Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the follow-up to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and takes place two hundred years later. Have Bethesda produced another masterpiece or does it fall short of the mark?
- Worth The Time?Every second of it.
- Things LovedThe freedom, the simplified UI, the broad and diverse races and character models, the beautiful graphics, the staggering attention to detail, the authentic sounding voice-acting, the levelling system, the crazy amount of things to do in this game. Pretty much everything.
- Things HatedThere's still the odd glitch here and there, walking from place to place can be a pain if you stumble upon an animal that's stronger than you, there is no character screen present.
- RecommendationBuy it. Buy it now... Have you bought it yet? Why haven't you bought it already?
- Name: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
- Genre: RPG
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
- Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Price: R500 - R550 (Varies)
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360 / PC
A few weeks ago it was decided that I would be the lucky one who got to review The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, herein known only as Skyrim. At first it seemed like the natural order of things since I am the most awesome gamer around and– “holy shit, I have to review Skyrim!”…
It was that slightly delayed but nevertheless glass-shattering revelation that had me quite honestly shaking in my non-existent, metaphorical boots.
The question that immediately shot to my mind faster than the time it took Kim Kardashian to get her latest marriage annulled was, put simply: “How exactly does one review a game like Skyrim?!”
Let’s look at a few of the defining features of a role-playing game like Skyrim: The game lasts many hundreds of hours, potentially, and you could in fact never play every single part of the game no matter how hard you tried because there was always that one thing in that one dungeon that you missed or didn’t even realise was there the first five times you passed it. Even then, you might never have even come across that dungeon because you just didn’t expect it to be in such a remote and frankly silly place.
To add insult to what is clearly (possibly) gamer injury, thanks to many little twists of fate I got the game almost a week after the release date when some had already spent upwards of forty hours running through the game.
But then I put my disc into my console and started up the game and it was very soon into playing it that I realised one simple thing about a game like Skyrim: You don’t “play” a game like this. You get lost in it.
Being the fifth game in a long-standing series has a few benefits which are easily noticed, implicitly or otherwise, while playing through the game.
For one, the developers are now very comfortable with the engine that they are working on, even more so since it shares development ties with that of the company’s other flagship series, Fallout. The Creation engine that powers Skyrim is very much a new engine, but plays in a way that is very familiar to any gamers that have played Oblivion, or even Fallout 3.
The only difference is that it’s a better engine in every way, from being absolutely breathtakingly beautiful in terms of visuals and attention to detail, to being far less glitch-a-minute and more refined overall. Sure, there is the odd glitch to be found in the game but the number of occurrences is far less than any previous Bethesda title. Friends of mine who have played the game reported almost no glitching at all, while I only encountered one in my many hours of the game so far. Bethesda have clearly been improving that underlying technology, and their improvements have been noted.
The second benefit of a long-standing series is that the story and lore of the game is already crafted and exists in an almost parallel universe of dungeons, divines, daedra and dragons. The developers are comfortable with their universe and the story they are working with in this game shows it well. Not just the actual main quest, mind you. I speak of the overall story aspects of the game, the way each quest ties into the next or how a certain part of the lore can be traced back to a previous game. Everything is coherent and clear to the player, even more so for players of previous games.
I for one spent many hundreds of hours lost in Cyrodiil after finally picking up The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion a few years ago, and to read aspects of lore while playing through Skyrim that tie in to my actions or the actions of others in the previous game, was quite rewarding for me.
One of the best reasons to play Skyrim is simply to get lost in another world.
The prologue starts out with you on a wagon headed to a nearby keep, with the only explanation for your character on that wagon being that you were caught trying to sneak into the border of Skyrim. Some story then occurs and a dragon appears, causing mayhem and destruction but ultimately allowing you to escape the keep and find your freedom in the nearby forest.
From there, you may opt to follow the person who helped you to escape the keep and continue the main quest for the game, or you can flip him the bird and simply do as you bloody well please.
And there is a lot to do in this game.
