Review by Alpha_Omega9999

Reviewed: 01/04/12

Deep and nearly perfect

Where to begin? I've been wishing to create a review for Skyrim for a bit now, but of course, I had to finish the game. This is an Elder Scrolls game; after all, that takes quite a while. In fact, the length of the game is one of the best things Skyrim can offer: you can expect to spend at least 50 hours on a regular run, and 100+ if you insist on completing everything. This is the PC version, which is best known for the fact that it can be modded.

Most of the reviews only go over the vanilla version of the game, whereas mine while take into aspect the mods (at least at the time of writing), since Bethesda gave players the ability to use mods, so they’re as much as a part of the game to me as features the developer put in (it should be noted that at the time of writing, the Creation Kit has not yet been released and most mods are fairly limited).

So let’s take a look at the things Skyrim did right:
*Dragons: Well, obviously we can’t get by without mentioning the fire (or ice) breathing reptiles, as they were the key advertising for the game. You thought ogres were tough foes? Dragons are powerful (to the point of being able to one hit kill many character types) and have a diverse combat style (they can fly, land, breath fire and ice, bite you, and ever so forth). While I found dragon battles to be a touch too common at times, the battles were generally unique and very fun. Each dragon gives a dragon soul when killed, which are used to unlock shouts. However, I found that I always had plenty of excess souls, so was either too slow at discovering new shouts or was killing too many dragons.

*Massive game world: Thank Talos for fast travel. Like oblivion, the game world is utterly massive and incredibly gorgeous. While perhaps not as diverse as Cyrodiil, Skyrim is (thankfully) not all snowy mountain (no shortage of snowy mountains, however). There’s also vast plains and highlands, with a large number of rivers cutting through the land. The night skies put Oblivion’s “paradise” to shame, and there’s no shortage of unique dungeons waiting for you to clear them.

*Quests: Obviously, quests are a major part of Skyrim, and there’s no shortage there. In addition to the lengthy main quest, which has an overall strong story, there are four “factions”, the Winterhold College (mages), the Dark Brotherhood (assassins), the Companions (warriors), and the Thieves Guild. In addition to the quest series for those factions, there’s a chock load of quests, some in short series, others standalone, which will keep you occupied nearly as long.

*Leveling system: This is one highly noticeable change from Oblivion. Instead of gaining new abilities as you level a skill, you now have a “perks” system, where you can choose a certain new ability (which can range from a 20% boost in the skill to reducing magicka use with certain spells to the ability to zoom with bows). The skills have been rearranged again, and I found that for the most part, the rearrangement improved them (eg, one handed controls all one handed weapons instead of having separate skills for each of the weapon types). However, there’s still some skills like alliteration which end up largely useless, and I would have preferred to see merged with another magic skill. As well, the attributes have been simplified into simply health, stamina, and magicka. While I can’t decide whether or not the change made the game better, I can’t help but think the increase (ten points to a single choice) is too little. I would have preferred to see a way to spread out what we choose.

*Lock picking: Well, I can’t overpass this, especially since it’s so much better. I loathed Oblivion’s lock picking system, and while I still break plenty of lockpicks in Skyrim (though by the time I “cleared” the game, I had over 400 lockpicks in my inventory). The new system now requires you to simply find the correct place to place the lockpick when attempting to turn the lock. If it’s in the right place (which may be anything from several degrees to a fraction of a degree, depending on the lock’s difficulty), you’ll succeed in opening the lock, otherwise, you add stress to the lockpick over time, which will soon break it (how much stress depends on the difficulty of the lock. On a master lock, you’ll likely break it on every wrong location).

And what Skyrim didn’t do right:
*User interface: For a console, I’m sure the UI is great, but on the PC, it’s obvious how the UI was just a console port, and is not at all very friendly with the mouse (which is also rather sluggish on the menus).

*Radiant AI: Sure, the guards might comment on the growing influence of the Dark Brotherhood once I start that quest series, but even when I have become a person of great influence and have saved the world, the guard’s still treat me like scum. For the most part, the AI is rather repetitive and “stiff”. Not to mention getting within ten paces of an AI has them tell you how widespread “arrow-in-the-knee syndrome” is (thankfully, there’s a mod to reduce that range).

*Marriage: I was surprised when I found out you could marry in Skyrim. It wasn’t in the manual, and I didn’t even know it could be done until I heard it mentioned online (which prompted a search to find out how it was done). Sadly, once you marry someone, well, that’s about it. Nothing really changes, except that you can use your spouse as a store, as well as you can collect a small amount of money over time from them. Oh, and they cook for you. Nothing exciting. Come on, Bethesda, it’s an M-rated game where decapitation is exceedingly common; surely we can have some excitement with our spouse, right?

*Bugs, bugs bugs: I can’t even begin the list many of the bugs that occur (which often are minor and pass my mind at the moment), but version 1.2 of the game had so many instances of crashing to the desktop that I took to saving every few minutes (making just over 2,000 saves on my initial save). I know bug testing is hard and there are all these deadlines to meet, but please, more playtesting! I also really loathed how steam was used. Sure, it makes updating easier, but it also gave me so much grief with strange bugs in start-up.

