Review by Mattvento

"Great World, but too many flaws to be perfect"

Skyrim is the fifth game in the Elder Scrolls series, and takes place 200 years after the events in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which was also my first Elder Scrolls game. I've put probably close to 1000 hours into Oblivion, which says a lot about how much I enjoyed that game, and my social life. Back to Skyrim though, it improves on a lot of the things Oblivion did, but it does make a few missteps, that keep it from being a perfect game. A quick note about me, is that I have never played Morrowind, which some Elder Scrolls fans consider to be the peak of the series, just Oblivion on 360, and the free version of Daggerfall Bethesda released for PC a while back. Now onto the review.

Gameplay:
Probably the most important aspect of a game. Is it fun to play? For the most part it is, but there are a few puzzling design choices, that hold the game back. The dual wielding system is a lot of fun, you can mix and match almost any combination of weapon, spell, or shield in your hands controlled by your left or right trigger. Everyone in Skyrim must be right handed though, because you can't have shield in your right hand and a sword in your left. Sword in each hand is ok though. It's also kind of puzzling that you can't shoot a spell from a hand that has a shield strapped to it, but these are minor things. The new Dragon Shouts, that took over the button that used to launch spells are a nice addition to the gameplay. They are more powerful than most spells, and have effects that can replace certain spells, increase your sprinting speed, summon various things, or make you temporarily invulnerable. The last one makes getting down mountains or cliffs quick and fun. The shouts make the game more fun without making it too easy, because they have very long cooldowns. Combat has a lot more options than Oblivion did and it has a more visceral feel to it, but it still isn't really the strong point of the game since hits don't seem to register as well as they should.

Another problem with combat is the uneven difficulty of the game. I probably died more times in the first 5 or so hours playing Skyrim than I did in the 1000 hours I played Oblivion, but by the time I hit level 30 or so, no enemies were even coming close to hurting me, and I had to turn up the difficulty. You can theoretically level your character to 81, even though 50 is a more reasonable goal, so level 30 isn't very strong by the game's standards.

Leveling seems to always be a difficulty in Elder Scrolls games, and open world games period, since it is hard to maintain a challenge throughout the game, while not making it too difficult for low level players who may want to explore some. Like all Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim's leveling is based on leveling up each of your skills, and after leveling so many skills up, you level up and get to increase your health, magic, or stamina and pick a perk. Gone are attributes like Strength, Endurance, and Magic that had a convoluted relationship with health, magic and stamina. Truthfully, I don't miss those attributes at all. Having to make sure to train certain skills just to get plus 5 attribute bonuses in Oblivion was a fun killing chore sometimes, and in Skyrim, you can pick 6 or 7 skills your really want to use for your character, and easily level up to level 50 without investing much into other skills you don't want to use. And level 50 is the highest you need to level to unlock anything and get access to the toughest enemies.

Skyrim's leveling system just really makes sense, to me anyway. I like that the only way to improve your one handed weapon skill is to use one handed weapons. Now, I mentioned perks before, and then never elaborated. They are another new addition to the Elder Scrolls series, and you get a perk at each level up, but you need to be at a certain skill level and have unlocked certain other perks in order to assign most perks. Fortunately you can save them until you reach the appropriate skill level. The perks for each skill form in nice looking constellation, but that doesn't matter, what matters is what the do, and perks do mundane things like increasing your damage with a weapon type, or cool things like letting you light enemies on fire and make them flee or automatically recover 200 hp when your health gets low. They are a nice addition, but they aren't necessary and may contribute to the game getting easy at later levels.

Graphics/sound
The game with the best graphics that I play is probably Forza 4, and Skyrim's graphics can't compete with Forza 4's. But they are great for a large open world RPG. The game runs better than Oblivion ever did, and freezing hasn't been much of a problem for me. There are quite a few texture glitches, and instances where parts of the game won't render. It'll be there, it'll just be see through. These glitches really break the immersion that the rest of the world does a good job of setting up. The first person view really makes you feel like your in the world, and the world is lively. Skyrim feels the most like an actual place of any RPG world I've ever played in. The towns aren't as varied visually as they were in Oblivion though, which is kind of disappointing. All but 4 of the towns look identical. The world itself is varied, with mountains, hot springs, grasslands, forests, and caves, but the towns are pretty similar. There is also much better variety in the dungeons this time through, although almost all of them are populated with the same kind of enemies.

The music is pretty enough as a background, but I don't remember any song like I did the intro song from Oblivion, which I still occasionally hum to myself, but there isn't anything bad. Voice acting is a little better than Oblivion, and a very welcome change is that they have multiple people voicing each gender of each race. The voices do still repeat, and you'll meet a shopkeeper in own A that sounds just like the Blacksmith of town B, but its nowhere near as bad as Oblivion where one person voiced all female argonians and there were like 40 of them in game.

Story
Story is an essential part of any RPG, but probably less so an Elder Scrolls game than any other RPG. The main quest of Skyrim involves the return of Dragons to the land, and your character being the mythical Dragonborn who can use the power of the Dragons for the shouts I talked about earlier. There is also a civil war in skyrim that your character can take sides in, and a few guilds you can join. The guilds were a big disappointment in Skyrim, only the Dark Brotherhood held my attention. The others were short, and padded with Radiant AI quests, which are basically just go to dungeon x and either kill or retrieve someone or something. Radiant Quests are a cool way to add variety to fetch quests, so you don't have the same experience every time you play through the game, but they shouldn't be used in place or real quests. The Main quest of Skyrim was actually a highlight for me since I enjoyed fighting dragons, but not everyone feels the same way, and all dragon fights do play out similarly, so I can see what people who dislike them are talking about. The Civil war questline was an interesting concept, but didn't play out as well as it could have, and highlights a problem with open world RPGs. They create these expansive, awesome worlds, but because the world itself is the most important part of the game, the player can't change it too much, or else the game would cease to be Skyrim.

Conclusion
Skyrim is a great game on a lot of fronts, and I've already played 300 to 400 hours, but there are some glaring faults that I can't ignore. I wanted to give this game a 10, but it isn't perfect. It is really immersive, and I can play for a few hours without realizing it, but sometimes I'd come across a graphical hole in the world or a spike in difficulty at an early level and it would break me out of my immersion. The story isn't great, but that's never the reason the play an ES game, you make your own adventure I do wish that the adventure could include changing more of Skyrim, but I guess that wouldn't be an ES game either.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/09/12

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


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