Review: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

November 10, 2011, By Christian Davis

Being overwhelmed in a game is something that doesn’t happen to me too very often. Unless it’s a title that sends massive waves of enemies that exceed 40 members or something unbearably hard, being overwhelmed is hard for me to experience. When I entered the world of Skyrim, I was overwhelmed within minutes from the sheer amount of openness that was presented in front of me. This isn’t a negative aspect of the title either, this is meant to be used in the most positive sense of the word. A game where you’re literally free to do whatever you want, get nothing accomplished, and still feel completely satisfied is a scary thought if you’re someone who’s trying to be as productive as possible. Bethesda has developed a real world task killer and it’s called Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

When you dive into the latest venture of the Elder Scrolls universe, the only scripted event that takes place when the game starts. You wake up in a wagon with several other handcuffed citizens. You don’t know what’s going on but you can tell that you’re in some deep trouble and you probably won’t survive the end of this trip. The caravan stops in a small village filled with Skyrim soldiers. They’re calling out names of who you’ve now realized are prisoners and they’re all going to be executed for a crime that you didn’t commit. Aside from the fool who tried to run off (he didn’t live very long), each person is prepared to face their demise. Once the soldiers’ attention is directed at you, they realize that you’re not on the list at all and you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is when the very in-depth character customization begins.

In Skyrim there are 10 races to choose from, most of which look entirely different. There are the Nords, Imperials, Bretons and Redguards which are your humans, Woodelves, Orcs, the Kahjiit which are anthromorphic tiger beings, High Elves, and Argonians, the reptile based beings. After you select your race you then can start to spend hours on the fine details of your character. Skin tone, hair style, nostril size, forehead width, brow shape, ear length, nose bridge width, etc…If you can think it, odds are you’ll have the option to edit it.

Skyrim is about dragons and it doesn’t take long before you encounter your first one. As soon as you finish your character customization, you’re already face to face with a monstrous, fire breathing creature. Your goal from this point on is to just escape. You’re told to follow a soldier who then takes you through various caverns and passages to escape the city, fighting whoever opposes you two on the way out. During this time you’ll learn abilities such as magic, lock picking, archery, stealth, and a few other crucial character attributes.

You eventually make it out of the endangered town into a beautiful, open forest. The man who helps you out says you should part ways and then that’s it. You are now completely on your own and can do whatever you want. You are given an objective to go and visit the small town to get things started but that’s completely optional. Elder Scrolls titles have always been about options and that includes the main story based missions. Let’s briefly discuss how your first three hours of gameplay can go: You can run up some mountains, kill a few animals and collect their pelts and claws, get attacked by a few wolves, and do all of these 10 miles in the complete opposite direction of the primary objective. You can do all of this and won’t punished for these activities because it truly is an open world. Though you technically didn’t complete anything important, you’re still left with this feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. If you can have fun doing essentially nothing while playing a game, there’s something uncontrollably special about it.

Running around aimlessly is also accompanied with such a vast and gorgeous landscape. Snowy ice topped mountains, lush forests filled with wildlife, disgusting and decrepit sewers, old and rusted ancient dungeons, trap riddled tombs and a slew of other highly detailed locations that really have the world of Skyrim feel alive and interesting. You want to explore these areas to their fullest no matter how long that could really take. Sometimes that could take quite a while as well because some of the load times are just abysmal even with the game installed.

Taking time to venture out allows you to see all of the various creatures and wildlife that makes the world seem so lively. There are wolves, rabbits, foxes and other woodland creatures that inhabit the world and are expected. Some beings such as the giants for example are what really let you know the scale of the world that subsists in this universe. The giants are these massive, thin characters who carry around these large clubs. Sometimes they don’t pay attention to you at all, while others will attack you full on (in which case you may want to flee). One of the giants that I encountered was walking around with its pet mammoth (also huge) in the forest. I felt non-existent as I rode by on what I once thought was a valiant steed.

When you open up your map (which you’ll do often) and you notice your next objective is considerably far from you, it’s not really something that you dread. It’s somewhat exhilarating to think about all the possibilities. What you’ll encounter, who you’ll meet, where you’re going exactly, weapons and loot that you’ll find, or the possibility of encountering a dragon.

Skyrim is being plagued by dragons that were said to be extinct for hundreds of years. Just the thought of a dragon being nearby makes each and every long ride considerably intense and keeps you on your toes, waiting for one to appear. A lot of the time it doesn’t happen, but when it does, it turns into one of the best boss fights you’ll ever have. When you fight a dragon for the first time, it’s not expected. Similar to when you’re running through a forest and you see a giant spider or pack of wolves, the giant winged creature just appears. The feeling however is very ominous and you instantly realize that you’re in for a battle that you’ll probably never forget. When a dragon decides to put you on its list of things to burn, the music queue is different and feels more dark and heavy. Odds are you won’t know what’s going on until you see it fly overhead.

