Review by TKDBoy1889

"Bethesda knows hot to keep a series going. It's more than just dragons."

The Elder Scrolls has got to be one of the best western RPG series ever to grace the gaming world, and the latest installment known as Skyrim continues to carry that legacy. Bethesda actually listened to and fixed some of the previous issues fans had with Skyrim, and made adjustments to heed those complaints while at the same time adding all kinds of amazing features to make Skyrim a true Elder Scrolls game at it's core, with so many new features to increase it's scale of epic awesomeness. The Elder Scrolls continues to be, in my opinion, the best overall western RPG.

The story set for Skyrim is rather invoking and complex, entailing the land that is in turmoil. It actually feels like there are two main stories taking place. Well, one is considered the main story both are pretty epic and involve the fate of Skyrim. The main story revolves around the prophecy that dragon's will return to consume the world and enslave, and that a mortal born with the soul of a dragon will arise to stop them when they return. As is expected, that person is your character, and you go on a quest that involves saving Skyrim from the previously thought to be extinct threat of dragon and their ruthless leader. This is the main story of Skyrim. It's admittedly fairly cliche in the terms of the whole "prophecy to save the world" plot, but it's made incredibly grand and epic through it's storytelling, and the additions of Dragons. Dragons, as everyone knows, have finally made their entrance into the gameplay of an Elder Scrolls game.

And speaking of which, dragons must be addressed. They are epic. It's like a boss fight can occur at any time on the world map. They are massive, powerful, and tough to take down at early levels. Dragons do become easier as the game progresses, but that's to be expected. Obviously as you level up you're going to become more powerful, so it's something to be expected. But even so, the dragons are just an awesome addition to the game.

The secondary main story revolves around the turmoil of Skyrim itself. It's 200 years after Oblivion, and Skyrim is in a civil war between those that wish to remain part of the empire, and those that wish to break off from the empire and become completely independent. In this story, you actually get to choose which side you wish to support, and can either rid Skyrim of the empire or put down the rebels that wish to cede Skyrim from the Imperials. This is a really cool story because it showcases the chaos that resulted from the events of Oblivion. and you get to choose a side to support. And this can lead to some pretty big battles. Okay, there are never hundreds of units from both sides clashing but they sometimes get pretty intense. There is one segment that involves fighting close to 100 enemy soldiers. And not just throughout the course of a lengthy dungeon, it takes place on the outside of a fort.

The world of Skyrim is absolutely beautiful and and incredibly well designed. I was a bit worried about this, honestly. As any Elder Scrolls fan would know, Skyrim is the northernmost province of the world in the Elder Scrolls series, so I was a bit worried it would just be a pretty icy wasteland. Boy, was I wrong. Skyrim is amazing to look at. Due to it's geographical location, it is a mostly cold place. But it's not all just the same. There are regions more resembling of tundras, plains swampy areas, and more. To make it fit well, most of the plants and wildlife resemble that that are found in very cold climates. Now don't worry, there is plenty snow in Skyrim. The northern half is usually covered in it, as are most big mountains. It just very appropriate variety to give it a more deep feel.

And all the cities are laid out differently as well. They aren't quite as different as what was seen in Oblivion, but that makes sense. Oblivion took place in Cyrodiil, the heart of the empire where many cultures meshed. Skyrim is the land of the Nords, and therefore the cities and towns mostly reflect Nordic culture. And yet, they still manage to look different. One city is largely comprised of stonework (Tied to it's location and origins) where another city is more made out of shabby wood to reflect it's derelict state and atmosphere. And speaking of cities, they aren't all just massive walled places. Five cities are walled, where four slightly smaller cities are not, and are accessible on the same map cell. Not to mention the small but lively villages that are scattered around the world. The only city I was somewhat disappointed in was Solitude, the capital city of Skyrim. The problem was not in the design in the city, but that it felt empty. It's the biggest city, and felt like it had a population no bigger than the others, if not even less at times. But all the other cities seem very populated during the day and all of the cities have intricate designs.

