The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim ReviewNovember 21, 2011
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a definite contender for game of the year.
Bethesda Softworks has truly outdone themselves with Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The insane amount of detail and content in this lovingly crafted monster of a game should be enough to justify its purchase on its own. Throw in polished gameplay, an intriguing story, upgraded graphics, dragons, and the trademark Elder Scrolls time-suck addictiveness, and Skyrim is a real contender for game of the year.
Similar to its highly acclaimed predecessor The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you’ll begin Skyrim by crafting your character from scratch. You’ll choose your race, gender, and craft your avatar’s build and features. You can select from a decent amount of pre-made preset characters, which all look great thanks to Skyrim’s upgraded graphics engine. The humans, thankfully, look much less silly now. Character creation is not as much of a chore as it was in Oblivion; you won’t need to obsess over the pros and cons of choosing certain races and skills. Instead, the game adopts a system similar to Final Fantasy X, where every time you gain a level you can assign a new “perk”, such as upgraded heavy armor, faster healing, more powerful two-handed sword attacks, etc. It’s a great revision, because now you can play the game for a bit before deciding what kind of attributes you’d like to enhance, based on your gameplay style.
The character creation is just one of the many features in Skyrim that have been overhauled to give you a greater sense of freedom. You can literally do pretty much anything you want in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and that’s no small feat on Bethesda’s part. Want to go out on a quest and slay a dragon? Sneak around the city and pickpocket all the townspeople? Why not roam through the forest and harvest plants and catch butterflies? All of these things have a real purpose in the game. Fighting dragons is not only an incredibly cool experience, but slaying one yields new “shout” powers; your character is Dragonborn and can shout in the dragon tongue, and thus wield magic uncommon for mere mortals. Also, as with any fight, you’ll level up your combat skills. Sneaking around town pickpocketing will increase your Sneak skill, which is vital if you want a ninja Dragonborn character. Harvesting plants and wildlife is useful when you find an alchemy table; here you can mix ingredients together and see what happens- sort of a highly evolved version of Resident Evil’s mixing of herbs. You can even smelt metal into iron armor, turn wolf pelts into leather armor, and cook food in a bandit’s cooking pot. Like to read? There’s plenty of reading to be done in Skyrim- literally thousands of pages of books that you can actually pick up and flip through in real time. Once again, it serves a purpose- reading certain books will upgrade your skills in, say, alchemy or archery, or perhaps speak of a mythical item that you can then quest for. It’s really incredible just how much time you can spend doing things that don’t advance the main quest.
I’ve always enjoyed the Elder Scrolls series’ form of leveling up. You don’t receive experience points, but rather level up skills by using them. Just like in the real world, you get better through practice. You can cast fireballs at a tree for a while and you will level that skill up. Brew a new potion for the first time in the alchemy table and you’ll level that skill up. It’s very intuitive, and gives doing just about anything in Skyrim a sense of progression.
The game’s incredible visuals, art direction and musical score make every dungeon feel unique, every mountain individual. Climbing the 7000 steps to High Hrothgar feels epic, and making it to the top feels like an achievement. You’ll see light snow begin to fall as you begin your ascent, and near the top you’ll be pummeled by it. Even the people you meet feel like individuals, as opposed to Oblivion’s cut and paste NPCs. This time around, you’ll find that the NPC characters feel much more human than in Oblivion. You’ll see store owners in their stores of course, but once they close shop for the night, you’ll see them roaming the streets, and you might even be asked to grab a pint with the owner of Warmaiden’s weapon shop. There you can see him get tipsy and dance along to the sound of the lute player at the inn- who you can get in a fistfight with because he won’t lay off a girl. It’s small things like this that give Skyrim unique character, and it feels like even when you turn the game off, this world is still alive and doing its own thing, a la Tron.
If you judge a game’s value by how much content is packed inside, you can’t do much better than Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. You can easily lose all your free time playing this game, so be warned. If you have any important matters to attend to, you might want to see that they are completed before picking up your copy of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.