Review by Sir Chris
"The Sky is the Limit."
There are certain games that serve as benchmarks for genres even years after their release. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim makes a compelling case that it could be the next game to do just that. The region of Skyrim is not only big on paper, but serves as an even bigger place to roam and to settle in to as the game is played. Without a doubt, there has never been a game as fully imagined as Skyrim.
The game places you in humble beginnings. You are, to no surprise for people familiar with the Elder Scrolls series, a prisoner when the game begins. Events unfold, a dragon tries to eat you, and suddenly you are a prisoner no more. This is where players will take note that Skyrim conducts itself a bit differently than previous Elder Scrolls series because the places you need to go to progress the story are nearby. Skyrim sets the tone early that it is going to be paying more attention to the main storyline than in previous games and it will lead you around for the first few hours of the game until you are well grounded and ready to take up your destiny. When the shackles come off, shackles that you won't even know you are wearing because the immersion never wavers, the game truly begins to shine.
The main storyline, like the other games in the series, is only the tip of the iceberg. It will continually bring you to new and exciting parts of the world if you follow it and from there the temptation to stray from the path is too great to resist. You don't have any reason to feel bad though, because while the dragons are the main objective of the game there are plenty of vampires, necromancers, and undead to slaughter to make the world a better place.
Like most games of the genre there will be simple fetch quests and missions with brief objectives. Befitting their nature, these tasks can be found in the Miscellaneous section of your quest log where only the barebones details are displayed such as look for this with a marker displayed on your map. Stories of greater importance, including the main storyline as well as major side stories such as the guild quests and several others of their type, get quests with as much description and background information as the main quest itself. These quests can be viewed for sub-objectives at any time in the quest log to check your progress or looked at after completion if you want to reminisce about past conquests. There are nine major cities throughout the game that each have their own major storylines to work through that is completely independent of the dragons that are running amuck throughout the world. It all feels very natural when put together. The dragons are feared and could possibly signal the end of days, but that will not stop the civil war that is being waged for all of Skyrim, nor the many rebellions and fights for survival in the outermost reaches of the land. It will be up to you to end the conflict one way or another. Perhaps the most interesting of these quests is the choice to either join the rebellion, the Stormcloaks, or to help the empire retain control. You will have a meaningful impact on the world with the choices laid out in front of you. The world is yours to shape how you please.
The game introduces a completely new style to level up your character: the Perk system. You gain experience towards the next level by taking action. Using magic, using weaponry, even things such as pickpocketing and successfully creating potions. Enemies dying and completing quests themselves do not give you experience, but it is the actions you take in completing them that reward you. Unlike previous games you won't be restricted to just a few major skills that dictate how you gain levels. Once you gain a level you can place a point in one of Magicka, Hit Points, or Stamina which increases the pool of said stat by ten. You also gain one point to put into a perk of your choice. Perks increase the usefulness of one of your trees. For example, the first archery perk grants the player twenty percent more damage when using a bow. As you go further into a perk tree the advantages grow larger ranging from making spells more powerful to being able to create the best armor in the game with blacksmithing. The perks are rather passive though and do not offer new abilities often; they merely augment the things you can already do. With that said they are another way to completely customize your character and make it unique. The level scaling from Oblivion has also been heavily reduced. While there are still some leveled pieces in the game, with the new perk system it no longer feels like a punishment to level up. While some powerful creatures will level with you the rewards of the deepest part of the perk trees ensure that those foes stand no chance against the power you will wield.
New to the game are the Dragon Shout abilities. Scattered throughout the games many dungeons are tablets that have on them words written in the dragon language for you to learn. Once learned the words are unlocked by spending a dragon soul, gained by defeating any dragon in the game, to grant you powerful abilities that can exceed anything else in the game in combat worth or utility. One shout freezes enemies in front of you solid for several seconds while another can be used to blow enemies, as well as hapless NPCs if you are so inclined, far away from you.
The combat is rewarding no matter what type of character you choose to create. If you put the time and effort in any type of combat will do your hard work justice. From destroying your enemies with lightning bolts, to summoning something to devour everything in sight, to a good ole hammer to the face, the combat allows you to feel empowered. There is no wrong way to build your character in this game and the combat reflects that well. You could play this game for hundreds of hours and never get bored of using the tools at your disposal.
Bethesda redid the graphics engine from Oblivion and this is evident from the start. The character models are much improved, with much more variety. However it is in the environments that Skyrim shines the brightest by not shining at all. The world of Skyrim has been coated with a very fine coat of dullness that makes the game much more beautiful and unique than anything else out there. Instead of trying to make everything glossy the world has a sense of coldness about it that perfectly matches the setting of the game. If you have a powerful machine to run the game at max settings you are not going to be disappointed by the visuals, which are bar none the best of any open world game to date. There is one spot in the game where there is a roaring river and if you look at the river at just the right angle you can see a flowing undercurrent that is traveling the opposite direction of the prevailing current on top of the river. The little details like that are what set Skyrim apart graphically. Unfortunately there are several minor glitches and graphical issues that pop up now and then in an extended play through. Textures that will sometimes not quite be right even on the best settings. It is a very minor flaw and frankly one that almost has to be forgiven with all of the amazing art direction and technical prowess the game wields otherwise.
The immersion would not be complete if Skyrim did not offer a beautiful soundtrack to go along with the rest of the game. Fortunately there is no reason to worry about that because it has one of the most beautiful soundtracks to date. The music in the game is breathtaking and adds so much to the game. If you close your eyes in the middle of an open field, assuming a dragon doesn't swoop down to eat you, it is easy to forget you are playing a video game and not listening to a new take on classical themes. The music is almost always on point and along with much improved voice acting allows Skyrim to sound amazing at every turn.
Skyrim is not a perfect game, but it is as close as can be reasonably expected for such a massive game world. In time all of the issues for the PC version will either be patched away with minor fixes or mods will be created by the player base to enhance an already amazing game. The parts that make up Skyrim are good to great, but when everything comes together as it so often does in the game it creates an experience that is unforgettable. If it is possible there is almost too much to do in this game, as it practically floods the map with dungeons, forts, and caves for you to explore and to clear out in the name of adventure and loot. If you were not a fan of previous entries in the series do not let that deter you from buying this game. It is leaps and bounds ahead of even the much heralded Oblivion in almost every way. If you are a fan of the series you have no excuse not to pick up this game and shout your way into history. There be dragons on the horizon; you alone spell their doom.
Score: 9.7/10 which rounds up to 10/10.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/18/11
Game Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (US, 11/11/11)
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