Alright, it’s been over a week since my last post, & it’ll probably be sporadic until the new year. Christmas can be a hectic time for everyone (And yes, I celebrate Christmas. If you celebrate it without any religious affiliation, that’s fine. Call it whatever you want, like National Capitalist Day, but leave me alone.) But getting back on subject… I’ve been playing a lot of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. And while I’m by no means close to being finished, I believe I’ve experienced enough of the game’s features to accurately review it. Because let’s face facts, if I waited until I was completely finished I’d never get this done. But let’s look at run down of my experience so far that gives me this qualification (not a complete list, just the more interesting ones):Hours Played: 70 Level: 34 Locations Discovered: 100 Dungeons Cleared: 30 Most Gold: 70081 Chests Opened: 508 Skill Increases: 419 Quests Completed: 21 Miscellaneous Quests Completed: 121 People Killed: 289 Sneak Attacks: 342 Dragon Souls Absorbed: 20 Shouts Unlocked: 12 Times Shouted: 354 Highest Bounty: 12 Items Stolen: 142 Assaults: 23 Murders: 1 Horses Stolen: 1
How to describe the plot of a game like Skyrim? The main storyline involves you, as the main character, being a “Dragonborn,” a person who is not only able to slay dragons but to absorb their souls, learn their language, & acquire the power of the Thu’um, our Shouts. But the dragons are supposed to be extinct, so why are they coming back now? Does it have something to do with a Dragonborn appearing again? Meanwhile, the country of Skyrim is in the middle of a civil war. Several hundred years after the events in Oblivion that left the Empire without an Emperor, the Empire has weakened considerably. After a brutal war with the Aldmeri Dominion, the Empire agreed to the White-Gold Concordant, outlawing the worship of the Emperor-God Talos. Outraged by this act, many Nords have rebelled against the Empire, uniting under the banner of Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak. A man who also happens to possess the ability to Shout, & prior to the events of the game used them to kill Skyrim’s High King. In addition to all this chaos, there are many people in Skyrim who need the Dragonborn’s help, & several factions to join. The Companions, the Dark Brotherhood, the College of Winterhold, the Thieves Guild, the Bard College & the Imperial Legion or the Stormcloaks (you obviously can’t join both) all have their own unique quest lines.
There are too many different aspects of gameplay to properly describe them all briefly in this review. For a better understanding of the gameplay, read my Days 1-5 in Skyrim, where I talk about each aspect in a bit more depth. But in an attempt to summarize, the gameplay is much more streamlined than previous titles. There’s no longer a class system. Instead you earn the ability to select a skill perk with each level up, giving you various benefits. For example, there are perks to increase your inventory, zoom in with a bow, dual cast spells or bribe guards. You level up by increasing your skills… any skill. No longer do just your main skills increase your level. Also, the higher the skill increase, the more you level up. A big part of Skyrim is exploration & making the game what you want. You’re usually given multiple ways to complete quests, & there are plenty of interesting attractions & distractions along the countryside. But probably the biggest new feature are the shouts. When you defeat a dragon, you absorb its soul. These souls are used to unlock Words of Power, which can be learned from various locations & quests. Each shout has three words in it, so three levels to unlock. These offer a variety of abilities, from breathing fire to making yourself a ghost.
