The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda
Price: $60.00
Platform: PC, PS3, & Xbox 360

Skyrim is a slow game. It rewards curiosity and exploration with valuable enchanted weapons/armor or with a quest that will have you starting out in a drinking game at the local inn, then waking up halfway across Skyrim and having to retrace your steps in similar fashion to the movie The Hangover. Players who simply speed though the main story and call it a day simply aren’t getting the full enjoyment you’re supposed to out of an Elder Scrolls game. When I noticed I had clocked in 35 hours into the game in just 3 or 4 days I had realized that I hadn’t even finished a quarter of the main story quests (I had done maybe 3 out of the 15+ quests that make up the main story). Each time you tell yourself that you’re going to do a certain quest or finish that dungeon you forgot to clear, there will always be something miniscule to distract you that might range from a dragon fight to simply noticing something in the distance and wanting to see what it is. Hell, there are even things you won’t even find in your playthrough until a friend mentions it to you. My friend has double the playtime I do right now (he’s pushing just over 100 hours) and I consider him a bigger expert on the game than I since having more playtime surely means he has to have seen most of everything that I haven’t. It took me to mention how to reach Blackreach, a Dwemer ruin/city, to him for me to realize that even he (with his double playtime) missed out on a massive quest and one of the most gorgeous dungeons I’ve ever had to pleasure of killing stuff in. Although I suppose nothing gets better than entering a town, witnessing one of the many random dragon encounters and joining the city guard in showing it that it shouldn’t fuck with regular folk.

Skyrim opens up in traditional Elder Scrolls fashion with you as a prisoner solemnly waiting for your turn on the executioners axe. Conveniently, a dragon shows up to ruin the party. After a short ‘tutorial’ on the controls you’re basically thrown out into Skyrim, Fallout 3 style. I didn’t really feel awe when I was thrown into the wasteland like some of my friends were in Fallout 3, but when I took my first steps into Skyrim all I could think about was how gorgeous the landscape looked. After finding your way to the first town you’ll soon find out you’re a Dragonborn, a human with the soul of a dragon. You’re special because not only can you absorb the souls of dragons you kill, but you can also learn their language in the form of shouts. Shouts give you various effects such as weakening enemies, turning you invincible, freezing enemies, breathing fire, summoning thunderstorms, or even calling your own dragon to help you out. Each shout has 3 words that make up the full shout and you use the souls of dragons you kill to unlock each word. Bethesda decided that since Skyrim is a pretty big place they’ll just leave all 20 shouts (60 separate words to actually find) scattered around the world on “Word Walls”. If you happen to come across one of these word walls you’ll be able to instantly acquire that word and keep it if you can either kill the dragon guarding it or run away (note: you just get the word, you still need to unlock it with a soul). Once you gain the second or third word in a shout you can hold down the button on the controller/keyboard to do a more powerful shout. A quick tap simply does the first word, hold that sucker down and you’ll let off a fearsome bellow with the rest of the words. I recommend finishing the main quest up until you need to acquire a horn for the mountain men since that gets you the fully unlocked ‘Fus Ro Dah’ shout from the original Skyrim trailer. The first two words simply stun enemies, but that third word will send them flying. You having troll problems? Fus Ro Dah his ass off a mountain. Got a giant problem? Lead him up a mountain and Fus Ro Dah his ass off. Got a pile of cheese wheels in your house that are too neatly stacked? Fus Ro Dah that cheese all over your room. Even though Skyrim is a bit smaller than Oblivion (map), the game just feels larger. While Oblivion had dull quests with a few spotlights, copy/pasted dungeons, and dull NPC’s Skyrim throws you into a world ravaged by dragons, a civil war is dividing families, you’ll help the Dark Brotherhood rise back up to glory, the thieves guild actually feels like a thieves guild, and you’ll help a guild of werewolves fight against their longtime enemy.

Now of course there’s some combat to be done in this game so let’s get into that. If you played Oblivion you know what to expect with the melee combat in Skyrim and the magic system. Things feel a little more refined though, but it’s ultimately the same hack/slash system as before. The biggest addition is being able to dual wield two different weapons (unfortunately not two shields), which means you can roll with two axes, a shield+mace, two spells, or a spell in one hand and a sword in the other. You can mix up whatever you want (even staffs) besides the 2 handed weapons of course. Spells have a fantastic Bioshock look to your hands by having a unique effect for most spells appear in your hand while you’re just standing around. The spells have also gotten an upgrade in effect when you use them from Oblivion and are much more exciting to use this time around. There’s even a skill you can later gain that allows you to perform a more powerful version of a spell if you dual wield the same one and cast them together. You don’t know how awesome it felt to walk into a room full of enemies with the Mace of Molag Bal in one hand and an upgraded flamethrower spell in the other. It was like a symphony of violence. You can also randomly pull off brutal kill animations similar to the slow-motion kills of Fallout. There are two or three different animations for each weapon type, more if you add in the decapitation skill so you shouldn’t get tired of seeing them anytime soon. Exploring for a while can get you pretty annoyed with wolves after a while, so when you watch your character pick up a wolf by the neck them crush its skull with your mace it leaves a big smile your face. You’ll notice that you do have less armor pieces that you’re able to equip, but that change is pretty hit-or-miss with Elder Scrolls fans (personally, I don’t mind it). You’ll come across your basic hide, iron, or steel gear and then enter manhood when you deck your character out in ebony or dwarven gear. All the weapons and armor pieces are beautifully modeled and it’ll make people such as myself want to view them all (and by view them all I mean leave them in a pile in my cheese pile room).

