Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

Skyrim
9.3 Overall Score
Graphics: 9/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Sound: 10/10

Vast landscape to explore | Adventure really conveys epic feel | Visuals and audio are both stellar

Difficulty scaling is hit or miss | Combat can be repetitive | Followers can be erratic

Welcome Dovahkiin, your journey here has certainly been long and fraught with many perils. You are not alone, the Elder Scrolls series has had its own journey and it has been one that looks to continue onward. Starting all the way back in DOS times, the Elder Scrolls have grown from a niche offering to one of the most popular role playing franchises in existence. With the release of Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the games really found their footing and have become progressively more popular as the releases come. Morrowind and its expansions Tribunal and Bloodmoon are still viewed by many as the best example of the series and one of the most ambitious open world RPG’s to date. The release of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion brought the series to a wider audience with its debut on the consoles. The reception that Oblivion received coupled with the critical and financial success it proved to be, made another entry in the series a no brainer.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim expands on the tested format that Bethesda has seemingly become so comfortable with. It revolves around the player creating a character that appeals to them and then embarking on a journey through a monstrous landscape filled with an almost endless array of things to do. Getting distracted from your quest to help a random NPC or take a look at a strange cave just off the path and realizing hours later that you barely remember what you were originally off to accomplish is par for the course in an Elder Scrolls game. Skyrim places the player in the potentially stressful position of having to save the world from a large Dragon who seems to have a fairly bad attitude. The Dragon, Alduin, is not content to merely roast a few peasants and carry off livestock, instead it is foretold that he will bring about the destruction of the world. As the name hints, you are traversing the land of Skyrim which is again in Tamriel, a place familiar to fans of the earlier games. Stop a large angry dragon hellbent on your gruesome demise and save the world – no sweat for the Dragonborn, right?

Speaking of the land, there is a LOT of it. Skyrim really is a leap forward over Oblivion and even shows a good deal of refinement over the worlds created in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. As you wander the countryside, you can’t help but to be awestruck by the sheer scale of the undertaking, made even more impressive by the fact that areas are not cut and paste affairs as each looks and feels unique. The world may be large, but it is not unpopulated. Bethesda did a masterful job of having NPC’s not just in towns, but living in cabins in the woods, exploring caves near the mountains, even just travelling the roads to the cities. Creatures great and small roam all over Skyrim, some ambivalent to your presence, others openly hostile and with good mind to make you into a meal. You won’t ever lack for attention in Skyrim, even if it might be the kind you would prefer to avoid.

I sometimes talk about the “feel” of a game, which I see as how a game involves you and at what level. Do you go through a game feeling like a witness more than a participant? Do you feel like a stable hand that has been running a chore list for the last forty hours? Or does the game actually create a believable atmosphere where you are that hero or villain it purports to make you? Well, Skyrim tells you that you are Dragonborn and that you are here to save the world and it delivers in epic fashion. From the reaction of NPC’s to the way you obliterate monsters with a vicious fireball, your character is destined from the beginning for a badge in badassery. Each time you come across one of the special places where you can learn a new Dragon shout, the feeling of reward combined with the dramatic musical score will have you ready to armor up and charge into whatever battle may lie outside your door. Seriously. Bethesda really got those intangible parts down when they crafted Skyrim.

Skyrim may of been designed to work on the consoles as well as on the PC platform, but don’t be fooled, it is a beautiful game. Much as its predecessors were, this game is also mod friendly and with a few choice tweaks and textures, can be downright breathtaking. Even without that the world presented is one that is vibrantly living and believable, a place fraught with danger and yet strangely comfortable to wander. World design isn’t the only thing the artists were busy on, the weapon and armor selection are stunning. Blades glimmer and show their detailed etchings, armor is fittingly formidable and some pieces look so good that you feel bad upgrading to a better stat piece once you find a style you love. NPC’s and monsters are also beneficiaries of the upgraded engine as both look impressively detailed and animate significantly smoother than previous attempts. The game also makes use of a physics engine that continually tempts you to sadistically launch fireballs into the bloodied corpses of fallen foes, just to see them launch into the air and flop, tumble and bounce helplessly. Skyrim takes all the things that were good in its predecessor and cranks them up to a level of grandeur that fits a tale such as this.

