The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is Bethesda Studios’ return to the expansive world of Tamriel. Your Dovahkinn’s path is a long, grueling, weary, and beautiful one as Bethesda has crafted a majestic world where anything and everything is possible. Character creation and exploration are damn near endless, and each experience is incredibly different from the next. It is only once in a console’s lifetime that we get to witness a game of such large and grand proportions.
Although it’s not quite an Oblivion sequel, Skyrim’s events occur 200 years after the previous game. Dragons are roaming the world and reigning destruction on the innocent and no one really knows why. It ‘s up to you, the last of the Dragonborn, to repel the mighty beasts.
Skyrim is the most visually impressive title that Bethesda has ever created. A revamped user interface makes it easier to navigate your inventory. Plus, Bethesda has taken the time to make each item unique and detailed; going into your inventory and zooming in on some of these items will astonish. One of the greatest visual improvements comes to the character animations; the days of stiff running and awkward looking characters are long gone. Battle animations are also improved; the new killing blows that look both brutal and make you feel like a mighty warrior. The lists of improvements from previous Bethesda titles are too numerous to list, but what’s here is truly a polished game with precise attention to detail.
Skyrim wouldn’t be an Elder Scrolls game without extreme character creation. Players can choose from one of 10 different races. You choose to be a Altmer (magic using High Elves), a disease resistant lizard like Argonian, a nature-respecting Bosmer (Wood Elve), or magic-using humans known as the Breton. If you fancy black magic (but also want to be balanced and use different weapons) then the Dunmer (Dark Elves) are for you. The Imperial are diplomatic humans that favor two-handed melee weapons, which is the complete opposite of the cat-like Khajiit, which tend to sneak around, and take enemies out before they even know what hit them. Nords are hardy humans that are indigenous to Skyrim and tend to be resistant to the cold and versed in close range combat. If you want to be feared on the battlefield and also be considered an excellent craftsman, then the Orc is for you. But if you want to stand tall and make your enemies shake at their knees, the Reguard is the ultimate warrior race, made evident by their muscular builds.
In terms of balancing, all races have their benefits and negatives — there isn’t really any overpowering after the first ten levels. During the early levels, however, you’ll find that Redguard’s and Orc’s can take quite a bit of punishment. The character customization is also like no other; everything from frown lines, to jawbone structure can be customized to make each character unique.
Observing the skies has never been so important in a game. Your perks (abilities) are all listed in the form of constellations; you gain a perk each time you level up. Each constellation has a set of status bonuses and abilities; you begin with simple things like damage percentage boosts, and the deeper you go into each constellation, the more intricate the abilities become. It is an interesting way to observe the character progression, and gives you goals to strive for in terms of your characters abilities.
Series veterans may remember the days where you would have to choose a class when creating a character. The class was the direct effect of your major attributes, and only leveling your major attributes led to level progression. So, if you were a knight, only increasing your blade, block, blunt, heavy armor, or hand to hand led to gaining another level–thus restricting your play style. In Skyrim, however, every skill contributes to your characters level progression, be it blocking, practicing alchemy, using two-handed weapons, or using conjuration magic. Each skill has its own level progression, and the higher the skill, the more it contributes to your overall level. So if your archery is level 28, increasing your archery to 29 give you more experience towards your overall level than increasing your heavy armor from 13 to 14. This gives the game a much larger variety.
If you find that playing one way is lacking or getting boring, then you can switch it up and change your play style. Yes, it does require patience and time, but it’s easier then creating a new character. There are also books scattered around Skyrim that when read increase the level of certain abilities, these are great experience opportunities, and help increase the speed of character progression.
Speaking of books, Bethesda has truly created a living world filled with its own mythology. The amount of time that has gone into Skyrim is evident when you pick up one of the books you find in house and dungeons. Some of them will offer locations to quest, some will help your progression, but a lot of them are just filled with history of the world or folklore. It is truly amazing that they took the time out to create some of these stories. This also serves as a distraction within the game as you can sit down and read some of these well-written books, and lose yourself in the game’s lore.
