Gaming My Way

11 Dec

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

It’s been here for a month today. I’ve dropped in 93 hours since release, and done a good number of the questlines, including the main set of quests, of course. And there’s still a ton more left to do, though I will likely do that on a new character, as I’ve already reached ridiculous levels of power on my current character.

And this leads to my first point. Skyrim is designed in a way that your first playthrough is going to last a long time, and then you’re going to want to replay it to do even more stuff that you didn’t get to the first time. There’s a lot of game here, and it’s lasting appeal means you’re getting a lot for your $60.

Of course, a game being long and drawn out is no fun if the game is no good. But this is the Elder Scrolls we’re talking about. Unless you revile the concept of open world games and everything they stand for, of course it’s good. You may quibble about which one you like best, but every one that I have played (Morrowind on) has been a great experience. I’ve found the series has become better with each iteration, culminating in Skyrim being clearly one of the best games I’ve played. Yes, even though you can’t levitate, and there are no Oblivion gates. Actually, both of those help a lot in providing a better crafted experience. Quest markers are nice too, no matter what the Morrowind fans are telling you.

Getting to the meat of things though, Skyrim grabs you right from the beginning. You aren’t stuck in a dungeon following the emperor and killing rats. You don’t have to go through some dumb checkpoint in Seyda Neen. No, you’re about to die by the executioner’s hand, then a dragon attacks, and suddenly you’re fighting your way out of this place you’ve been brought to trying not to be killed by the dragon or any others who would impede your progress. Ah yes, much, much better. After that, you’ll be given some clear direction on where to go to get the main quest rolling, and not long beyond that, you’ll have more sidequests than you know what to do with. And when I say that, I mean in the sense that Baldur’s Gate II threw quests at you, and you would never run out of anything to do. In fact, if you focus on sidequests, you could ignore the main quest entirely and build your adventuring career on everything else you do.

That leads me to something else I feel Skyrim has done very well. The guild quests that I have done so far feel more like stories in their own right, rather than mini-quests meant to supplement the main quest. Playing through the guild quests feels, for the first time, just as rewarding as playing through the main quest. And that is meant to say I felt the guild quests were that good, and not meant to detract from the main quest.

Also, the new character building system is much nicer as well. No longer do you choose to define your character by choosing your primary skills, pigeonholing you into one playstyle. Instead, you just play the game as you want to play it, and your character becomes what you play. This is a very natural evolution of the Elder Scrolls, and one I’m extremely pleased has come to pass. As you level up, you can specialize your skills by choosing perks, but having played the game, you’ll know where to put them based on what skills have been leveling up. It’s a much more natural character generation system than just picking some skills or a class at the beginning of the game.

Moving into gameplay, this translates into you being able to do whatever you want effectively. Until I was heavily invested in the perks and gear I had chosen to define myself with, it was common for me to unleash all my magic at an enemy, then pull out my bow for some damage from afar, followed by mopping up with sword and shield. That could change in a boss fight, where there’s more running, shooting, and nuking, but let that boss get close enough, and you’ll be happy you have that shield to pull out. Moreover, I’ve noticed that making subtle changes to the way you fight a boss can be all that is needed to mean the difference between victory and reloading after an untimely death. Still, these things add a depth to combat that didn’t exist in previous Elder Scrolls games, and that I have yet to experience in any other first person adventure/rpg.

Then there is the newly revamped crafting system. Through most of the game, this system will let you upgrade your gear frequently, but it will commonly be replaced by better gear you find while adventuring. It’s a good balance that makes crafting useful, and keeps exploring fun. As you come closer to maxing out your enchanting and smithing skills though, you will eventually find that it is possible to create sets of gear better than anything you can find adventuring. You will still find single pieces better than any single thing you can create, but having a set of gear designed for one purpose will always outweigh the benefit of having that one more powerful piece. It’s very close to as good as you can balance a crafting system against the world though. Of course, it is also possible, with a lot of time and effort, to break the crafting system and make stupidly powerful gear, but for my purposes, it’s quite balanced, so long as you don’t make the effort to break it. If you are making that effort, you probably like doing that kind of thing anyway, so probably appreciate the ability is there.

Let’s move on though. I haven’t yet talked about the look of the game. Skyrim is hands down the best looking game I have played. It’s a bit dreary, as we are adventuring through the frozen north, but it is also a gorgeous land. Bethesda really outdid themselves this time, truly rendering the landscape as far as the eye can see. If your PC can handle it, they game can, with some tweaking, literally be set to render everything in sight. Otherwise, if you game on a PC like mine, the game is set to render the big stuff you’ll notice, and leave out the little things until you get closer and will actually be able to see them. And like most Elder Scrolls games, if you can see it, you can get to it. No prerendered backgrounds here. Then, there is also now a third person mode that looks good and plays fluidly. No more stiff animations for your character, and with the crosshair remaining on screen, you can still see what you are doing. I still prefer first person, because it is how I’ve always played The Elder Scrolls, but for those who like third person gaming, it is truly a viable gameplay option for the first time. Also, for those playing on PC, like me, there are already tons of texture packs and a couple post-processing mods coming out to enhance the visuals even more. And if, like me, you prefer a brighter look, that is also an option.

The soundtrack is also amazing, which you’ll know as soon as you hear the main theme, a version of which is played not only at the title screen, but also during some dragon fights. While that particular theme is a favorite of mine, the other music is also very well done and suits the game very well. The shift of music between different events is also handled very smoothly, and is done in a way that shifts you into and out of combat appropriately.

Finally, there are the iconic dragon fights. When first starting out, these are what the game is all about. Open world, many of them random, boss fights with the creatures threatening to destroy the world. An awesome soundtrack to go with them. And a good, solid level of difficulty in each fight. Unfortunately, as you become more powerful, even with the difficulty cranked, the dragon fights do eventually become a bit of a sad joke, and more an exercise in farming souls for your shouts. It takes a long time, and doesn’t happen until near the end of the game, but a method of scaling dragon power to level and gear would go a long way toward fixing this. Not a major issue, but it does kill end-game immersion a little bit. In any case, with that bit out of the way, the dragon fights are otherwise an exciting element of the game, and perhaps one of the defining elements, given that the game is built around them. And they play out far differently than any other battle as well, since dragons are the only enemy that can actually fly out of range of your attacks, changing the dynamics of the battles significantly compared to any other fights in the game.

Unless you have something against open world games, there is no reason to not buy this game. In the event you just usually aren’t a fan, you should probably try it anyway, as it really is that good, and will make you a believer. This is everything an epic fantasy adventure should be in game form.

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