The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Game Studio
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Genre: Open-World, Action/RPG
Release Date: November 11th, 2011
I canít think of an intro, so have a poem.
The dust has settled
The hype has faded
The fanatical frenzy
Five months to reflect
Ponder, and debate
Should Skyrim get a 10
Or a different fate?
It has been five months since the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and after dedicating hundreds of hours to this game, itís time to really consider if the game deserves the perfect score everyone was so eager to post when it was released.
Groggily awakening, bound to a cut-scene and a rickety carriage, you learn of a rebellion and war that has seemed to have greatly affected the area. You have been captured by imperial soldiers and declared a rebel. From here, you go through the somewhat long process of setting up your characterís race, appearance, and name. Once youíve set your character, a series of gruesome and exciting events involving an execution and a well timed dragon lead you through a tutorial dungeon crawl and eventually drops you on your own into the grand and open world that is Skyrim. Like a newborn with an iron sword and a hefty agenda, it is now up to you to decide what to do.
From here, youíre expected to follow the storylines to understand the sudden dragon onslaught. Rife with ancient lore, dangerous magic, zombies, and intense battles with dragons, you must fight your way through immense resistance in order to understand what you must do to save the world and fulfill your destiny as the Dovahkiin. Or, you can pick a side of the heated civil war, align yourself with either the empire or the rebels, and settle things within Skyrim for peace and order. Or, as a third option, you can ignore all of this and spend hours chasing deer and bunnies to beat to death with your weaponry of choice. Itís up to you.
There is no denying it, this game is gorgeous. The world is so well detailed and textured that it becomes engrossing. The world is created in a way that melds life-filled grassy plains to desolate arctic mountains; dank swamps to rushing rapids. The weather is realistic, the plant life is interesting, and there are enough nooks and crevasses to that are visually interesting and break up the monotony Skyrimís predecessor developed.
My favorite area that I feel I have to mention is Blackreach. This area sent a tingle down my back. Itís an immense underground cavern that you encounter later in the story. You access it through this giant mechanical lift created by an ancient civilization that was superior in technology, so much so that it almost seems like science fiction placed in a medieval story. Think soul driven sentient robots. After starting with Skyrimís rugged forest, exploring the industrial cities these ancients left behind, and taking this mysterious lift, you exit into this almost ethereal cavern that is too big for you to see the other side of. There are glowing, giant jellyfish plants, the ceiling looks as if itís filled with stars, and ruins connected with a gentle waterway fed by a tall waterfall. Beautiful.
The wildlife encountered are modeled and animated closely to their real life inspirations. The design of the animals is well thought out. Theyíre designed to survive in the arctic and subarctic region Skyrim is set in. Theyíre fat, fluffy, and sturdy; exactly what youíd expect to find roaming about in the cold climate. Even the dragons look like theyíre taken straight from Nordic lore.
Another graphical glory of Skyrim is the user interface. If youíve played Oblivion, you will find the menus of Skyrim wonderful. The appearance is modern and clean, but fits still with the time period; thereís frequent use of Nordic inspired artwork along the titles. Missions are easy to sort through. Weaponry and skills are easy to assign to the quick menu. Item sorting is somewhat improved, although still arduous to sort through if youíre a bit of a hoarder of things.
The only thing I didnít really like about the graphics was the people. The children all look the same and they look like they were pulled straight from Fallout 3. There was very little remarkable about the non-important characters. I also still find it disturbing to take a fallen female enemyís armor and find an old mug attached to a perky and youthful body.
In short, the visual aspect of Skyrim is stunning. For the most part, it is well designed and executed.
Bethesda is known for having a knack for picking out not only appropriate music, but really good music that is appropriate for their game. Jeremy Soule yet again composed a score that is interesting enough to grab your attention, but still subtle enough to let settle your focus back into the game. The music really helps set the tone of what is going on. For example, the music for battles makes you feel as if youíre charging into the most important battle of your life, even if youíre fighting a mudcrab. When youíre quietly exploring the snowy mountains of northern Skyrim, the music reflects that peacefulness.
The voice acting is substantially better than a lot of games. Bethesda really called in an army of actors to add personality to all of the different races of characters.
As for the sounds, they match what is expected for a medieval sword bashing, magic flinging RPG. The dragonsí roars are convincing, the magic actions and battle collisions are fitting, and the environment noises just add to the character of the gameís graphics.
Skyrim is the successor to the popular first person role playing game, Oblivion. It took a lot of gameplay mechanics from Oblivion, but is more streamlined (and easier) overall. If you havenít played Oblivion before, you essentially create a character and start at a pauperís level. You level yourself up (the role playing element) until you are an immensely powerful champion. You do this by completing a slew of quests and a lot of jumping in Oblivion; for Skyrim, there are about six different things that can quickly and somewhat effortlessly level you up.
