The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Better start telling your friends and relatives they won’t be seeing you for a while; Bethesda has returned to the Elder Scrolls series and the result will have players saying goodbye to the real world.
I’ll try and remain as spoiler-free as possible, but beware: there may be some game specifics here. You have been warned!
From the moment you begin your adventure in Skyrim, you know you’re in for something special. The wind rasps, the trees sway, and the snow crunches underfoot. You feel as though you’re a very real part of this world. The introduction helps to solidify this immersive feeling with a short scene that sets up the premise of the game: Skyrim is in the midst of a civil war and the whole province is under attack from dragons. The rest is for you to discover.
The liberty to do as you please has been a cornerstone of the Elder Scrolls series. Sure, there’s a main storyline in there that you can pursue if you want to, but it’s the freedom to explore and discover the world that has always made Elder Scrolls games so compelling. In this sense, Skyrim is no different from any other titles in the franchise. You can go where you want, do as you wish, and do it all at your own pace. This time around though, the level of freedom you enjoy extends beyond how you discover the world around you.
Where in Oblivion your character was defined by the rigid classes and skills chosen at the very beginning of the game, you now have the luxury of truly personalising your character. You want to be a mage who is also deadly with a warhammer? Fine. You want to be thief who is a potions master? That’s okay too. The player is afforded the options of being as specialised or as loosely defined as he or she wants to be, and this is achieved through Bethesda’s refinement of Skyrim’s gameplay. In Skyrim, you are what you do, rather than what you choose. For example, if you use a one-handed weapon, such as a sword, your skills in one-handed weaponry improves. Likewise, if you use a bow or a spell these skills will improve. No longer are players bound to a class and skill set they choose before even entering the world; players can be warriors, mages, thieves or archers whenever they want to be – which is good because Skyrim is so varied that all these skills have their uses. The refinement of the gameplay has been most keenly felt in the controls of Skyrim. The blocky, cumbersome, and awkward movement of Oblivion has been replaced with a fluid and accurate control scheme that makes melee combat, ranged combat, and magic much more effective and much more fun to use.
As already mentioned, the combat in Skyrim is much more effective than in its predecessor. Ranged combat is accurate and precise, and magic is no longer the parlour trick it was in Oblivion. In fact, magic is now a mysterious and ethereal power that can be used as a weapon. Improvements are harder to come by with melee combat though. The inclusion of Fallout-style kill cams make ending combat more visceral, but on the whole it still feels somewhat disconnected. You never get the sense that you are actually hitting your opponent, rather you feel as though you’re merely attacking the air directly in front of you. As a whole, combat, in all its forms, is improved and this is thanks to the inclusion of the dual-wield mechanic. You can now assign one-handed weapons or spells to your left or right hand to use as you wish. It’s a dynamic tool that allows the player to be creative and to personalise the way they want to interact with the world. Dual-wielding spells is particularly potent, especially once you unlock the perk to combine spells.
The ability to dual-wield weapons and spells isn’t the only improvement that has been made to combat. Movement is now much more fluid and lifelike, allowing for easier movement around enemies and the rugged terrain of Skyrim alike.
The refinement of movement and combat have been for the sake of accessibility. However, it isn’t just in the gameplay mechanics where Skyrim shows that it is a much more accessible RPG, the menu system has been polished and simplified for those new to the genre. Gone are the massive lists of Oblivion and Fallout, replaced by a smaller interface that covers weapons, magic, accessing the map, and levelling up. The changes to the menu system are hugely beneficial to newcomers and veterans alike, as it makes the time spent in menus as quick and efficient as possible.
Levelling up has also undergone a major overhaul, as you are now freed from a simple point spreading exercise, making it a great way to personalize your character. Instead of points, you are prompted to improve one of your three core skills (i.e. health, stamina and magicka), and also given a perk to advance one of your secondary skills. These perks usually take the form of being able to deal more damage with certain weapons or spells, but there are some that give your character a real edge, such as the ability to combine spells or become a more effective blacksmith or potion maker. The way the world reacts to your character’s increase in level is now much more sensible. Where in Oblivion the whole world levelled up with you, resulting in enemies that were difficult at level 1 still being difficult at level 30, Skyrim is much more dynamic. Once you’ve passed level 10, enemies such as bandits or wolves no longer become too troublesome – but that doesn’t mean that you’re the apex predator. More powerful enemies are littered throughout Skyrim, and increasing your character stats is the best way to defeat them. Character advancement becomes a part of the way you interact and explore the world, giving you the tools you need to discover every corner of Skyrim.
