The Elder Scrolls series of RPG’s is a highly regarded one which has developed a huge fanbase over the years. In Bethesda’s fifth installment to the franchise, Skyrim, fans have been clamoring at the chance to battle magnificent Dragons and pursue the great storyline the Elder Scrolls games deliver.
I’m also betting that since its release on November 11th many employers have had more than a few employees calling in sick with the Skyrim flu for extended periods of time in order to devote massive amounts of time to the game.
So lets take an in-depth look into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and see if it lives up to the hype!
The story of the game takes place in the province of Skyrim of the world of Tamriel. Skyrim is currently in a state of turmoil as the High King has recently been assassinated. Set 200 years after the Oblivion, you start off in the game yet again like every other Elder Scrolls game as a prisoner. I mean seriously Bethesda, is this the ONLY starting storyline setting you can come up with? You’re about as bad as Nintendo when they continually decide that Bowser has to be the end boss for every Mario game.
Anyways you eventually escape when a dragon attacks the Imperial-held village you’ve been brought to too be executed. You’re also presented with your first path choice in the game as you can either follow the Imperial soldier you were following or follow the Stormcloak soldier that was riding with you in the wagon. Upon escaping you embark on your new journey and life in Skyrim and you start receiving your first quests and missions. As you make you way to the first major city of Whiterun you set forth on many quests given by NPC’s and the ability to join certain factions in the world. From the very onset you learn that there is a civil war brewing in Skyrim due to the assassination of the High King, and NPC’s and Jarl’s of cities have their own opinions and what side they support.
After completing a few tasks and missions in Whiterun, a dragon begins attacking the outskirts of the city oand once you slay it with some of the cities soldiers, you will absorb its power revealing to yourself and your companions that you are a Dragonborn; a person born with the blood of Dragons with the ability to shout and use dragon abilities.
The ancient prophecy of Skyrim forteold of the return of the Alduin, the Nordic god of Destruction, who takes the form of a gigantic dragon. As the last of the Dragonborn, you are tasked with stopping Alduin from destrying all of Skyrim and Tamriel.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim continues its tradition of nonlinear open-world gameplay and the province of Skryim is massive. As you travel across the countryside you will encounter many cities, towns and people. The game provides the player with total freedom to do and progress as they want too at their own pace. There’s no demands on what quests to complete first nor any level restrictions on where you can travel too, although you may run into enemies that will smack you down faster than you can say RUN!
There’s an overall main storyline quest of working towards stopping the elder dragon Alduin along with the civil war quest line. There’s also an immense amount of additional side quests to take on. In fact you can literally play Skyrim forever as new side quests will continually be created through its dynamic mission creating system they’ve built into the game. New quests and missions will be made available depending on your location and what places you have yet to explore. Also the factions you choose to join will also have repeatable quests you can take once you’ve completed all the main quests for that faction.
Of course being a role-playing game it involves earning experience and leveling up your character as you fight enemies and perform various tasks. Skyrim does away with the class system used in its previous games of the series and allows players complete control on how they want to play and upgrade their character. Upon earning enough experience to level up, you are presented the option to upgrade one of your three core resources, Health, Magika and Stamina, and then choose a Perk in the available skills and attributes. There are a total of eighteen skills and attributes to choose from ranging from magic schools, combat schools, crafting, thievery, speech, etc. Reaching level 50 slows down the rate of experience significantly indicating that is most likely the max level Bethesda wants you at to complete the main quest, but you can still continue to level up.
Its unfortunate that Skyrim continues along the same path of pausing the action to open up the menus and items in order to use a heal potion(s). Its game and immersion breaking as we are supposed to believe that you can magically stop the entire world and enemies attacking you while you sip a bunch of potions healing you to full and then restarting the world and engaging the enemies again at your full renwed health. I can’t understand why Bethesda is still using 1990′s design concepts in 2011.
While the inclusion of “Favorites” for weapons and spells is a nice addition, it is a bit clunky and still pauses the action that immersion breaks in order to set your favourited abilities and weapons. I’m not sure if some of the lack of innovations for this new title was due to the console systems, like lack of using the number keys in the PC versions to swap weapons, but that could have been addressed with perhaps a weapon wheel or something similar. I would have liked to see something from them that didn’t break up the gameplay giving a more real feel to the game.