And now let’s take a closer look at the individual components of the game:

As I would expect after Oblivion, the graphics are drop-dead gorgeous. While admittedly not a huge a jump from Oblivion, the graphics are still crisp and unique, and there’s a large multitude of mods which aim to improve these graphics with ultra-high resolution textures, even changing the design of models. With that being said, however, the animations are not Bethesda’s strong point, and can be rigid and repetitive. As well, there’s a rather large number of cases of models passing through each other (which admittedly is also a rather difficult issue to deal with). Just in the game’s introduction, the body of an executed soldier moved rather strangely after his untimely death. Even on my mid-to-high end laptop, I was able to play on high settings with a ton of mods (albeit, barely). All in all, that brings the graphics to be a 9/10 for me.

The gameplay is nearly flawless, except for the interruption by various bugs. As I mentioned, the leveling system is a strong change, even if the “simplified” attributes may be questionable. Lockpicking is a major improvement. Walking around in the world, you’ll easily find new places to explore, and each of these places is unique and doesn’t have a repetitive feeling like many other games I’ve played recently. There’s absolutely no shortage of places to explore and things to do. Bugs, sadly, hurt the game, impairing what would be an otherwise perfect score to a 9/10.

The combat system is so important I felt I just had to grade it separately. From Oblivion, combat is much improved, allowing you to duel wield weapons, which is interesting and powerful, though I found I preferred the safety of a shield. Even bigger, though, is the fact that you can duel wield magic, allowing you to mix spells and even duel cast the same spell for a more powerful effect. Magic by far has the biggest boost here, especially when combined with the fact that spells have secondary effects (eg, ice spells slow the target down and reduces stamina). The perk system really comes in handy for aiding combat, with perks granting the ability to zoom in with bows, to attack faster when duel wielding, or to deal 15x damage with daggers in sneak attacks. Speaking of the last one, you can increase the dagger sneak attack damage to 30x with the gloves from the Dark Brotherhood, which made my initial play through as a stealthy character very thrilling. And of course, combat is difficult enough to require strong tactics. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve died in this game (on the default “adapt” difficulty). These major combat changes definitely net Skyrim a 10/10 there.

I admit, I’m likely not the best person to judge these things, as I tend to not pay enough attention to the sound, but there was definitely times when I found myself amazed by the sound and music, which immersed me into the game more. What else can I say? The sound was done masterfully enough for even someone who rarely gives it attention to actually notice! In my book, that’s another 10/10.

I find that the story of games like the Elder Scrolls series offers to be a bit more difficult to grade in the story. I consider myself the kind who is attracted by the kinds of stories that make strong use of the characters, which I find Skyrim (and all the Elder Scrolls games) lack. Let’s be honest here, we’re talking about a character who always starts as an unknown prisoner. While great for letting the game becoming open, it does little to give me any relation to my character, nor any of the NPCs (well, except the Jarl of Whiterun’s kids; want to kill them). The basic storyline itself is strong and fitting, but the poor interactions with the NPCs hurt it in my book. I actually thought some of the faction quest series had a better story than the main storyline, and was particularly drawn in by the Thieves Guild (whereas in Oblivion, I found the Thieves Guild to be exceedingly weak). I’ll balance that to around 8/10.

Graphics: 9/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Combat: 10/10
Music/Sounds: 10/10
Story: 8/10
Total: 46/50 = 9.2/10

*Dragons have a tendency to occasionally leave a battle halfway through by simply ignoring you to the point of which they may as well not be there.
*I found alchemy rose way too slow. Not to mention potions and ingredients were rather heavy, further hindering the skill. Fortunately, two mods fixed those issues.
*Sneak seems to rise exceedingly easy. Sure, my initial character was stealth based (actually using a bit of everything), stealth was the only skill I got to 100 from the first play through (not going out of the way on any skills), with the next closest skills still being under 90. Pickpocketing also rose too fast.
*Arrow in the knee? Why does everyone insist on talking to me just because I’m within walking distance?
*The perk system is far from perfect, with many perks being useless or questionably worth it. Technically, the perks which give a 20% boost in the skill are the most potent, yet terribly unexciting. And the level requirements prevent you from specializing in a certain class as well as I’d like. In addition, you get one perk point per level, and can expect to reach around level 40-50 by the time you complete most of the notable quests (by which point it drastically slows down in leveling), so have very few perks available to you. Finally, the prerequisites on the perks mean you’d have to spend these precious perk points on perks you don’t even want just to get to the one you do (of which a mod fixes that).

Of course, with all this being said, I’d still recommend Skyrim for everyone. It’s a great game, and when the Creation Kit is released around January, we can expect to see a surge in fantastic mods, just like Oblivion saw. All Bethesda games tend to be best six months in, when the community has created enough mods to perfect the game in every way. With fantastic replay value, Skyrim is sure to entertain for… quite a while.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (US, 11/10/11)

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