So, I’m sure some of you are thinking, WTF – Skyrim came out months ago, why is this review only being done now. And you’re right to think that, however you’ll have to bare with me. It’s VERY easy to fall into the trap when you are reviewing games to drop the difficulty down all the way and just power through a game as quickly as possible so you can tell the story, say you’ve seen the sights and move on. It’s almost like a Contiki tour – wham, bam, thank you ma’am, in and out, box ticked.
For me, I just couldn’t do that with Skyrim. I had waited too long for it. I had spent hours of my life thinking how amazing it would be and even started re-playing Oblivion about 4 months out from the sensational release date (11-11-11), just to get my warmed up and psyched up for what I was totally hoping would be the best game ever made. And the wait was certainly worth it, but there is also some unfortunate disappointment.
I must be upfront in relation to a few things with this review. Firstly, I am a massive Skyrim fan-girl. From the minute I watched the first trailer, I knew I would love it no matter what. I will do my best to be as level-headed as I can be when discussing this game. Also, I am a console player. Like many games, Skyrim is quite a different experience on PC compared to console – I haven’t played it on PC and won’t pretend it will be the same as it was on console. And finally, I am relatively new to the Elder Scroll stories – I was right into Fable at the time Oblivion came out and it took a lot of convincing to get me to give it a go. But then I got Oblivion on PC and my world changed. I became obsessed with the freedom of the game and even more so in my 2nd play through later on xbox. I haven’t played any of the series prior to Oblivion, so bare that in mind when considering what I am about to say about this game.
So after just over 100 hours of game time I have this to say: I ADORE SKYRIM!
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the latest action role-playing open world adventure game produced by the Bethesda Game Studio and published by Bethesda Softworks. It is the fifth release in The Elder Scrolls series and loosely follows on from The Elder Scroll IV: Oblivion, in a world a few hundred years after the Oblivion Crisis. Without going into details of the Oblivion story, Skyrim commences in dire times where the High King has been murdered and there has been an ever-growing fracture between the various races and the civil unrest is only made worse by the return of dragons to the game’s mythical world, Tamriel. Skyrim is home to many races and colourful characters with clashing ideals about the future of Tamriel and its rule.
Choosing your character at the beginning of the game is almost one of the hardest tasks I found in the whole game – not because it was difficult to select, but it is a huge decision to make. I knew from previous experience with Oblivion that this would be a game I could easily drop 200-300 hours into, so choosing my character was like choosing a life partner. Seriously, the mental anguish was intense, not only with the aesthetics, but with the huge selection of choices to attribute to personality, strengths, vulnerabilities and deciding how to set up your character to be as maximised as possible from the start by anticipating how you think you are going to play the game. It was exhausting, but in a very satisfying way (sort of like going to the gym).
As mentioned, there are two main elements to your character in Skyrim – race and appearance. There are 10 different races you can choose from and each race carries their own strengths (and weaknesses) as well as perks. I decided to go with the lizard-like Argonian race, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I like how they look. Secondly, after spending too many hours of my life in Oblivion trying to cure vampirism (which turned out to be a glitch in the end), but the bitterness stuck with me and I wanted to be a race that was at least partially immune to disease, so I figured the 50% resist disease attribute would lessen my chances of being put through that trauma of trying to cure a disease again. Additionally, they can breathe under water and as I am a big explorer, this appealed to me. Finally, they come with a lock picking and light armour bonus: two factors that would assist my hording tendencies in this type of game – more on that soon.
Another semi-important element to choosing your character is thinking about how you think you are going to play the game – will you be a mage and stick to spells, magic and enchantments? Or will you be a brute, heavy armour wearing thug. Whilst none of your choices at the beginning of the game will ultimately exclude you from being whoever you want to be, it can/does impact on your first 10 or so hours of the game. If you know you want to rely on destruction magic to kill off your enemies, you’re better off selecting one of the Elf races, whereas if you think you will be more inclined to be into single handed weapons and heavy armour, an Orc will be the best choice. As I said, you’re not locked into anything in this game really, but by anticipating your style you can boost your character from the start putting you in the best position to level quickly and get the much needed perks quickly.
Like another sensational title by Bethesda, Fallout 3, the perk system is a pretty cool addition in Skyrim that at first I didn’t know what I thought of, but grew to really appreciate. I found myself buying training in anything I could, even if it was not something I used at all, just to get that little bit closer to the next player level and the next perk. The perks increase your abilities which in turn makes elements of the game much easier. Things like blacksmithing are very restricted until you use your perks to unlock slots in the specialty. My favourite perks revolved around the heavy and light armour as I often switch between both and towards the top of the perk tree you unlock a perk that makes each respective armour weightless, meaning you can carry more without being overloaded – how handy is that?
