Review by JMR1904

Reviewed: 11/30/11

Obsessional Gaming at its Very Best

I was tempted to give Skyrim a ten out of ten. To explain why I didn't isn't that hard, the game has some pretty major flaws. Flaws which in a lesser game would have been vastly more damaging. That they aren't in Elder Scrolls V is a testament to just how good a game this really is.

Before I gush embarrassing lavish praise over this game, like a fourteen year old with his first crush, I will take a moment to outline the faults which stop Skyrim from being perfect. First the game has overly long load times, You go in a house it takes a few seconds to load the interior, you leave the house it takes upwards of twenty seconds to load the main world. And seeing how you'll be popping in and out of houses, dungeons, castles, guilds, shops and many other buildings, it's annoying and should have been improved. The game is also not as beautiful as it should have been. It is huge and that earns it a hell of a lot of forgiveness, but the textures aren't all that great and the character models aren't as crisp and distinct as they could have been. The game freezes, not often, thank goodness, but it does freeze, maybe three times in the 80+ hours in which I've been playing it. Hand to hand combat is a trifle cumbersome as is archery making them somewhat less enjoyable than they might have been.

There are other less important issues but these are the ones which for me stood out and were, collectively, enough for me to knock that last star off the rating. Am I sad to do it? Hell yes, because Skyrim is the most addictive gaming experience I've had in a long while.

I've played all the games in the main line of the Elder Scrolls going all the way back to Arena in the mid 90's and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Skyrim is head and shoulders the best of the bunch. The heart of the reason why I think that isn't because of the technical improvements Bethesda have made during that time. Nor is it because it's such an expansive free roaming open world experience, all of Daggerfall, Morrowind and Oblivion were that. Indeed there's a good argument to make that says there was actually more freedom to customise your characters and spells in those three games than there is here in Skyrim. No the reasons why V is an effortlessly better game than its predecessors is that it makes the emotional connection between the gamer and the game in a way that the other never could. Oblivion, despite having the single best RPG engine of any game of its era was a cold and unlovable game. Playing that I never for a moment felt connected to the events. The story and the character I met while playing my way through the Crisis were bland, uninteresting and instantly forgettable. Not in Skyrim, almost every single quest giver, authority figure, antagonist or companion is, in some way, unique and memorable. The choices that you have to make are given weight and made to feel as if they have consequence and this is the point of why a lot of people play RPGs to begin with. You want to have an effect on the world, stats are great, leveling is fun, finding new and more powerful loot is a blast, but... without a story and world to care about while you are doing all this stuff it comes to be stale fare very, very soon.

I could end this review right here and I would have made the most important of why I think any gamer, particularly and RPGamer should run out and buy SKyrim right now if not sooner, but... this is Skyrim, it's huge and there are a lot of things to talk about.

Apart from the sense of connection which lifts ES:V to a new level for the series, the most impressive thing about the game is the sheer variety of things you get to do. Want to join a brother and sisterhood of noble warriors? You can do that. And then find their dark secret? You can do that. Do you want to become part of the Mage's guild and deal with the fallout created by a new, powerful and exciting discovery? You can do that. Do you want to help rebuild the Thieves Guild back to the notoriety and impotence it once enjoyed? You can do that. Do you want to wander the land, fighting giants, bandits, werewolves and dragons while paying almost no attention to any of the quests? You can do that. Do you want to become a world class smith, creating armour and weapons of legendary strength and ability, do you want to become an alchemist, hunting the land for reagents to make potions which will save your life in the toughest of fights, or merely give you an edge while haggling with a merchant, do you want to pick pockets, pick locks, sneak, back stab, master one handed weapons, two handed, bows, several different schools of magic.... (breathe Jon, breathe) Yeah, you can do that and whole hell of a lot more. Skyrim is simply paced solid with any number of fun and exciting things to do. And you can do them in almost any order and anyway you want. You can be noble and upright, underhand and vicious, smart, cunning, thugish or wary, the choice is yours. The game gives you scope to be any or all of these things.

I've barely touched on the main plot or the setting and while in previous ES games this might not have mattered here they're damn important. Skyrim with its Nordic setting, peoples, conflicts, architecture and history makes for an excellent and memorable game world. You are thrown in as a prisoner about to be executed for being the wrong place at the wrong time, only to have your life saved by an attacking dragon. After the forty minutes or so of the introductory quest, the game lets go of your hand and you can play as much or as little of the central story as you like. Personally I'd recommend playing the main story, it is a good one, with epic events, great characters an the opportunity to go to some of the best looking and most interesting places in the game. But I'd not recommend doing it to the exclusion of everything else the game has to offer. If you did I suspect that you could race through ES:V in twenty five to thirty hours. But really, why would you want to, when you'd have a chance to do any or all of the other possible things I mentioned above, not to mention the hundreds of other things I've failed to find so far.

So, that's Skyrim, not in a nutshell, I doubt that anyone could do justice to this expansive, gorgeous, witty, fascinating, compelling game, in brief. But then Skyrim doesn't do brief, it doesn't do ten minutes, time killing, gaming. Instead it wants you to strap yourself into your chair and be prepared to give up a substantial portion of your life. The guys at Bethesda have honed their format of gaming to a new plateau and as you stand there with them, gazing out over vast expanse which is Skyrim, you and they both now that there's no reason not to spend days at a time with this new obsession. As a player you will kill Deer, Mammoths, Giants, the undead, bandits, warring clansmen, thieves, wolves, hags, the Forsaken and dragons. And while you are doing that and everything else in Skyrim, the game will kill your sleep, your relationships, your work and any prospect of your leaving your house for days at a time.

Even with the flaws Skyrim is utterly brilliant and amongst the best gaming experiences I've ever known. Play it now.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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