Review by Bkstunt_31
"An in-depth look on what you can expect out of this fantasy sandbox."
Does this game even need an introduction? It's The Elder Scrolls after all... the series known for how utterly big and free-roaming their games are, and this is the FIFTH game in the series! I'll save some readers a little time right off the bat: If you played and loved The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, you'll love Skyrim. Go get it. Trust me. This review is for those people who aren't QUITE sure if they want to pick up Skyrim or not... I'll tell you everything you can expect out of this game from the good to the bad and then you can decide whether to pick it up or not.
Like most Elder Scroll games, your adventure starts out with you as a prisoner (I KNOW Morrowind and Oblivion had you start out as a prisoner, so it's a running theme by this point). You are under suspicion of being a horse thief and are taken to a nearby city and, in a fine example of bureaucratic incompetence, you will be ordered to be executed. Wonderful! Of course it'd be MUCH to short of a game if it ended within the first 15 minutes so instead your execution will be interrupted by a dragon attack, and while the dragon tears the city a new one you will be frantically trying to escape. After the attack, the main quest will have you investigate the return of dragons to the world of Tamriel, leading you down a story of personal discovery and a fight to save the world of Tamriel as you know it.
The absence of any kind of back-story is once again Skyrim's biggest story-related flaw (I said the same thing about Oblivion). However, like Oblivion, the game is just MASSIVE. You have excellent story lines that you'll get to witness first-hand as you play through the main quest as well as the Thieves Guild, The Companions (The Fighters Guild), The College of Winterhold (The Mages Guild), and the Dark Brotherhood. That's just the beginning though, as you'll come across literally dozens and dozens of smaller, self-contained stories while playing through the game. I've personally played the game for about 140 hours and I'm STILL finding new stories and quests to play through. Many of these stories tie in with one another as well, and what you do on one side of the world may very well affect somebody else on the other side of the world.
On top of the appreciable amount of LONG story line quests and the MASSIVE amount of quests in the game, you also have HUNDREDS of books to read. Now, most gamers that I know would never actually READ these books while playing (or at most they would read one or two) but there is literally an entire library's worth of knowledge and stories to be read through if you were up for it. Many of these books are quite good, actually. You also have a much-more improved NPC interaction system, as MANY NPCs (not all) have personal agendas and "favors" they want you to do for them. All in all, despite the lack of a back-story, the story lines and sheer amount of quests in Skyrim will delight any story-lover.
Game Play: 9/10
Skyrim does a lot of things differently than Oblivion... for example, the biggest change has to be the fact that you can equip whatever you want in either hand (and then use them with L1/R1). You can mix magic in each hand and use them simultaneously to cast fire and ice spells. Or you could use a sword and shield. Or maybe you'll use some two-handed weapon, like a bow or a great sword. There are a LOT of ways to equip your character. And like previous games in the series you can switch between a third and first-person viewpoint, which is neat since every single piece of armor you equip changes how you look. Speaking of how you look, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the character creation system is back. When you start a game you'll pick your character from a number of races (which dictates their bonus skills and feats) and then you'll be able to tweak them to your liking.
Leveling up is also remarkable different from Oblivion. In Skyrim, there are a total of 18 skills, ranging from things you could do in any town (like SPEECH, PICK-POCKETING, or ALCHEMY) to combat skills (like ARCHERY, BLOCKING, or SNEAKING). Instead of the game making you pick what skills you want to excel in, you'll have a single LEVEL UP bar instead, and each time you increase your skill level in ANY skill your LEVEL UP bar will increase a little bit. SO, with a system like that, you will naturally level up as you play and level up any of your skills. Each skill only levels up when you USE it. For example, you can only level up your CONJURATION magic by casting spells from that school of magic. Or you can only level up your HEAVY ARMOR skill by getting hit while you are wearing heavy armor. This system also makes it entirely possible to level up multiple times while doing nothing but hanging out in any of Skyrim's multiple cities, but you have to be careful that you don't only focus on non-combat related skills for extended periods of time! Each skill also has a skill tree that you can spends PERKS in (you gain a perk every time you level up) to learn new moves and skills, giving the game much more of an "RPG" feeling.