Once you’re through choosing your leading lady or man to play the game with (gender has no impact on your game play sadly), you are launched into your first dragon attack. As a prisoner of the Imperial Guards who rule over Skyrim, you are just about to be beheaded when a dragon attacks. By now everyone knows that you fight a dragon in your first scene – this is no spoiler – and I was stoked dragons came into play so early. Then it’s off to the little cozy township of Whiterun, one of the more central cities on the Skyrim map and somewhere you will keep coming back to, to start your game – doing whatever the hell you want.
My game play style with Skyrim was much more scatty than it was in Oblivion. 100+ hours into the game and there are at least 2 major cities I haven’t even visited yet. I have only really finished two factional side-quest (one by accident even) and I have started several others. I’ve done a gazillion miscellaneous quests and I’m about two thirds of the way into the main quest line. Yet, for each and every one of the 100 hours I’ve played, I have always felt I have achieved something. None of the time I’ve spent feels wasted, in spite of my scorecard maybe looking a bit like it needs more work. I just wander; I do a little bit of this, then a little bit of that. I am free to walk around, explore the world, jump between quests and do whatever the hell I want. This is what I love about Skyrim as I have loved in previous Elder Scroll games.
Even more so than Oblivion, Skyrim is this insanely massive and beautiful world that is so easy to get lost in, time simply stops. For those of you who have played it, you will know that it’s very easy to sit down for a “few hours” only to look up and see that the sun has risen and you’re still completely in the game world, oblivious to the real world around you.
One epic episode I had was doing the “Diplomatic Immunity” quest during which you are stripped of all of your weapons when you go undercover into this meeting. At that stage I had gotten a bit bored with reading all the dialogue, so I just click click clicked through. What a mistake! At the beginning of the quest you are given the opportunity to stash some weapons – I clicked right past it.
It ended up taking me about 1.5 hours to get through that quest – weapon-less, armour-less and completely frustrated. Especially since I don’t get into magic, so all my levels and abilities in that area – my only possible saviour – were weak and useless. Seriously, it was hell and to be honest, that actually put me off the game for a few days – but it was all my fault, so nothing to do with the game really. But I came back, just as I keep coming back time and time again.
Another lesson that I keep learning repeatedly is that you can never save enough. This game sucks away your life in a big way, and can go for hours without autosaving, as I learnt the hard way. It was the same in Oblivion – you would think I would have learned, but no – hours lost walking around an open world, discovering locations, collecting my precious alchemy elements, only to be ambushed by a sabre cat or troll what knocks me for six and undoes lots of unsaved progress in one quick kill. If you take away anything from this review it is to save, and save frequently. Whilst Skyrim does have an autosave feature which saves every 15 minutes if you access your menu. This is separate to your loading zone saves and is an excellent step in the right direction, however it still sucks to have to pause and enter the menus when you’re in a big session. I can often go up to an hour without pausing or needing to go into the menus – hence my suggestion to get yourself into the habit of manually saving often.
On the topic of saving, one thing that happened quite a bit in Oblivion and seems to be happening again in Skyrim is that of frozen screens. Often it happens to me in load screens, but also sometimes mid-combat or really any time – the game just freezes and the only remedy is to reset your console. On any other game, this would be a deal breaker for me and I’d walk away. I’m sure many have walked away from Skyrim because of this – and so they should. It is a huge flaw and I was really disappointed it hadn’t been fixed after being such an issue in Oblivion.
Getting around in Skyrim is something that people love to argue about on the internet. Same with Oblivion too. Essentially, you can walk it, catch a cart from certain areas, ride or horse or fast travel – as in warp to a previously discovered area. Some people argue that fast travelling basically takes away the open-worldness of the game. And to a degree, I agree – however, you have to walk there in the first place to be able to fast travel there at a later time, so maybe it isn’t all that bad. I have never use a horse in this game, nor in Oblivion, just not my thing. I like to walk. I lose hours walking around. Besides, the world is beautiful and detailed and so easy to get lost in. Are you discovering the theme yet? The real world stands still when you’re playing Skyrim and you get totally absorbed by mundane activities like walking. I love it.
