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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

by on 11/10/2011

The Elder Scrolls series has been around since I was just four years old. The universe Bethesda has created over the last seventeen years is just that, its own universe. With a plethora of races, regions, and even gods, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of an Elder Scrolls game.

You have to accept it though, for the time being this is the closest you can get to entering an alternate reality. So when you enter the world of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim be aware that you are a new resident in Tamriel.

On your entry into this world you find yourself on the back of a carriage carrying criminals. All of you are captured for various reasons and the Imperial army is delivering you to the town of Helgen for an inevitable beheading.

When you arrive the guards start to read their prisoner manifest which you aren’t present on. This scene transitions into character customization. You choose your race from a huge variety, I chose the Breton race because I didn’t want to be a native (Nords), lizard (Argonian), or cat (Khajiit). Of course there are more races all that come with a race based inherited skill, so that may also dictate your decision.

The rest of the customization focuses solely on facial features. I always struggle with Bethesda character creation because the past two games (Oblivion/Fallout) the characters always come out weird-looking one way or another. I don’t know what changes were made this time around but let’s just say I am somewhat ruggishly handsome.  You can also tattoo your face, unfortunately I never know if I want a tattoo in the beginning of a game, because I don’t know if it will suit my character’s personality so unfortunately I am tattoo-less.

After you create your character the introduction continues. The Imperial army has everyone lined up while they are setting up for the executions. In the meantime you keep hearing talks of a rebellion that is occurring in Skyrim. A group called the Stormcloaks, are apparently trying to unseat the current rule over Skyrim. You learn about this because one of the prisoners is actually the leader of the group.

After one loudmouth prisoner finally gets beheaded, guess who is on deck? You are brought to the recently used bloody stump to lay your head and take your punishment for crimes unknown. Luckily as the executioner is about to use his axe, you are greeted by the other aspect of Skyrim, dragons. This dragon decides to break up the little party and conveniently allows you to escape to start your life anew.

So here you are smack dab in the middle of the region called Skyrim and the choice is yours to do what you wish. A civil war is brewing between the Imperials and Stormcloaks, splitting the map in half. Then on top of it, you and a handful of others have just seen the first dragon that has been seen in centuries. Needless to say this will not be the last.

As you explore the world you will realize that there is a lot to do. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to old fans. Other than a primary quest to help guide you slightly, you can do whatever you want. I found myself spending the first hour or so just harvesting plants, killing wildlife, and finding landmarks.

The game will give you the main story quest to guide you slightly, I only did about 5 or 6 of the main quests just to give me an idea of what I was getting into before I lost myself in doing everything else. When I say “there is a lot to do” I am not kidding.

You can be a(n):

Blackmith – turn animals pelts into leather, smelt ore into useable metal bars, create armor/weapons, and even upgrade armor/weapons.

Alchemist – find ingredients, create potions, learning the effects of ingredients, and fine tune your alchemy to create even more potent potions.

Explorer – find enchanted items, destroy items to learn the effects of the enchantment,  enchant your armor/weapons/jewelry to boost stats or deal special damage.

Then again you can avoid specialization hobbies and focus on more practical things like pickpocketing, lock picking, and stealth.

You can also level these sorts of things up as you play by joining guilds like the new guild called the Companions who live to monster hunt and be epic, or you can join the thieves guild, or my personal favorite the Dark Brotherhood. You can go a more scholarly route too and go to the mage’s guild or check out the Bard’s college.

If you finally get around to it you will be very impressed with the story in itself. I wasn’t a big fan of Oblivion’s story, especially when it came time to closing all the gates and the repetition that came with it. The only problem I have this time around though, is that Bethesda is going to have one hell of a time topping an epic story that combines medieval civil war and dragons.

It is very hard to stay on track with the story though. Not because it is confusing or anything, but rather that when you are trying to do a quest for the main story you will get sidetracked rather easily. I literally walk five minutes and there is something new to do. Whether it is a minor story going on in the city, finding a dungeon to explore, or a random event popping up, I can’t stop myself.

The most recent occurrence was when I was traveling to find the Dark Brotherhood’s sanctuary. On my way to my destination I was first attacked by an orc wearing nothing but pants that is trying to box me, I kill him with my two-handed sword and when I loot his body I find skooma on him, meaning he was high as a kite. I then see a fort under bandit control that I feel obliged to clear out, so I continue to kill more. Finally as I start back on my quest an elf runs into me telling me to hold on to this shield and not to ask any questions. As he runs away a guard runs into me and asks if I seen a little bastard elf run through here, I told him I have and returned the shield to who was the rightful owner. I then made it my job to personally find this elf and kill him myself. These things happen all the time and will keep you off track, yet pull you deeper and deeper into the game.

