Review by bioadam

"Follow the Arrow"

"Skyrim" is a must play game. Even if all you ever do is wander the countryside and fight the odd bandit, Skyrim is an awesomely wonderful game. And now the bad stuff.

At some point in the game, the Dragonborn makes his or her way to Windhelm. The city is rather bland but comes to life when the Dragonborn finds a murder victim. A mission title flashes on your screen and a downward arrow appears. Your mission is to investigate the murder. The Jarl's helper tells me to discuss the murder with the local coroner. I follow the arrow to the local coroner. Then the local coroner gives me some clues. Now, if you go around following arrows, you can easily solve this mystery. Just follow the arrows to the clues, then follow the arrows to to a person to discuss the clues, and then follow the arrows to the murderer. Or you could do what I tried to do, actually solve the mystery on my own and have nothing to show for it.

Rather than follow the arrows, I explored the city some more. One businessman in the city has a shelf full of the very type of murder weapon described by the coroner. I wait until night and then I sneak into his house. In a locked chest I find the killer's journal. The killer even signed it. Then I head off to the Jarl's helper to submit the evidence. Nothing. There is no dialogue option for "This is the killer's journal. He signed it. Arrest him!". Nope. Just the same two inane phrases that have nothing to do with my solving the murder. I spent about an hour looking for someone in Windhelm to look at the journal and arrest the killer. Nothing. I tried taking on the murderer myself, but the guards came to arrest me for murder. Then I went back to the arrows.

If you solve the murder using the arrows, you have to explore some house, deliver something to someone, then talk about it with someone else, and with someone else again. Finally, you have to stake the area where the next murder will occur. All of this seemed pretty pointless to me, because I knew who the murder really was and I had the evidence to prove it. I will say that the animation showing me gut the killer through the back was rather rewarding. The animation, however, would have been more satisfying about and hour and half earlier.

The inability to out think the game is my major gripe for "Skyrim". Back in 2003, "Morrowind" was wonderfully accommodating to clever players. Even "Oblivion", with its awful leveling system, had a few moments where the crafty could shine. In "Skyrim", though, every quest is rather linear and boring.

My second major gripe with "Skyrim" is the complete waste of time of lockpicking, enchanting, alchemy, and smithing. I appreciate the concept of getting better at something the more you do it, but doing these four things is incredibly boring. The last time I went on a smithing run, I played a podcast in the background to keep from falling asleep. Lockpicking is as stupid as ever. If you ever run out of picks (which is rare), all you ever do is load a fresh save and start again. (Same for pickpocket fails). Speech is another rather useless skill, as you have very few opportunities to alter the game with persuasion and intimidation. For the next installment in the Elder Scrolls series, let's just leave these skills for the perk tree and get one with the fun parts.

The last gripe (I promise) is about magic. Magic has been "nerfed" in "Skyrim". Again, back in "Morrowind" days, you could do anything with magic. Locked door? Magic. Something to high. Magic. No armor? Magic. "Marrowind" let you live a whole adventure with only your wits and magicka and players loved it. Now Magic is nearly useless. My High Elf has level 39 skill for one handed and two damage perks and level 41 for Destruction and one damage perk for fire spells. The one handed sword does more damage than the fire spells - on enemies weak to fire. You have some dragon shouts to learn, but these too become rather useless on high level enemies. (I have yet to disarm or dismay anyone; everyone is resistant to disarming and dismaying). If "Skyrim" was the next in a line of first person slashers, then I would say it was revolutionary and awesome. As an Elder Scrolls game, though, it is really only a better looking version of "Oblivion" with a fixed leveling system. (As a sandbox game with a realistic physics enginge, "Skryim" feels pedestrian compared to the likes "Just Cause 2" or "Crackdown").

Now that the negative is out of me, let us go back to gushing over how wonderful "Skyrim" is. Some of the scenery and nearly every aurora borealis are captivating. NPCs are much more lively and companions are downright useful at times. This game could be nothing but a blank slate where you can explore, fight monsters, and then sell your goods in town. On top of all this wonderment, though, are two well done main plot arcs, several more well done smaller plot arcs, and a dozen or so decent stories in the hundred or so hours of sane game play. At the very least, you get your money's worth with "Skyrim". Plus, this game is about the most fun activity on my Xbox 360.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/22/12

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

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