Game Review - 'The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim'
'The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim', available from Amazon
FPS fans have been getting themselves all excited recently about the release of new entries in two of the biggest franchises of the genre, and whatever small variations and improvements have been made over the versions that year released a year, or so, ago. At least, I assume that's what their all doing – honestly, I haven't really been paying attention.
I'm an RPG gamer, mostly, and I always have been. So, the game that has had me all giddy with anticipation over the past few months was the recently released Skyrim – the fifth entry in the Elder Scrolls series.
Developed by Bethesda Softworks, the games of the Elder Scrolls series has become famous for the impressively large and incredibly detailed worlds presented to the player, and the open-ended play style that gives you the freedom to explore in any way you wish. Each has also sought to improve on the others in every way – with constant refinement of the game-play, improvements on graphics and presentation, as well perfecting the art of creating a highly detailed world to explore. This means that not only are Bethesda hoping to release something that will be an incredible experience for fans of RPGs, but they are trying to improve on a series that already includes some incredible games.
The setting this time is the province of Skyrim, in the far north of the Empire – a harsh and rugged land which is the homeland of the Nords, a harsh and rugged people with heavy influences drawn from Viking culture. Skyrim is a cold and unforgiving land, home to an impressive collection of dangerous creatures, while at the same time possessing a stark beauty – which is exactly as it should be. You can expect to see snow-capped mountains reaching far above you at all times – and should you decide to climb to the summit of one of these mountains, which is of course an option in an Elder Scrolls game, you will be treated to a view of the land stretching out far beneath you.
However, Skryim is also a land torn apart by an escalating civil war, as representatives and supporters of the Empire fight against a growing number of native Nords who wish to see Skyrim break away and stand on its own. And, it is also a land under an even graver threat, as an prophecy foretelling the return of ancient dragons seems to be coming true.
The game starts in what seems to have become something of an Elder Scrolls tradition by now. You are a prisoner, arrested for unspecified crimes, being transported with a handful of other prisoners. You know that you were somehow caught up in an ambush set by the authorities to capture members of a rebel faction, but nothing else. Were you an innocent bystander? Are you sympathetic to the rebels? Why were you there? And, where do you come from? And, most importantly, who are you? Those are all questions you will have to answer for yourself as you play – and, a large part of what makes a good RPG so damn appealing. Your situation seems particularly dire this time around, though, as you learn that the rebel prisoners are being taken to a hasty execution, and no one seems all that concerned about the fact that you have been accidentally lumped in with them. A chance encounter with an attacking dragon a frantic escape and some hasty decisions quickly follow, though – and, it is not long until you find yourself on your own, with the world of Skyrim open to you. Do you choose a side and involve yourself in the war? Do you help the people defend themselves against the attacking dragons? Or, do you set out on your own path simply to see what is out there? Once again, those are questions you will have to answer for yourself.
Game play-wise, Skyrim makes some significant departures from its predecessor Oblivion. Character classes, a traditional staple of the RPG genre, have been removed entirely. Instead of being forced to assign your character as a warrior or a magic-user from the beginning, you are given a broad selection of skills, and the freedom to choose what you wish to focus on as you play – and, in the process, creating your own impression of your character. These skills, as with previous Elder Scrolls games, increase as you use them – learning how to fight with a sword requires nothing more than for you to pick up a sword ans start swinging, for example, and learning to fight while wearing heavy armour requires you to strap on some armour and take a few hits. It is an organic and highly adaptable system that has been used in the Elder Scrolls series since the release of the second game, Daggerfall, in 1996 – and, something which has always set the Elder Scrolls series apart.
As your skills increase, you will also occasionally find yourself gaining another experience level – giving you the option of increasing your health, stamina or reserves of magic, as well as a point to spend on a wide selection of perks for each skill. These perks allow you further freedom in how you develop and define your character – giving you bonuses with certain types of weapons or magic, and other useful abilities.
Combat in Skyrim is, in a single word, fun – something that could not always be said about the combat in previous games. Here, the improvements to the overall look of the game, along with the responsiveness of the controls, means that combat often feels like something bloody and dangerous, rather than the monotonous chore it, unfortunately, sometimes seemed to be previously.
Magic as also been given a significant overhaul. The simple flame spell, for example, which in previous games of a single ball of fire, now lets you shoot out a constant stream of flame from the palm of your hand, for as long as you wish to hold down the button, or for as long as your reserves of magical energy hold out. Best of all, just as with the weaponry, it is now possible to assign a spell to each hand – allowing for a much greater degree of variety and versatility then was possible with the somewhat awkward shuffling from spell to spell that was required in previous games. Also, assigning an electricity based spell (or, fire, if that's your preference) to each hand, and unleashing them on your enemies as either individual bolts, or combining them into something much more powerful with the use of a skill perk, simply looks impressive.
One minor, though for me much appreciated, change which you may also notice is the overall improvement of the conversation system. The odd single word list of topics to ask about, which always bothered me about previous games, is finally gone – having been replaced by the ability to actually have a proper conversation. It still isn't anywhere near the depth you might get in something that Bioware might release, for example, though it is a step in the right direction. Also, another change that is not likely to mean anything to anyone that skipped over Oblivion but which, I'm sure, means a great deal to any of us that did play through it, is the removal of those odd and incredibly distracted randomly generated conversations you would often come across. It seemed like a good idea on paper, though in practice it always seemed to lead to awkward and unintentionally funny conversations that were essentially about very little. The people that inhabit the world around you will still chat amongst themselves here, though this time, it is all prescripted.
There really isn't much negative that can be said about this game. The unfortunate prevalence of odd little bugs and glitches, such as watching someone trying and failing to step over a rock or having a narrow corridor blocked up by people trying to go in different directions among others, are a distraction. And, I was lead to ultimately abandon one player and start over after finding that a woman that had given me a job to do had somehow died while I was out of the city. But, those will hopefully be ironed out with any future patches, and nothing that I have come across so far has seriously marred what has turned out to be a highly entertaining experience.
© 2011 Dallas Matier
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