As I sit here with blood shot eyes, and cramped hands from my marathon sessions of playing on of the biggest games of the year, I have to do the impossible job of now writing about the beast – without going on too much. My family complains that they’ve had less of my attention than the consoles these past two weeks (with all of the triple A games released that I was on deadlines for, how could they not), but in all fairness most of that missed time was the fault of Skyrim. I know this review has posted later than those of other outlets, but when you’re told “You can post your review when you’re finished with the game” on a game that easily has over 100 hours of content – how do you know what “finished” really is?
Now let me start off on a rant here – yes, I know that Skyrim has glitches in it. It’s an Elder Scrolls game, and more than that it’s a Bethesda game. You know that going in – hell, you should just expect it. Most of the glitches in games like this actually make some parts of it more enjoyable – like how much better is it to get your Speechcraft skill maxed by just talking to the same person over and over rather than search high and low for people to try and persuade. It’s a single player sandbox game – you’re not ruining anything for anyone else by taking advantage of it. I’m not going to slam the game for these little faults – with something this massive they’re just bound to happen.
With that being said, let’s get to the actual review.
Graphically, Skyrim is the most superior game to bear the Elder Scrolls name. Rather than look like lumps of clay – or worse than that, blocks of wood – the faces on people finally look like real faces. The hair still looks like someone put way too much sheen in it, but compared to what we were given in every other Elder Scrolls game, this is a huge improvement. Another thing that struck me as looking amazing were the trees. I know there was talk about them not using auto tree for this game, and it really shows. The trees look like real trees (the faces look like faces, the trees look like trees, and the snozzberries taste like snozzberries)! Just going back one iteration and playing a few minutes of Oblivion will show you exactly how much better things are now.
It’s not all snow in Skyrim either – while it’s true that there’s no lush tropical jungles, there are a number of places that look and feel like they’re in a season of Spring. Sure you have places like Winterhold who’s very name screams permafrost (and the blizzard effects are definitely something to behold, but Riften has positively pleasant weather. It’s that very variety that makes me wish that Bethesda could somehow acquire the rights and license to put out a game based on “A Song of Ice and Fire”. I would be willing to throw buckets of money at them to get this going – but I digress.
Something else that’s changed from previous games – and in my opinion (though I’m sure not all feel the same way) for the better – is the level up system. No more do you have to worry about which attribute you’re going to put points in – rather there are no attributes at all. Now each skill has a number of perks that you can assign to them if your skill level is high enough. Want to be able to smith your own Ebony armor? There’s a perk for that. How about combining two spells for a more powerful effect? Yup, there’s a perk for that as well. You get one perk point each level, and you stop gaining them at level 50 – so you need to plan out your perks well. There’s no re-rolling unless you completely start a new character.
This lack of attributes means that one of the easiest ways to “break” the old Elder Scrolls games is now gone. No longer can you fortify a single attribute to the levels of gods. Also gone sadly, is my favorite way to break the old games – the Chameleon spell. I used to rush as fast as I could to get the things needed to make a 100% chameleon enchanted suit – with that you could go anywhere and no one would ever see you. It made exploring fun, and dying nonexistent. That’s one of a number of spells they’ve removed though – and I guess it’s for the better. Now if you want to really break the game, you have to exploit the inherit flaws in the Smithing, Enchanting, and Alchemy systems – something I won’t go into here since it’s very deep.
One of the problems with the new systems, is that while not all skills are created equal, the game treats them as such. For example, I made a character and got their Speech, sneak, and Lockpick skills to 100 with ease – the perfect Thief. This brought my level into the mid 20′s while I was attempting to do the Thief’s Guild quest, which was a very bad thing. You see, the enemies scaled to my level, but I had no combat skills to match where I was. Simply put, things would kill me in two shots while I had to beat on them for roughly five minutes a piece. If it weren’t for the one summon spell I had, I would have never gotten anywhere.
Skill balancing issues aside, the combat is also not a high point for the game. Oh it’s leaps and bounds better than any Elder Scrolls game that went before it – but it still has issues. Bad AI pathfinding is the main one – there were plenty of times I would hide behind a pillar and move out to fire an arrow or two at a dragon, and when I went back behind my pillar the dragon turned into a two year old child playing a game of peek-a-boo, sitting there like it had no clue where I had gone. Now the dragons in this game are ferocious to look at, mighty to behold, and damn well seem like they’re the biggest threat in any Elder Scrolls game, but they end up just being comedic relief. Yes, I was playing on Master – for all those curious.
Even those negatives can’t bring down the story however, something that Elder Scroll games have always excelled at, and Skyrim is no different. Not just one of the best narratives in an RPG I’ve played (besides Planescape), it’s one of the best narratives in any game genre I’ve played. The overarching story is great, but there are so many tremendous smaller story arcs (such as the Thief’s Guild, The Companions, or The Dark Brotherhood), and even more good one-shot quests that you’ll find it easy to just get lost in the world. Especially if you’ve played all of the other Elder Scroll games – it’s nice to see where the series is going.
I’m on my second play through now, and am finding new things all the time. That’s not just because my first time through was a speed run for review purposes only – that’s because there’s just so damn much to actually find. It’s maddening to me (and that OCD that I’ve talked about before) to see so many places on my compass that I have yet to discover. I run to one, and there’s ten more to take its place – it’s a devastating cycle for my time. Thankfully December is a veritable ghost town when it comes to games coming out, so I’ll be able to fully enjoy this at least one more time before Mass Effect 3 comes out.
The Bottom Line: For RPG fans, this is definitely Game of the Year material – especially if you’re a fan of the Elder Scrolls; however this is a love it or hate it kinda game, so if you know it’s not your thing, nothing will probably change your mind.
- A revamped leveling system allows for more streamlined play
- The graphics are out of this world for an Elder Scrolls game, and for any game of this type
- The narrative is top of the line, and easily puts this in my GotY list
- The combat mechanics can be somewhat off – especially when fighting brain dead AI
- Your followers are just a brain dead as the enemies
- Skills need to be weighted differently to make it more of an enjoyable experience
You can get The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim from Amazon for $54.99 for the XBOX 360, or $57.99 for the Playstation 3