Story: At the time of writing, I’ve completed about a third of the main storyline, joined every faction (I picked Imperials over Stormcloaks, in case you were curious), completed the Thieves Guild line & gotten halfway through the Companions line. The main story so far has been very interesting, & I’m looking forward to learning more. I also like how each faction has its own story, so it seems like a smaller part in a larger world. That being said, it is easy to get a bit bogged down by all the quests. A lot of the miscellaneous quests are fetch or gather quests, but sometimes they lead to larger, more involved quests. Most of the characters you meet have their own personalities & motivations, but obviously those who are major players in the story more so than some random NPC in a mine. The game’s new Radiant Story aspect is interesting. In theory, it means an unlimited number of quests. Most of them are simple random quests. For instance, in the Thieves Guild you can randomly get assigned to rob a house. But this does have a few more interesting applications. Like when you take out a Dark Brotherhood assassin & find a letter telling him to kill you, or when a store clerk you robbed hires thugs to attack you the next time you want to shop, or even when the courier dies from a sabre cat attack before he can deliver his message. It makes for some interesting moments. The story in Skyrim is definitely what you choose to make of it. If you’re looking for a game where every story thread is explained & connected, you’ll be disappointed. Not everything is about you, or dragons or even the civil war. If you have an open mind & use the main game as a backdrop, you’ll get more enjoyment than if you go in looking for a tight narrative. Score: 5
Gameplay: A lot has changed since Oblivion, & I’d argue mostly for the better. You have a lot more freedom to define your character’s style. Unlike previous games, there’s no penalty for switching play styles. If you’ve played it straight sword & shield, you can always switch to magic. I’ve tried several different styles, & the thing I like best about Skyrim is that no matter how you play, you still feel bad ass. Whether it’s summoning the dead to mob an enemy, bashing them into submission with a shield, stabbing your dual swords into their heads or taking a boss out with a single arrow from the shadows, there are plenty of cackle-worthy moments. Another feature I really like is that weapons & armor no longer degrade. Instead, your Smithing skill allows you to improve your equipment to higher levels. So no more lugging around tons of hammers. My only complaints are that there’s no active way to improve your Speech skill & Alchemy takes much longer to improve. Mercantile & Speechcraft are combined this time around, & there’s no persuasion wheel, so you can only improve this skill by selling items or the occasional persuade/bribe/intimidate dialogue options. Also, because food is now used for cooking rather than alchemy, you can’t make Restore Fatigue potions to improve Alchemy. And while both changes are logical & good, it does make those skills harder to improve. Also, on my 360 version, I sometimes have issues with the game not registering when I try to select a dialogue option. But I have to give the game a big gold star for doing the impossible & making me actually like follower characters. Normally I travel solo because having a follower is basically a glorified escort mission. But in Skyrim they’re actually useful. Enemies attack them first, they can only be killed by you (which can be annoying if you’re fighting in a dark room) & won’t charge into battle at the drop of a hat. I’ve actually been traveling everywhere with Lydia to play tank to my rogue character. So overall, what few issues I had are swamped by the good. Score: 5
Visuals & Audio: Visually, the game is gorgeous, & not just in pixel count. The world of Skyrim is vast & varied, & a joy to explore. There are tons of small surprises to find. For example, I stumbled across a small ruin with a few skeletons to harass. Earlier I found a puzzle: a broken staircase with a chest locked behind a gate. I had to get the right combination to the stone switches nearby to open it. Neither were on the map, but it’s details like this that make the world come to life. Caves, dungeons & forts all vary is little ways that they don’t look copy-pasted. I’m also glad to see the dwarven ruins back. They’re just so alien compared to the rest of the world that they really feel like they’re from a forgotten time. As far as audio goes, I don’t have too much to say. There are more voice actors this time around, so you don’t have to re-hear the same four voices. Of course there’s a lot of music looping, but it hasn’t gotten to the point that it’s annoying. I honestly don’t even notice the music until it changes because I’ve entered a new area or something’s after me. I do like the Nordic chanting they use for combat & when you’re near the Word Walls, though. Score: 4
Replayability: I’m really not sure how to judge this. The game is so massive it doesn’t make sense to play the whole thing through more than once. Because the game lets you change your style whenever you like, you don’t need to replay it to try a different character class. I’m sure some people will be more than happy to play it over. But when you consider that I’m 70 hours in & still going strong, how long will Skryim last me? So I guess I take away a few points for having average replayability but add some for the sheer amount of time this game will last. Score: 4
Overall Score: 5
Final Words: I read an interview yesterday with Ken Rolston, lead designer from Morrowind & Oblivion, where he compared Bethesda’s game philosophy to that of BioWare. BioWare focuses on telling a tight narrative, while Bethesda focuses on letting the player create his own story. Skyrim is the pinnacle of this philosophy. While the game’s not perfect, if you let yourself get immersed in the world, you’ll find a lot to enjoy.
Title: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Console: 360, PC & PS3
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: November 11, 2011