Review by horror_spooky

"Sky's the limit"

120 odd hours later and I'm finally ready to write this review. Skyrim is the game that never seems to end, and my enjoyment in the land of Skyrim knows no end as well. Is it literally a "perfect" game? No. There probably isn't such a thing, but Skyrim is as close any game can get, I think. I think that after I've poured over 120 hours into a game and there's still just so much to do and see, that is the mark of a game and a game world that is truly landmark. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has had a hold on me since it released in 2011, and now, as we've entered 2013, there is still no end in sight.

My adventures in Skyrim have been many. As I do in all Elder Scrolls games when given the chance, I created an Argonian character and began my adventures. Following the intense opening, in which we are introduced to the new dragon threat that is plaguing Skyrim, I was free to do whatever I liked. I could explore the landscape, visiting many locations on the expansive, snowy landscape of Skyrim, marked by perilous mountain peaks and deep forests filled with secrets. I could go about joining the various factions and rising through the ranks. I could pursue the main quest, of course, and I could also buy a house and settle down with a wife. Basically, whatever I wanted to do, I could do, and that's part of what makes Skyrim so enticing and magical. No two Skyrim playthroughs will be the same, and everyone's Skyrim adventure is their own. Bethesda has managed to create what I believe is likely their magnum opus, and at the same time they've given the gaming world one of the best games the industry has ever seen.

Taking place hundreds of years after the events of Oblivion, Skyrim is a game filled with the stories of its numerous citizens, the plights of its guilds, and the struggle of an impending civil war between the empire and the Skyrim natives. All of these stories are there to be digested by the player, and they are all fairly captivating, with a decent amount of player choice that really makes one feel like they've made some form of an impact on the game world. That being said, the main quest, of course, deals with the resurgence of dragons that are terrorizing the land.

Alduin, an ancient and powerful dragon, has been revived, and he intends on reviving all the other dragons that once served under his rule in an attempt to retake Skyrim. Your character is Dragonborn, which means he or she is able to absorb the souls of dragons that have been felled, and then convert those souls into Dragon Shouts. Shouts are powers activated by speaking in the dragon language, and after playing Skyrim, it's hard to go back to any Elder Scrolls game in which they are absent.

Shouts fit in perfectly with all the other elements of Skyrim. They complement the typical combat and magic wonderfully. Early Shouts cause characters to bellow with such force that enemies are shot across rooms or off cliffs to their deaths. Later Shouts yield new abilities, such as breathing fire, slowing down time, disarming opponents, and much more. Like I said, I loved the Shouts, and they add a whole new layer of strategy to the game's combat.

Typical Elder Scrolls combat abilities and magic categories return in Skyrim, though it has all been streamlined and simplified, and the result is an RPG with a much cleaner interface and better overall accessibility. There are now three core sets of skills, which are Thief, Warrior, and Mage. The Thief focuses on abilities such as speechcraft, sneaking, and lockpicking, while Warrior deals with the various combat styles in the game. Mage, of course, is magic-based.

Skyrim can be played in so many different ways, and all the different play styles result in a game that feels completely different every time. Players can choose to take up archery, or if they'd rather get in closer to enemies, they can use one-handed or two-handed weapons. Stealthy players will want to work on their sneaking skills, and magically endowed characters can heal wounds in the midst of battle or summon creatures to fight for them. A wide variety of equipment is available to discover, purchase, or craft in the game to augment these abilities. Players can choose to wear light or heavy armor, and find all sorts of magical attire that can boost their stats in many of the different skill fields.

A trademark feature of the Elder Scrolls series is to allow players to level up simply by working on their different abilities. Skyrim retains this feature, but also makes the entire leveling up process much less of a pain than it was in Oblivion. Oblivion's leveling process was obtuse and unwieldy, and since the enemies leveled with you, I mostly avoided leveling up the entire game. Skyrim, on the other hand, makes it clear which skills are leveling up, how close they are to their next level, and how much each skill is contributing to the overall XP bar.