Then in regard to dungeons, they are amazing as well. Bethesda boasted 150-plus hand-crafted dungeons, and I gotta say, it's extremely well done. Every cave, every mine, every old fort has it's own feel and design, not to mention backstory and lore. It's all just so well done, and the amazingly designed world immediately immerses you into it, and makes you want to explore everywhere. It's so wonderfully designed and crafted it's unreal. Much like in previous games, there are countless books that further detail the myth, history, and lore surrounding the playable map.

And in general the world just feels so alive and capable of getting you immersed so deeply. You find a fort where bandits are laid out, and some of them are patrolling or making weapons. You go to a mine and you can find miners actually mining the ore throughout the halls. You go to a lumber and can see the owner cutting up lumber, blacksmiths spend their day forging sword and sharpening blades. It feels so active and alive. Not to mention the random encounters that can take place within the world. There are several spawn points in the main world where certain events can occur. They aren't just battles, and they can switch up. Out of nowhere a thief may attempt to rob you, or an assassin may appear with a contract to take your life. You may come across some men than randomly give you some mead to enjoy, or an aspiring mage may ask you to help out with a spell. Sometimes you can even find other creatures or NPCs battling each other, and you can choose to sit back and watch or take part in the madness. There are several different encounters that ca take place, and makes the world feel more dynamic and smooth and ever-changing.

The music is gorgeous. The ambient music that pays during travels on the main world is calm and soothing, battle music and amazing and blood-pumping, and the music that accompanies dragon fights is incredibly, incredibly badass to listen to. Many of the music themes have Nordic sounds and chants to them, only adding to the immersion that this game present to pull you into the experience and make you feel like you are a part of this world.

So what about gameplay and the mechanics of the game? Well, some significant improvements and changes have been made. For one, remember that pesky leveling problem in Oblivion? The one that where if you didn't level up properly leveling up would actually make you weaker than enemies? Well, that was one of my biggest gripes about Oblivion, and it's been completely changed for Skyrim. You simply level up by increasing your skills, which increase through use. Upon leveling, you choose to add a boost to your health, magic reserves, or stamina. Then, every level-up grants you a perk to use on skills. Every skill has a perk tree that consists of bonuses to make that skill much more effective. And you can choose to hold onto perks and save them later, for when you increase a skill enough to unlock the perks you want. Each perk tree is designed to make that skill very powerful as you spill more and more perks into a certain skill. With this, you can make the skills you prefer to focus on more powerful than ever before, giving a much more satisfying feel to focus your efforts on the skills you like. This leveling system is more simple yet more dynamic, and is a welcome change.

Combat has been made smoother. A big part of that is the dual-wielding system that lets you assign individual spells or weapons to each hand. You can dual wield swords, carry a war ax and shield, wield a sword along with a magical healing spell, or wield two different spells in each hand to make magic using more efficient. The one loss from this system is that it's not possible to wield a weapon, shield, and spell like it was before. That's a bummer, but in return we get many more viable options, and the ability to wield two spells at once is incredibly awesome for mage characters. Archery has been made better, in my opinion. It's not often in games that I like being an archer, but here I found being an archer to be incredibly enticing. And sneaking has been revamped as well. In Oblivion, I found sneaking to be one of the more limited gameplay mechanics and not very sufficient for combat. Now, sneaking can become incredibly useful. It's no longer a system of going from "hidden" to "spotted". It's more dynamic. If enemies spot you from far away, or hear something, they become alert but don't spot you right away. You can stay away and eventually lose them if you're skilled and careful enough. It feels so much more smooth and dynamic, making sneak not only more effective, but overall more fun to use.

Skyrim also adds a whole new feature in terms of combat: Dragon shouts. Every time you kill a dragon, you absorb it's soul. You can use the souls to unlock various words of power that you can find from walls in certain dungeons. These shouts provide a new element to fighting. It's kind of like free magic, in way. The different shouts have different effect from fire breath to slowing time down to knocking enemies over, and are followed by a cooling period before being used again. They add a pretty cool extra feature to your arsenal of combat.

