It’s finally here! The Elder Scrolls is one of the most highly-acclaimed series ever made, and the fifth game in the series, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, blew us away with its early game footage. Promising to improve on the superb freedom of play, engrossing story, and deep, fully-explorable environments of its predecessor, Oblivion, expectations were certainly high. And thankfully, Bethesda Softworks has followed through on its promises, delivering the best experience the series has offered thus far.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review (PC/PS3/360)
November 27, 2011 By 1 Comment
Skyrim’s story picks up about 200 years after the events of TES IV: Oblivion. Skyrim, the home of the tall, honorable Nords, is thrown into turmoil when a rebellion breaks out. Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of the city of Windhelm, murders the High King and attempts to usurp his throne, with the intent of seceding his province from the Empire. While the Imperial Legion tries to quell the rebellion and restore peace, an ancient evil threatens the whole of Skyrim; dragons, thought to be a myth at this point, begin attacking towns and forts across the Province. Your character, thought to be in league with the Stormcloak Rebellion, is able to escape execution when a dragon attacks the fort of Helgen, and in a similar vein as the other games in the series, a series of consequences propel you to be Skyrim’s, and indeed all of Tamriel’s, only hope for survival. As the prophecized “Dovakiin”, or Dragonborn, you wield the dragons’ own powers against them. You aren’t limited to this pivotal storyline though – there are factions to join, such as the stalwart Companions and the mages’ College of Winterhold, and you can even choose a side in the Stormcloak Rebellion and fight for Skyrim’s place in the Empire, or a Skyrim for the Nords. Fighting for Ulfric is a bit strange if you play a non-Nord, but the Rebellion takes all comers and the story behind it closes this loophole.
Bethesda made a smart move advancing the story so far into the future from Oblivion; while it makes references to events in The Elder Scrolls’ past, it is its own self-contained story, and will be easy to follow for new and veteran players alike. However, for those who have played the other games in the series, some new elements will be confusing and will require a bit of research to get a full understanding of, such as the circumstances behind the outlaw of Talos worship and the Empire’s surrender to the new Aldmeri Dominion, a force of allied High and Wood Elves who went to war with the Empire. These clues are peppered through dialogue within the game, and will eventually be fully explained if you take the time to talk to people and read the dozens of books found in the game. If nothing else, Skyrim does a great job of explaining the lore of the world you’ll be a part of. You’ll also truly feel powerful as the Dovakiin of legend, and using a dragon’s powers against them is just plain fun, and makes you feel powerful.
The characters you’ll meet breathe even more life into the world you’ll explore, and behave more realistically than ever before. People will go about their daily routines while talking to you, and many have jobs; smiths work the forge, cooks serve food and operate a cooking pot, and merchants mind their wares and stand ready to catch any potential thieves. Characters are much tougher to distinguish this time around; rather than have a set voice for each race, all races now share a set of voice actors. This may be a bit disconcerting to veteran players, who won’t be able to distinguish a Breton from an Imperial by voice alone, but in the end it really helps make the world much more believable.
There’s so much that can be said about the story and the world itself, but to put it simply: it’s breath-taking, and you’ll sink hundreds of hours into exploring this lush, vibrant world.
Historically, the previous Elder Scrolls games had some gameplay elements that were more fun than others, and to get the most out of it, players had to develop their character carefully. Skyrim makes a strong attempt to break away from this line of thinking, and successfully creates a character system where a player can be successful no matter what style of play they choose. New to the series is the ability to equip weapons, shields, and spells into each hand individually; go ahead, dual-wield an axe and a sword, or a mace and a flame spell, or even a spell and a shield! The possibilities are many, and really help make a character feel versatile. A player might keep a sword in one hand to deal with mages and more fragile enemies, while swapping out spells in the other to exploit enemies’ weaknesses to elemental damage, or to throw up a ward to block magic damage. A player can easily swap between frequently-used weapons and spells with the new Favorites menu, allowing the player to quickly use and equip their most frequent items. It’s possible to add any item or spell to this menu, and provides a lot of convenience. Additionally, the races of Tamriel have seen a major overhaul for the better. Although some races are more well-suited to certain playstyles, it’s possible to be successful with any race and class combination. From a heavily-armored Khajiit warrior to an Orc wizard and everything inbetween, Skyrim encourages players to experiment and play the way they want to play. Racial abilities are also much more streamlined, and can be activated on the fly without tying up a spell slot.
Oblivion’s skill system has also been overhauled significantly; players no longer define a class at character creation, and instead begin with every skill at 15, not including racial bonuses. Skills are split up into Combat, Magic, or Stealth schools, and there are six in each category. They’ve also been streamlined, with weapons being split up into one-handed, two-handed, or archery, and the Mysticism school of magic being eliminated completely, with its spells distributed into the other five schools. Even more exciting is the addition of “skill trees”, allowing a player to pick bonuses to their skills as they level them up. This significantly defines a player’s class, and allows them to play exactly the kind of character they want to. Perks might increase damage done by spells or weapons, improve items that a player can craft, or enhance their stealth abilities. The upgrades are frequent and noticeable, and allow players to set goals to reach; it’s never boring and help keeps the game fresh throughout.
Speaking of crafting, alchemy and enchanting return, allowing players to create potions and poisons and magically enhance their equipment. The Repair skill from previous games is gone, and is replaced with the Smithing skill. Now, players don’t have to worry about equipment degrading or breaking, and can focus on improving them with bought or acquired reagents. Smithing perks even allow players to craft their own items and improve them beyond an ordinary smith.
