Review by Demigod_Tyek

"Skyrim has become the new standard that all future open-world games need to look at and try to surpass"

It all started back in 1994, when Bethesda released the first Elder Scrolls game, Arena, for the PC. At the time of it's release, the game was very innovative and groundbreaking. Over the years, Bethesda went on to release Daggerfall and Morrowind, the second and third installment in the Elder Scrolls series. Though these games never quite went mainstream, they still gave Bethesda the experience and footing needed to continue on with the taboo genre that was open-world RPG games.

In 2006, when Bethesda released The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the entire gaming world took notice. It was new. It was exciting. It gave gamers a new perspective of open-world RPG's. It succeeded in the "do anything, be anything" mentality several games had been trying to do for years, but never could. And now, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is upon us; and Oblivion has successfully passed on it's torch.

In an age where most games offer collectibles, multiplayer, and leaderboards to try and turn a 10 hour game into 50 hours of gameplay, Skyrim givse hundreds of hours of gameplay on just one save file, with your eyes popping until the very end. Bethesda has outdone themselves, revealing a world of unparalleled detail.

The game opens up, obviously, in the land of Skyrim, which is Tamriel's northernmost province. Skyrim takes place 200 years after the events in Oblivion. While the lore of Oblivion may help you notice a few things that are mentioned throughout the game, it is not neccessary at all to understand what's going on in Skyrim. The High King has just been killed, and various factions around Skyrim argue over succession. As Skyrim is on the brink of civil war, the long absent dragons have also returned, striking fear into the world. You take on the role of a character known as "Dovahkiin", which means Dragonborn in common tongue. You are a human born with the soul of a dragon, who is capable of speaking their language and acquiring their ancient powers. You must discover the cause of their return and save Skyrim, from both the dragons and civil war, in Bethesda's deepest and most interesting story yet.

Surrounding the main storyline of the game are countless factions and side quests that even further flesh out the world. In dungeons you may find something that adds to the story of what you were doing, or something you may not even be doing yet. You will discover the personal effects of an adventurer who met a tragic end or the journal of a traveler who decided to take shelter in a cave. Before you know it, you may then be returning a ring or heirloom to a grieving family. Or helping a mage with his research. Or assist a person in fighting off a bandit attack. It's a process you don't even realize you're doing until you open your quest journal and notice all the side quests you've accomplished. And that was just a small example of the things that occur in the game. Infact, it did no justice to it whatsoever. There are literally HUNDREDS of situations like the few I just mentioned above waiting for you as you traverse Skyrim's beautiful, yet dangerous terrain. At every turn you will find something new to do, and for everything you do, you will be rewarded in some way. Whether it's gold, a weapon, piece of armor, or just a "Thank you", Skyrim is a world deeper than any other game ever.

Skyrim is all about options. At the start of the game, you create your character from scratch. You choose your race, body structure, face structure, just about everything you can think of. Unlike in previous Elder Scrolls games, the use of major and minor skills are gone. Instead, you have access to any and all skills (ie, one-handed weapons, two-handed weapons, destruction magic, light armor, heavy armor, etc...) all the time. And the more you use the skill, the higher it raises, becoming more powerful. So say you create an all-melee two-handed warrior; your two-handed weapon skill will most likely raise faster than any other skills, since that is your main method of use. It adds a lot of depth and role-play to the game. My first character was a warrior who dual-wielded swords. My second character was a type of battlemage, who wielded magic in one hand and a sword in the other. The possibilities could be endless.

As I just mentioned, the big change in Skyrim is the ability to assign weapons/magic to both of your hands. You can dual wield weapons, which deliver more damage but denies you the ability to block. You can dual wield two different magic spells in each hand, or the same spell in both hands. And when triggered together, they will launch a more powerful version of that spell. You can wield a magic spell in one hand and a weapon in the other. There are several ways you can choose to play your character, and this of course adds plenty to replay value.

This game also introduces the perk system, which is new to the Elder Scrolls series, but was there if you have played Fallout 3 or New Vegas. Everytime your chaarcter levels up, you can select a perk to improve a certain area of expertise. For example, there is a perk that one-handed attacks doing 20% more damage, etc.

There are a fair number of support skills as well, like blacksmithing and enchanting, that can give you some very nice results. Raise the smithing skill higher, for example, and you'll be able to create a more powerful variety of weapons and armor. Nothing feels better than getting your smithing to a max of 100 and donning on a powerful piece of dragon armor. You will mingle in the streets, crawl through dungeons, climb tall mountains, fight monsters and meet things big and small. Everything you do will feel meaningful and realistic.

It's impressive enough that there's so much to do; it's even more impressive that most of it is wonderful. Not every dungeon is a joy to explore. Stone-turning puzzles occasionally bring your journey to a halt, and a few certain creatures you will just dread to fight. But overall, every task has an excellent sense of context, and surprises lurk around many every turn.

If that's not enough, there are also the dragons you can fight throughout the game, as they act as a type of boss fight. And they can happen anywhere. While some are scripted to fit the story that's going on at the moment, the rest are roaming Skyrim randomly and can show up and attack you literally anywhere. Some dragons are weak, but some are outright powerful. As you slay the dragons, you absorb it's soul, since you are the Dragonborn. With the souls of dragons, you can unlock abilities called Dragon Shouts, which make your character even more powerful. They range from being able to shout fire or frost at opponents, delivering a simple but strong push, and even controlling the weather and elements themselves.

One thing that has kind of improved is the friendly AI. It's nice to have a companion along for the adventure, and they even manage to assist majorly in helping you fight whatever it is you're fighting. But other than that they are kind of a nuisance, crowding you in tight passages, sometimes even managing to get you stuck in a corner and not moving to get you out. They sometimes lag behind when you may need them most, and sometimes even disappear entirely for a time.

