The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
The Elder Scrolls has always had a dedicated following, but given the
success of Oblivion and the expectations for its sequel, I assumed
Bethesda would play it safe and deliver a slightly enhanced continuation
of the franchise. Instead, I walked away feeling I had played the next
evolution of the series.
I wasn’t so optimistic as the game opened. Skyrim’s story begins with
a political prisoner’s beheading at a public execution. This sequence
is worrisome, not because my character was the next in line to feel the
axe, but due to the choppy narrative flow. The intensity that is
supposed to accompany this scene is stripped away by robotic character
animations, confusion over who is talking at any given point, and
uncomfortable lulls in the pacing. Making this scene feel real requires
just as much imagination as a Dungeons & Dragons session. Cinematic
storytelling has never been Bethesda Game Studios’ strong suit, and I
find it surprising that the team decided to make it such a prominent
component in Skyrim’s introductory moments.
This disappointing sequence concludes with an unexpected yet
praise-worthy series of events. Before my character's head was
permanently separated from his body, a dragon swooped in and burned as
many of the poorly established characters as it could. This awesome
moment transitions to an escape sequence that plays out similarly to a
Call of Duty “follow” mission. As I ran in the opposite direction of the
thrashing beast, it smashed through walls in pursuit, implying that I
was the target all along. Again, this exacting approach seems out of
place in an open world Bethesda production, but it ends up being a great
transition that sets up the true heart of this adventure. After its
rocky first steps, Skyrim’s story and gameplay find their stride.
From the moment the attack subsided and my character emerged safely
onto Skyrim’s mountainous terrain, I found myself in awe of the world
around me. All of Bethesda's releases this generation have given me that
“I’m not in Kansas anymore” feeling once the open world is revealed,
but not to the degree that Skyrim does. This world has that Rapture or
Arkham Asylum allure, and is as much of a star of this adventure as any
of the characters, dragons, or gameplay.
While Skyrim's landscape doesn’t have the fantastical elements of the
aforementioned places, excitement and a true sense of discovery are
tied to the secrets hidden within. I climbed a mountain to find a
long-forgotten tomb, crossed a frozen tundra in search of powerful
masked adversaries linked to one of this world’s greatest mysteries, and
found myself riding my steed with haste toward a village under dragon
attack. Much of the content the world offers is worth devoting time to,
whether that leads to an enchanted sword or a settlement filled with
The frequency with which you obtain new quests is astounding. At one
point, I had 14 main quests and 32 miscellaneous quests active at once.
This huge list turned me into an antisocial outcast; I stopped
approaching other characters for fear of getting more quests from them.
Even this strategy wouldn't work, as messengers would hand me documents
containing new quests, and some NPCs rewarded jobs well done with
additional tasks. After completing the narrative quest and logging over
100 hours into the game, I still found myself overwhelmed by the amount
of uncompleted quests, NPCs I neglected to talk to, and areas of the map
that I hadn’t visited yet.
A story thread accompanies almost every quest. Some of these tales
tie into the main conflict at hand (your character is the “Chosen One”
tasked with cleansing the kingdom of dragons), while other side stories
stand on their own or flesh out the world history. In a way, the game
feels like a gigantic collection of short stories. The main campaign is
superbly penned and is Bethesda's best effort to date. All of the scenes
involving the greybeards are fantastic. I also thoroughly enjoyed
Skyrim’s take on the Dark Brotherhood, and I got a big kick out of being
a part of the Bard's Guild (my evil character had music in his heart
all along). Even the books scattered across the kingdom, of which there
are a dizzying amount, have great tales to tell.
Most of these story threads took me to new places on the map.
Oblivion was knocked for its lack of variety in its dungeon designs.
This isn't the case with Skyrim. Yes, there are repeated textures and
rock formations, but the composition of each dungeon is largely unique
and individualized – in some cases with one-off Indiana Jones-like
puzzles or traps. The dungeon designs also factor in player convenience
with easily accessible exits. That's right, you no longer have to endure
extensive backtracking to return to the overworld.
I planned to create a tank character who relied on a sword and shield
combination, but quickly became addicted to the brilliantly designed
spell casting. It empowered me with the feeling that I was a medieval
Emperor Palpatine, capable of decimating foes by blasting fire and
electricity simultaneously out of two outstretched hands.