Additionally I’m going to rag on the fact that Skyrim feels much like an Oblivion clone with updated graphics. Sure there’s a new story and some refinements to the game, but overall Bethesda didn’t break away from the core design elements of Oblivion and even Morrowind. Its not a totally bad thing but it would have been nice for Bethesda to break away from the standard mold of the series and innovate on its core concepts.
Let’s now delve deeper into some of the individual gameplay elements this game has to offer.
There are several races to choose from that the world of Tamriel has to offer. Creating your character is much quicker in this latest Elder Scrolls installment as you won’t be spending time selecting your major and minor skills this time around nor will you be choosing a class. Instead you’ll be picking a race which will have a specific racial bonuses, and then customize the look and name for them.
Race choices are Argonian, Breton, Dark Elf, High Elf, Imperial, Khajit, Nord, Orc, Redguard and Wood Elf. Some racial bonuses may indicate that they are better suited for a certain class playstyle. For instance the Nord is more melee focused with their bonuses and the High Elf is more magical focused. But no matter your race choice you can still choose to play the way you want to with your selection.
All your major decisions for skills and classes will be taken care of later as you progress and level up through the game via the Perk trees. All the choices are open and the Perks you choose will define the class your character will be which gives the player complete freedom to play as they want.
Since one of Skyrim’s biggest strengths is the ability to play the way you want too, there are several different styles of combat that come from the weapons, armor and Perk choices. At the very core there is melee combat which makes up one-hand weapons and shield, two-handed weapons and bow-and-arrows. You can also choose to be a spell caster and focus on using magical abilities in combat. And you can even choose to go a hybrid route of using a one-handed weapon or shield in one hand and a spell in another. You also do not have to stick to a single style as you could develop a hybrid combination of all as you progress though quests and missions.
You assign weapons and spells to each of your characters hands which also further adds to a robust variety of combinations you could choose from. You’ll have a left and right hand attack button which will use the weapon or spell equipped to damage foes. If you have a shield or two-handed weapon equipped, you can block incoming attacks and prevent some or all of the damage.
Melee combat moves rely on the Stamina resource with many of the power moves taking away a significant amount of it. Power moves are done by holding down the attack button longer, but it does also sacrifice aim, time and protection of yourself while doing so. In addition to attack swings you can defend yourself from incoming attack either by using a shield or your weapon to block. Each weapon type, one-handed, two-handed, has its own skill level rating and earns experience the more you use it, for instance fighting with a two-hander will increase that skill over time increasing your effectiveness with those types of weapons and opening up higher perks.
One of my favorite moments in melee combat happens when you perform a finishing move which slows down the animation and even the sound of your enemy dying. The finishing move varies for each weapon you wield, like the mace which will deliver a few skull crunching blows to the great sword being used to impale your foe, lifting them in the air as they slide down the blade. They don’t happen all the time and when they do they’re quite satisfying.
Spells & Magicka
Similar to weapon combat you assign spells to your hands to cast them on foes. There are a total of eight-five different spells that you can to learn that span across the five separate disciplines of Destruction, Restoration, Illusion, Conjuration, & Alteration. Each discipline lends to a different type of spells in what they perform from direct damage to healing. The more you use spells in a discipline that make use of its effect, the higher you will level up that discipline opening up more powerful spell effects like increased damage, critical strike damage, etc. Learning new spells comes from purchasing or looting spell books to learn the ability.
Spell casting relies on the Magicka resource which will replenish over time when not in use. Potions can be consumed to increase the rate of regeneration or instantly add to the resource pool as needed. As you level up your character you can also choose to increase the amount of this resource by increasing the Magicka stat.
As a Dragonborn your character has the ablitiy to learn many abilities that the Dragon’s possess. They are called Shouts and in order to perform them you will need to learn the words in Dragon language. As you explore certain dungeons you will discover various Dragon language words inscribed into walls that will teach you a word of a shout. But learning the words is only the beginning as the player will need to slay a dragon in order to absorb its soul in order to activate it.