Almost everything in Skyrim is free for you to choose your own destiny. Sure there are several quests that if you do them out of order might mean you restrict access to other quests, but there are so many quests and side quests to do that the majority of players wouldn’t even be aware they are missing something. There are three main types of quests – the main story line quest, fairly involved side quests including all the factional side quests and short more basic miscellaneous quests. After 100 hours I have only done about two thirds of the main quest. I finished a factional side quest by accident and have a fair few more in the works. There are some factional side quests I haven’t even started (such as the thieves guild) and there are many more that I have kind of put to the side for now. I have done a shitload of miscellaneous quests though. These are quests that come up from talking to random people in the game – go kill this bandit, please find my heirloom loot – that kind of thing. They are fun and I find myself checking the quest menu to see what quests I have picked up and which are in close proximity to my location as wander the rich and glorious map.
Whilst on the topic of the quest menu, I have to say I hate it. It feels like a step back from Oblivion. A) it is harder to get to and B) I found it rubbish to navigate. Parts of it almost seem so simplified that you are forced to go to online guides to help you even work out what you are trying to do in the quest. In general I didn’t like the menu system in Skyrim, although you get used to it after a while. Probably one of the bigger let-downs in the game for me.
The combat in the game is another point of contention between the fans and the haters. Plenty of people think it’s too basic and hack and slash-y. A fair complaint, superficially, it doesn’t take much skill to fight in Skyrim. You pick your weapon and fire away. However, I think due to the diversity in the weapons, coupled with all the upgrades, enchantments and added elements such as potions, there is some skill to being proficient at combat. I ended up being a two-handed weapon player in Skyrim – different to my tendencies in Oblivion of using single handed weapons and shields.
I also found myself using the bow and arrow somewhat seriously for the first time in Skyrim – again something I didn’t do in Oblivion. One thing I’ve never gotten into was magic – using spells and magic skills. However, after talking to a mate about his style of play – a fire spell in one hand an axe in the other – I gave it a crack and it was actually quite cool. There are so many options and so many combinations almost everyone can have a somewhat unique fighting style. Plus using perks there is room to change your style as you go along. I really like that about Skyrim. As a side note, I felt like the Skyrim combat system had influences from Fallout – especially the sound effects and cut scenes during the slow motion kills. This is a good thing.
The dialogue in this game is mostly brilliant and immersive. This been the source of many lols on the internet and almost everyone on social media has seen a “fus-ro-dah” or “arrow to the knee” meme – even if they don’t know it is from Skyrim. The voice acting is pretty top-knotch, however it feels like there are too few unique voices in the game. It’s like there is one set of voices – just repeated on different faces in each of the major cities. On the upside, however, it feels like there are a hell of a lot more unique voices in Skyrim than there was in Oblivion.
The story line, scripting and voice acting is engaging however. For example, I didn’t even attempt the Imperial side of the Imperials vs Stormcloaks showdown, but even from skimming through the dialogue a lot of the time I started to find myself really invested in the Stormcloaks’ quest against the oppressive Imperial bastards. This level of emotive stimulus is rare in a game for me and I was actually quite surprised how sucked in I got into the story and the dialogue.
A really special element to Skyrim is that you don’t need to know anything about the previous Elder Scrolls games to enjoy Skyrim – it stands on its own and has an engaging and immersive story lines that require no history. You can play Skyrim without never having played another in the series and still not really miss anything. However, if you want to get your nerd on and learn all the back stories and history to the game and the world of Tamriel, everything you will want to know is in the books lying around the place and stories the other characters tell. I personally have never bothered, but I know people that get right into the historical story of their games and Skyrim offers that option in great detail.
All in all, Skyrim is a massive game: Huge and breathtakingly marvellous. It’s no wonder it’s getting game of the year all over the place – it deserves it in my opinion. I loved it, however maybe I would have loved it even if it was horrific, just because I’m a fan-girl. But Skyrim isn’t horrible or stale or even mediocre and I think people would have a pretty hard time really trying to say it is – only crazy people don’t like this game. There are flaws here and there and it the sheer size of it can be overwhelming for many – especially your casual gamers. It’s definitely not a game for all gamers but many RPG fans will enjoy it and I truly believe if any games can bring new fans to the RPG genre then Skyrim is that game that could do it. It is big, it is beautiful and 100 hours into the game and I’m not even slightly bored with it. This is my ideal game and I look forward to the next 100 hours or more I will spend in the beautiful world that is Skyrim.