The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

I didn’t like Oblivion. Others hammered on to me about how the game was so good and I just didn’t get it. The load times were terrible and the graphics looked abysmal, but the game was utterly massive. That was back in 2006. At the Spike Video Game Awards last year it was unveiled that the new sequel in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim was in development. Having played Skyrim for around 60 hours I can say that the game is a massive improvement above Oblivion but still has many bugs in certain versions of the game that cannot go unnoticed.

Skyrim is set in the northern province of Tamriel, where the race of Nords reside. The Elder Scrolls titles have always had a large number of races in the game that offer certain special perks and boosts. At the start of Skyrim you’re given the option to choose your race and you’re able to pick from any of them. After that you’re able to explore Skyrim, and whilst passing through cities or travelling on roads certain NPC’s will treat you differently because of your race. This is where Skyrim astounds me; certain cities and factions have racial prejudices and some races are subject to segregation not dissimilar to the ways in which people were treated in the Civil Rights movement. It’s a level of detail not seen in many games. It adds realism to the game and is not purely a painting of a fantasy world which sticks to the books.

J.R.R Tolkein had a massive part to play with the establishment of what we now regard as the “fantasy” genre. His works that are set in Middle Earth give us a brilliant insight into the world and Skyrim is no different. Although Skyrim draws a lot of its aesthetic inspiration from Nordic culture there are still elements of the Tolkeinesque and it is in many ways a break from the heavy and unoriginal European castle/ Save the princess cliché. Skyrim instead gives us a unique look at how a northern culture can be presented in a fantasy world, with cities beautifully detailed and bursting with culture.

Skyrim is God damned massive. It will take several hours to reach from one end of the map to the other, and along the way you encounter an innumerable amount of locations and dungeons that are packed to the brim with treasure and loot that compells you to deviate from the road to go and explore dungeons and climb the tallest of mountains, because there is so much to discover in Skyrim. I was walking up to a large mountain where I saw something that looked like a town or keep. As I headed towards it I saw what looked like a shrine, approached it and saw the first of what are known as ‘Word Walls’, where words are inscribed in the Dragon language. Since your character is a Dragonborn they are able to understand the word and use it as a ‘Shout’, a new system in The Elder Scrolls games that acts like magic does, except has a recharge bar in lieu of mana. After looking at the wall I turned around and was greeted by one of Skyrim’s most fearsome foes – a dragon.

One of my biggest criticisms of Oblivion was the terrible combat that lacked depth or satisfaction. Skyrim is an improvement over Oblivion but still has the same lack of satisfaction the plagues the game and sours the overall experience. Melee combat feels as if you’re just swinging around a weapon aimlessly. Luckily, melee combat is not the only option. Whilst faced with my first dragon in Skyrim I instantly switched to my magic spells, which have seen an overhaul from Oblivion; you’re able to dual cast spells and use them as ranged attacks. I quickly hid behind a pillar whilst the dragon started to breathe fire and equipped my magic, ready for when the dragon would stop so I could take some shots at it with my fireball spell equipped in both hands. Eventually the dragon fell and I took its soul to unlock the dragon shout that I acquired from the Word Wall.

Quests in Skyrim never end. The sheer number of quests that you’re able to go on are memorable and allow you to explore places that you have never seen before on the map, which encourages exploring this vast expanse. Some quests can lead to a massive questline and plot that is indistinguishable from the main plot and could hold up on its own as a separate story, adding a good 6-7 hours to the game’s playtime when finished. Among these are staples to the Elder Scrolls series such as The Dark Brotherhood questline. The main quest (which is indistinguishable from other quests) focuses around the return of dragons to Skyrim, and you are the Dragonborn, a born dragonslayer that beforehand was just another citizen of Skyrim. The storytelling is odd in parts and the main quest is extremely easy to miss, especially so if you’ve racked up a big backlog of quests. Within some quests you will have to go through menial (and mandatory) puzzle sections that offer a break in the usual gameplay but breaks immersion by the way of feeling very out of place to the rest of the game.

You level up skills and unlock perks as you go along in Skyrim, and you’re able to undertake a myriad of different specialisations depending on the way you play. Early on in the game I was interested in Smithing my own weapons and armour so I smithed and eventually levelled up. I crafted Heavy Armour, equipped it and in turn that levelled up my Heavy Armour stat. It follows a route of natural progression, the more you use the skill the more it levels up. For example a character that has been using destruction magic throughout the duration of the game is going to be pathetic with a two handed sword simply because that stat is not levelled up. It’s a good mechanic that does not encourage grinding and instead enables the player to progress steadily.

Skyrim is not without issues however, with framerate bugs heavily affecting gameplay in the PS3 version and texture issues on the 360 version as well as several bugs that affect the game in several different ways on all platforms. These glitches can be extremely annoying and break the immersion in the game, so do note that Skyrim is extremely buggy. However, the sheer amount of systems in place and at work in Skyrim at one single time is astounding and although Bethesda have made this release less buggy than other titles such as Oblivion and Fallout 3 it’s still a massive problem.

With Skyrim, it’s the little things that make the experience, such as a passing comment on your cursed weapon, events that have taken place in missions, your status in the city. Sometimes I visited an inn and the minstrel was singing songs about the return of a Dragonborn. The sheer depth of the world in Skyrim is something that I have never seen before in a game. There are hundreds of hours worth of content in this game. Even at 60 hours in and I still have not visited some of the capital cities of the province, for I keep on getting distracted from missions by just wanting to explore and become even more immersed in this finely crafted world. The attention to detail is second to none and there’s a big difference when I talk about Skyrim in comparison with other games. I don’t go and play Skyrim, I go into Skyrim.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is highly recommended, a near perfect example for how an open world game should be made. The player is given the reins and you’re able to do damn near anything within the world of the game that is rich, full of life and full of beautiful vistas. It’s unfortunate that Skyrim is sadly hampered by technical issues that are just not tolerable in an age where games are polished to the point of perfection. You may find the sea of bugs unacceptable, which may break the game for some users on the PS3 (I reviewed the game on PC and have had several bugs, although not as substantial as the amount you would get if you were playing on PS3 or Xbox 360). However, if you have a lot of spare time this holiday season, Skyrim is well worth a shot and is very worthy of your time.

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