Review by ChemicalReaper

Reviewed: 11/22/11 | Updated: 03/04/13

The Dangerous, Beautiful World of Skyrim

Skyrim is the fifth installment of developer/publisher Bethesda Softworks' flagship series of games taking place in The Elder Scrolls universe. Skyrim itself is the northernmost province in the land of Tamriel: it is a beautiful, but dangerous, land. There are many smaller settlements and larger, self-contained, walled city-states called "Holds," each of which is ruled by a "Jarl." There are mountains, caverns, dungeons, dilapidated castles and ruins and, of course, the main attraction of the game: dragons.

Coming off of games like Fallout 3 and Rage, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a welcome return to the mystical land of magic, lore, and fantasy that we know as Tamriel.

In-Depth Review:

Skyrim takes place 200 years after the events of the 'Oblivion Crisis.' The Empire is weak and is losing its hold over the provinces of Tamriel. Spearheading this rebellion is Ulfric Stormcloak, a Nord whose love for his homeland and lust for power borders on insanity. Adding madness to the insanity is the return of the dragons – a formidable force presumed by most Nords to be nothing more than an ancient legend.

The main quest (that is, the actual story) in Skyrim absolutely walks all over that of Oblivion. Whereas Oblivion felt like a massive trek for no real reason other than to fetch items to open another Oblivion Gate, Skyrim has you investigating the cause of the Dragon's awakening, and fulfilling your destiny as the Dovahkiin: the only person in the world who can defeat the dragons.

The Main Quest itself deals with the return of the dragons, but the conflict between the Imperial Legion and the Stormcloaks is such an epic, self-contained story, it would be unfair not to say it's effectively a second main story. In fact, it is of this reviewer's opinion that one could play the Empire/Stormcloak quest without even touching the Main Quest, and still come away satisfied – that is not an exaggeration. The stories simply are that good.

Of course, if that isn't enough bang-for-your-buck already (and by this point, $60 is already a great deal!), there are also separate storylines for each faction within the game. Of course, you have to know how to find them first – oddly enough, the slightly-less-than-legal factions tend to keep their operations a little more...secretive.

In short, Skyrim delivers.

On consoles, the graphics themselves look a little dated: although they are certainly an improvement over those of Oblivion, Skyrim's graphics are still a little rough around the edges. Additionally, for those who install and play the game from their Xbox 360 hard-drive, there are reports of issues where textures scale down but fail to scale back up.

That's not to say that the graphics don't look good, though. With such a massive game, technical and graphical glitches are understandable – and when a game is as massive and detailed as Skyrim is, I personally find myself willing to look less at the quality of each individual rock, and more at the quality of the product as a whole.

Worthy of note are the improved character models. The human races (Nords, Imperials, Redguards, and Bretons) have more subtle features, while each have more pronounced differences: the Imperials, for example, are fairer in complexion and look more diplomatic, while the Nords look tougher and more rugged. Khajiits and Argonians, too, look better: they look much more like believable and lifelike than they did in Oblivion. Orcs, too, look more fearsome: however, strangely, they look more like green humans in this installment of The Elder Scrolls.

The enemies, too, are much more detailed. Whereas Oblivion's trolls looked rather like globs of fatty green – excuse the technical term, here – "stuff," Skyrim's trolls look weathered and intimidating.

On consoles, Skyrim is spectacular. It should be noted for comparison, though, that on a high-end PC, with graphics set to "Ultra High," the game is nothing short of breathtaking.

Gone are the days of Oblivion's four voice actors (plus Patrick Stewart as Emperor Septim). Skyrim features over seventy different voice actors, with prestigious actors such as Christopher Plummer (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), Max Von Sydow (Minority Report), and Joan Allen (The Bourne Ultimatum) lending their voices to characters. The result is a game world that feels truly massive and much more alive.

There are satisfying clangs of swords hitting flesh, dull thuds of a shield blocking a heavy strike from an axe, an archer's arrows whizzing past your head. The sound of magic spells being cast is crisp and mystical: it is always a delight to hear the whooshing sound when you cast a stream of fire at your enemies.

And then...then there are the Dragon Shouts. They are powerful calls to the universe and, thankfully, the voice actors manage to deliver these lines with a quiet, almost understated sense of gritty power and raw epicness.

The music in this game is a beautiful combination of new and old melodies: composer Jeremy Soule makes excellent use of themes from Morrowind and Oblivion. For longtime fans of the series (particularly of the music), it is simply a thrill to hear memorable motifs from the older games.

Now, Skyrim is not glitch-free. Bethesda's games are notoriously buggy upon release, and although Skyrim is much better than previous releases, it is not perfect. Most of the glitches are, thankfully, fairly minor and are only game-breaking in the sense that they break the feeling of immersion that the series so masterfully creates. However, it would be wise to keep in mind that there are a few game-breaking bugs: mostly involving the game's A.I. – therefore, it would be a good idea to keep several game saves, just in case one of them gets glitched.