The landscape is absolutely stunning in Skyrim. In fact, it is probably one of the most beautiful worlds I've ever seens in a video game. Fog collects around the peaks of mountains. Snowy blizzards flurry around your chaarcter in harsh winter storms. And from a top the the mountains of Skyrim you can peer down at the tundras and snowfields below. Mammonths and wildlife wander around, showing off impressive art design. The graphics on whole are much better than Oblivion's. Worthy to note are the models of the various character models. The human races (Imperial, Nord, Breton, Redgaurd) have more subtle features, while each having more pronounced differences. The Imperials, for example, look more fairer in complexion and look more orderly; while the Nords look tougher and more rugged. Khajits (the feline race) and Argonians (the reptile race) look much more believable and more realistic than they did in Oblivion. Orcs, too, look more fearsome. The enemies, too, look much more detailed. Whereas trolls in Oblivon looked like flabs of fatty, green, erm "stuff", Skyrim's trolls look more defined and intimidating. Skyrim's graphics are simply breathtaking, and this is coming from an Xbox 360 user. It has been noted, that on a high-end PC's with graphic settings set to the highest, the game looks at it's best. I would not know. And don't care.

For those of you who still own older SDTVs, unfortunately, the game is only supported for high definition and widescreen. If you don't have widescreen, expect menus and text display to sometimes run off the sides of the screen. Also, while Skyrim is stunning to look at, the load times can be rather long unless you install it to your system's harddrive. I also experienced a few bad hiccups where the game just randomly froze on me. It's not that big of a problem if you save often, but since I hadn't one time, it was aggervating have to repeat all that I'd just done before. So rule of thumb, save often. There you go, probably the only paragraph in the entire review that says something negative. Enjoy.

The menus are a huge improvement this time around, dumping the clunky menus of Oblivion for a streamlined branching system of menus. Accompanying the spectacular menu design are detailed models of any and all of the items you carry when you select them. And when you level up, the skill increase screen takes the form of the stars and constellations of the nightsky of Skyrim. Also of interest in the world map, which to my surprise, is actually the very world itself rendered from very far up in the sky.

The music of Skyrim is impressive. Jeremy Soule, who composed both Morrowind and Oblivon, returns and creates several new pieces or work, but also does some remixes of classics from both Morrowind and Oblivion. The soundtrack is the best yet. You will hear everything from grand orchestra to only a single flute playing at times. Every bit of music is perfect for the atmosphere of whatever you are doing at the time.

Gone are the days of Oblivion's four central actors, as Skyrim features over eighty different voice actors. This adds even further to the already massive world, and makes it feel even more alive. There's a satisfying clash of swords and the sound of sword cutting into flesh, dull thuds of shield blocking, an archer's arrows whizzing past your face. The sound of magic spells being cast is crisp and mystical; it is always a pleasure to hear the cackling of fire as you cast a stream of it at your enemies.

And then, there is the draconic (dragon) language. It is an ancient language, with words that call to the universe, and thankfully the voice actors managed to deliver these lines with a quiet, almost underrated sense of power and epicness. All of the dragons you see throughout the game speak in this language, and the Dragon Shouts are actually also simply words from the draconic language.

Many of Skyrim's delights are the little things you may notice. They don't affect gameplay at all, but just succeed in making the world feel more alive. Civilians go about their own lives, selling stuff in shops during the day and closing down at night to go hang out at the tavern before going home to sleep. They chop firewood, make weapons at blacksmithing stations, cook meals, anything we would normally do. Some may comment on how you're dressed, or that you look sick (if you've contracted a disease of some kind). Children chase each other around, one even asks you to help his problem with a bully.

Skyrim also has hundreds of books you can read. Even if you're not a big fan of reading things in-game, you should make an effort here. The various books usually teach you of Tamriel's rich history, and include nods to previous Elder Scrolls game's storylines. Some books even increase your skills.

Whether you're out slaying dragons, brewing potions, going on a hunt, exploring a century-old ruin or cave, or breaking into someone's home to steal, Skyrim manages to make hours and hours of real time vanish before you know it.

OVERALL

CONCEPT: The fifth installment of Bethesda's "The Elder Scrolls" series. And definitely the best one yet, setting a new standard for future games to come. Completely massive world with countless things to do, people to meet, places to explore, and objectives to complete

GRAPHICS: The best of this generation. There is no real comparison, I have never before witnessed a world so detailed, or NPC's that were so filled with life

SOUNDS: Again, the best soundtrack in an Elder Scrolls game thus far. Jeremy Soule has created another masterpiece, with the added bonus of a few remixes of some of his earlier work. Sound effects are realistic. If you see a dragon flying way off in the distance, you will actually hear the faint, creepy whirling of his wings flapping in the air

ENTERTAINMENT: Bethesda boasted that this game could net you 300 hours if you wanted to do absolutely everything in it. While I'm nowhere near that mark yet, I do have over 100 hours played on my main character, and am still finding new things to do everywhere I go. And I still have several places I can explore. 300 hours is definitely a reasonable guess.

LAST REMARK: I can confidently say that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the best gaming experience I've ever had. Not just the best experience of the month, or the best experience of the year, but the best experience ever. Never before has a world been so alive and had so much thrill. You can lose yourself in the game for hours just wanting to discover what's over the next hill. I could acquire a quest that would only take maybe 15 minutes to do, and five hours later I'd still have it. Let that soak in for a moment.

Not only did Skyrim meet, but also surpass, all of the hype surrounding it. It has also moved the video game world forward. It has become the new standard that all future games need to look to and try to surpass. Unfortunately few will, and we will most likely have to wait another five years for Bethesda to make The Elder Scrolls VI to experience another masterpiece such as this.

- Jared Langston (Demigod Tyek)


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/21/12

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


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