Review by Ajd_King
"One step forward, two steps back."
Skyrim is the fifth game in Bethesda's decade spanning, award winning 'Elder Scroll' series. All games thus far have been set in the land of Tamriel, one of the world's few continents - Skyrim is no exception, the game taking place in Tamriel's northernmost province of, you guessed it, Skyrim. The player takes the role of the 'Dragonborn', a mortal hero with the soul of a dragon, and must defeat the dragon Alduin. The game itself features just under sixteen square miles of explorable land, hundreds of dungeons/caves/fortresses, hundreds of NPCs and numerous factions.
It is, however, plagued with numerous downgrades and step-backs that might make one sceptical about purchasing such a game.
The events of Skyrim occur 200 years after those of Skyrim's predecessor, Oblivion, in a Tamriel ravaged by warfare, rebellions and political backstabbing. The Empire has waged war against the Aldmeri Dominion and succumbed to their demands, losing much of their power and stability in the process. Ulfric Stormcloak, jarl of one of Skyrim's 9 holds, has taken up arms against the Mede Emperor, leading just under a half of Skyrim in rebellion against what he sees as a dying Empire, led in Skyrim under the military governor, General Tullius.
Adding to the confusion is the return of the dragons. A force led under the powerful Alduin, hell-bent on taking battle to the people of Skyrim, and eventually, the world. Scattered amongst this tale of dragons and warfare are various subplots such as the magical events in the frozen north and the Daedric (demonic) shrines offering rewards to those who complete a task.
On the surface, it looks great. The game is chock full of storylines and potential. Under the surface? Not so much. My main disappoint with Skyrim's story is that you are almost unable to have an effect on anything. Do battle with dragon kind and save Skyrim? No reactions, no consequences, no gratitude, nothing. Defeat either Ulfric or Tullius in the civil war for Skyrim? Guards will change their uniforms and a new person gets to sit on the Jarl's chair. That's it.
In short: It's a pile of bricks. Sure, there are a lot of bricks, but no matter how much time you spend with them they will always be bricks.
Quests and Guilds: 2/10
These are, quite frankly, atrocious. One thing that often got attributed to Skyrim in the months prior to it's release was the now-infamous Radiant AI - a system where quests randomised certain locations/people/items in order to offer a potentially infinite amount of content. However, that's all it did. It will tell you to go to X, kill Y, and talk to Z. There is no unique twist, no original little touch, no enjoyable way to complete the quest apart from mindless running and killing.
There are, however, 'named' quests that supposedly offer more storyline and originality than the above-mentioned 'Miscenallaneous' quests. Bethesda, however, decided that they loved the above system so much they would base 90% of the named quests around the same system. No little touches, no unique ways to complete the quest, no originality, just a storyless grind with a randomised reward at the end.
Coming off the back of Obsidian's New Vegas, a game where even the most basic of quests offered multiple, unique ways to complete them, which all had consequences ranging from noticeable to drastic, you can see why Skyrim's quests are such a bitter disappointment.
On consoles, Skyrim is noticeably dated. 2-D Sprites provide all the ground clutter, as well as anything to do with plants. The draw distance is almost horrific; the world goes from highly animated to a one-coloured mound over about 30 metres. Take Red Dead Redemption as an example. It had an open world as big or bigger than Skyrim's, it had even more ground clutter, and it managed to pull off draw distances that occurred hundreds of metres in the distance. That game came out years ago. On the PC the graphics are significantly better, and Skyrim on ultra settings is a beautiful game.
Animations are still sub par, yet they have improved over the previous game. The races are no longer blobs of flesh wearing clothes, they are all noticeably distinct and all fit their theme borderline-perfectly. Enemies are sleeker, more flexible, and less robotic in their actions, although the occasional animation screw-up is fairly prominent.
Overall, this is one of the areas Skyrim performed reasonably well compared to the previous instalments. That last part cannot be stressed enough. Compared to the majority of other games on the market Skyrim is not a graphical masterpiece, nor is it even up-to-par, but compared to Oblivion or Morrowind, the graphical improvement is significant.
This is one area Skyrim does well. Jeremy Soule, arguably the best musical composer out there for video games, returns and works wonders with the Skyrim's music. The main theme is great, the battle music is intense, the ambient music is peaceful and calming. Not much else to say.
However, when it comes to voice acting it does not perform as well. The game is still plagued by one-voice-races that seem to only know one sentence worth of words, and the majority of big-name voice actors Bethesda hired are generally tucked away in parts of the game where they will not be used to their potential.
Overall, though, still an improvement.
Skyrim is a game where you can do anything. Skyrim is a game that let's you do everything in a single play through. Almost every quest is linear, and the choices you get offered never have any major consequences, if at all. You have the capacity to become the leader of every guild, owner of every home, picker of every flower, and friend to every being in the land of Skyrim. The only reason you would ever need to replay the game would be if you wanted a change in race or sex.
The main, and probably only, reason for the above is that Skyrim simply does not have any consequences. Become leader of the Dark Brotherhood? Every second person seems to know about it, yet nothing changes. Kill a man's wife in front of his eyes with a pickaxe? He'll still talk to you, sell you his goods, and pay you for excess cabbages.
Skyrim makes many positive improvements over it's previous instalments when it comes to gameplay. Combat is now much less clunky, the menus are streamlined and easy to read, the HUD is elegantly simple, talking to NPCs is far more natural, and it all shows as you play through the game. On the other hand, however, Skyrim is still no where near the level other games have reached. These improvements would be good if a new game was released every year, but Skyrim was in development for 3-5 years. Bethesda is still lagging far behind the industry when it comes to gameplay, and it also shows as soon as you play any other game.
Bugs and glitches are riddled throughout this game, and can range anywhere from cheese jiggling perpetually to a save file being corrupted because you punched a door. In a game this size bugs are to be expected, but you can really tell they were pushing Skyrim out the door to make it to release date. If you don't have access to the internet in order to download patches and hotfixes, I would seriously reconsider buying Skyrim.
This is an area Skyrim performed exceptionally well in, aside from some faults that Bethesda appears reluctant to fix. The game consists of many zones, all with unique environments and wildlife. You have pine forests, icy cliffs, frozen seas, autumn forests, snowy tundras, craggy rocklands, murky swamps and a gargantuan cave filled with flying jellyfish. All have their own stories, denizens and items. The game is also jam-packed with dungeons and fortresses that are a godsend to adventurers and explorers, many with little hidden touches that give each it's own unique feel.
That said, Skyrim still has some pretty major flaws that appear to be getting worse. The cities are now less in number and far smaller than Oblivion's, which were in turn a downgrade from Morrowind. The cities are still walled off by loading screens, as well as houses, shacks and most other buildings. Gone are the days of randomised, on-the-fly NPC dialogue, all conversations are now scripted. The game still lacks the potential for large-scale battles, giving the impression warfare is made of up 10 guys whacking each other with swords.
Skyrim is a game that had the potential to be a masterpiece. It's set in a world filled with great story, packed with content and Bethesda had some of the best people in the business working on it. However, they failed to capitalise on what they had.
While improvements were made in certain areas, the developers allowed some aspects to stay unimproved or even worsened. As a fan of this series since the days of Morrowind, I can honestly say this game was far worse than I hoped for and expected.
I encourage people, however, to purchase the game. Yes, the game has ended up as a disappointment in my and the majority's eyes over the long term, but the first few weeks of playtime are incredibly fun, and you will no doubt get more bang for your buck in that period than most games offer in their entire lifespan.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 03/01/12
Game Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (AU, 11/11/11)
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