Review by Gary2
"Skyrim is an excellent game which proudly carries on the Elder Scrolls name."
Well after five long years the wait is finally over and next main game of the Elder Scrolls series is here. Skyrim is the direct sequel to Oblivion, the open-world phenomenon that was released in 2006 for Xbox 360, PC, and latterly, the PS3. Oblivion was a superb game that did the Elder Scrolls series proud. Some thought it was simplified somewhat compared to its predecessor, Morrowind, but the game was a huge success overall. It drew in new fans to the Elder Scrolls series and ushered it into the next generation of gaming. Sure, a couple of features were simplified and some were removed entirely but there were also improvements. These being graphics and the combat system. But enough about Oblivion; this is a Skyrim review after all. When Skyrim was announced in late 2010 fans of the series were excited to say the least but there was also a question to be asked. Would Skyrim match or better the success of Oblivion?
Skyrim takes place 200 years after the ending of Oblivion in the most northern province of Tamriel of the same name. At the start of the game Skyrim is gripped under a civil war between the Imperials, fighting to keep Skyrim a part of the Empire, and the Stormcloaks. A rebel group who fight for the independence of the place. As the player you have a huge hand in this storyline, putting your considerable weight behind either side. But you have bigger fish to fry. Well I say fish but I really mean dragons. You play as the Dragonborn or Dovahkiin, a mythical slayer of dragons. This doesn't mean much in non-dragon peace time but becomes very important when they return with a vengeance. You start off by creating your character, per Elder Scrolls tradition, before your character is immediately placed down to be executed. But before the axe is swung a dragon, the mighty Alduin, appears to wreak havoc. And so starts the Skyrim adventure. The main storyline starts with a bang and really gets you up for it but levels out after a bit and drops further after that. The premise is good but there's just not enough to keep a good amount of interest. You'll get to the end of it and ask yourself was that it? It is a couple of levels poorer than Oblivion's main story. A solid effort.
But the Elder Scrolls series has never lived and died by its main quests. Like previous games, there are guilds and factions you can join. Each one of them with their own storylines. Some of these are good and some of them are sub-par but they all add to the game time of Skyrim. The four main guilds in Skyrim are; the Companions A questline very similar to the Fighters Guild from previous games. The College of Winterhold A faction similar to the Mages Guild. The Thieves Guild You join a band of thieves determined to make the guild world-renown again after a slump. The Dark Brotherhood A guild of assassins who take on contracts from anybody across Skyrim who can afford them. Oblivion had similar guilds. The storylines of these guilds are solid overall but lacked a bit of the quirkiness and uniqueness compared to Oblivion's. They're well worth a play through though and there are a couple of surprises along the way. Alongside these there are some side-quests with plots that vary in interest. After this you have radiant AI quests that can be very repetitive should you want to experience them all. Even after you end the main storylines you can still work through these quests indefinitely. Overall there's enough in Skyrim's storylines to pull you in and give you a good experience but don't expect to be blown away by plot.
Gameplay, the main part of any game. Let's get this straight, Skyrim is an excellent game. It is well made and you can tell care and patience have went into it by the developers. Like Oblivion you can traverse the world in first-person or third person points of view. First person is the default view and the one most players use for most things in the game. The third person view wasn't the best in Oblivion and was basically just a viewpoint to see how your character looked in his armour. Skyrim improves on this view. Making movement in third person less jerky and uncoordinated. The movement looks more realistic now and a lot less clunky, but the view is still way, way off the quality of normal third person games. It is handy for checking out how armour and weapons look on your character though. Combat is one of the things in the series which has continually got better and better with each instalment. The hit detection in Morrowind was inconsistent to say the least but big improvements were made for Oblivion. Skyrim takes that on even further. It has also introduced a trigger for each hand system which works really well. The left trigger controls the player's left-hand and the right trigger controls their right-hand. This sounds basic but it opens up a lot of combat options compared to previous games. For example, you can have a healing spell set to the left trigger (and thus left-hand) and a dagger set to the right. This means you can heal and sneakily swing at the same time. The combinations are vastly varied. You can have two spells in either hand, different or the same (increasing the power of that spell) or you can dual-wield daggers or swords. It is a nice update from Oblivion's system. Once again your ability to perform actions depends on your skills and stats. This is an action RPG after all. Skyrim gets rid of major and minor skills from previous games and replaces them with well nothing. This allows you to build a character more suited to what you want. It allows you to change skills up, should you feel like it, later in the game. Instead of feeling like you're stuck with a character that can't be improved properly. Most of the same skills from Oblivion are here. Old favourites like Alchemy, One-handed, Two-handed, Destruction, Restoration, Light and Heavy Armour skills. Some have been taken out but you get an addition or two. Like the impressive Smithing skill. An ability to make and improve your own weapons and armour.
