The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimPC
key review info
- Game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: Yes
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I have reached Windhelm for the first time and I can feel my weary bones aching for some fire and some good drink and food, preferably in the company of a bard and some townsfolk. After some R&R I also plan to visit the local merchants and dump some of the useless loot that clogs my inventory and see if maybe they have something cool to buy. Lost in thoughts of the future and the overall conflict between the Imperial Legions and the Stormcloacks I am heading for the inn.
My first thought is to drop into the radial menu and chuck a few potions before activating my racial ability to increase the rate of health regeneration and then look for a threat. Instead I hit Q to geto my favorite abilities, equip the healing spell in my right hand and the ice bolt in my left and then heal myself while looking around.
I then realize that here, in town, the only attacker that can get the drop on me is a dragon, one which must have followed me for some time only to decide to attack at the worst time for him. You see I have already felled three dragons in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and now, in addition to my own companion, I can also rely on the guards of the city to help me.
I whirl around, see the dragon, charge the ice bolt spell and get him in the belly. I get burned again, heal while moving around, unleash another icicle and hope that the dragon has taken enough damage to touch down.
It does, just outside of town and I run towards the creature, scaly and ready to once again breathe fire. I pop a resistance potion, switch to my dual wield setup of dwarven mace and elven sword and charge in, using my stamina reserve to deliver a few powerful blows.
The dragon is down to a quarter of its health and, with arrows raining on him and me and Lydia delivering close quarters attacks, it's doomed to perish. I go back, switch to healing and sparks and watch as the dragon dies, its huge body disintegrating before me as it releases his own soul, which I absorb for future use.
This is the world of Skyrim, beautifully and lovingly crafted by the developers at Bethesda, and one of the big contenders for the title of Game of the Year.
StoryThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an epic but not in the traditional sense of delivering a narrative about impressive events that have the player character at their center. This game is an epic built around freedom because the developers have wisely decided to make the game very open and allow players to decide their own path through the region and create their own history, develop their own aims and their own system of belief.
The main story is about the Dragonborn, the resurgence of dragons and the civil war that is brewing in the province between rebels called Stormcloacks and the Imperials. There are also tens of side-quests, both big and small, connected to cities, individuals and certain places. I have played Skyrim for more than 60 hours and I have potentially another 60 before completing most of them. At times it feels a little to close to the template that other Elder Scrolls have used but it delivers a satisfying exposition about the game world and some decent reasons to care about Skyrim.
The world that Bethesda has created is very solid, filled with believable characters and with good writing. The Jarls of the various cities have interesting personalities and there are a few other major world players that get in depth characterizations but the developers manage to give personalities to almost anyone the player meets, even if they only get to speak a few canned lines.
One failing of Skyrim as a world is that, as always with open world games, some quests can become a little weird and entangled depending on the previous actions of the player. I personally managed to solve a quest before I even knew about its existence, which made the game forever mark it as unavailable.
GameplayThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the best open world role playing game that I have played from a first person perspective. All the core mechanics work well, I have encountered no game stopping bugs and there is some real innovation linked to combat and to how character progression works.
For those who have played Oblivion the concept behind the combat is basically the same. The character has hands, they hold weapons, slashing and stabbing happens, steel clashes, spell fly around and some one gets wounded or dies. It's still crucial to get the timing right, lunge in, score a hit and then get back and prepare to dodge a strike or repeat. It's a dance off death that can be elegant at times but can also be too quick and too chaotic for some gamers.
Fortunately Bethesda has solved all the issues seen in their previous Elder Scrolls effort, Oblivion. The developers have added the options of using an actual weapon in one hand and a spell in the other, giving the player more options and freedom. This also means that you can do mid-range damage with the spell while preparing to strike and that both phases of the combat are satisfying. I love to mix the fire or lightning spell with a good longsword at the moment but depending on character build and on the combat situation other options might be more interesting or more effective.
Another great accomplishment for Skyrim, which ties in with all aspects of gameplay, is the progression system, which the developers managed to nail down after the trial and error process of Oblivion. Non-esential skills like acrobatics are out and the schools of advancement that are included have very interesting perks regardless of whether one goes all it with his point investment or just throws in one point because he has nowhere else to spend it.
I started the game focusing on shield and board combat, I then moved on to greatswords, I also added some destruction and restoration action and then ended up playing around with a bow and sneaking, which says something about how diverse the the game is and how much freedom the player has to develop his character.
One problem with the learning by doing progression system is that some of the skills progress significantly lower than others even if the player tries to emphasize them all. I picked all the locks which did not imply stealing and I only managed to get my skill above 50 and, curiously for the genre, speech was severely underused, although this could be because I rarely did any bartering, preferring to rely on weapons and armor taken from my enemies. There are some persuade and intimidate checks but they seem peripheral to the experience.
Variety is also the name of the game when it comes to crafting via blacksmith work, alchemy, enchanting and cooking. They all add something to the experience although they are completely optional for those who want to only focus on quests and story. The enchanting process is especially interesting and makes it much more rewarding to get unique items and then play around with their characteristics.
Graphics and audioBefore launch the developers at Bethesda talked a lot about the new Creation Engine and how it would made the Elder Scrolls universe come to life in ways that never happened before but the reality of Skyrim is that it looks like an improved Fallout: New Vegas, with some areas where the look is both impressive and immersive and some spots where it fails to make the world believable.
Skyrim is a Northern realm and the world is most beautiful when ice, blizzards, snow, huge structures in the distance and cities are involved. These are the times when the graphics do the world justice and made me feel like I was part of this landscape, yet another adventurer with a destiny who is exploring a dark, tough province and enjoying its many beauties.
When compared to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion the characters are more believable, both better looking up close and in conversation and better animated, but Bethesda comes nowhere near the quality seen in something like Uncharted 3 or L.A. Noire.
There are also some issues with textures, especially when coming too close to individual rock walls or trees or plants, but overall this is a good looking game and I rarely found that my suspension of disbelief was broken because of graphical problems.
Things are even better when it comes to how the sound design is handled. The voice actors are believable and dedicated for the most part, especially those (can you spot the Battlestar Galactica veteran?) who play a big part in the story, and most dialog is well written. The music is also very inspired and meshes well with the snow and dread that permeates Skyrim, although a little more variety would have been a good thing.
- Huge game world
- Character development system
- Improved combat
- Solid quests
- Immersive experiences
- Main story is a little formulaic
- Some glitches
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the best open world first person role playing game that Bethesda has ever created and everyone who had fun with Oblivion, Morrowind or the Fallout series should pick it up and play through it at least two times (for story reasons) using two very different builds to get close to everything that the game has to offer.
Sure, the game has small failings, like glitches (inevitable for such a complex world) and some game stopping bugs (I have not found one but players are reporting them) and the graphics are of lower quality than we've been led to expect.
But Skyrim is the sort of experience that has managed to get hold of my mind and heart for more than 60 hours and will probably take four times as much by the time I am through with it, something that few other experiences can do, both because they lack the content to do it and because they never have the soul to maintain interest for such long periods of time.
Bethesda has managed to create a real gem with their latest Elder Scrolls video game and they make me wish that they would update both Oblivion and Morrowind using the same set of mechanics even if that would mean giving up 6 month of gaming time to their universe.