There are a total of twenty different shouts to discover and learn, each with their own levels of power based on the amount words you learn for that shout. Similar to melee combat the longer you hold down the Shout hotkey, the more words will be used that increases the power of the shout. The Dragon shouts also use up a separate power resource which regenerates over time and is indicated in your compass as it regens. Only one shout can be active at a time with many being situational and requiring you to switch between them to make the best use of them.
Crafting plays a pretty important role in Skyrim as many of the trades will assist your character greatly from providing beneficial effects like buffs to weapons and armor to crafting potions. There are no restrictions on the crafting system and you are allowed to craft and master in any and all of the trades you choose to develop.
Alchemy – This is your potion making trade that allows you to craft many different potions buffs, healing and damage.
Cooking – Allows you to create many different food items that provide a variety of player buffs
Enchanting – This trade provides beneficial enchantments to your weapons and armor
Smithing – This crafting trade creates weapons and armor as well can buff weapons through sharpening, etc.
Each crafting system is fairly straight forward and explainitory showing what materials you’ll need to craft an item. If you have all the materials available you’ll see the item displayed in white, but any missing materials will show them greyed out.
Skills and Perk Trees
In the Elder Scrolls games there are always a large amount of individual skills and attributes your character will have available to them that will earn experience the more you use them. Skyrim does away with locking you into choosing some of these skills from the beginning as well as it has simplified things a bit more. Skills like Intelligence and Acrobatics have been removed and or condensed into other skills. While I generally do not like it when developers simplify their games, these few removals are quite welcomed.
For each skill and attribute that you have, there is an experience bar and level attached to it. The more you perform and use them, the more experience they will gain and level up as long as they make use of their ability. For instance with spells, simply casting them doesn’t increase their experience. They have to use their effects, so for a Restoration spell if you heal yourself up from damage, it will increase the experience level of it. The same goes for weapons as they have to damage and kill enemies in order to level up.
On top of these individual skill levels Skryim makes use of an extensive Perk Tree system which has every available skill and attribute available to choose special perks for them. These Perks add extra abilities and effects to your skills as well as it can define the specific playstyle class you want to play. For instance each Spell Discipline can be opened up within the Perk Tree if you want to pursue a spell caster class. Perk trees are also dependent on the level of your skill before you can choose some of the higher perks.
Its a pretty neat looking system using Star Constellations to path out the Perk trees, but can be a bitch to navigate at times. I also felt a bit overwhelmed at first with so many options available to choose from, but thankfully you can bank Perk points until you figure out what paths you want to take.
Houses & Marriage
Within the country of Skyrim and its various towns and cities, you will come across the opportunity to purchase personal housing. These houses gives the player you a place to call your own where you can store weapons and items without the fear of them being stolen. As well they provide free places (after the purchase price of course) for your character to rest instead of staying at an inn. Along with purchasing the actual houses you also need to furnish them at the cost of additional gold. These furnishings are sold in packages based on the area of the house, and are a necessity to outfit the house with storage, cooking fires, weapon racks, etc. They’re more money pits than anything but what else are you going to spend your fortunes on?
Skyrim also introduces marriage to the game series for the first time as the player character can find a mate during their travels. The system is not that robust and there isn’t any extensive ‘romance system’ used. Basically upon receiving the Amulate of Mara and wearing it, the player indicates that they are looking to get married. From there as you wander the world wearing the amulet, various NPC’s that have expressed some sort of interest in your character, either from the race or faction you represent, or from deeds that you completed for them may open up additional dialogue options that pertain to marriage.
Quests and Missions
There are two main story questlines in Skyrim; one involving the civil war and your Dragonborn one. There are also several side quests and missions that you can partake in as you come across the various NPC’s in the world asking for your help. There’s no distinction between main and side questlines in the journal, but with so many of these side quests being linked to your main storylines they never feel unnecessary or pointless.
You’ll also come across several factions in Skyrim that you can join up with. For instance The Companions are a fighter faction which you can join up with and partake on their many missions. Other factions like the Dark Brotherhood of Assassins or the Thieves Guild presents different alignment choices to how your character may be perceived in the world.
All the quests and missions you accept will be tracked in your Journal and you can can activate or deactivate their tracking on the overhead compass location to reduce the clutter and focus on one quest location at a time because you will have a ton of open quests available a majority of the time. The fast travel option in the map to travel between places you’ve discovered is a great touch if you’re pressed for time or do not want to make the long haul.