A new feature to Skyrim is the perk system. Each skill has a perk tree that has a selection of perks you can choose from to upgrade that skill. Every time you level up you gain one perk point to use. You can use these as you get them or save them up for future use. Some of the perks are very useful (like the extra effect perk in the Enchanting tree, which allows you to place two enchantments on an item) but a lot of them can be safely ignored if you are at a high enough level. It's a nice system that gives you more options to play with. Like in Oblivion and Morrowind, there is the ability to create potions through alchemy (in Skyrim you have to use a designated table for this and can't do it on the fly like in past games) and enchant items. Spell selection is good but one major omission is the ability to create and name your own spells. This was a nice feature as it gave you more customization options. It is disappointing that this was taken out and it supports a view that the Elder Scrolls games are being over-simplified with each addition. I can see why it was taken out (because of the new trigger spell system) but feel that it could have been implemented well enough.
As with any sandbox game of this size glitches can be many and cause potential trouble. Some quests are buggy as can be and need a few workarounds to get through. It is wise to have a few save slots at all times and save often. There are a few bugs that are literally game-breakers (at least for that storyline). For PC users there is nearly always a way past these but console users will just have to be wary. On the upside (if you can call it that) there are a couple of good glitches that allow you to max stats, overpower your character to a godly degree and potentially make the game a piece of cake. It is almost an Elder Scrolls tradition to have a handful of these glitches under the game's hood.
Overall the general gameplay of Skyrim is very good. It takes a lot of Oblivion's good points and makes them better while also adding its own twist on things. Yes, some things can come across as over-simplified and possibly take away some of the fun in doing complicated things by yourself. The exclusion of spell creation is a prime example of this. The same Elder Scrolls game play is here though and should please avid fans of the series without too many complaints.
GRAPHICS AND PRESENTATION:
The graphics in Skyrim are superb. A 100% increase in quality over Oblivion. I couldn't believe that the Xbox 360, coming to the end of its gaming cycle, could produce this type of performance in an open-world game the size of Skyrim. Character designs are a lot better than they were in Oblivion. People look realistic in general compared to Oblivion's stodgy and generic palette. Of course there is some repetition as you get further into the game but that's to be expected as well. The world and its surroundings look even better than the people. Foliage, although cut down upon compared to Oblivion's Cyrodiil, looks excellent. Buildings and towns are all given a unique design and look mostly great. As you travel more and more north the snow falls with an unnerving clarity. You really feel you're lost in a snowstorm. Some areas where snow has fallen look blotchy and painted but those are few and far between and never really take you out of the zone.
Animations are good and solid, better than Oblivion's, but still can look clunky in parts. It's never been a great feature in the Elder Scrolls series but it's improving all the time. Skyrim is also a lot better with regards to lag and loading times. Sure, they are still there in certain areas or when fighting gets tough and congested but it is more seamless. A big example of this is when you ride your horse. In Oblivion it lagged and buffered every few seconds but in Skyrim horse-riding is a lot smoother.
There's nothing more to be said about Skyrim's graphics. They are top notch and give the game a nice polish that it deserves. You can't get much better for an open-world sandbox game working on seven year old tech.
The musical scores in Skyrim are pretty good. There aren't many big pieces but each theme fits for whatever is happening on screen. A lot of credit has to go to composer Jeremy Soule, who has worked on a lot of video games including the previous two in the Elder Scrolls series; Oblivion and Morrowind. He brings a pedigree to Skyrim's music and makes sure it's in good hands. The main theme is superb and really gets you up for what's to come. The chants of Dovahkiin throughout the theme pump you up and gets your blood racing. Making you just want to grab a sword and hunt down some dragons. The only thing I will say about the music is that, although good overall, the music in some areas can be a little bit repetitive. This is expected in a game that asks you to backtrack into a lot of areas but it doesn't make it any less grating.
