Posted Fri 27th Jan 2012 3:53am by Michael Kendrick
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review
The Elder Scrolls has finally returned with the fifth chapter in the series, taking players to the northerly country of Skyrim, home of the Nords. The Elder Scrolls offers not so much a game as a world for players to explore, filled with towns, dungeons and this time around, dragons. The game is easily the best in the series to date, but it's a shame that Bethesda let it launch with a plague of bugs and problems.
Skyrim's world is huge, roughly the same size as Oblivion's Cyrodiil. It is dense with characters, wildlife and activity. It's hard to travel from town to town without running into interesting and sometimes bizarre occurrences, like the time I came across a giant swatting a dragon out of the sky. In true Elder Scrolls fashion, every journey has the potential to become its own self-contained adventure and it's easy to see how people could sink a hundred hours into the game while still missing a heap of content.
The opening few minutes of gameplay are a mile away from the laborious slog that was Oblivion's opening. Skyrim gets things off to a flying start, quickly getting the player out into the wilds to do their own thing. From there, the player is free to do whatever they wish in the vast open space that Bethesda has created. Being the naturally obedient pup that I am, I went along with my temporary companion who guided me to the next step in the main quest line, leading me to the nearby village of Riverwood.
There, I first encountered the crafting system which adds a huge layer of depth to Skyrim's looting and questing. Players can buy and sell weapons and armour as usual, or they can go down the more rewarding and economic route of crafting their own gear. Ore, hides and ingots that are found or mined can be combined and transformed into swords, helmets, shields and everything else that can be worn or used in a fight. With alchemy, players can create potions with ingredients gathered in the wild. You can even swipe a butterfly clean from the air and munch on it to discover what effects it would have in a potion. Add the ability to enchant items and the whole experience becomes deeper.
The levelling system has been given a pretty coat of paint, turning what is essentially a bog-standard skill tree into a set of star constellations. It's purely aesthetic, but it fits in with Skyrim’s lore nicely. I especially appreciate the way the menu rushes upwards to the sky before showing you the constellations, each of which can be customized to improve the numerous abilities and skills at your character's disposal. The agonising process of choosing all of your character's major and minor skills during character creation has been completely eliminated. Instead, skills are advanced as you play, so each time you block and bash with your shield for example, your block skill is gradually improved. This goes on until you gain enough experience to level up your character, allowing you to advance your skills or perks on the skill tree/constellations. It's a smooth, simple system and allows gamers to play the way they like without having to deliberately set out to be a thief, warrior or mage. I had a pretty solid sword and shield warrior build, but I constantly found myself dual wielding the fire spell to stave off hoards of undead. As a result, I gradually became more of a warrior-mage than the pure warrior I had intended to be.
Skyrim’s combat is far meatier than Oblivion’s, and that's in large part due to the new Fallout-style kill animations. They're frequent enough to make the whole experience feel satisfying and 300-like, but are spaced out enough so that each one feels significant. This is by no means the only evolution in Skyrim's melee combat, though. The ability to bash enemies with the shield, for instance, is a very welcome and natural addition, giving a greater feeling of weight and power behind the combat. Still, it's as if there isn't enough sense of contact when blade meats flesh. But the way a sword bounces off a shield or a parry, coupled with the new kill-animations, make for a far more fulfilling experience during combat.
Luckily, this sense of strength and satisfaction during combat is helped along by the way Skyrim deals with enemies and creatures. A fatal flaw in Oblivion was the way in which enemies levelled up alongside the player, stripping away any sense of advancement or evolution in the player's abilities. This time, lower level creatures remain the same as the player levels up, while stronger enemies are added later in the game to provide the challenge for higher level players.
The most challenging of these enemies are of course the dragons, although other creatures like giants are also immensely powerful adversaries. What's really interesting, though, is what happens when these creatures come into contact with each other. You never know whether to rush into the fray and prove your strength, or stand back as they fight it out, as if it were some fairytale there for you to observe in real time.
Sadly, such moments are often ruined by a mammoth sliding along the landscape as if it were snowboarding, or an NPC buried waist deep into the rock he should be standing on. The game has way more than its share of such illusion-breaking moments, and it's hard to see how Bethesda will cope with the game in its current state on consoles. There's nothing more frustrating about this game, not even the repetitive passive dialogue or the buggy, horrific looking shadows, as the awkward character and animation glitches that will inevitably be encountered along the way.
Having said that, Skyrim is still a phenomenal experience. It's hard to know what to include in a review about a game of this scale. Some things need to be left for each player to discover alone, and for a game as rich in detail and secrets as Skyrim, there's so much I want to tell which I know I mustn't. Suffice to say that Skyrim is as much of a world as it is a video game. Just make sure you have all your personal affairs in order before you delve into it.
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