The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
- The Elder Scrolls
Made2Game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review score: 10/10
Formats: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360
Publisher: Bethesda Zenimax
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
In Skyrim you play a Dragonborn. A mighty Nord warrior with a beard the size of a small country, you are rudely cast into the harsh north of Tamriel with nary a sword to your name when all of a sudden some gigantic fire-breathing lizards make their triumphant return to the world. It's not long before you're swallowed up by a tale of destiny and dragon slaying in an attempt to save the world.
Wait. No. Scratch that.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the tale of a lithe Dark Elf. A ruined assassin seeking a new life in the cleansing cold of Skyrim after a hit gone particularly bad. Followed by your ever obedient pet dog you hug the shadows, a string of home made potions and poisons chinking by your side. You are death incarnate, distracting your pray with an alarming clatter of arrow on rock before exacting swift, silent murder to appease your malevolent benefactors. Leaving your calling card, a wedge of cheese, on every corpse.
Urgh no. That's wrong as well.
Life was cruel in the swamps of Morrowind, at least it was for a magic practising Argonian named Joe. Scorned by your family and friends, left to fend for yourself, you've heard that the north is a fertile land of magical practice, particularly in the welcoming corridors of the College of Winterhold. Will you cast aside your bitterness for mankind and study the magical arts for good, or succumb to the foul necromantic arts, seeking revenge for a ruined life in decimating towns through mind control and destructive magics?
That's no way to get 'a-head' in society. He'll soon have a 'splitting headache'. Sorry
In truth Skyrim is all these things and more. Much more. You could play as a battle mage who combines swordplay and sorcery. You could be a hulking tank of a man, swatting foes aside with swings of your massive great sword. You could focus on exploring the nooks and crannies of the gameworld for your own enjoyment, ignoring quest givers altogether as a maverick spelunker. You could play a naked thief with the sole aim being of robbing everyone in the gameworld blind and filling a house with all the accrued junk.
But no matter how you play The Elder Scroll V, every style is tied together through one certainty; the mountainous region of Skyrim.
Beautiful, surprising, majestic Skyrim.
A Whole New World
Skyrim is a world. To call it a 'gameworld' would do it a huge disservice; this is miles apart from the cinematic sets that comprise most modern game environments. Skyrim is a land of pine forests with dark secrets. Of rolling Tundra where Mammoth do roam. Of glistening lakes, roaring rivers and cracked glaciers which have swallowed ships whole.
Skyrim is a world that begs to be explored and one that rewards the investigative player time and again. Towering mountains and hulking dragons may fool you into thinking that Bethesda's intentions are purely in the massive and spectacular but tilt your view down and you'll notice fluttering butterflies and crawling ants, as well as a bunny flopping into the undergrowth. Open your ears and you'll notice as much attention in the a moose's wet, staccato breath as you will in the thundering roar of a Dragon's flame.
Shrines and standing stones also give stat boosts and cause further dilemnas at higher difficulty levels
Yet for the game's broad and constantly impressive design – the sheer majesty of Skyrim is something that must be felt to be believed - it strikes a far more sombre tone than its predecessor Oblivion.
Where Cyrodiil was a continent of loud, triumphant noises and cities brimming with life and prosperity the realms of Skyrim are a lot more carefully constructed. Smaller domiciles they may be but the space is put to far better use. The environments of Skyrim are more intelligently constructed, the world's issues and problems more thoughtfully elaborated. There is happiness here but the outlook is noticeably more bleak, even if the world is a stunningly beautiful one to inhabit.
A New Fantastic Point of View
Even though the world appears bleaker none of the core Elder Scrolls fun is gone. Far from it, this is Bethesda's most polished RPG to date.
Levelling is still handled in the established Elder Scrolls fashion - using a skill improves it and increasing so many skills gains you a level. No major skills in Skyrim however, every skill increase contribute to a level. New to the Elder Scrolls series is a perk system which sees every level gained bestow you with one perk point to be spent on any of the talent trees associated with the game's numerous skills. Higher parts of the talent trees require a higher proficiency in said skill, and you'll be playing for a good while before you reach the top of even one tree .
In terms of raw gameplay Skyrim manages to bring a host of improvements. Melee combat is improved through a shield bash, stealth is just all round more fun, dual wielding magic spells never gets old while being able to brandish a small weapon in one hand and a spell in another leads to some mightily devastating combo attacks.
However discussing Skyrim's raw gameplay is awkward as, ultimately, how you play is up to you. So just know this: it plays a far better game than Oblivion in every respect. Hacking and slashing in Skyrim feels good. Sneaking around in Skyrim feels like a stealth game. Archery is pinpoint and satisfying, with perks to make it even better. The combat is never as deep as something like Dark Souls but it's not trying to be. Combat in Skyrim is what it is, a lot of unbelievably empowering fun.
Skyrim's caves are fantastic. The best caves in any game ever, in fact. It should win an award for its caves
What is completely new to the Elder Scrolls format though are 'Shouts'. As a legendary Dragonborn you earn access to 'Shouts' early on in your adventure, should you pursue the 'main' storyline. These 'Shouts' are words of power spoken in the language of the dragon and their use is governed by a cooldown meter that takes longer to recharge the more powerful a Shout you employ. Once a shout is powered up to its maximum level they can unleash some of the most ridiculous, yet brilliantly powerful abilities in any RPG ever.
Early in the game, for example, you are given the 'Unrelenting Force' shout and quickly have it powered up to its full potential. This is a wide range forward push of energy that would make a Jedi pack his bags and catch the first flight to a galaxy even further away. It can kill rabbits, hurl fully grown men from mountain tops, and can get you out of some hairy combat situations, with often hilarious results.
