Review by Flare_Dragon123
"Does Skyrim live up to the hype? Detailed Answers here."
Come one, come all, the early and belated and starving fans of RPGs, be they W or J, if you've been missing masterpieces like Fallout, or been aching for a version of Oblivion you don't have or want to mod the hell out of, if you felt New Vegas did or did not hold up to your tastes, if you've needed a sandbox that didn't disappoint and allowed you to roam free and do whatever you want to do, be it for imaginary profit, the fulfillment of your deepest fantasy desires, sit back and enjoy because more than likely Skyrim will fulfill every last one of those desires.
Given the extensive amount of media coverage of this game most of its basic features will be known to people: the fact that you can now dual wield anything (minus shields), mix and match any one handed weapons or spells, two hand spells for increased effect, skills that now have talent trees a la Diablo or World of Warcraft, crafting abilities, Dragons, and the mystical new abilities of Dragon Shouts, should all be well known to the average portrayer of gaming news, so more or less there's one thing that this review is going to be answering and that is the following question:
Does Skyrim, hype and all, truly deliver on the fundamental basis of providing a fun spiritual follow up to this generations hottest RPGs (namely Oblivion and Fallout 3)? Is everything I've been excited about just as well executed as I've been hoping?
Well readers, allow me to explain.
The Dual Wielding Anything Equipment System
Skyrim's system of allowing anything that fits into two hands and comfortable evolution from the strictness of Oblivion, and namely the lack of being able to dual wield swords for a more typical Roguish build. Now on paper, the ability to use two swords (or a sword and an axe, or a mace and an axe, or whatever combo you can think of) sounds like a good deal, mainly though in gameplay, the lack of a block button will call for you to want some speed in order to dodge the enemies, and let me just say, that this is very difficult to do.
Skyrim has enemies that are faster and smarter than the blow for blow almost, in retrospect, turn based style of combat that Oblivion held. In Oblivion melee combat was all about holding up your shield, waiting for your enemy to hit it and stagger so you could power attack. It was a very formulaic style of combat, and whether you were fighting humans, trolls, or demons from another realm, this style did not change. Block, Stagger, Attack, was the name of the melee game.
Melee in Skyrim is about what you are fighting. There are so many enemies I can't comfortably cover them all. However, you are no longer confined to this style of melee. Sneaking is still an option as always, and sneak criticals have received massive boosts (such as dagger sneaks being a 15x multiplier (given you've taken the correct Talent)), but even without sneak, if you maneuver yourself correctly you won't even need a shield to dominate an opponent. Now while you could've done this in Oblivion, you can actually dominate an enemy, shield or no shield, without needing them to go about staggering themselves. Power attacks are fulfilling and take of large chunks of health. And if you're opponents are weak enough you will get an instant kill animation a la Fallout 3 (and just as in Fallout 3 this can get repetitive and invasive, although it doesn't seem to have lost its charm on me yet).
So that's melee, how are spells?
Spells now are somewhat confusing and I'll explain why. At the start of the game you get your obligatory fire spell and healing spell (I'm not sure if this was established in Morrowind or Oblivion, but it's a tradition Bethesda is keeping) and you may be confused about why both seem to be magicka draining over time spells. In other words you hold the button and flames or healing pour out of your palms. You wonder at first where your projectile spells have gone, leaving an early mage to be exposed to the new fast running power attacking enemies that Skyrim throws at you. It also comes as an unpleasant surprise that Dual Casting (note: not Dual Wielding) spells is a talent that has to be bought individually for every school (though that is reduced down to five now). And even when you do get it, the affect of Dual Casting is not explicitly detailed anywhere. I can't tell what the difference is between having two hands simultaneously pouring flames over my enemy, and having two hands touching at the wrist pouring flames over my enemy is, because I certainly can't tell on the enemy health bar.
Perhaps it's more notable in Projectile spells that are charged up and cast as opposed to ones that are continuously cast.
So that covers most of the dual wielding system.