Voice-acting is better than it was in Oblivion but not by a huge amount. The amount of voice actors involved in Skyrim totals around 70, a lot more than Oblivion's. Although there is no Patrick Stewart or Sean Bean this time we are treated to a few famous actors lending their voices to the game. These include Max von Sydow, who voices a chronicler called Esbern. Christopher Plummer, who voices one of the Greybeards called Arngeir. And Joan Allen, who voices the last surviving member of the Blades called Delphine. They all do very well in their roles. The main characters are voiced well overall but the minor characters are less-so. It can get annoying running into the same voice-actor time and time again. It can really take you out of the experience. I know it's an impossible task to give the mass amount of NPCs available in Skyrim a unique voice but it's a problem that has plagued the last couple of Elder Scrolls games.
Sound effects are usually spot-on. From the clash of sword hitting shield, an explosive spell fired off or the chilly roar that announces the presence of an incoming dragon, it gets them all right. Some things are a little off-key but you can't have everything.
In an open-world sandbox game like Skyrim the world you travel, fight, and sleep in is more important than a lot of other gaming genres. If the world is poorly designed or doesn't feel right then it zips you right out of the experience. Fortunately, like Oblivion and Morrowind before it, the world of Skyrim is excellent. Bethesda are very good at creating lively and entertaining worlds and this one is no exception. The size of the Skyrim province is huge, matching Oblivion's Cyrodiil and weighing in at around 15 square miles. It is a massive sandbox to play in and, like previous games, you'll be pushed to discover every inch of the map. The onscreen map itself has also changed. Instead of the flat layout of Oblivion Skyrim uses a 3D styled map that you can move, rotate and zoom in on. It's a minor change but one that gives the exploration more personality.
The area of Skyrim itself is vastly different from the Empire base of Cyrodiil. For a start it's a lot further north and that means snow, snow and more snow. Snow is the word of the day concerning Skyrim. This is a farcry from Oblivion and its green and lush forests you got to run around in. The population is mainly made up of Nords who live there and are well adjusted to the freezing cold weather but there are other races. All the Elder Scrolls favourites are spread out through the area. These include the likes of Imperials, Argonians, Orcs, Redguards and elves of every kind. When you create your character at the start of the game you can choose any race to play as.
In between vast amounts of snowy mountains there are towns and cities each with their own distinctive look and personality. These range from the Skyrim capital of Solitude in the far North-West to the port city of Riften (home to the fabled Thieves Guild) in the far South-East. Other major places are Whiterun; a city smack bang right in the middle of the map and one of the first important places you visit, Windhelm; a city in the North-East and home to the Stormcloak rebel leader Ulfric Stormcloak, and the College of Winterhold; a magical college the furthest north in Skyrim. You can also buy a house in each major city after doing a certain amount of important quests. After buying these homes you can pay extra to fit them out. There are other smaller towns that you will come across among your travels. These too have some semblance of unique design although not as much as the major cities.
One major improvement from Oblivion is dungeon design. In Oblivion a lot of the same dungeons were reused which didn't exactly give off a unique feeling to each one. It felt like they were all copy and pasted in to fill up the numbers. In Skyrim there is more variety when dungeon-crawling. You feel like you haven't been down this road one too many times and it keeps you in the atmosphere of the game. The differences between the worlds of Skyrim and Oblivion are pretty big. The game can certainly not be criticised for being more of the same but Skyrim can get a bit too laboured with its northern snow. Some might prefer the more well-rounded world and ecosystem of Oblivion's Cyrodiil. But it is a fantastically created world none-the-less.
Skyrim is a brilliant game. It easily matches the success of Morrowind and Oblivion. There are a lot more things that I haven't mentioned in this review that have simply slipped my mind because the game is so huge but that just proves how much there is to be done in Skyrim. You can easily put upwards of 300 hours into this mammoth and still find something new to do or discover. The general lack of interest in certain storylines, including the main one, is a bit of a downer and some features have been over-simplified compared to previous Elder Scrolls games but Skyrim is an excellent gaming experience that fans of the series should snap up straight away. New fans of the series should also have no qualms about purchasing this game either. You'll definitely get your money's worth.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/24/12
Game Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (EU, 11/11/11)
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