The sheer amount of locations in this game is just downright scary, and nobody holds your hand and tells you what to do here. There is no Captain Price barking orders at you, if you wish to head to the nearest town and kick a chicken, you’re more than welcome to. If you’d like to jump into a nearby cave that you passed on your way to that town, you’re more than welcome to. The possibilities and options are seemingly endless.
And Skyrim has redefined the term “non-linear”.
There is a main quest and it exists for all of a few hours if you focus it, but that’s just so little of the game and really serves only as an introductory piece to the world of Skyrim and a means to unlock a few achievements. You could very well spend two hundred hours playing through this game and never touch the main quest. Ever.
Sure a few questions might go unanswered, such as why you’re able to absorb the souls of dragons and what you do with them, but you could just figure that out while crawling through your next dungeon or something…
In Skyrim, you are ‘Dovahkiin’, which directly translates to
Bad-Ass-Mother-Fucker ‘Dragonborn’. More specifically, your character is the only Dovahkiin alive, as far as anyone knows.
In the Nordic region of Skyrim, Dovahkiin are held in high regard and revered for their abilities, which can be summarised as absorbing the life force of dragons and speaking their language. The former involves first killing dragons, who have made a re-appearance in The Elder Scrolls world, for some reason that is explained later in the main quest’s story if you choose to follow it. The latter is what will become part of the meat of your gameplay experience, which is basically learning ‘Words of Power’ that enable you to do ‘Shouts’ or ‘Thu’ums’ as the locals call it.
Shouts, which come in three levels depending on how many of the ‘Words of Power’ you have learned for a specific Shout, turn your typical Oblivion-like character into something truly amazing and a force to be reckoned with. The language of the dragons can be spoken by a Dovahkiin and when you do, depending on which Shout you have selected, you can do crazy things like sprint-boosting forward a certain distance or throwing your voice to distract enemies or breathing fire or summoning blizzards and lightning storms. You could slow down time for a better edge in battles or, and I don’t even joke, simply Shout someone dead.
“Fus Roh Dah”… more like For The Win!
Together with Shouts comes the ability to wield anything on either hand. Yes, dual-wielding. It’s kind of a big deal in Skyrim too, and as a result you may wield anything from spells to swords to axes to daggers on either hand, in any combination you would like. Or you could go for a more traditional two-handed weapon or bow. Much like in Oblivion, you are what you play and what you play is entirely up to you.
If you’d like to dual-wield a sword and an axe, you may do so. The same for a fire spell and a one-handed sword, or a typical sword and shield combo. Or do something radical and wield two spells, different ones if you’d like different effects or two of the same for an ‘overcharge’ which increases its effect. It’s really only up to you to decide, as you battle the various opponents to your character in the game.
The battles themselves are easier this time around, with the just the right kind of frantic feel to all of it. Fights with dragons are always memorable, especially when they drop into a town you’re visiting and the guards join in the fight.
To aid things, Skyrim provides a ‘Favourites’ menu which you may call up at any time that pauses the game and offers you a selection of items you’ve favourited from your inventory and magic menu, which really makes things a lot more streamlined and easier, mid-battle.
The entire user interface has undergone a redesign and it would seem that Skyrim aims more for simplicity instead of the convoluted complication of previous games.
At the press of a button, four menu options pop up for you to choose from by simply moving your analogue button (the mouse for PC users) in the relevant direction.
Going left takes you to your magic menu which shows the various schools of magic together with any spells you’ve learned, and your Shouts, as well as lists your Favourites if you’ve favourited any spells. You will also find an Active Effects tab that tells you what buffs and debuffs are currently active for your character.
Going right takes you to your inventory menu which lists whatever you have stored, be it weapons, apparel, potions, books, ingredients, keys and so on. The Favourites section is also here, for your favourited weapons or potions. Your inventory is limited to a certain number so unfortunately, you cannot pick up everything you see. You may view whatever is in your inventory in full 3D, by rotating it using the analogues. This is necessary for some quests.
Going down takes you to your map, which shows the entire Skyrim more or less in 3D, allowing you to navigate and browse through the areas you’ve discovered (in white), the areas you know of but have not yet discovered (in black) and the various areas that you’ve cleared (marked with a diamond). You may also set custom waypoints as necessary and, of course, fast travel, something you’ll be doing a lot of in this game.