The leveling system is much simpler, but still fairly easy to screw up. Instead of worrying about eight attributes that affect your characterís physical abilities and dictate what skills you can access, you now have three attributes (magicka, health, and stamina) and eighteen perk trees that unlock as you level them up with use. As you level each tree, they contribute to your overall level that affects enemy levels, quality of weaponry, and quality of armor. Unlike Oblivion, you donít have to sleep to level up; instead, you can just access the skills when youíre ready to increase your level. This can be useful during difficult sections since you donít have to find a bed in a peaceful area. As I mentioned earlier, it is very easy to take advantage of certain perk trees to power-level your character. Once you do level up, you get to increase one attribute by ten points and get a point to unlock specific branches of your perk trees, which you can save up for later.
The fighting system is much like Oblivionís, but adds a few features that are beneficial to the player. First and foremost, you can dual wield in Skyrim. You can have two one-handed weapons, two spells, or a combination of the two at the same time. The only downside is you cannot block attacks. You can still have your shield, bow and arrow, and two handed weapons, but they are unaffected by this nifty addition.
Another thing Skyrim changed from Oblivion is the mini games for speech and lockpicking. The speech wheel was removed entirely. Instead of trying to buddy up to a merchant, your speech tree now directly affects their prices. As for the lockpicking, if you ever played Fallout 3, you will be very familiar with it. Instead of flicking and catching the tumblers in the lock like Oblivion, Skyrim uses a twist and try method. You angle the pick to a certain angle and try moving the lock. If you are successful, it will twist all the way and unlock; unsuccessful tries will wiggle the lockpick and eventually break it. If your level isnít high enough, it can become very easy to use all of your picks on a single lock.
Skyrim also includes the ever exciting world of mundane tasks. Whoo. You get to cut wood, mine for ore, and take food items and cook for yourself. Chopping wood (assuming you have an axe with you) nets you firewood you can sell to millers for a tiny amount of gold. Cooking creates meals that arenít really beneficial. The only useful task is mining for ore. As you wander around Skyrim, especially in caves, you will come across striped chunks of rock. If you have a pickaxe, you can mine for whatever ore you found. You can even mine for soul gems. The ore you find can be smelted into ingots and used to create or improve your weapons and armor.
Skyrim has one glaring problem. This game is riddled with glitches and bugs that can be as trivial as textures not loading properly to as massive as to keep you from progressing in a storyline. Every wonderful thing I have mentioned can break. Whatís worse is the game is so inconsistent, you may never encounter a majority of the bugs or you may have a miserable time constantly trying to work your way out of a messy glitch. There have been a number of patches since the gameís release, but there are still frequent issues that can be hilarious or completely frustrating.
A few glitch examples from personal experience:
- I have heavy quest items that I canít remove from my inventory even after finishing the quest.
- I have a few quests that added themselves to my to-do list after I finished them.
- I watched two mammoths collide and one flew straight into the air for no reason.
- I rode my horse through a mountain.
- Iíve had dragons not give up their souls after I kill them.
- I spent at least two hours trying to get an NPC to accept what I had completed and give me the rest of the mission.
- Thereís a man you have to talk to that isnít where heís supposed to be. You have to break through the geometry to find him underneath Skyrim, floating in water. I drowned the first time I tried talking to him.
- A number of other things.
In short, I encountered a bevy of bugs. Whatís sad is that I had a pleasurable experience compared others who encountered far worse. I am grateful for the massive communities online that have figured out ways past a lot of the bugs, but even they can only figure out so much. The only way I really recommend playing Skyrim on console is with a computer next to you opened up to all of the pages dedicated to what youíre trying to accomplish now, and even pages about what you will want to do in the future just in case something you do now can ruin what you want in the future. I especially recommend this for the Daedric quests. You have to collect a certain number of Daedric artifacts for an achievement and it is entirely possible for you to get stuck somewhere, or even destroy one without realizing it. While that last part isnít a bug, it can still be very frustrating. Itís almost required to do some serious research into the game so you donít completely ruin your experience.
Skyrim can come off as repetitive. You roam around, find some quests, go finish the various goals to the quests, return to the quest givers, complete the quests, and roam around for more quests. This can seem off-putting to some, which is understandable. However, if you become engulfed in the game, you can easily put two hundred hours into your character and still not be done. There are tons of things to do, little secrets to find, and critters to beat to death. If you really enjoy the game, you will more than likely not become bored with it.
Skyrim looks very pretty. Skyrim sounds very pretty. However, if you are unfortunate or inattentive, the gameplay, mechanics, or general glitchiness can infuriate you. There are a lot of quirks to the system that you can take advantage of, but can also harm you if you arenít careful. I reiterate that your bug experience will be unpredictable, and as you play you will more than likely encounter some sort of issue. Without some sort of guide with community input, you can easily get stuck or have to start over. There are a number of issues that I hope you, the reader, never encounter; there is nothing worse than a beautiful but ruined experience.