Review by Zerothma
"A strong title in a strong series."
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the fifth installment of The Elder Scrolls, as the name suggests. It is made by Bethesda, who made other similar games, like Fallout 3. The difference is that Skyrim takes place in a more medieval time period, more associated with a Lord of the Rings atmosphere, and much, much less post-apocalyptic.
You play as the only person born with the soul of a dragon. This basically allows you to have powers that no other human has, since you have the power of a dragon. Dragons have come back after not being seen for some large amount of time. It is your job to deal with the dragons, since you are the main character and have the power to do so (even though I've seen common cave bears kill dragons twice...). There is also political turmoil and plenty of side stories, but I particularly focused on other aspects of the game.
The story does its job. It sets up a premise, and is at least somewhat enticing, which is great, since I didn't really expect too much from a sandbox game.
The game looks great for the most part. It certainly doesn't compare to some games like Final Fantasy XIII, but if I only had to design hallways and cutscenes with an enormous budget, I'd make darn sure it looked great. Skyrim is so massive that I can't expect perfection in every single spot, nor can I expect the best, most cutting edge graphics. The game is simply too massive to support that (on consoles, at least. That's what I'm playing on). For an Xbox 360 game, the overworld is nothing short of amazing. It's when you get into dungeons and houses that you start to see some bad graphics, or misplaced objects.
There are a few objects that have noticeably bad textures, for instance, the head statues in Dwemer runes. I've also found a few places in the game where the game creators didn't put walls together correctly, so you can see straight out into a solid color background. And of course, there are times when you fall through the floors (or see through floors or walls) or find rocks that are one dimensional. I don't expect perfection, but it ruins immersion when this stuff happens.
Immersion is something really big in this game, and it's partially due to the HUD being nearly nonexistent out of battles. The sheer lack of clutter on your screen really helps to take you into the game. Coupled with the excellent graphics, the game becomes a bit more of an experience.
The voice acting in this game is superb. I really can't stress enough that a game this size could have such quality. In comparison to other massive games, this game really stands out. I don't feel like I'm hearing the same voice actors over and over, though there are a few voices that stand out. Even many of the stock sayings are said by different voice actors, so they don't get old too fast. There has only been one time that I can remember that I thought wow that voice acting was bad.
The music is so much more fitting than the music of Oblivion (the previous game in the series). The chanting in general, is so much more fitting to the medieval time period. Essentially, the music gives off an epic feeling, like you are embarking on a grand adventure. The sound effects are mostly spot on, so I have no complaints there. My only complaint is that sometimes the music swells and gets too loud, if for only a moment. That's a fairly minor complaint, I think.
Sadly, the gameplay is the worst part of the game, but I still wouldn't call it bad. In fact, many things in this game are just simply done better than in Oblivion. The combat is still fairly rigid. The AI tries to lead its shots with magic and arrows, so you can wiggle your control stick and make your character walk like a drunken sailor and your opponents will miss every shot. This is how it was in Oblivion as well. Another thing is that enemies often don't react when being damaged. If I swing a two handed war hammer and hit someone in the face with a normal attack, they'll simply take damage, but not even flinch.
One on one combat is very simple, and often times you can just swing wildly until the opponent dies, and this is a very viable strategy. There are a few things that mix up battles though, like shields and shouts (dragon powers). But ultimately the battling is fairly simplistic, which isn't really a bad thing I suppose, but I wouldn't say that the combat is the crowning achievement of this game at all.
My major gripe with the gameplay is the sheer amount of stuff that was taken out since Oblivion. When I started up this game, I told myself, I'm going to level Acrobatics, Unarmed, and Athletics. I quickly found out that none of those existed as a skill that you could level up. Unarmed remained only somewhat intact, but ultimately not what I wanted. But hey, at least I can level my stats up the way I want, right? Nope, base stats aren't in this game. I can't put points in strength or endurance or luck, I can only increase my maximum magicka, health, or stamina upon leveling up.
Already distraught about the lack of stat and skill customization, I came upon perks. You get one point to spend on a perk per level up and it gives you some special ability, or enhances one you already have. Well this is a great substitute for some of the stuff they took out of the game. Then I learned that you can't max everything. I swear this game was dumbed down for the masses so people wouldn't have to think about stat distribution and plan out their level ups. As far as stats customization goes, this really feels much more restrictive than it should be.
Finally, the biggest, most disappointing thing about this game is the loot and quest rewards. When I first started doing quests, I was getting annoyed that NPCs where giving me gold. I want magical items with special effects! Now, as a level 40+ character, I wish they would only give me money. You see, I've only ever received two quest items that I continually used. The vast majority of quests provide you with complete crap as a reward. In fact, the smithing or enchanting skills will pretty much always give you better items than a quest would. This almost defeats the purpose of doing a quest.
I could complain for much longer about stuff they took out and so forth, so I'll just list some more gripes: Making your own spells is gone. Enchanting is more restrictive. Smithing makes finding loot useless. Leveling certain skill trees is required, or else that skill will be very ineffective, even at high levels. Glitches and freezing still common (of course!). Commit a crime and everyone instantly knows in that area. There is no arena. Stat caps, like armor and unarmed damage. Etc, etc, etc...
Skyrim is a really good game. It certainly is worth $60. You will get your money's worth out of this game, as it has large replay value. It has a relatively strong story for a sandbox game, great graphics, great sound and music, and decent gameplay. I would recommend this game to most gamers. Skyrim makes me very excited for the next game in the series, because I think that Bethesda could still do better!
Final Score: 9/10
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/04/12
Game Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (US, 11/11/11)
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