There are plenty of dungeons to explore with many of them being tied to a quest. There is plenty of variety to the designs and enemy NPC’s to battle within them. You’ll also encounter various death traps and puzzles that you will have to solve in order to proceed. The puzzles aren’t too hard to figure out and the recurring use of the moveable picture stones generally have clues close by that will help you to solve it. Sometimes personal letters, journals or items that you loot or pickup will give the solution to the problem.
At times going it alone might not be the best solution. In Skyrim you will be given the opportunity to have companions join you on your journey. Early in the game when you are made a Thane of Whiterun, the Jarl grants you your own personal housecarl Lydia. She will follow by your side wherever you may go and will lay her life down for you. She also makes a good mule and can carry excess items if you become encumbered.
There are other companions you will come across as you make your way through the game with some requiring gold to be hired on. Each companion is a different class and fighting styles making choices in companions important in order to compliment your fighting style.
One of the main drawbacks of companions is they can be pretty damn stupid alot of the time and they tend to move directly in the path of your attacks on enemies which can end up having you accidentally killing them. All companions can suffer permadeath but usually they will drop to their knees and recover before dying off as NPC’s tend to avoid hitting them again to finish them off. The majority of the final blows end up coming from them being stupid and getting in the path of your weapon, so be sure to save often incase they get a case of the stupids.
To be Good or Bad
As you explore the countryside and embark on missions you will be presented with many different choices on whether you will be a do gooder or choose to commit evil acts. For instance coming across travellers can present the option of killing them for fun and looting their bodies to saving and freeing prisoners. Your acts will reflect how your character is treated in the world and you can even end up in jail time for your crimes.
At one point in my travels I came across a few travelers heading to a nearby city. One of the travelers told me he had gifts to give when he arrived. A dialogue option then came up that had a reply “I’ll be relieving you of those gifts”. This definitely adds to replayability as you could easily play different ways in separate games and explore good and evil choices.
Perhaps one of the most exciting moments in Skyrim is when a dragon swoops down to attack. The dragons in Skyrim are randomly generated across the land and can strike at anytime in your travels. The first Dragon you fight is a scripted encounter but everyone there after is random. You could be in the middle of traveling to a town or fighting a pack of bandits when one of these massive beasts swoops down to try and fry you to a crisp. I think one of the best design elements to Skyrim is that when these fearsome creatures do appear, enemies that were attacking you will turn to attack the greater threat of the Dragon.
Dragons come in a few different colors and have different strengths and abilities. They are limitless in their numbers with some being named dragons and a bit tougher than the normal dragons. There are certain locations in Skyrim where there are dragons that are guarding secrets and will block entry until you slay them. Of course since your character is a Dragonborn each time you successfully slay a dragon you absorb their power and soul. This will power and activate your newly acquired Dragon Shouts so you can be able to make use of them.
Overall dragons can be pretty tough to kill but quite fun doing so. You’ll need to be adequately prepared to heal yourself as you battle these massive beasts or you won’t be successful in downing them. The fights themselves can get a bit repetitive and predictable as they use the same attack patterns of swooping around and breathing down from the sky a couple times before landing for a little bit, then taking back to the air to do it all over again. However the various terrain differences in Skyrim does spice things up a bit in being able to do different hide and attack tactics.
A Country In A Box
For all of the many core concepts of Skyrim that revolves around Bethesda truly did box up an entire country. Beyond just the combat and questing and everything I’ve gone through thus far, there’s a plethera more of things that can keep you busy. You can spend hours to days just farting around exploring the world, grabbing butterflys as they flutter by, eating their wings (which actually opens up a receipe), to killing groups of bandits or murdering innocent travellers. There’s not pressure to pound through the storyline missions to complete the game as fast as possible. You truly can do what you want when you want, and you can reap the rewards or suffer the consequences of your actions.
User Interface and Menus
When exploring and fighting in Skyrim, the UI is nicely laid out and minimal providing maximum screen real estate to the action. During combat sequences your three resources, Health, Magicka and Stamina are displayed at the bottom of the screen and any weapon enchantments will have their level displayed above the stamina bar.