Skills & Talents
There are 18 skills in Skyrim, and you'll have the fun of your early levels figuring out just what you want to do. Skyrim has done away with both Stats (Strength, Endurance all that junk) and Classes, so your freshly made character has only racial bonuses to think about when deciding how to specialize (and if you pick a balanced race such as Dark Elf, you have the freaking world to decide). Each Skill has a minimum of 5 talents (the small block tree) to upwards of ten (mostly spell trees, or anything where you can specialize above and beyond (think fire damage boosting)) and those certain skills will have ranks as well (one-handed, two-handed, and both armor skills have 5 rank talents that eventually increase your effectiveness with those weapons/armors by 100%). The exact number of skill points one gets in a full build is still confused and undecided amongst gamer base (before game release it was believed 1 point for levels 1 50, now I've heard reports from 50 100).
How are the crafting professions? A breakdown shows that Smithing is very easy to grind (all items grant similar amounts of skill gain, so making a thousand of the weakest bracers makes one suddenly very adept at crafting Daedric Armor (though you have to take the right talents to craft that). Cooking has several different recipes available from the start and no governing skill, so you can cook what you want to your hearts content, and considering the vast vast vast vast amount of food items in the game I still wonder why carrying 30 50 pounds of food only lets me make vegetable soup twice. Alchemy as it has become is a bit difficult and a bit frustrating. All the ingredients for Alchemy that you find have up to four possible effects that you can use at any time while you gain skill points in Alchemy, however until you actually succeed at making a potion with two ingredients that have the same effect (and thus can make a potion) those effects are hidden to you. There is a talent in the Alchemy tree that allows you to learn effects by eating, and I'm curious why that was not a basic feature. It really stinks to have 30 50 pounds of ingredients (look if you go around picking up everything you're going to have a lot of stuff plus houses are expensive and merchants are cheap) and coming out with a maximum gain of 2 3 Alchemy Points because 90% of your experiments failed because you have no idea what the effects are. But it's still a fun way of doing things, and better than the simple grind back in Oblivion.
That just leaves Enchanting. In order to Enchant you must first disenchant an enchanted item (probably found in your dungeoneering exploits) so that you can gain the knowledge of the enchantment and therefore apply it to other items of your choice.
The world of Skyrim is more massive than you first comprehend. When you look at the map and see how quickly you can scale your first valleys and mountains, you'll be surprised by the amount of evident progress you've made. However a few things block this sense of freedom, and I worry that in the long run, this will likely be the bigger complaint on Skyrim in general.
Remember Fallout 3? Where you could essentially enter anywhere at any time, but the further away from the central hub of the world map the more leveled and thus tougher some dungeons were? Fallout 3 had even more scaling in it than Skyrim has. Skyrim has an element of scaling, but it's a small one that affects maybe two to three encounters per dungeon. If you stray too far at too low a level you will be punished if you try to dungeoneer. In one extreme case, my attempts to reach the Mage Guild ended in my being murdered in the snow, a few moment away from my glory by malevolent ice spirits a little too tough for my level 15 character (it was a sad moment). So in places the difficulty is some what land locking, meaning that if you start multiple character you will experience the same dungeons multiple times, and this can have a negative impact on future replayability, but hopefully I am simply sensing this issue as of right now and it does not end up being as bad as I think it is. I mean after all, I can still comfortably make a twentieth character in Fallout 3 and still enjoy going to Megaton for the first time.
Hey guys, remember the fast travel system from Fallout 3 and Oblivion? At the start of this game while you have all the markers for the capital cities, unlike Oblivion you can't travel to them before you discover them. However, they did helpfully include a cart near most of the capital cities that will take you to any capital for an amount of gold, thus looping through the instant fast travel to anywhere.
Personally I'm confused as to why this is included because it seems like they were emphasizing being the appropriate level before travelling far and wide. But whatever floats their boats, Fast Travelling to capitals, IS STILL AVAILABLE, just castrated somewhat at the start.
So in the end, does Skyrim live up to its expectations? The execution of actual gameplay components, will never ever come out the way a developer makes them out to be. In the media they use flowery language to sell us games of lackluster quality by making their features sound big and important (I am staring directly at you Fable series).
Skyrim is not that game. If anything Skyrim has been a game that has lived up to and settled my expectations. Even if flaws arrive Skyrim has taken everything we loved about Oblivion, Fallout 3, and some snippets from Dragon Age, and mixed them together into what can only be called the penultimate Western RPG experience, and definitely my vote on Game of the Year. And barring another even more impressive sequel, first actual vote for Game of the Decade.
10/10 If you aren't playing this, you aren't gaming.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/18/11, Updated 11/22/11
Game Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (US, 11/11/11)
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