Though it still has a lot of similarities to the style of combat in previous games, the refinements to Skyrim’s gameplay have really made a noticeable difference. Magic has not only become viable on its own merits, but almost any of the different schools are useful in some way. The flexible skill system of Skyrim lets you mix and match, with the ability to have any combination that you may fancy. I have played with selections from dual Destruction magic to a single weapon and Conjuration and everything in between. Magic not only gets the job done, but it has some seriously aesthetically pleasing spell effects and relays quite an impact when you unleash certain powers upon an adversary. Unless you are one of those people who just refuse to use any magic in your fantasy RPG you should at least mix in some with your build or you are missing out on one of the most satisfying parts of Skyrim’s gameplay.

Melee is also improved and offers a variety of weapons and fighting styles for the different preferences of the player. Weapons are varied and whether using a big two hander or playing sword and board, you can carve your way through the enemy. There are still some instances where I found combat to be a bit repetitive, melee especially. Still that is fairly rare although you do a large amount of fighting at points, Skyrim gives the player the choice to mix fighting styles as they see fit which helps a great deal. Minor quibble aside, there really is something pretty satisfying about delivering a thunderous blow with a big hammer to a wandering giant.

Archery was something I enjoyed immensely especially once I had leveled the skill as well as Conjuration and Sneak. I used a Conjured Bow and would evilly sneak up on an enemy, raining death down upon them before they even knew I was there. One shot critical hits were common, and though at times made the build feel overpowered, it also was very rewarding in how lethal it was and how powerful it made the character feel. At that point I figured the Dragons should actually be scared of me.

Gameplay otherwise is fairly smooth. AI is much improved aside from NPC’s and monsters occasionally getting stuck or having pathing issues, movements are reasonably realistic. You have the option to venture alone, but Skyrim is full of willing companions who are jumping at the chance to accompany you on your perilous journey. I found their company to be enjoyable (in most cases) and aside from them charging ahead or interfering with some of my sneak attempts, they were very competent. If a human companion is not your cup of tea, you have other options and can even add a devoted canine to loyally leap into battle with you. You are given the opportunity to own multiple pieces of property, to furnish your dwellings in any fashion you deem with spoils collected in your conquest, and the option to find a suitable candidate for marriage. There really is so much to do that you can lose yourself in any number of pursuits for hour upon hour, and yet seemingly there is always another quest to do or dungeon to explore.

Okay, I am going to come right out and say it. I purchased the limited edition soundtrack that was released directly by Jeremy Soule expecting it to be good. It is a nice autographed set and was reasonably priced. After receiving it, I can confirm that it contains what I consider to be one of the most epic soundtracks ever put together for a RPG. The fact that I would find myself sitting for minutes just staring at the title screen listening to the Skyrim Dovahkiin (Dragonborn) theme speaks volumes (bad pun intended). Soule is known for putting together some of the best soundtracks in gaming and I don’t feel like it is an overreach to say that this is one of the best to date. The music is powerful, wildly epic in scale and applied perfectly with each segment of the game receiving an appropriate musical accompaniment. Even if the voice acting in the game had all been done by the Bethesda janitor after he ate peanut butter and drank a fifth of vodka and the weapon effects were created by use of a plastic spork poking a badger, this soundtrack would’ve carried the score on its own. Thankfully the weapon and spell effects are extremely well done and the voice acting is very competent without the obvious multiple roles that actors played in Oblivion. This easily surpasses some of the stuff the movie industry has turned out and could be just as at home in a quality film as it is in Skyrim. Masterful.

Skyrim gives you the opportunity to embark on a saga of the grandest proportions. Impressive enough when you look at each part, but when you sit back and realize the scale of the whole package, it is awe inspiring. The amount of work that was obviously poured into each facet of this is evident. Skyrim is not perfect. In fact it has a number of the bugs that typically plague Bethesda’s releases. I am not going to sugarcoat it and say as some have that these give the game “character”, only to say that there is no bug or glitch on the PC version of Skyrim that remotely justifies missing what is arguably one of the best single player RPG’s ever released. Skyrim delivers graphically, has a beautiful soundtrack, offers a huge variety of viable gameplay paths, countless hours and quest lines and most importantly, lets you role play your character the way YOU want to. When it comes down to it, isn’t that what a role playing game is supposed to be about first and foremost? Skyrim does the Elder Scrolls series proud and raises the bar to a new height by which all future titles will be judged.


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