Graphically, the game is a beauty to behold: Sunlight casts accurate shadows, and the texture and foliage pop in have been decreased to a point that you wouldn’t even notice. Forests are green lush and riddled with tress, and wildlife. Mountains can be seen from a distance, and they can all be traversed. The weather varies, too; depending on the altitude you might have light snow or a blizzard. It all looks breathtaking and helps you immerse yourself in the beautiful world. Yes, the game does have a few glitches. I’ve been stuck in objects like rocks, and trees before, I’ve fell through the game world once, but this all happened to infrequently to be a problem. And in a game of this size and proportion it is almost expected that a few bugs will exist. Bethesda states that patches are a-comin’.
Navigating your inventory, shouts, and spells is simple and instead of the abilities reel you can now assign favorites to the equipment and abilities you use most, which you can easily access by pressing up on the D-pad. Crafting plays an important role in Skyrim. Alchemy, cooking, enchanting, and smithing all return and becoming proficient in a few of these can really help your character develop and make some profit. You can also buy property in order to make money. There are many options to increase your purse; you just have to find one that suits you.
The battles are grueling no matter the enemy you should always bring your best. Thankfully, Bethesda has improved the battle system so it is easier for you to handle some of the tougher baddies you come across. You can now dual-wield weapons, have a short sword in one hand and a spell in the other (much like the plasmids in Bioshock) . And with the new animations it isn’t so bad fighting in the third person view (although I recommend first person since it’s easier to observe what’s going on). The difficulty is brutal; tougher enemies will squash you in a matter of seconds. For that reason alone I urge players to save and save often.
The A.I is superb. Most events encountered in the wilderness are unscripted, so you might see a traveler fighting back a pack of wolves, or guards escorting a prisoner. The world is a persistent one, so each event happens with you around or without you. As such, there are times where you might find a looted corpse laying around. NPC’s will attack common enemies so if your in battle with an enemy and a dragon rears his way towards you, don’t be surprised when your opponent turns away and or runs or joins you in the battle against the dragon. Touches like this really stand out and make the world feel like a living breathing organism.
Dungeons are now intricate pieces full of traps, puzzles, and enemies. At the end of each dungeon theirs usually a valuable item at the end of each one. Each dungeon is decorated differently, and has its own obstacles you must over come, a great change from the stale dungeons of previous titles. You can bring a one of the many companions you meet during your adventures with you, and they do make things easier for you. Luckily you can also direct them which makes having them that much more satisfying. Finding your way around the world is also simplified, you can mark quest in your quest log, and a marker will be added to your map showing you where to travel. If that’s still too hard to follow, you can teach your character a new spell called Clairvoyance. When cast it draws a path towards your next goal, it is a bit of handholding but it can’t get simpler the that.
Your toughest battles will come against the dragons you encounter on your adventure; there are different kinds of dragons, each differing in difficulty and abilities. Defeating these beasts is essential to your character progression. When you defeat a dragon you collect its soul. These dragon souls are used to learn shouts used by dragons. Being a Dovahkinn gives you the ability to speak the ancient dragon language thus allowing you to use shouts. Some if the shouts can cause storms to rain from the skies, others can push enemies away. You an also increase the strength of each shout by learning full phrase and not just words. It’s empowering hearing your character yell out “Strun Bah Ao!” and watching a thunderstorm soon follow.
The sound effects are amazing. You hear weapons clash during battle, grass crunches under your feet, and the wind rustles the leaves. In addition, the voice acting is phenomenal. Bethesda has a star studded cast of voice actors consisting of like Michael Hogan, Christopher Plummer, and Lynda Carter just to toss a few out there. NPCs all have voices and each have unique lines of dialog. The soundtrack is a musical masterpiece; the opening theme is all in Dragon tongue and is accompanied by an orchestrated set of horns, and strings and drums. Traveling the world you’ll hear an assortment of melodies which each one appropriate for the situation. While strolling along a riverbed you’ll hear some of the more peaceful pieces, but during battle expect an energetic sonata.
You truly have the ability to do what ever you want. You can sneak into shopkeeper’s home and kill them in their sleep, and a family member will take their place to run the shop. You can run into a town and kill a few guards and become wanted. If you choose to you can ignore the main quest and just wander the vast world put in front of you, the choice is yours and that’s what makes this an intimate experience.
I’ve had the privilege to review many great titles this year, but The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim stands alone on a pedestal as my game of the year. Any respectable gamer owes it to them to go out and purchase a copy; this is near-perfection. This is a true achievement in gaming, and one that should be experienced by every gamer.
You can buy The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim at Amazon.com for $31.00