The lights are on
Many great games have graced our consoles this year, from Arkham City to Dark Souls. Well far be it from Bethesda, developers of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, to not
have their game counted amongst the greats. The
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a finely tuned, annoyingly buggy, incredibly fun
gaming experience that far outshines its predecessor. It isn't perfect,
slipping through the same cracks that Bethesda has grown possibly a little too
comfortable with. However, it succeeds where it should and with flying colors.
From the very beginning, Skyrim
thrusts you into the story and action of the game more intensely than any Elder
Scrolls before it. Still fitting you with the role of the unknown prisoner, the
epic opening sequence does a fantastic job of smashing you directly into the
game, from a narrow escape from an early death, to the adrenaline pumping
flight through the burning town, to the battle through the underground caverns to
safety, each part giving you subtle hints at the overall story, but leaving you
more clueless (and curious) than anything.
As you progress into your first few hours, you learn basics
of the main story you will be a part of (or not, if you so choose). Your
journey takes place in the country of Skyrim, home of the Nordic race. The
dragons of ancient times have come back and you, the prophesied Dragonborn are
the only one that can stop whatever evil plot has brought them back. In the midst
of all this, several other stories are unfolding all throughout Skryim; civil
war, a plot against the ruling body, the stories of the many factions, all of
which are there for you to influence and become a leading part. Each one
feels just as deep and important as the
main story line, with each one introducing you to new and unique characters,
making friends, eliminating enemies, building dynasties, or helping topple
them. These stories and being able to be a part of them is definitely the most
appealing and enjoyable part of Skyrim.
Aside from enjoying the story, Skyrim isn't bad to look at either. The landscape is breathtaking.
The environments, the green forests, riverways and waterfalls, caves, all the
way to the many snowy mountains, all look great and just beg to be explored. Due to these appealing visuals and more varied
environments, exploration not only becomes a must to progress the story, but
for sheer enjoyment as well. You may very well forget you have a mission and
instead choose to dungeon dive or explore the open landscape. Granted, the
textures aren't the greatest when right up in the camera, but if you spend all
of your time putting your face right up against the rocks and trees, then you
will miss out on all the great things Skyrim
has to offer.
Despite the appeal of the stories and the landscapes, you
won't make it very far unless you strengthen your character through exploration
and battle. After all, your character is your link to Skyrim and its stories. The character creation is more or less the
same as Oblivion. You have several
races to choose from, each with their own unique racial traits and/or powers.
The one difference you will notice is that there is no longer a class
selection. Bethesda did away with classes in Skyrim in favor of the player truly being able to shape the
character in their own way, and I must say, it certainly feels great. Without
the restrictions of choosing what major and minor skills you would like to use
in the beginning, Skyrim lets you use
the skills you want from the start, never fencing you in.
Another addition to the leveling system is Perks. Whenever
you level up, which you do by increasing your skills several times, you get the
opportunity to set a perk in one of your skills. This make your skills better
in certain ways, like making your Sneak or One-Handed weapon more effective,
lowing the cost of certain spells, or even adding special abilities like power
hits. With the addition of these perks, your character truly feels like they
are being shaped and leveled the way you want them too.
In addition to the leveling, Bethesda has also tweaked and
fleshed out the combat and its mechanics.
The combat feels so much more fluid now, much more so that Skyrim's
predecessor. Every swing of the weapon feels more natural than before. Even the
new ability to duel wield weapons and spells (or one of each) feels comfortable
for the most part. It takes a bit of getting used to, having two different
buttons to use in the main parts of combat, but eventually if feels right. The
spellcasting has been improved upon much in the same way. Casting is now easier
and more natural to aim, and feels much more rewarding when it hits the mark.
Bethesda also made the menus much more accessible; giving
you the ability to easily access quests and plot them on the map with just a
couple of button presses. The same is true for equipment and items, giving you
access to them quickly with a clean looking menu interface. Having the ability
to set certain weapons, skills, and items to a special favorites menu makes you
most important things even more accessible.
Though your skills and abilities are some of the best parts
of Skyrim, they aren't the only
powers you will be using. As the Dragonborn, you have the ability to perform
Shouts, words called out in the dragon language that, in a certain order,
create special abilities like intense blasts force, ice, fire, etc. and several
other unique abilities. These powers are important parts of the story and you
unlock their secrets as you complete more and more of the story. In addition to
some cool abilities, they add more uniqueness to your character and aid in
making you feel very powerful, almost as much as the creatures you have to slay
to unlock such abilities.
The dragon fights are, without a doubt, some of the most
monumental fights I've had in a video game and are, as I believe, how dragon
battles should be: difficult, epic, and rewarding. In one instance where I was
running up some snowy stares, a dragon swooped down on me unexpectedly. I knew
I couldn't take him out in the open, so I found a tall stone to duck behind
when he blew his ice breath. While he flew around, I stayed covered so as not
to get hit with his breath. When he would land, I would pick away at him with
my bow or a combo of fire and lightning magic (duel wielding!), all while
ducking behind the rock to avoid his attacks. Finally, after several close
calls, one of my arrows felled him as he tried to take off. As I sat there, I really
felt like I had accomplished something. That is one of the major aspects separates
good games from great ones: a sense of accomplishment and Skyrim gives you that in spades.
I know what you must be thinking by now: "Where are those 'cracks'
you mentioned earlier in this extremely praising review?" Not to fear, I haven't
forgotten what I said. Skyrim has its
issues and they are the same ones we give Bethesda a pass for but are also the
same ones that have plagued the last two Elder Scrolls titles before this one
as well as a couple from the Fallout series. The first one is the character
models. Though the character models are definitely improved upon from Oblivion, the conversations with people
still feel stale an unnatural. They mostly just talk and swing their arms or
make a couple of programmed motions. However, the utilization of more than just
a few voice actors makes for more interesting interactions with people. You won't
have to walk through a town and listen to the same three voices over and over...and
Along with the characters, the animations have definitely
been improved upon. However, Skyrim
still falls short of what most would call "great looking" animations.
First-person view is definitely the way to go, so as not to see the jerking and
odd looking movements as you attempt to do anything other than run in a
straight line. Climbing up or down mountains in third-person is just silly
looking and most of the time a good deal of your character gets sunk down into
the mountain. This, as you can imagine, looks ridiculous. Pop-in textures also
plague the lands of Skyrim, however they aren't as annoying as Oblivion. Still, it can get quite
annoying to see a table, door, or even a person POP into view out of thin air.
Finally, the load times are still annoyingly long and happen
at inopportune times, such as in the middle of a conversation. They also plague
you when you enter new areas, so just be ready.
Lag also plays an irritating role in Skyrim.
It's nothing that will get in your way too much, but it can hinder gameplay at
These small (yet almost signature for Bethesda) problems may
get on your nerves while you play, but they will certainly not ruin what may arguably
be your greatest Elder Scrolls experience. Bethesda has always prided themselves
on their immense games, combined with a grand storytelling/gameplay experience.
Skyrim is nothing if not all of this
and more, now with fluid combat and a leveling experience that is truly your
own. It may not be perfect, but it is something to be admired and enjoyed.
to the peaks!