Aside from the elements discussed above, combat remains somewhat consistent with the rest of the series. Enemies put up a decent challenge and will sometimes require specific strategies to defeat efficiently. Dragons are the perfect example, and will constantly move, fly around, and use breath attacks against you. These encounters will happen randomly and will really keep you on your toes while adventuring. The game also carries on the series’ tradition of scaling with your level. However, some areas will always be easy or hard for your level, and help keep you grounded. Overall it’s a good decision, and it prevents you from feeling unstoppable without making you feel limited in what you’re allowed to explore. It’s a little dull to expect an even encounter in every new dungeon you explore, and mixing up the challenge level helps keep things fresh. One small problem is the sometimes hit-and-miss behavior of your AI followers; they’ll sometimes be inches behind you and block doors, requiring some fine maneuvering to fix (or the use of your FUS-RO-DAH dragon shout to knock them out of the way).
But perhaps the best thing about Skyrim’s gameplay is the fact that there’s just so much to do. Granted, even if you didn’t have A.D.D. like me, you’ll be in a constant process of getting side-tracked during quests. A Dark Brotherhood assassination contract might lead you to a character asking for investigation into a conspiracy, which could then lead to a locked door with many treasures inside, etc. The game follows this pattern constantly, and it’s amazing. A focused player can ignore all these possibilities and go for the main quest immediately, but the game doesn’t punish you for exploring along the way; on the contrary, it rewards a curious playstyle. Dungeons, more often than not, offer great rewards at their end, and might even include a side-quest with a backstory. Skyrim even includes a random quest system, providing an endless string of things to do when nothing else presents itself.
What all this boils down to is that Skyrim, more than any of its predecessors, is just plain fun, and provides a rewarding experience for all the hours you’re sure to sink into it.
The game’s graphics are some of the most impressive you’ll see this season. Environments are believable, characters look more real than ever, and lighting effects are stunningly realistic. One of the most interesting effects you’ll notice is how your character’s eyes adjust to changes in light. Moving from an indoor to an outdoor area will blind you momentarily as your character’s eyes adjust realistically. Weapons and armor shine in appropriate lighting, and characters’ expressions are incredibly life-like. You’ll feel a spell’s impact as they hit your enemy too – Flames will dance and ignite, sparks will light up a room, and lighting casts shadows against objects around you.
The game’s art direction is incredibly delightful, and is a treat to the eyes. Based loosely on Norse architecture, towns and dungeons have a unique design that evokes realistic feelings about the areas you’re exploring. Stone walls and arches will evoke a feeling of security in towns, while cold stone and curves hide monsters that could be hiding around each corner in a dungeon. Even more impressive is the fact that the game’s system requirements aren’t too high – even playing on the game’s “low” settings looks great, and will be a relief for those who don’t have a hardcore gaming rig. Console gamers, of course, don’t need to worry about this detail.
As we at Gamers Xtreme know, a game’s sound and music can make or break a game’s immersion. Thankfully, Skyrim fails to disappoint, and delivers a rich audio experience on every level. The talented composer Jeremy Soule returns to develop Skyrim’s soundtrack, and hits all the right notes at the right times. The soundtrack’s overall theme maintains the fantasy feel the series is known for, but provides just the right overtones to accentuate the arctic, Norse-inspired environs. The music itself is beautifully composed and performed and will stick in your head even after you stop playing. Outdoor songs promote a feeling of freedom, city themes evoke safety and civility, and dungeon music is mysterious and makes you feel wary about what might be around that next corner. The combat themes are especially noteworthy, and up the tension to the point where every fight feels meaningful and suitably epic. However, nothing beats the music you’ll hear when fighting dragons; music is loud and epic, and a chorus rolls off lyrics spoken in the ancient dragon tongue. The soundtrack hits every note perfectly.
Sound effects and voices are also well-done. Some players might remember Oblivion’s hit-and-miss dialogue (ESPECIALLY with Redguards!), but have no fear – every character is believable and has a suitable voice to match. Important characters have unique voice actors as well; General Tullius of the Imperial Legion, Ulfric Stormcloak, and one of your early rescuers, Hadvar, are especially well-done. The variety of voices you’ll find in Skyrim really help to paint a picture of its diversity; it’s not simply a land full of barbarians, but a civilized, vibrant, and cultures world with many types of cultures rolled in. The weapons and spells also sound the way you’d imagine. Chills will roll down your spine when you unsheathe a sword or ready your Sparks spell.
Overall Score: 19/20 = 9.5 out of 10
Skyrim is the complete role-playing experience that we’ve all been waiting for. Solid gameplay, a rich and epic story, and a deep, vast world to explore come together to make a game you’ll have trouble putting down as soon as you pick it up. The Elder Scrolls is a very influential game series, and Skyrim continues this tradition admirably. Though you’re likely to find some bugs early on, Bethesda and other players will find way to plug those holes. Once you enter the land of the Nords, you’ll never want to leave.
+ Overhauled and refined combat system is fun and rewarding
+ Epic storyline puts you at the center of a world-changing conflict
+ Rewards exploration, and constantly gives you things to do
+ Beautiful visuals and audio create a realistic, life-like world to explore
- Some bugs at launch