In a game where shouting becomes a key component, it is unsurprising to find that sound plays an important role. Skyrim is alive with sound, be it the howling of wolves, the roar of rivers and waterfalls or the whistle of the wind, you get the very real sense that you are a part of world that is alive — and that’s before mentioning the stirring soundtrack. Skyrim is set to a soundtrack that is both haunting and inspiring in equal measure. There are moments, usually at the tops of mountains, where what sounds like a Viking song begins and you feel connected to the world’s lore. These are striking moments that would have felt flat and unimportant had such care and attention not been taken to the audio side of Skyrim.
The improvements to gameplay and the stunning soundtrack both play second fiddle to the location. Skyrim is a rugged, mountainous, and snow covered wilderness, but it’s also a place of extreme beauty with waterfalls, creeks, mountains and forests. Skyrim is also awash with stunning architecture, from the simple wooden longhouses of Riverwood to the intricate stone work of Solitude or the industrial and mechanical grime of the Dwemer ruins. There is something to love about every city and location, and there are times when you will look at the city you’re in and be in awe of how impressive it actually is. However, it’s not just on the grand scale where the graphical beauty of Skyrim is most impressive. Bethesda has taken as much time in creating the smallest detail as they have the largest. Single flowers and individually rendered blades of grass are commonplace throughout Skyrim. Weather effects, such as snow storms, are equally beautiful, and auroras are sure to leave players with a sense of wonderment. These weather effects make the world feel alive and imbues Skyrim as a region with a sense of ruggedness and character that was lacking in Oblivion.
The natural beauty of Skyrim is vast, but it is matched by the graphical quality on show for characters and items. Each race has undergone serious cosmetic surgery and now looks unique. Nords, Imperials and Redgaurds have gotten a little sprucing up, but the more exotic races have been completely overhauled. Argonians have individual scales and now look reptilian, Orcs now look like dark and dangerous creatures and not like Imperials with a skin and dental problem, and Khajiits no longer like walking stuffed toys. Dark Elves, High Elves, Wood Elves, and Bretons have all undergone a slight makeover and look much more distinctive. As impressive as the improvements to the various races are, the quality to which the multitude of items available in Skyrim have been rendered shows just how vast the graphical leap from Oblivion to Skyrim actually is. Each weapon, piece of armour and item now feels unique rather than a slight variant of a tool set.
This combination of a stunning overworld, distinct characters, and unique items demonstrates just how beautiful a game Skyrim is. From the grandest city to humblest flower, Skyrim shows that even in a gargantuan world attention to detail makes all the difference.
However, a game the size and scope of Skyrim isn’t without fault – bugs and glitches are evident throughout. Most of these are fairly harmless, such as creatures levitating slightly above the ground or enemies disappearing into rocks, but there are some that are a cause for concern. Some of these result in the loss of the characters’ hands or equipment and, more severely, the game crashing. However, these issues aren’t universal; some players may experience them all, while others may experience none. Along with this, load times are also woeful. Even with the game installed (on the Xbox 360 in this case), load times are much longer than in Oblivion or either of the Fallout games. These problems take the shine off what is otherwise a polished and excellent gameplay experience.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is gaming nirvana. Redefining and reinvigorating the open-world fantasy RPG epic, Bethesda achieves a level of immersion that marks them out as the creators of the finest worlds known to gamers. The progress made from Oblivion is staggering, resulting in a game that is much more focused, streamlined and, most importantly, accessible. Couple this with astounding visuals and a haunting soundtrack, and it’s easy to see why Skyrim has received so much attention. It’s a gaming experience that will delight long-time fans of the series as well as those venturing into this game for the very first time. Simply put, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a master-class in making fully realised worlds that are a joy to play through. It’s not without its problems which will frustrate players to no end, but as a whole, Skyrim is an outstanding game that draws players in and compels them to stay. Try not to feel too disappointed when you have to make that eventual return to the real world!
Wanderson75 rates The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim at 4.0/5.0
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