Going up takes you to your skills menu, which is incredibly pretty to look at and contains various skills and skill trees in the form of constellations with each star representing a perk for that skill tree. Perks can be considered little self-rewarded abilities for focusing on that skill and are very handy to have. They don’t each have their own special game-changing trait as with Fallout 3’s perks, but to get to the more powerful ones, you’ll need a few less amazing ones. To that extent you might feel like you’ve got an unnecessary perk or two simply because you wanted the next perk in that skill tree. While it doesn’t work against the game, it’s still worth mentioning, even if it’s a constant issue across many RPGs with the skill tree system. At least Skyrim makes it worth your while by offering up some really impressive high-tier perks.
Levelling up in Skyrim depends solely on what you do as the player, and you gain a little experience towards your character’s level each time you level up a certain skill, be it One-handed or Sneak or even Smithing or Alchemy. Gaining a character level is no longer the chore it was in Oblivion and here, you simply go into your skills menu and choose which of three attributes to increase, be it Magicka, Health or Stamina, and then you get a perk point which you may spend on whatever you’d like, assuming you meet the level requirements for your chosen perk’s root skill. For example, a high-tier One-handed perk might have the requirement of level 70 in One-handed and whatever previous perks it is connected to.
Magicka, Health and Stamina increase by ten points as per your choosing, each time you level up. Magicka is pretty much mana and is used to power spells, the bread and butter attribute for any mage then. Health keeps you alive and should be focused, especially if you’re a tank. Stamina allows you to sprint (a new, much-needed inclusion in the game) as well as perform power attacks with weapons. The regeneration rate of each attribute also goes up each time you invest points, with an added bonus of slightly increased inventory storage space each time you increase Stamina.
Hitting Start while in the game will not only pause it but also offer a few other menus for you to peruse, namely Quests, Stats and Game, the latter of which involves your usual affair of saving, loading and exiting the game, something most of you will never select, once you start up the game.
The Quests menu lists your various open quests as well as those that have been completed, and allows you to set markers for any you have open. Chances are, while playing through Skyrim, depending on how much you interact with people, you could have many, many quests open. The sheer number of quests in this game will have you sitting back, nervously sweating while you figure out where to start and what to do next. The quests themselves are of typical Bethesda style and will involve anything from many hours of questing to a few minutes depending on what you have in your inventory. The latter are very few and far between though, meaning most quests, certainly the legitimate quests that aren’t listed under ‘Miscellaneous’ will consume at least a few hours of your life in order to complete. They also send you all over the map, further increasing the likelihood of you stumbling upon more quests if you’ve never been to that place before.
The Stats menu stores all relevant statistics for your player, such as their battle preferences, their exploration through the game and of course, their crimes. It’s mostly just for boasting or perhaps clarity, or to keep track of how many more locks and pockets they need to pick in order to unlock that achievement, as is the case with me.
There is no Character menu this time around, something that I found a little upsetting because I’d like to be able to just stare at my character for a while in a menu. It’s a minor gripe but I thought it was worth a mention.
One of the biggest criticisms of Oblivion, indeed one of its only criticisms, was that the characters in the game looked like pudgy muppets. Worse still, all of them had more or less the same voice. And in a game of this proportion, where there are easily thousands of NPCs around, that is impossible to ignore and becomes a pain to have to endure. Thankfully, Bethesda have been doing their homework and now characters actually look and sound legit, regardless of their race. More so than that, the more exotic races have been given features that compliment them. No longer will you see a Khajiit and an Imperial standing next to each other, and not know the difference once their backs are turned. This time around, you’ll see the Khajiit’s tail wagging around, for example. Don’t let it catch you checking out its ass though, because it will also claw you to death with its unique race-specific claws for unarmed combat.
Little things like that go a long way to benefiting the experience, in Skyrim. More so when you consider that each race is well-defined within the context of the game and each race has a part to play in some of the various over-arching stories that you will partake in, during your time with Skyrim. You may once again choose any race you desire, as well, each with its own unique elements, such as a certain spell or increased levels in a certain skill. As far as lore goes, pretty much every relevant race from Oblivion has made its return, which means we are still awaiting the inclusion of dwarves as a playable race.