The gameplay of Elder Scrolls is one of my favorites for RPG’s. I don’t understand why other companies making RPG’s always go the hack-n-slash route, when Bethesda has created gameplay that works like a first person shooter and gives players more control. Whether you are swinging a sword, blocking with a shield, shooting an arrow like a sniper rifle, or casting spells with your bare hands, you are in control.

My most epic moment so far in Skyrim came when I was given a quest from a bartender, who was told to find someone to remove a dragon from a certain area. I made my way to the location still unable to see this dragon they spoke of. As I looked closer I realized this dragon was perched on a ruin and I was right under its tail. I hit his tail with an arrow and irritate the dragon. The dragon then screeches and does a quick lap through the sky as I position myself for battle. As the dragon finally lands my controller and screen rumble, all of a sudden another dragon swoops by like an F-16 right over my head. This dragon is one of many that will show up as a random event, unfortunately this random event happened to occur during a real event that had me already tangoing with a dragon.

The most magical thing I have seen in Skyrim has been when I see a dragon flying. I don’t know what it is exactly, but Bethesda has managed to create such an atmosphere in the game that when I see these things flying overhead with the combination of the scenery, it makes me feel like these mythological beasts could have really existed.

Needless to say I was awestruck, but these winged creatures still needed to die. I whipped out my two-handed great sword and prepared for the worst. As dragons are half the story for the game, you are able to learn “shouts” that are words that your character lets out and have different effects. You activate them with the RB and you can find these words etched onto all different areas when you explore. After you find them they can only be learned when you exchange it for a dragon soul, you obtain a dragon soul when you kill a dragon. So I have a couple like breathing fire, breathing frost, sprinting so fast I could move myself about 30 feet out of danger in a flash, or even slowing time.

So as I am fighting these two dragons I utilized my shouts and also took advantage of Skyrim’s “favorite menu” that allows you to hit up on the d-pad and have instant access to whatever you favorite in your inventory. This was a great feature that didn’t force you to go deep into menus when you needed a health potion or want to change to your bow. It doesn’t seem major but the user interface design really makes a difference when you are investing a lot of time into the game. As you can imagine I used this mostly to keep healing myself from certain death.

I did best the dragons in the end by forcing one into flight while I took the other on, I did this for quite a bit of time, until both of their souls were mine.

My only complaint is something that the game didn’t feature. Although it is very controversial to people who label themselves as “true fans”, I feel that the ability to play this with at least two player co-op would have been amazing. This game has so much to offer and so many epic moments it would be great to share them with a friend. Also unlike a Bioware RPG where dialogue is a large part of the game, Skyrim dialogue rarely had you influencing anything major or even went much further than accepting a new quest.

Skyrim even allows you to make friends with random citizens and have them become your henchman. I did not realize what I was doing when I first did this and ended up taking this thirty year old guy who still lived with his mom into at least four dungeons with me, he even helped me kill a mammoth. I ended up suiting him up with legitimate armor and weaponry. So why couldn’t Bethesda allow a two player co-op experience if I could have an NPC with me at all times?  To think that Bethesda can’t handle creating a rich experience that allowed for more than one player to enjoy is ignorant to the studio’s superior capabilities.

Skyrim offers an experience that is hard to match. Skyrim is truly great, no game this year will come close to how stunning it is. This game right here is game of the year. Minus the fact that I would have loved an added feature for my own enjoyment, it does not take away from the game in any way.  The game is a trifecta of perfect gameplay, story, and presentation.

Other studios better be afraid, because for $60 this game has it all, fun gameplay, an amazing world, a great story, and hundreds of hours worth of gameplay. When most games max out at 30 hours (if that), it is an easy choice to make when you are looking for more bang for your buck. Seriously, just lose yourself in Skyrim. With the combination of great gameplay, the depth in the various crafting options, and exciting exploration, I really hope that $300 million dollar investment Bethesda received back in 2007 to create an MMO will be for an Elder Scrolls MMO.

If you have any questions or want me to expand on anything please let me know. Just leave a comment below and I will help get you any details you are interested in (spoiler free of course)

A copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Xbox 360 was provided to us for review from Bethesda Softworks

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