People might have thrown a little hissy fit when Bethesda revealed the removal of attributes, birth-signs, and major/minor skills but you’ve got to trust me when I say they didn’t really remove them. Birth-signs have been replaced with the guardian stones that are found around Skyrim and each one gives a blessing similar to how the birth-signs behaved. The difference here is that you can change what stone you want whenever you want. Bethesda has taken their perk system from Fallout and implemented into the skills. Instead of selecting your major skills and those half dozen skills being the ones that level you up, all skills equally level you. You’ll notice you level faster this time around than in previous games since every skill you use is contributing to your level. With each level you’ll be able to pick whether you want to increase your magic, health, or stamina and given one perk. These perks are then spent on skills within each skill tree like increased 1-handed damage (in the 1h skill tree) or improved sneaking. The removal of attributes does feel like a kick in the RPG balls, but instead of putting points into strength you’re spending perks on skills in the 1h or 2h weapon tree to improve your damage. Bethesda has removed the attributes screen and blended it into the skills without it feeling weird. The game caps your level at 50, but all that affects is that you won’t gain anymore perks for any levels you gain past that. You’re still free to keep leveling your skills after you hit 50. The other fantastic thing is that you aren’t forced to spend your perk the moment you level. You can just horde a couple points if you can’t decide what you want to spend them on and them cash them into skills whenever you feel like it. It does feel a bit disappointing that I can’t make an overpowered character like I did in Oblivion, but this forces you to make choices about how you want to play this game like most RPG’s do. You’ll also be able to find skill books like in Fallout that raise your skills up a level once read.

Some of the newer minor additions to the game are companions that can follow you around. Don’t expect these characters to be brimming with personality like Fallout’s companions, but it is nice that you don’t have to trek through those dark dungeons alone. Marriage is a new addition and you can have your husband/wife cook you food, give you items, or even set them up with a job so they can bring in some extra gold. There’s more of a feeling of being a part of the world with the addition of jobs as well. You can help cut wood, mine, or mill which can help put a little weight in that gold purse of yours. One small thing added to the quest journal is the separation of small quests with the bigger ones. Smaller quests that can be done in half an hour are grouped into the miscellaneous folder which really helps keep your already large quest list a bit smaller. The UI is also really slick and quick/easy to navigate which is a welcome addition. Houses now have usable weapon racks and mannequins for your armor so you can proudly display your hard earned loot without having to sit there for an hour fighting with the shoddy ‘pick up’ button trying to put your items on display like in previous games. I’d say my favorite house addition are the bookshelves that can be ‘activated’ which opens up your inventory and you can select what books to place on the shelf. The best part is that you can still read the book while they’re on the shelf without putting it into your inventory or messing anything up. I’m sure I’m not alone when I used to spend ages sitting there trying to neatly put books on shelves.

Skyrim of course isn’t late to Bethesda’s bug party, but bugs in a Bethesda game is pretty much expected. I had my game freeze twice on me, once in Helgen during the tutorial when you have to jump on the inn roof and right before the end of the tutorial when you exit the cave into Skyrim. Ever since then in my 50+ hours I haven’t encountered a single problem which I’m going to thank the gaming gods for. I suppose this is a blessing I’ve been given after the punishment I supposedly deserved when I played Fallout 3 and had constant freezes, framerate drops, or losing save files. There is a pretty big bug going around on the Playstation 3 version when your save file gets over 6MB. Players are saying their games have become unplayable with severe framerate drops and not being able to turn in quests. My file is getting close to 8MB and haven’t had any sort of issue yet, but I felt it was necessary to mention this. Hopefully Bethesda fixes this instead of ignoring it like a certain vampire quest glitch in Oblivion.

Everything in Skyrim has gotten an obvious bump in quality from Fallout 3 and Oblivion. Characters actually have some detail to them, proportions are correct, you can actually make a pretty good looking character, and even though most textures are all flat you barely notice it when the game is in motion. I know many people will still criticize the game for looking a bit dated, but considering the massive world Bethesda has created I’m pretty impressed with how it all looks. The biggest improvement is obviously in the armor and weapon detail. They’ve added a zoom option in the menu so you can rotate/zoom into whatever piece of armor or weapon you want. It doesn’t stop there though, since you can now look at the dozens of different food, ingredients, miscellaneous objects, or even read books. I can’t imagine the sleepless nights fun the art team had doing all this.

I’ve always considered The Elder Scrolls series to have a great soundtrack, but Skyrim’s thundering music is probably my favorite of the series. The feeling you get when you walk into a town to pick up something from the blacksmith, hear the roar of a dragon and the panic of the villagers, then pull out your mace (any other weapon is for babies, except maybe warhammers) as the dragon fighting music starts playing is one I’ll never get tired of. Bethesda did bump up the quality of their voice actors by hiring more than triple the amount they had in Oblivion (pretty sure they had less than 20 guys doing voices in Oblivion). Everything feels more natural and stopping by to listen to the NPC chatter actually feels like chatter you’d hear in real life, unlike the forced dialog Oblivion suffered from.

The Final Word
Is Skyrim a perfect game? Far from it, but it is one hell of an excellent entry into a franchise and easily one of the best games put out this generation. This is something that will keep you itching to finish one more quest or clear that last dungeon to score some fat loot that no game out this quarter will be able to satisfy. I’m a huge Batman nerd/fanboy, and since I got my PS3 fixed I haven’t been able to actually sit down and finish Arkham City because I’ve got a case of the Skyrim fever. Just go buy this game. Or go steal it, but if the police ask why you did it tell them Will sent you you didn’t get any ideas from me.

– MonsterVine Rating: 5 out of 5 – Excellent

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