Depending on your race, you will also be treated slightly differently in the various towns and settlements, during your interactions with NPCs, though this isn’t constant and some scripted dialogue still plays out regardless of your race, meaning an otherwise friendly NPC could still say something (story-related) that is derogatory about dark elves to your dark elf while you stand there, awkwardly, going: “… Uhm. Lol?” Of course, it’s another minor niggle and easily overlooked. Also, the validity of a dark elf actually saying “Lol?” might be brought into question.
There are also inclusions of certain other “species” or races, dragons notwithstanding. These include but aren’t limited to, giants, who herd mammoths, both of which are easily stronger than you on earlier levels and should not be messed with, Falmer, who are basically snow elves that hid away many years ago due to story-relevant reasons and were corrupted over time, and werewolves, who need no real explanation. Each of these can be found in a location of the game that is sensible and suitable. Dragons themselves are found in specific locations in the game, but are also randomly generated as you play.
Apart from the main quest of Skyrim which has mainly to do with dragons, Shouts and all of that, there are various other questlines in the game that also constitute story elements. In fact, each and every time I made a reference to “story” in this review, I’ve been speaking of not just the main quest but also any other questline you might opt to follow. And really, the main quest is just another questline for the game, albeit one that centres around you and your reasons for being there.
The various other questlines include the old Mages Guild, this time known as the College of Winterhold, the old Warriors Guild which is now known as the Companions Guild, a home for warriors that has a few secrets to reveal to the world, the Thieves Guild, now in ruins after many years of neglect and abuse of power, and the Dark Brotherhood, the home of murderers and all things vile yet remarkably alluring, all making their return from Oblivion, for you to quest through once again.
Each of those questlines takes up around the same amount of time as the main questline, for further emphasis on how complimentary the main questline is. Some them are actually more interesting as well, and depending on your chosen set of skills to focus, more beneficial to your character.
There are also a few other questlines in the game, the most predominate of which is that of the Civil War in Skyrim between the Imperials and the rebel Stormcloaks. Each has a reason for fighting and the game offers you the choice of who to side with in easily one of the most incredible, emotionally taxing and world shaping quests to ever grace a game without actually being what the whole point of the game is about in the first place. It’s just another of those questlines that you’re free to do if and when you please.
It seems all of the emphasis in Skyrim has been placed on story, with almost every character you interact with having some quest for you at some point in the game. To that extent, every other aspect of the game serves to compliment the story.
Therein lies the justification of the streamlined user interface, for example, and the easier method of levelling up, this time around. Even the game itself starts up simply by showing the Bethesda logo and then the main menu, with no two minutes of middleware to sit through each time you start up, like every other game out there. It’s refreshing and serves to benefit the experience entirely.
More importantly, it emphasises the fact that Skyrim is not a game you play on a weekend and then forget about. No, Skyrim is a game you play and don’t stop playing. Ever. The Radiant questline which literally never stops generating quests for you, will make sure of that.
There is too much of game in Skyrim for it to be simply considered an equal amongst other “games”. Getting lost in this world is an unparalleled experience, one that has without a doubt been perfected by Bethesda.
Even after many hours with the game, I struggle to find a legitimate criticism for the title. It seems to win on every possible level of a role playing game, in fact it redefines the term entirely.
This is a role playing experience.
And really, if you haven’t played it already, you really, really do need to. For once, the ‘triple A review syndrome’ is justified, and this is really the pinnacle of Bethesda’s work, their magnum opus if you will.
Playing Skyrim is like preparing for a cataclysmic event. You get your affairs in order, wish your family well, have sex for the last time, and ask someone to safeguard your pets. And then you start playing Skyrim and the world as you know it, ends. It ceases to exist. All else fades away and what you’re left with is your new life, that of the Dovahkiin. And coming out of it forever changes you, if you ever do.
Play Skyrim. It’s the best true RPG I’ve ever played. And this from a BioWare fanboy…