That’s when the rush of both excitement and terror overcomes you as you’re trying to prepare yourself for this battle. These battles feel different from when you fight anything else because the dragon can take you places you won’t expect in a battle. In your determination to defeat this dragon, you may not have noticed that you’ve been chasing it up across mountains and across rivers. The dragon will fly around mountains and disappear for a short while and then reappear. Sometimes it will even get distracted by easier prey and you have to chase it down. The next thing you know, you’re in some area that you’ve never been before. There will be no greater feeling than defeating a dragon in Skyrim this year. It’s the epitome of your gaming accomplishments in 2011 and it’s something that each player needs to experience.

Amidst all the wildlife and scenery, there are literally hundreds of people that you’ll encounter while navigating through the massive, massive world of Skyrim. Some will be simple characters who you’ll exchange a few words with and forget while others will want to prove dominance over you and initiate fist fights at random. It’s great to see that diverse of a personality in people. Keeps you engaged and encourages you to talk to the various characters you’ll meet because you’ll never know what kind of situation you’ll end up in. A lot of the time they could give you a small side mission and even items and spells.

Surprisingly, the race you choose at the beginning of the game affects how some people speak to you as well. Some of the people of Skyrim have a lot of animosity towards Elves of any sort. If you happen to be an elf and speak to one of these citizens, their tone is considerably more hostile in comparison to how they’d speak with a Nord. You’ll even get different missions depending on which race you choose as well; in turn opening up a whole new area of exploration that you may have missed or not have had the option to explore.

Depending on your character actions with people, a new realm of possibilities also opens up in the form of guilds and groups. If you’re a noticeably bad person and you steal, kill, and take morally questionable quests just for fun, odds are, you’ll be contacted by the Dark Brotherhood for example. Joining a group like this gives your character a whole new aura about them and people notice this. When going into new villages and towns inhabitants of Skyrim will either welcome you or try to avoid you and appear more canny. There was an instance where a person said that they knew me, said a code word, and then showed me some hidden loot. This all happened because we were part of the same guild. There are also times where simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time could get you killed or force to pay a toll to some bandits.

Your character can do a lot in this game and leveling up is something that you’d want to do as soon as it happens. You can choose to be proficient in many things in Skyrim such as magic, archery, or sword fighting for example and this can all be improved upon each time your character levels up. Leveling up is easily one of the most beautiful things in this game. When you enter the talent trees section, your character looks up towards the sky and constellations appear. Each constellation is a specific category that you can level. It’s one of the coolest looking aspects in Skyrim and much more aesthetically pleasing than traditional menus.

Magic is definitely one of the coolest traits to level up. Each character has it whether you want to make that your major skill or not, but if you take the time to fully develop that ability you’ll become a reputable force to be reckoned with. In the later levels of the magic talent tree you’ll be able to summon spirits that will fight for you such as wolf spirits, or you can upgrade your healing ability to encompass both hands; doubling the speed your health will regenerate. Conjuring magic during combat is also a great way to stay alive while fighting if the situation calls for it. One hand uses the healing spell while the other wields the sword is a great way to make some quick, safe escapes until you’re fully healed.

If you decide that you want to focus on brute strength, you’re covered there too. The amount of weapons and armor in Skyrim is insane. Within the first few missions you would have easily came across 30 different types of swords, 12 different bows, a variety of arrows, shields, hammers, helmets, and a whole lot more. You’ll constantly be finding something that you’ll be want to either keep for later or sell to the closest vendor. You do have a limit to how much you can carry otherwise your character will have his travel speed reduced significantly. When that happens it’s such a heartbreaking moment to leave some things that you really liked behind. You start to get in the habit of clearing out a majority of your items so you can be free to grab anything you want. Simple planning like that is the best thing to do if you want to go on a loot binge.

With all of your abilities and weapons at your disposal, Skyrim remains balanced more or less. You never feel too powerful; just enough so you’re confident in a fight but aware that you could possibly still die. The game is always challenging but not overbearingly difficult to where you get frustrated, usually. There are some portions where the game where the difficulty spikes exponentially and you’re wondering what happened to that tough soldier you once were. If all else seem to fail, you could always just run away until your magic regenerates or you find another weapon. Those are all very viable options because you will end up in many hairy situations but that’s one of the best parts about the game.

Normal games simply take time away, maybe no more than a few hours. Skyrim will take days away from you and you won’t regret any of it. The feeling you get of participating in actual exploration is second to none and it’s astounding to have all of this content on just one disc. Making your way through Skyrim is one of the best experiences you’ll have playing videogames. The massive world is never boring, always active, and consistently has that constant feeling of life while playing. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the culmination of everything that Bethesda did right with Fallout 3 and Oblivion but more polished.

Get lost in Skyrim, you’ll enjoy every second.


Copy was based off an Xbox 360 version provided by Bethesda

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