Skyrim continues the Elder Scrolls series with their latest open-world, action RPG title released almost worldwide in November and December in 2011. The game was highly anticipated, an instant hit upon release, and is famed for being the very first non-Japanese game to receive a perfect 40/40 by Famitsu magazine. Wow.
The style of gameplay hasn’t changed much from Oblivion (the only other Elder Scrolls game I’ve played) with the player’s choice of first or third-person view, swinging your sword or blasting fireballs at your targets while exploring the land of Skyrim and picking-up quests along the way. There are a few alterations, which I’ll discuss in the “What I Liked” portion of this review (and that’s a good sign, right?)
Reminiscent of the previous installment, your character begins as a prisoner, tied and bound, being carried to a small town to await the execution for a crime you – the player – aren’t aware of. Just as your head’s about to be disconnected from your body with the assistance of a giant ax, a dragon swoops down and belches fire over everything. You manage to escape, and follow a new comrade to safety.
From there, you’re free to do as you please.
The main quest centres around the dragons that have mysteriously returned to Skyrim – and the strange connection your character has with them. Each time you slay one of these beasts, a whirlwind of power explodes around you, and the dragon’s soul is absorbed. What’s up with that? Well, you have many hours of game-playing to figure it out.
Aside from the main quest, you’ve also got the usual guilds to have fun with – the Thieves Guild, the Dark Brotherhood, and the Mage’s Guild. There’s also the Champions, who are an elite group of, well, champions who reside in the city of Whiterun. And of course, what fantasy world would be complete without a civil war? You have the choice of siding with the Stormcloaks for the Imperial Army, vanquishing the opposite group of which you’ve chosen, and either putting a new king on the throne or keeping the old one.
There’s a lot to do, here. The main quest, side quests, mini side quests, and super mini side quests, as well as farming to improve your skills, exploring the vast number of caves and dungeons, and searching for Words of Power to add to your arsenal for kicking-butt. And if you simply feel like reading a book, Skyrim has plenty of those, too.
What I Liked:
It’s hard to be specific here, since I gave the game a perfect 10. Bethesda Game Studios has a great system of free-play as an action RPG, allowing you to select either a post-apocalyptic genre (Fallout) or high fantasy (Elder Scrolls). They put an incredible amount of detail into their games, which are loaded with backstory and even books which you can pick off the shelves and read. It’s a system that works, and as long as they don’t screw it up, I see no reason to award such games with high ratings. In the case of Skyrim, they didn’t screw it up.
The level-up system has changed to a simpler, but better system. As in Oblivion, you don’t gain experience points in the normal sense, but from using your skills. If you’re constantly being attacked while wearing light armor, then your light armor skill levels up. If you’re always flinging arrows at your targets, then your archery skills levels up. Once enough of these skills have increased, then your overall level is ready to rise. There, you have the option of improving your Magica, Health, or Stamina. Afterwards, you can add a “park” to one of your skills, much in the style of Fallout 3. Personally, I prefer this sytem more than that of Oblivion.
They’ve also tossed out the whole repairing-your-armor-and-weapons thing, as Bethesda felt this only slowed down the gameplay – which I agree. In Skyrim, if you pick up a sword or piece of armor, its quality never degrades through constant use. Maybe it’s unrealistic, but there’s plenty of micro-managing throughout the game that you don’t need to worry about the condition of your weapons. That’s a big plus.
The graphics’ quality is a big improvement from Oblivion. Rivers and waterfalls seem alive, rather than flat digital surfaces that have been rendered to appear as though moving. Trees and rocks appear better rendered, wind blows snow about, and the sky lights up at twilight, revealing the two majestic moons in the sky. It may not be Final Fantasy XIII quality, but it’s probably, thus far, better than any Bethesda game.
What I Didn’t Like:
Now, I’ve given this game a perfect score of 10 Banzai!s. So while there are still a few complaints here, consider this merely nitpicking. Afterall, no game out there is perfect – regardless of the rating. To me, a perfect 10 means it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. And Skyrim is one of the best games I’ve ever played. It’s not perfect, but I don’t believe in perfection. To me, it just doesn’t exist. So with that in mind, on with the nitpicking!
First, let’s talk about the bugs – and yes, there are bugs. What would a Bethesda game be without game freezes? But to be fair, playing this on the PlayStation 3, I didn’t experience too many problems. I logged in well over 100 hours into the game, playing all its quests and side-quests from start to finish. In those 100 hours, the game froze on me 6 times. That’s not too bad, especially compared with, say, Fallout: New Vegas.
The world of Skyrim is much smaller than Cyrodiil, and perhaps to make up for it, Bethesda threw in a bunch of mountains to add some struggle to your destination. And boy, do I hate mountains – even more than broccoli! Either you end up having to run around the damn thing looking for a path, or you attempt climbing by continuously hitting the jump button while wiggling the movement controls left and right. Less mountains and more land would have been nice.
Also, I found the map more difficult to navigate than in Oblivion. Everything’s basically black and white, but three-dimensional. The arrow which points in your destination is white, which basically means it’s hard to see. And if it’s hiding below the faded legend at the bottom of the screen, you can barely see it at all. It’s a simple thing, but coloring the arrow in blue, red, or tickled pink would have vastly improved the map.
If you’re a fan of either the previous Elder Scrolls games, or even the Fallout series, then you won’t want to miss Skyrim. The story is just as good as Oblivion, with fun and interesting side-quests and Guilds to work through (I personally recommend the Dark Brotherhood – great story!). There’s plenty to do in this game, as much micro-managing as you like, and will provide hours and hours of gameplay, making you feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
It may not be perfect, but 10 Banzai!s means it’s one of the best titles I’ve played thus far.
written by Damon Finos