Skyrim's gameplay is addicting. Really addicting. In fact, it's probably a good idea to set aside several hours of your life in one sitting: if you're planning on doing something today, do not sit down and start playing! It will be really hard to pull yourself away from the game.

The game takes the best elements of Morrowind and Oblivion and, at the same time, fixes issues and streamlines the experience. The result is, without a doubt – and I'm not exaggerating when I say this, one of the smoothest, cleanest, and most exciting Western RPG's ever created. And in doing so, Bethesda has created an experience that is accessible to all: hardcore RPG fans might cry afoul that they can't have Elven Greaves with a Fur Cuirass and Ebony Pauldrons...but I guarantee you that when you really delve into the game, these arguments are typically just nitpicking. Why? Because there's really nothing negative that can said about the game.

There are so many different quests and stories that if you get bored, it's really of nobody's fault but your own: most likely what happened is that you played for 10 hours straight and got burned out.

The new U.I. is amazing on consoles. It's radically different from Oblivion's, but it very quickly starts to feel natural. Simply tap the B button (on Xbox 360) to bring up the radial menu, then flick the left thumbstick twice in any direction: 'up' brings you to the Skills menu (which, when applicable, becomes the 'Level Up' screen), 'right' to access your inventory, 'left' to access magic, and 'down' to access the map.

Fast travelling is back in the game, but it doesn’t feel quite as 'cheap,' per se, as it did in Oblivion: partly because the Skyrim game world is much larger, and also because your character moves much more slowly (there is no longer a 'speed' attribute). However, there is a 'sprint' button ('left bumper') that allows you to move more quickly for short distances. Alternatively, you can ride a cart from any of the major holds to any other of the major holds. (Costs range from 20 gold to 50 gold, depending on how close or far away the destination hold is.)

One of the gameplay elements that was handled exceptionally well, however, were the dragons themselves. Prior to the release of the game, I was most apprehensive: would they be overused? Would dragons become another ho-hum enemy that is simply thrown at you to break the monotony of fighting skeletons and bandits? The answer, I'm glad to say, is no. Dragons are handled well: they appear at important points in the story, yes, but Bethesda has struck a near-perfect balance between dragons being common and hardly ever showing up at all. What's even better is that the dragons are majestic whilst also being formidable: they're not undefeatable, but they're also not super easy to dispose of.

The game is certainly replayable – as I stated in the summary, there are many different choices you hav to make during the course of the game. It's very cool to play differently and see how your different choices affect the outcome of the game.

Finally, the game boasts upwards of 300 hours of gameplay. I would agree with that statement, partly due to the new "Radial Quest" system, which procedurally generates new quests, potentially ad infinitum. What's also cool is that these quests are also frequently designed to send you to new areas of the map that you haven't explored: Bethesda wants you to see how much effort and work they put into the game.

Skyrim is, quite simply, one of the best gaming experiences. Not one of the best experiences of the month, not one of the best experiences of the year. One of the best gaming experiences ever. Ever. Let that soak in for a moment.

It should suffice to say that Skyrim not only meets, but also surpasses, all of the hype surrounding it. The game even exceeded my own expectations which, as a fan of The Elder Scrolls since Morrowind, were already quite high.

To miss out on Skyrim would be like missing out on your high school graduation, or missing out on prom, or missing out on slaying a freaking dragon!

Story: 9/10 - After Oblivion's hit-and-miss story, Skyrim delivers an epic, exciting story that's so good, you might find you actually want to complete it before engaging in all of the side quests.
Gameplay: 9/10 - Skyrim takes the best gameplay elements from the previous titles, streamlines it, and then decides that the game hasn't yet had the opportunity to drain enough time out of your life, so the developers add even more.
Replayability: 9/10 - Do you really need replayability for a game that's so long? Well, given the number of different types of characters, with different combinations of skills and talents, that you could make, it's really exciting to have the option of going back and seeing how the course of the game can pan out differently.
Graphics: 9/10 - Apparently, it looks absolutely beautiful on a high-end PC with all graphics settings at 'Ultra.' Unfortunately, the 360 doesn’t have quite that much power... but don't get me wrong, Skyrim still looks quite stunning, it's just a bit rough around the edges.
Audio: 9/10 - From the shouts, to the music, to the dragons, to the clanging of swords and the voices of NPC's... Bethesda shows us how good sound design can really up the ante, and take a game from being great to being amazing.
Multiplayer: N/A – N/A

Rating: 9/10 (A)

The Bottom Line: Frankly, I could have summarized my thoughts and feelings about this game in one word: dragons. If you're a fan of the series, you'll love it; if you're not a fan of how Bethesda makes games, if glitches are a huge turn-off, or you didn't enjoy the previous games, then you probably won't like this one.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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

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