Review by Raganork10

"Skyrim is a phenomenal game, marred by an aging combat system and lackluster story"

Bethesda's latest entry in the Elder Scrolls series is both epic and thoroughly entertaining, but is Bethesda's formula of allowing the player to do whatever he/she wants is starting to grow a tad bit stale? Let's find out.

STORY:

Like previous Elder Scrolls games, the main plot comes second to player exploration. There is a rather interesting story to be found in Skyrim, although Bethesda won't be winning any awards for their writing in this game. The plot revolves around the mysterious reappearance on dragons in the Nordic land of Skyrim, and you, a prisoner, like previous Elder Scrolls games, must save the land from the dragon threat.

The great thing about Skyrim is that you can completely disregard the story if you want, and opt to do side quests for townsfolk instead. Most sidequests are pretty forgettable, with most involving going to a certain area to kill a certain enemy, or to recover a certain item. However, there are a handful of interesting side quests (most notably the Daedric Quests) that are both fun and rewarding. In fact, many unique pieces of equipment can only be obtained from completing certain quests.

If you choose to do the story missions, expect to be a bit disappointed. There are hardly any interesting characters to be found and most missions are extremely repetitive. In Oblivion, there were some memorable characters like Emperor Uriel Septim, Baurus, and Martin. In Skyrim, I can't recall the name of a single character that was vital to the main quest save for the main villain, Alduin.

That's not to say that there are absolutely no memorable characters in Skyrim, because there are memorable characters in this game. For example, there is a crazy jester that you encounter in the Dark Brotherhood, and a lot of the characters in the Companion's Guild will suddenly become interesting when they reveal their secret to you. I just wish that the main quest had more interesting characters like Morrowind and Oblivion.

The guilds are back and in full force. Each guild offers a handful of entertaining missions to partake in, but before long your time with the guilds will come to an end. Most guilds offer only a few hours worth of missions and end too quickly. I wish the guilds had more quests to do, since the guilds are infinitely more entertaining than the main quest.

SOUND:

What would an Elder Scrolls game be without an amazing orchestral soundtrack? When a dragon attacks, the music amplifies and becomes more intense. When you explore the beautiful landscapes, the music takes on a more gentle tone. When you explore damp, murky caves, the music dies down to let you hear the dripping of water down the cave walls. You can hear the footsteps of lurking enemies as you sneak around the cave and, when an enemy spots you, the music will pick up and become intense, reminding you that you are surrounded by danger. It's this kind of sound design that really draws the player into the game and makes exploring that much more enjoyable.

The sound effects for spells are also great. Fire makes a singeing noise when it makes contact with enemies; lightning bolts cackle as they arc through the air; ice imitates the sound of intense winds gusts as it strikes the enemies. For swords, you can hear the scrape it causes as it tears through an enemy's flesh, and you can hear the loud chiming noise it makes when the sword hits solid materials.

Voice acting is also significantly improved from Oblivion. There are more than 4 voice actors this time around, and it makes having conversations with NPCs less redundant. Although there is no Patrick Stewart this time around, the voice acting has been greatly improved as a whole.

GRAPHICS:

For such a massive game, Skyrim runs quite smoothly. There is virtually no lag, which is quite a feat considering you can run from one side of the map to the other without encountering a single lag spike. There is a bit a texture pop-in when you explore the outdoors, but that's to be expected since the world of Skyrim is enormous.

Character models have been given a complete overall from Bethesda's previous game, and characters look pretty damn good this time around. Females actually look attractive this time around, and the lip synching is spot-on for the most part.

Weapon models look crisp, armor pieces are intricately detailed, and the particle effects for spells are very good.

The environments are breathtaking. Some areas are littered with trees and grass, some are drenched in snow, and some are surrounded by huge mountains. Standing at the top of a mountain and just looking at the surrounding landscape is just so memorable, and it's a feeling that is achieved thanks to Bethesda's insane level of detail. Yeah, Skyrim may not have the amazing textures that other games have, but this game has environments that surpass most games by miles.

GAMEPLAY:

Anyone familiar with any Elder Scrolls game should feel right at home here. That is to say, the combat has not changed. You can choose to be whatever you want in Skyrim: a thief, a warrior, a mage, an assassin, a marksman, whatever. And while it is undoubtedly fun to use whichever weapons you want, the combat in Skyrim has not improved from Oblivion's.

If you choose to be a melee-focused character, expect to experience some rather bland combat. Most battles will consist of mashing the Right Trigger until the enemy dies, with almost no strategy required (save for the occasional swig of a health potion). I went for the two-handed route and the game was so easy that I had to bump up the difficulty to Expert just to give myself a bit of a challenge. If you play the game on the easiest setting, it's almost like the game is playing itself.

This is because of the abundance of health potions in the game. You find health potions literally everywhere: in closets, in bags, on tables, in barrels, everywhere. As long as you carry a sufficient number of potions with you, you will never die. There is no cool-down for potions and there is no limit to the amount you can carry, so that means whenever your health drops, you can just drink a potion and get right back into the combat. The same can be said of magic and stamina potions. Low on magic or stamina? Just drink a couple of potions and you'll be fine.

Bows have seen a bit of improvement in Skyrim. When you fire an arrow, it soars through the air in a clean arc until it hits an obstacle. It just feels so good using a bow in Skyrim. You can now zoom in on targets and slow down time to line up your shot, which definitely makes using bows all the more enjoyable. Unfortunately, bows are overpowered in this game, even on Master difficulty. So much so that I had to handicap myself from using them to make the game more difficult. If you attack someone from the shadows with a bow, you score a critical-hit multiplier. Couple that with the ability to enchant you bows with elemental properties, the ability to poison your arrows, and the ability to drink marksman-boosting potions, and you can pretty much kill any enemy in one hit.

