that's what bugs are good for, yes?) and, well, there are some stats in this Zelda game. Not a ton. But I appreciate that you and I could finish Skyward Sword and our Links would be slightly different. That's not usually the case with Zelda games.
I guess you could stretch that and say Zelda is slightly Skyrim-esque in that sense. Is there anything Zelda-esque to Skyrim?
Any bottled fairies? Or brilliant dungeons? Or treasure chests that tell you how much a red rupee is worth EVERY TIME YOU OPEN ONE??
Mike: Any game is better with bottled fairies, but sadly no. There are some brilliant dungeons, littlered with traps and the sort of brain-twisting puzzles that make you wish you hadn't instituted a no-Gamefaqs rule when reviewing a title. I'd have to say the most Zelda-riffic thing about Skyrim is it delivers the same sense of adventure and wonder today as the original Legend of Zelda did way back in 1986.
Stephen: Oh, that's cool. Did you find yourself asking friends about their discovering and trading tips? I played Skyward Sword with my cell phone next to me and kept texting a friend about the things I was discovering in the game. He was texting me his discoveries. It was really nice, like a throwback to being a kid and sharing Zelda secrets.
I'm 41 hours into Zelda and trying to keep it from ending. I've done many of the sidequests, so I think I'll clock in under 50. That's a healthy amount of Zelda. I hear people like you talking about 80 hours of Skyrim and that, frankly, sounds like too much. It's scaring me off from going super-deep into the game. I played through Fallout 3, the team's last game. But this new one? Intimidating!
And I wind up being skeptical that the game can be consistently excellent for that many hours. That Zelda is as good as it is, for as long as it is, is a testament to the skill of Nintendo's designers who clearly hand-crafted the whole thing. Does Skyrim feel hand-crafted? Do you feel like you're getting 80 hours of planned excellence? Or is the joy in the wander and the accident?
"That Zelda is as good as it is, for as long as it is, is a testament to the skill of Nintendo's designers who clearly hand-crafted the whole thing."
Mike: For me the real joy of sharing didn't hit until Monday night, while waiting in line at GameStop for my copy of Assassin's Creed. Even though Ezio was the man of the hour, the conversations inevitably strayed to Skyrim, and the stories flowed like wine. Secret areas, interesting side quests, quirky occurrences, memorable scenes. Then the assassin came along and killed it, but if he hadn't shown up we would have kept swapping tales until the sun came up.
Stephen: (Go, Ezio!)
Mike: You can certainly spend a great deal of time in the province of Skyrim. Between the PC and the Xbox 360 versions I'm up to about 60 hours myself, and there's plenty more to do. The thing is, the main quest—the one with the dragons—can be finished rather quickly, certainly under 10 hours. After that, you're free to explore to your heart's content, discovering everything the world has to offer. I really like the way you put it. The joy is indeed in the wander and accident. The core story has its moments, but your personal journey is the one that matters.
I might put my own journey on pause come Sunday, and explore the colorful candy-coated world of Hyrule for a bit.
Stephen: Was that a shot at Zelda? There's nothing wrong with color, you know. Get out of your dreary Skyrim caves!
Does your game have a floating city, by the way?
Mike: Oh no, I love a good candy coating now and then. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a drama, and other times I want to watch cartoons.
There is a precariously-placed magic school, but you don't need to float when you've got this many mountains. Does Zelda have dragons?
Stephen: Of course! Dragon spirits, I believe they're called.
Mike: Do they drop down out of the sky at random intervals and interrupt anything else you were trying to do?
Stephen: No. Never. Do you guys have bomb plants? Bomb plants whose bombs you can put in your pocket?
Mike: No. Our plants just sit there, waiting to be made into potions. Though wait, I've found the correlation! You can collect bugs in Skyrim and make them into potions as well!
Stephen: Common ground! What about the sky? I think Skyward Sword delivers on the promise of its title. I mean, you often have to point your sword at the sky. And you live in a town called Skyloft that is, well, aloft in the sky. Does Skyrim deliver on whatever in the world Skyrimming is? (Do I want to know the answer to that?)
Mike: Depending on the difficulty level you're playing at it is indeed possible to get rimmed in the sky. Just ask the giants.
Stephen: So we're both happy, yes? Skyrim and Skyward Sword are both superb and can co-exist?
I think there's only one other aspect of these games we need to discuss: How's the multiplayer in your game?
Mike: Brilliantly nonexistent. Yours?