The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review
The Elder Scrolls. The series that let players get completely lost in a fantasy world of elves, magical spells, mythical creatures, swords and shields, epic storylines, and large masses of explorable land continues with Skyrim. Did the extreme amounts of hype and speculation live up to what the game offers?
Taking place about 200 years after the events of Oblivion, players are now thrust into the lands of Skyrim. On the verge of meeting their doom, players soon find out that Dragons are no longer just beasts of myth, and the player isn't just another ordinary citizen of Skyrim. You play as the last of the Dragonborn, a chosen individual who understands and comprehends the language of Dragons and is able to adopt it as his own to use it against the onslaught of Dragons plaguing the lands of Skyrim.
If you've read any of our Previews, you already know of the vast improvements that Bethesda has made to ensure Skyrim is nothing short of a breathtaking experience. Everything from combat, leveling, and the graphics went through some drastic changes, and trust me when I say it's all for the better.
The classic races that Elder Scrolls fans are familiar with are back and looking even better than ever. Oblivion wowed us back in 2006 with some really impressive visuals. Seeing the forests come to life before our very eyes was truly a sight to behold. Even though the faces, by today's standards, are fairly horrendous looking, at the time we were all mesmerized that an open-world fantasy game could look that good! Bethesda really outdid themselves this time.
One glance from a high mountaintop overlooking Skyrim, and you'll be speechless at not only the vastness of the explorable land, but the beauty that it encapsulates. Skyrim isn't as lush and green as Oblivion was before it. It feels more dark and gritty, with snow covered mountaintops, deteriorating shanty towns, outposts built up from wood, and cities literally constructed out of stone bricks. Every location has its own distinct look, to the point that they become easily recognizable by looks alone.
Locations themselves are going to be every player's major time suck. Not because you'll necessarily be looking for these locations, (though chances are some definitely will) it's the fact that in between questing to a new area that you haven't yet discovered, various dungeons, caves, outposts, towers, statues, and villages will pop up on your compass HUD, and like a magnet, you'll feel drawn to discover them, if only to just unlock their location on your map to come back to later. It won't be long until you realize that you're not only way out a completely different direction that you're supposed to be, you've uncovered 20 different locations in the process, many that enticed you to explore even further. You then look at the time and notice that something that was supposed to take you only ten minutes in travel time, has now turned into four hours.
Skyrim is a living, breathing world with citizens who actually live out their lives on a day to day basis. This was already introduced in Oblivion, but looking at the system now, you can notice that it had its flaws. Though not perfect, every person's actions are far more believable in Skyrim. Workers attend their daily routines chopping wood, tending their shops, hunting wild animals, etc. People converse in the streets, react to your presence, and to what you're currently wearing, including your race. Just something as simple as playing through the game as an Argonian instead of a Nord, for example, will yield you varying results with citizen reaction, as there are some who are more prejudice to certain races. This alone encourages multiple playthroughs with various races just because of the different interactions.
The biggest change to character development might just be what makes Skyrim the most accessible in the Elder Scrolls series to date. Gone are the major and minor skills that produced character growth which relied on use of that particular skill. Now, everything is a major skill. From Heavy Armor, Two Handed Weapons, Destruction Magic, Sneaking, Speechcraft, and more, raising skills in any of these will now grant you a point towards leveling up. To those not familiar with the process, XP points are not part of the equation here. Instead, each skill can be leveled up to 100 points and each 1 point you gain in a skill, that one point goes toward your level. Getting ten points will net you a level that lets you upgrade either Health, Magicka (Mana) or Stamina, and then assign a perk point in one of the many branching skill trees.
The beauty of this free-form character development is that it truly lets you be whatever it is that you choose. You can be a warrior that concentrates on Heavy Armor and wielding a two handed sword, or you can go a more hybrid route and be a warrior/mage that holds a sword in one hand, and wields a destructive fireball spell in the other. The freedom is there, it's just up to you how you want to use it.
And then there are Dragons. These huge beasts of myth have been unleashed and it's up to you to ensure these overgrown, flying lizards become extinct. These unscripted beasts fly around Skyrim, or protect various locations, and each fight with one is a fight to the death, as they fly around you, swoop down hurl flames and try to eat you in one swift chomp. Each fight can be completely different from each other, and they all make your heart race, even as soon as you hear the loud Dragon shriek way before you even catch a glimpse of one. The best thing is, Dragons are friends to nobody. If you manage to draw them out to where other monsters reside, such as the uber powerful Giants, they'll gladly help out in taking them down (just don't stick around afterwards, since you'll be their next target).
As a Dragonborn, you not only understand the language that Dragons speak, you're also able to learn it and absorb a deceased Dragon's soul. Scattered across the lands of Skyrim are various Dragon Burial Sites, which not only are always guarded by one of these beasties, but they also contain a Dragon word that you're able to learn and wield. These shouts will either propel you a far distance, shoot a freeze breath, disarm opponents, highlight living creatures with an aura, and other useful abilities. To claim these words as your own, you must use a slain Dragon's soul to unlock and wield it. Shouts don't work off of Magicka however, they rely simply on cooldowns. Each shout can also be powered up multiple times once the corresponding Dragon words are found. This combination of weaponry, magic and shouts truly bring out a fun combat system.
Combat and questing aren't the only things that will consume your time in Skyrim. You're able to purchase property, court maidens or men, and eventually get married, take up a profession such as cooking, alchemy, or smithing, and brew up your own healing potions and construct protective pieces of armor and powerful weapons. Does this sound like too much work? Take up thievery and steal or pickpocket your way to wealth, assuming you don't get caught by the authorities. Join the Thieves guild and become a master thief, or perhaps the Dark Brotherhood's murderous intentions are far mor appealing to you--all of this is available to anyone. Skyrim's Radiant Story system will ensure that you constantly have something to do, way beyond finishing the main quest, and even beyond finishing side quests. Simply saying that there is so much to do cannot fully express just how massive this game is.
Though Skyrim is one fabulous package that by some crazy miracle fits on one single disc, it still retains some "open world bugs" that the Elder Scrolls games are known for. Pieces of the environment getting stuck or attached to passing-by NPC's, the occasional NPC getting stuck in a standing walking cycle, or even a dragon completely frozen in mid air. Sure they look odd and out of place, but they haven't once broken my game. Surprisingly enough, throughout my extremely long gameplay sessions, not once have I experienced the game freezing on me. For what the game offers, I was surprised that I only experienced the little amount of bugs that I did. It seems as though Bethesda is definitely learning to iron these things out.
The fact of the matter is, Skyrim is amazing. As an open world where you can truly live out your fantasy life and as a technological marvel, it impresses on almost every level. The few graphical bugs you might encounter shouldn't deter you from what is this years most anticipated game. Bottom line is...you need it. Period.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]