The game's combat system varies widely depending on your play-style. I feel that the combat has been vastly improved over oblivion. Enemies tend to rush you if you are a ranged attacker (meaning backtracking while in combat it less effective). Melee users have special skills they can acquire with perks to augment their basic hack and slashing strategy. Magic users can power up and overload their spells by spending their perks wisely. Those of you who prefer stealthier methods can upgrade your sneak skill to virtually be able to disappear MID-FIGHT, and can then upgrade your sneak attack skills to do MASSIVE damage. Skyrim gives you the freedom to do all these things, with your only limit being the amount of perks that you can possibly obtain as you play.
The game play options don't stop there though. You can also delve into crafting skills (cooking, alchemy, smithing), learn Dragon Shouts (which are tied into the main storyline, but give you special abilities), find and travel with companions and even get NPCs to train you in skills. You can even buy houses and get married! There is just SO much to do in this game that it is ridiculous. However, not EVERYTHING is peachy. Skyrim, like most Bethesda titles, has quite a few bugs and glitches in it. I've heard of people encountering problems that stop them from completing entire quests, companions disappearing, and necessary items being impossible to find. There's also the entire issue of the game becoming EXTREMELY slow as you play for long periods of time (your save file grows to be 10MB+ and then it seems that any time you play for more than 2-3 hours, the game punishes you by getting extremely slow). The game is still very play-able, and I myself haven't come across ANYTHING game breaking, but the possibility is always there, so be sure to SAVE a lot.
Skyrim is simply beautiful. There's really no other way to say it. I've been to over 200 locations in the game (as you can imagine with how long I've played) and I've seen the MOST fantastic sites. The game is just filled with fantastic scenes and locales. Skyrim itself is nothing more then a region of land in the world of Tamriel, and it is located to the far north, so as you would suspect vast sections of the land are just COVERED in snow. There's snowy tundras and a TON of mountainous regions, all with snaking paths leading up into the mountains. However, there are also grasslands, swamps, and forest regions to explore and admire. The game also has a ton of dungeons, and in a VAST improvement over Oblivion, almost every dungeon is DIFFERENT than the one before and unique in some way. I've found entire forests inside of caves before, as well as sprawling dwarven ruins. Just beautiful!
Animations can be pretty choppy at times, but item and character designs are nothing short of excellent. Like I mentioned, everything you equip (or your companions equip) is displayed, and you can even view and rotate items in your inventory. Skyrim also specializes in the little details, which really helps immerse you in the game and doesn't go un-noticed by this reviewer. There may be the occasional choppy animation and occasional graphical glitches, but the sheer beauty and attention to detail in the game more than makes up for those minor annoyances.
Jeremy Soule returns to compose the soundtrack of Skyrim (he had previously done the soundtrack of Oblivion). The soundtrack is primarily composed of a bunch of orchestral tracks. The main theme is a chorus with an orchestra, singing in the game's made-up dragon language (which is catchy and awesome). The rest of the track is rock-solid, with a LOT of catchy pieces that will get stuck in your head. The soundtrack has a lot of soft, sweeping melodies that provide a great companion piece to exploring the world. The fight music is awesome, and even some of the dungeon pieces add so much depth and atmosphere to the game that you'll just get sucked in.
The voice-acting, all-around, is fantastic. There are a TON of voices and voice talent in the game, but even I'll admit that some of it is just... cheesy. Some of the dialog is repeated and sounds bad when you hear three to four people say the same things over and over. However, there is a TON of dialog in the game and the VAST majority of it is not only well done, but also at times changes based on current evens. Heck, you can even have a special weapon or item equipped and people will COMMENT on it. Now THAT is attention to detail, even in the voice acting department.
If any game is going to give you your moneys worth (outside of an MMO or perhaps an online shooter like Battlefield 3) it's going to be Skyrim. There is just SO much to do in this game. Hundreds of locations, hundreds of quests, and dozens of ways to play means that you are going to spend a LOT of time with this game. And you can even start multiple games with different races if you wanted. SOME of the quests in the game (a vast minority) require you to choose a single side or person to side with, and can give you some sort of a reason to play a different character, but I think the perk system and how you spend your perks is a better reason to try a new game with a new character. In the end though, Skyrim has outstanding (and undeniable) re-playability just due to how massive the game is.
Overall, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the perfect game for anyone interested in a fantasy sandbox. It's not perfect in and of itself by any means, but the pros vastly outweigh the cons. It has been years since The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released and you can TELL that Bethesda has taken massive strides to improve their product. You're going to spend hours upon hours in Skyrim if you choose to, so hopefully this review gave you all the facts you need to make that decision. Have fun and keep playing!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/04/12
Game Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (US, 11/11/11)
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