Is the game easier for these shouts? Yes, but then Elder Scrolls games have never been hard per se. But then there are other differences that help make Skyrim more compelling than its predecessors. Where previous Elder Scrolls seemed to drop powerful items and abilities in your lap with careless abandon, Skyrim is, once again, more conservative and careful in its design.
Play at standard difficulty and you could confidently hack and slash your way through your trials working with just the barebones loot relinquished from your fallen foes. Notch the difficulty slider up and you'll find the going tough if you don't spend a while investigating shops, tinkering with armour and stocking up on potions. There are quite a few professions to play with here including alchemy, enchanting, blacksmithing, tailoring and even cooking.
When a massive Dragon or nasty Overlord Draugr rear their head, you'll be thankful you took the time to brew those five extra health potions and enchanted all your gear with those fireproof magicks.
The Elder Scrolls V rewards the players who put the time in. It rewards the players who experiment and probe and poke and want to find better things. In a way that's remarkably refreshing for a modern title.
Oh and while it is far more playable than before, third person is still not a whole-y recommendable way to play.
No One To Tell Us No, Or Where To Go.
There are issues with Skyrim, naturally there are, and almost understandably for a game of this magnitude most of these are from bugs. My 60 or so hours so far has seen a few freezes, one game-breaking bug wherein a character got stuck in an animation, and another situation in which my character got stuck under a rock. Compared to past Bethesda games however, this is a small number of hitches and far from game-ruining.
Other issues are more easily accepted. Manual saving is a must, the autosave is not terribly frequent and sometimes a random trap can send you back ten minutes or more if you're not careful.
Some visual hiccups do occur at times, seeing a waterfall from too far away (on the Xbox 360 version at least) can render it as a solid block and there are some occasionally duff textures. But then for every time you see something like that you'll see 50 outstanding vistas, or battle away two dragons and several zombies with the framerate thinking nothing to it. That is stunning.
This isn't a glitch, the hagravens really are that ugly. 'Kill it with fire' was our instant reaction
Oh but before I forget, if horses are meant to sound like a surprised diesel train whenever they fall five feet then Bethesda needs a new sound guy, that heart attack inducing catastophy of sound needs patching. Now. I wonder if armour would shut the thing up...
The thing is with a game like Skyrim a handful of small niggles simply can't detract from the sheer scale and majesty of the beast. When the game itself is so good, so diverse, so replayable and so huge it seems utterly childish to say that 'in this one corner there's a bit of texture clashing' and get hung up on it. That would be a simple case of missing the lush forest for the few iffy trees.
Or Say We're Only Dreaming
Simply put, it isn't fair on other developers that this game exists. A game that flies so profusely in the face of the casual boon and one that refuses to pander to a modern, skinner box bred, 'quick play-move on' market.
Where other games struggle to tell one meaningful story, Skyrim tells a hundred from quaint fairy tales to grand dilemmas of supernatural tradition versus headstrong progression. Where other games can't quite nail one style of gameplay The Elder Scrolls V manages to offer an appealing warrior game, a satisfying stealth-'em-up and a necromantic playground to name but a few. Where other games build dull corridors to blindly trudge one way down, Skyrim crafts a huge selection of dungeons and caves packed full of atmosphere, puzzles, numerous enemy types and then it even finds the time to fill a female character's bookcase with shoes just for the sake of eliciting a titter from any player paying attention.
How can one game successfully offer so much stuff layered with so many different styles of play and then successfully season it with an element of choice and personal expression? It's inconceivable that a game of this magnitude should even exist. A game that will continue to surprise after 40, 60, 80, even 100 hours of single-player time with one character, and yet can pull another previously unseen trick within five minutes of starting another. Another character that you'll play entirely differently for another huge slab of time.
Skyrim is a genuinly gorgeous game at times, the creation engine is lightyears ahead of the Oblivion/Fallout 3's Gamebryo engine
Then when it all gets a bit too overwhelming you can just go and yell men and goats off of mountains, throw corpses in the river just to watch them drift downstream, incite a town riot purely for kicks and then go sightseeing in the gorgeous and varied corners of Skyrim, soaking in the outstanding soundtrack and world just because it's so damn beautiful.
A Whole New World
At its best - which is the vast majority of the time - Skyrim is the very best gaming can be. An artistic vision laid bare for the enjoyment of the player, one so full of life and possibility that every individual's tale is unique. Yet it's equally bursting with so many ideas and concepts, and is so carefully packaged up, that it will manage to enthral and impress well beyond what we naturally expect from modern video games.
Conversing with friends will reveal concepts and quests you may have completely overlooked. Or you may share in the delight of a particularly memorable event, comparing and contrasting approaches, opinions and choices that you both took. Or you could just laugh heartily about the furthest you've launched a man with the power of your vocal chords or wax lyrical about just how stunning it was to take on a Dragon in open combat.
The world you enter may be the same, but the memories you leave with are entirely your own.
Skyrim is a fertile canvas awaiting your story, a tale you write, edit, rewrite, mess up, correct, iterate, alter and conclude on the fly. In Skyrim you play whatever you want, however you want, for however long you want and, as with any Elder Scrolls before it, the game will oblige with some of the greatest personal tales our interactive medium can deliver. Just this time it plays a much better, much more in depth game and truly raises the bar for world and gameplay design at the same time. Oh and did I mention you can shout people off of mountains? Anyway, hyperbole aside I can guarantee you this - The majestic world of Skyrim offers a huge, unique and memorable adventure. However you choose to write it.
Words: James Bowden (@Dalagonash)
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