When that bar is filled, players level up. The level cap is an incredible 81, which is obtained when all of the different skills have been leveled to 100. At each level up, players choose to increase their magic bar, their health, or their stamina. This also helps players craft a character that is uniquely their own, and this method supports all sorts of different play styles. The stamina bar, by the way, is a green bar on the lower right hand corner of the screen that governs sprinting and power attacks, and also plays a nice role in the game that keeps it relevant and important, which many other RPGs that employ a similar feature fail to do.

Each level up also results in a skill point being awarded. Skill points are spent in one of the various skill trees. The higher level a specific skill is, the more points can be spent in that skill, and the greater the rewards. Overall, the leveling system in Skyrim is uncomplicated and user friendly. I straight up avoided leveling in Oblivion due to how obtuse and unnecessary its leveling system was, but Skyrim gets it right. Leveling is straight forward, encourages exploring all sorts of different play styles, and is incredibly satisfying.

Something else I avoided in Oblivion was the actual combat. I enjoyed completing quests and going through the stories in Oblivion, but the combat was horrendous in that game. Skyrim makes the combat very challenging, but also very fun. Each confrontation is gritty and intense. Bethesda uses a new camera system (lifted from Fallout 3) to really show the brutality of deathblows or critical strikes. Combat can be as strategic or crazy as the player wishes it to be, which is just another example of how open Skyrim.

Exploration in Skyrim is less annoying than it was in its predecessor as well. The loading times have been drastically cut. While they are still a little too long for my tastes, they are not long to the point that it makes the game a chore. There are still irritating slopes and the occasional glitch, but overall, the exploration in Skyrim is much less of a hassle. Dragons can become quite irritating as they limit fast traveling and tend to show up at the worst times, but they became manageable later in the game, and the annoyance of dragons is eradicated entirely with the latest DLC, Dragonborn, due to a new ability gained in that game which I will not discuss here.

Skyrim pushes the Xbox 360 to its very limits. Skyrim's draw distance is hugely impressive, and while it has its fair share of technical problems, as any game of this size will, the game is still incredibly beautiful. Animation has been improved, there is so much detail in the environment, and everything really pops out of the screen. Playing Skyrim doesn't feel like playing a video game; it feels like stepping into a completely different world. Hours can pass in real life, yet feel like only minutes have passed in Skyrim. The artists at Bethesda that crafted this world have managed to create a fictional world that is living and breathing and will not likely be forgotten.

Attention to detail in Skyrim goes beyond the graphics. Books are everywhere that expand on the backstory and lore. Story elements draw on all of the different entries in the Elder Scrolls series to help craft a consistent universe between all of the Elder Scrolls titles. Skyrim is, so far, the ultimate adventure in this fictional universe that Bethesda has created, and I recommend anyone even slightly interested in the fantasy genre to buckle up and take a dive in Skyrim.

Skyrim delivers on all fronts. As I pointed out, the game is a graphics powerhouse. Voice acting is fantastic, and the orchestral score is nothing short of brilliant. Bethesda knows how to use the subtlest sound effects to really help a game world come to life, and that is shown in full force with Skyrim. Every step draws you in. The magical whistling of spells as they are being prepped in your palms makes it all feel somehow possible. I may be getting a bit melodramatic, but Skyrim is the epitome, to me, of what a game should be.

All the different stories told here are good. The Guilds all provide engrossing, twisting plots to follow, and the never-ending line of miscellaneous objectives introduce plenty of interesting characters. The main quest is not as unforgettable as it could've been, but it has its fair share of moments and, though it is not as impressive as the other stories told in the game, it is still better than most of the stories in other RPGs these days.

With unbelievable visuals, a fantastic score, hugely improved gameplay, and a world that I would probably spend forever in if I could, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the reason why I play video games. Experiences like these don't come around often, but when they do, they have a profound effect on not only the gaming industry, but pop culture in general. Skyrim is, without a doubt, one of the greatest games released in the seventh generation of gaming.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 01/09/13

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

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