Bringing up the menu overlays four main choices of Items, Skills, Magic and Map on the screen. The main menus for items and magic flank either side of the screen with the map and perk skills will open up separate window for them. Since Skyrim was made with the console systems in mind they are a bit clunky in design requiring left and right direction presses to expand and contract them. Overall they flow nicely but when it comes to the PC version of the game, no tweaks or enhancements were made to make the experience better.
Aesthetics & Sound
Skyrim is a truly beautiful looking game on every system its available for. From the landscape and buildings to the running rivers and waterfalls the world of Skyrim is truly breathtaking. The character modeling is very nice and in particular the horse that you can purchase, although the physics of said horse leaves one to do crazy things in the pursuit of humor. All the animations from combat and spell effects to riding your horse across the country side is great. There are a few glitches here and there where items will appear in NPC’s hands seemingly out of nowhere and a few of the combat.
The Dragons themselves are astounding in design and are perhaps the best looking thing in all of Skyrim. Just don’t look at them too long or they’ll eat your face.
The voice-over work is pretty good with many of the main characters you speak too delivered well. There are a few conversations that aren’t voiced as well as others but overall they’re fine. One really annoying part of Skyrim is when you walk past NPC’s, they rattle off the same lines over and over again. I think in the first 15 minutes in Whiterun I was wishing Bethesda would have allowed me to punt the kid in that said he wasn’t afraid of me. I thought it would have been a great lesson to teach the little twerp.
One drawback is that your character remains a mute yet again with no voice at all expect for the few attack and damage grunts during combat. I’m not sure why Bethesda would spend so much on voicing every other character you run into but continue to lack in the main protagonist voicing. They realistically only needed a single male and female voice for the player character in order to deliver a better gaming experience.
The musical score is phenomenal and really makes the game that much more enjoyable when you’re just exploring the world.
- Fantastic Storyline
- Great Gameplay
- Dragons bitches!
- Enormous world to explore
- Massive amount of quests to complete
- Ability to play the way you want, no distinct class choices
- One of the best looking games of all time
- Swapping items/weapons/spells requires pausing the action mid-fight
- Plays and feels a lot like an Oblivion clone with few innovations
- Some bugs and glitches
- Player character isn’t voiced
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a fantastic RPG game with an insane amount of hours of gameplay. The storyline in Skyrim is excellent and fighting dragons is a pure delight. There is a massive amount of content to consume with plenty of variety in quests and missions which may seem overwhelming at times with the sheer amount of them in your journal to complete. The game is absolutely beautiful looking and the dynamic weather environments producing rain and snow at various times feels quite natural.
While Skyrim is a completely new entry to the Elder Scrolls series and isn’t a direct sequel to any of the previous games, but I couldn’t help feel at times that I’ve played this game before in Oblivion, now with updated looks. This mainly comes from the fact that nothing really innovative has been added over its predecessor in they style of gameplay, particularily the combat. Like Oblivion and Morrowind, you can only have two active attack abilities at a time with no real ‘on-the-fly’ switching between abilities and weapons. I had hoped the favorite system would have addressed this but it only results in pausing the action resulting in an immersion break. Also using the stall menus to heal up to full with potions seems too game breaking and unrealistic and really takes away from the experience on how great this game really is.
Also I wasn’t too thrilled with the fact the player character wasn’t voiced. It takes away from the immersion a bit and I can’t really think of any valid reason why Bethesda didn’t include this in today’s standards of fully voiced games. I mean it can’t be that hard to come up with a male and female voice talents to voice the game when you’re already boasting 70 different voices to the various NPC characters.
But despite these few quibbles I have with the game, I am still quite enjoying Skyrim and I highly recommend it to anyone that enjoys RPG’s and The Elder Scrolls series. While I may be harsh at times and always sticking to the points of wishing for innovations, its mainly due to the fact that I want to see franchises and games expand on ideas and push gaming forward rather than sticking with the same formula forever resulting in stagnation and boredom.
This game was also particularly hard to score for me as I hadn’t reviewed a huge RPG like this with my current scoring metrics system. I had to borrow many things from my separate MMO review metrics in order to accurately score this game since my first score with the lesser metrics came in at 7.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review,