Since your character is Dragonborn (“Dovakiin” in the game’s ancient
dragon language), he or she can also bellow powerful magic-like shouts.
The fact that the simple act of yelling can engulf a handful of enemies
in deadly flames is hilarious, bad ass, and an amazing new power added
to the Elder Scrolls mix.
The variety of spells and shouts is extensive and fun to experiment
with (try rocking fire, ice and electricity at the same time). I also
found myself experimenting more with my skill types than I have in any
other Elder Scrolls game, thanks to the rewarding new perk system.
All of the game's spell and weapon management is handled
exceptionally well through a streamlined menu system that is the most
user-friendly solution I’ve seen in an RPG. Any spell or weapon can be
added to a favorites list and magic weapons can be recharged with soul
gems with just a few button clicks. I wish inventory management were
handled better in a broad sense, since I had to spend too much time
finding vendors who would accept certain items and have the adequate
funds to buy them. Not being able to sort items in the chest is also a
Combat showcases just as much improvement as the spell functionality.
In Oblivion, I exploited enemy AI by backpedaling and firing spells as
foes haplessly tried to reach me. This tactic no longer works in Skyrim.
Enemies on the offensive move faster than your backpedaling character.
While their pathfinding can still be exploited in certain situations –
such as an enemy being unable to navigate a table successfully – combat
is largely a test of skill. Every facet of the combat system works well.
Swords clang violently, shields are the lifesavers they should be, and
thanks to your ability to multitask, healing spells can be cast at the
same time as striking.
As terrifying as it is to see a dragon rain fire down on people
fighting to save their homes and families, early fights with these
beasts don’t pack much excitement or challenge. Despite their menacing
appearance, dragons don’t have much defense for sword or spell strikes
to the leg or wing. These flying pigs are easy to cheese...early on.
More powerful dragon types come into play as the game goes on, even
after the critical path's conclusion.
The biggest problem Skyrim runs into has plagued every
Bethesda-developed game I’ve played: It’s buggy. Not to the degree that
Oblivion was – Bethesda makes headway in delivering a more stable
product, but I ran into numerous bugs that forced me to reload previous
saves. The auto-save system charts several recent points, which can be a
relief, but losing progress is annoying and can erase significant
victories and character development. If you play the game for dozens of
hours, you’ll likely run into setbacks like these a few times. Some of
the glitches can be quite funny. For instance, one of my followers
floated behind me horizontally like Han Solo trapped in Carbonite. I
also killed a dragon in one hit, yet its skeleton remained alive and
invincible in the world (I named him Broken, the fearsome).
These problems, as unwanted as they are, don’t hold Skyrim back from
being Bethesda Game Studios’ finest release to date. This is one of
those games that I go into with a clear idea of what I want to
accomplish, but somehow along the way find myself on the other side of
the continent with eight hours of gameplay under my belt and no
checkmarks next to my planned tasks. Skyrim ruled my life for two
straight weeks, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a fixture in
my gaming rotation for the remainder of the year. It's one of the
biggest, most content rich games I've had the pleasure of playing.
Review Stats:I spent 11 days within the world of Skyrim. Here are a few of the stats from my playthrough:Time: 105.08.59Quests Completed: 126People Killed: 847Animals killed: 354Creatures Killed: 225Undead Killed: 467Daedra Killed: 13Automatons Killed: 67Dragon Souls Collected: 43Shouts Learned: 19Shouts Unlocked: 20Shouts Mastered: 9Times Shouted: 855Words of Power Unlocked: 46Favorite School: RestorationFavorite Spell: Fast HealingFavorite Shout: Fire BreathTotal Lifetime Bounty: 48,111Largest Bounty: 14,080Locks Picked: 137Potions Used: 309
The EndingIf you think you completed the story campaign,
but the credits didn’t roll, trust your gut. Given the expansiveness of
the side quests in Skyrim, Bethesda chose to throw you right back into
the game world rather than force you to watch 25 minutes of credits. If
you want to see who made the game, there’s an option to watch the
credits in the main menu.
Email the author Andrew Reiner, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.