Then you still have all the other features of an elder scrolls game. Things like picking locks, picking pockets, mixing ingredients to brew various poisons or potions, and enchanting your clothes, jewelry, and weapons with magical abilities with soul gems. It's all still there and as amazing as ever. Enchanting can be made more powerful than ever if it's a skill you focus on, and pour perks into. The result is some pretty awesome magical equipment once you're skilled at it.

Skyrim also adds a very deep and amazing crafting system. There are so many more minor activities that can be done in Skyrim that add up together in this new feature. Things like tanning animal pelts into leather, or mining ore from mines and then smelting that ore into ingots. You then take those metal ingots and leather and use them to create your own weapons and armor from forges, and even you're own jewelry. Or if you already have the weapon you want, you can use those raw materials to make it more effective based on your smithing level. Same with armor at workbenches. Think of this way. You can go into a mine, kill the bandits that lurk within, take their weapons and armor, and mine the ore found within the mine. From there, you can smelt that ore into ingots and use it to create your own weapons, or improve the weapons and you looted from those bandits. Then you can keep these items on your own, or choose to sell them for some coin. By the way, weapons and armor that have been upgraded are worth more. As if that wasn't enough, you can go soul trap enemies to fill soul gems, and then go and enchant these items you have crafted from scratch. You can pretty much craft almost any obtainable type of weapon or clothing from the starting raw materials, with a few exceptions. The system is never overly complicated or confusing but it's so detailed and immense and takes the RPG experience of the game to new levels.

The whole crafting system for weapons and armor is so amazing. It does have one thing about it that sucks, however: You can't craft arrows. You can craft the bows themselves, but not arrows. Kind of sucks for archery fans, since half of their required equipment is missing from the system. But otherwise, it's a really great feature and one that really serves to give control to the player.

You can even craft meals at cooking pots from various food products that you find. This element though is.... less than stellar. It's actually fairly pointless, since none of the food you can cook is particularly good at at healing or benefiting you in anyway. Stick to alchemy and potions.

Even marriage has come to the Elder Scrolls in Skyrim. Now granted, marriage isn't a very detailed or deep feature that has much impact, but it is interesting. And it's done much better than in games like so, Fable, where marriage is just a chore from actually getting married to sustaining a marriage. In fable, getting married was tedious with no rewards. In Skyrim, getting married has nothing but rewards. If an eligible bachelor likes you enough, you can wed them and reap the benefits. Some candidates are capable of opening shop in your home that gives you money every day, and some spouses will follow you on adventures. Marriage has it's benefits and not really any downsides to it. Now granted as said, it has no big impact in the grand scheme of things, but it's another cool tidbit feature that's pretty cool, and done right for what it is.

But now let's talk about the quests, and the content of the game. As would be expected, there is a ton of content. Tons of things to do, so many quests from the main quests, to guild quests, to loads of side quests, and so on. There is easily over 100+ hours of gameplay to be found in Skyrim. Probably 200+ hours, actually. And the quests are awesome. The Fighter's guild and the Mages Guild have been removed, reflecting the events before the game and the lack of Imperial influence over the land. They are replaced by the Companion's guild and the College of Winterhold, respectively. They operate very similar and are made for the same type of character. The Thieves guild and the Dark Brotherhood return for those cunning thieves and those cold-blooded assassins. On the negative side, the main questline for each of these respective guild is shorter than in previous games. Quite a bit shorter, actually. But this is made up for by including many more side quests that can be done in each guild, which actually makes some good balance. If you don't want to just proceed through the main quest that makes you top dog of the guild, you can take a break and instead do some side quests that simply make you feel like you're doing work for the guild and making a profit, making a living as the kind of character that you want to play as. These side quests are boring though, they are pretty fun and reflect well what guild you're in. The companion's help people, the thieves steal from notable people, etc. And while each main guild questline is on the short side, the story behind each one is pretty interesting and detailed, and some of the quests have pretty big impacts on the game.