I know some people will say, "Well if you don't like it then don't use it," but that's a childish excuse. Bows, swords, and potions are in the game for the player to use, and I enjoy using all these things. Is it my fault that all these things are overpowered? Maybe I want to use a bow and arrow, but I don't want to kill everyone is a few hits. Some may argue that the game is trying to be realistic, but that's not the case. This is a fantasy game. If the game was trying to be realistic, there wouldn't be magic, dragons, and evil mechanical spiders that shoot electricity, now would there?

The only real major improvement comes from spells. Spells are easier to wield in Skyrim, and the particle effects for spells are astounding. Switching between several different spells on the fly feels so good, and it makes combat feel more engaging.

There are a few new, great additions to the game. Leveling up is no longer the chore that it was in Oblivion, and there is now a perk system. Whenever you level up, you gain a perk point. You use these points to unlock special skills in perk trees. Some of these abilities are excellent (like being able to craft dragon armor) and some are not as useful (like making novice locks easier to pick).

Lock-picking has been improved from Oblivion and is now more similar to Fallout 3's method of lock-picking. You can open Master-Difficulty locks with a low lockpick level, but picking the lock will be very difficult. If you want to make it easier, you can put some points into the lock-picking skill tree.

Crafting potions is now available to all classes right from the start, and it allows for the creation of some powerful potions and poisons. Just combine two or more ingredients together, cross your fingers, and hope that you successfully made a useful potion. Nevermind that there is already an abundance of health/magic/stamina potions in the game, because you can still create stat-boosting potions, invisibility potions, damage health/magic/stamina poisons, and so much more.

You can also enchant any piece of weaponry or armor that you have. Enchanting has been significantly improved from Oblivion because all you have to do to enchant a piece of normal equipment is destroy a magical piece of equipment. Say, for instance, that you obtained a fire sword, but you like to use axes. Well, you can remove the fire enchantment from that sword (breaking the sword in the process) and put that fire enchantment on an axe. You can even boost the fire damage it causes if you use a powerful soul gem.

Unfortunately, spell making has disappeared from Skyrim, which is a shame because spell making was one of my favorite things to do in Oblivion.

A brand new addition to Skyrim is the ability to craft and reinforce armor and weapons. Just gather a few raw materials and put some points into the smithing perk tree, and you can craft dozens of different pieces of equipment. In fact, some armor is only obtainable through smithing, so it'd be a wise investment to visit a forge every once in a while. Unfortunately, smithing ruins the game by making it too easy. With a smithing level of 100 (which can be attained in around 2 hours) you can craft some of the best armor and weapons in the game. Again, I don't like handicapping myself, but when I'm carrying around a reinforced Daedric Sword at level 10, accompanied with some dragon armor, I have the ability to kill nearly any enemy in just a few swings without receiving much of a beating myself, even on Expert difficulty, but I digress.

Let's not forget the dragons. As you explore the wilderness, you may run into a random dragon here and there... or everywhere. When you fight one of these powerful beasts, you feel pumped and excited. You cant wait to slay the dragon and claim its soul. When you finally kill the dragon, you feel a sense of amazement and joy... at least for the first few times. By the 60th hour mark, I was trying to avoid these damned things since I already had all the dragon souls I could ever want. Plus, nothing is more frustrating then trying to fast travel, but you can't because the stupid dragon wont stop flying in circles above your head.

Whenever you kill a dragon, you absorb its soul. You use these souls to unlock dragon shouts (which you find by exploring random locations on the map), which are basically powerful spells that don't run on magicka. Some of the best abilities in the game, like being able to summon lightning to strike your enemies, can only be attained by unlocking dragon shouts.

Also, it takes a while for the dragons' exoskeleton to disappear once you killed it. This can be very frustrating if you killed a dragon in a city because the exoskeleton tends to fall from the sky right in front of your face whenever you exit a building in that city. It's a rather annoying glitch.

Speaking of glitches, boy are there a ton of them. I won't get into the details, but I will say that the game has froze numerous times, I have fallen through the map, some textures randomly disappeared, I got stuck in the terrain a few times, and the menu had an input delay for me for the longest time. Needless to say, you might want to get Xbox Live for this game, if you don't have it already, to download the patches.

There are so many different things that I could talk about when it comes to gameplay, but if I told you everything then I'll basically be writing a short story.

To sum the gameplay up: combat is still fun, if not too easy and repetitive, but exploring the world is more fun than ever before.

RE-PLAYABILITY

Anyone familiar with Bethesda's games knows what to expect here. The land of Skyrim is so massive, and has so much to do and explore, that it is almost impossible to everything on a single playthrough. Certain quests have different outcomes, you can choose to specialize in different perks with a different character, and, due to the nonlinear nature of the game, you can choose which areas of the map to explore first. To put it simply: you will definitely want to replay this game multiple times.

OVERALL:

Skyrim is an amazing game, and you can easily get your money's worth in the first few hours alone. With a robust character creator, plenty of quests to keep you distracted, and luscious environments to explore, it's easy to get lost in Skyrim's world for days. If you were looking for difficult, engaging combat, look elsewhere. If you were looking for a powerful, dramatic story, then you're definitely in the wrong place. But if you're looking for a deep, engaging experience like no other, then Skyrim is the perfect game for you. You simply can't go wrong here.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/19/12

Game Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (US, 11/11/11)


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