Skyrim also boasts the radiant system for quests, which makes many side quests quest feel a bit different on every play. This system usually affects side quests or individual missions, and changes them up by deciding where the quest's goal is. It might be in one dungeon on one playthrough, but in a different dungeon on the next playthrough. The goal and the characters faced/item fetched/enemies killed are the same but it's in a different place, the AI will, if possible, try to target a dungeon you have not explored yet. Given that each quest only has a certain number of dungeons the radiant system can select however, it may not be able to pick one you've already been too. The radiant AI has also been used to craft a series of repeatable quest that can be performed an infinite number of times in the form of bounty quests. You can go to an inn, find a bounty, and complete it. Granted these quests are usually just one of 3 tasks followed by collecting the bounty and will not served to keep you entertained for long on their own, but it allows for repeatable quests to make money from quickly.

Thank goodness for the sheer amount of quests too, because of the few gripes I have with this game, one of the biggest has to be how long it takes for a dungeon to respawn. I am a fan of dungeon diving. Sometimes I like going through dungeons multiple times quickly for the sake of grinding up my skill levels, or getting some loot. But when a dungeon is cleared out in Skyrim, it takes thirty days to respawn it's NPCs and contents. I repeat, thirty days. Practically a whole in-game month to respawn, as opposed to the 3 day wait of Oblivion. It's pretty annoying that one has to wait so long. It's better than nothing though, at least they respawn. Still, even if they were increasing the time to add more realism then seven or ten days would have sufficed much better than freaking thirty .

To talk about other things that are not so great about the game, one is the addition of Giants and Mammoths. These are clearly just cutaway rip-offs of actual Nordic mythology. I wouldn't mind so much except for the fact that early in the game, they can present an impossible challenge, even tougher than freaking dragons! Imagine engaging in an epic long fight to take down a powerful dragon, finally succeeding, and than wandering into a giant's camp to be killed in one single blow. That would suck and make the dragon seem kind of weak suddenly. This can easily take you out of the experience, especially early in the game. For this reason I just avoid giant camps whenever I can. This is a concept that should have stayed in mythology, not brought to the lore of the Elder Scrolls games.

Those who love playing as mages will also be disappointed to find out that the ability to create custom spells has been removed. This completely sucks. Don't get me wrong, the given array of spells for the game is expansive and impressive, including a few never before seen spells. New spells include the ability to muffle yourself to be less noisy, ward spells that can deflect attacks, and even the ability to transform iron ore into gold and the like. There are many amazing spells, and the dual wielding mechanics adds combo abilities which is badass. But it's quite a bummer for mage enthusiasts that custom spells is no longer an option, especially when considering how immense and powerful the crafting system was made for this game.

And Bethesda does have a notable reputation for releasing buggy games. Indeed, Skyrim had it's share of glitches upon release. However, it actually seem very stable and most of the glitches I encountered were incredibly minor and easy to look past, or could be fixed with a simple reload. And with the patches that have come out since, the game is even more stable and most of the various notable bugs that noticed by some have been fixed. So at this point, buying the game is a safe but in terms of avoiding major glitches.

Overall, I love this game. It has some minor drawbacks but it is just so well designed and executed overall. It looks great, it plays great, it immerses you into the world and the story, and grants you complete freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Go exploring, kill, loot, mine, craft, kill some more, and then go to your home to relax with your spouse. This is a game more than worthy of carrying the legacy of the Elder Scrolls series. Despite the few gripes I have with the game in some places, once I become I immersed within it it is an experience like no other. While some things were taken out of Oblivion, many things were added and improved upon overall as well. If you are a fan of RPGs in general, you absolutely must give this a try at some point. It is an amazing RPG experience. And for Elder Scrolls fans, if you have not gotten this yet, you must do so ASAP.

Pros:

-Dragons make incredibly epic fights
-Shouts are an awesome new combat feature
-Dual wielding mechanics make combat more smooth and varied
-World is vast, detailed, deep, and impressive to explore
-Interesting quests with an impact on people within the world
-Crafting system for weapons and armor, and the ability to mine raw ore, is incredibly in depth and allows for tons of freedom and customization in creating items.
-Speechcraft is done much simpler and better.

Cons:

-Interior cells take 30 days to respawn
-Giants, and possibly mammoths, are way too powerful and forced straight from real Nord mythology.
-No more ability to create custom spells.

Final score: 10/10


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 06/27/12

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


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