The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim from Bethesda is here after four years since its much lauded predecessor, Oblivion. Many other RPG’s have graced this generation’s play-space in that time. From critical and commercial successes like the Mass Effect series and cult hit titles like Demons Souls and Dark Souls to flops and average titles like and The Last Remnant and Two Worlds II, the RPG genre has seen plenty of love this gen. So, was Skyrim worth the wait or do the developers at Bethesda just have their heads in the clouds?
As I said before in my review preview, Skyrim is an incredibly deep experience. It is massive and expansive in both its stats and its complexity. Boasting literally hundreds of quest and locations like cities, towns, caves and caverns, it lacks nothing in terms of unique content and variety. This is immediately evident in the enormous game world and its seemingly countless quest.
You play as an unlikely hero or heroin that rises from a soon-to-be executed prisoner to the savior of the Skyrim. Dragons that used to rule the land are returning with a vengeance toward mankind who had apparently sealed them away hundreds of years prior. You are Dragonborn, which means you can speak the language of the dragons. Doing so grants you a plethora of rather awesome and sometimes unconventional talents, called Shouts, that let you go toe-to-toe with dragons and live to tell about it. Being Dragonborn also means that you can absorb the souls of dragons… mmmm dragon soul, yum.
The gameplay in Skyrim is steeped in layers. Over the course of an hour you may have found yourself in a snowy mountain range slaying hapless wolves and ferocious bears to scavenge their pelts. As you venture higher into the mountains, you discover a seemingly long-forgotten cavern. Wandering in, you hope to find a treasure chest or three and you do, but they’re guarded by Draugrs, undead warriors that used to serve the dragons when they ruled. You eventually best all the undead and encounter a Word Wall, a stone wall with writing on it, each containing a new or more powerful version of a Shout. You emerge from the cavern on the other side of the mountain and travel back to town (skipping and singing) to sell off your loot and use a leather rack to turn your pelts and hides into leather, a key component to armor crafting.
The above example is a very typical Skyrim experience, and it encompasses a number of systems within the game. There was combat, exploration, loot grabbing, character development, mercantile and crafting/blacksmithing.
Combat is broken down into three main options: melee, magic and archery. As with all other RPG’s, I played a melee-focused character. Skyrim is smartly designed around player choice and freedom, so I wasn’t stuck choosing to never use magic or archery. On the contrary, I used magic, particularly fire, quite frequently. To give an example of how much customization Skyrim offers, you can focus on using a specific type of melee weapon, like a sword and shield combination, axe and shield, or even dual-wielding any combination of traditional melee weapons that don’t require two hands to hold.
There are plenty of larger two-handed weapons as well. Sadly, spears and polearms aren’t among them. Occasionally, your character will execute one of a few random, but cool-looking finishing moves. Sometimes they animations glitches and you end up shish kabobbing thin air, but they work more often than not. There is a missed opportunity with the magic as fire doesn’t actually burn the environment, and shocking water won’t fry enemies in it. But alas, this is a small gripe. A bigger one is the occasional disconnect with the melee combat, especially in first-person view, enemies just don’t react to many of your sword swipes into their flesh. But it feels good overall.
The graphics are astounding for a game of its magnitude. From miniature things like bees to the largest snow-capped mountain peaks, Skyrim never fails to deliver on detail. Water flows between rocks in streams and rages over cliff sides waterfalls convincingly. The sun beams down on vegetation exposing a host of vibrant colors. Finally, environments, creatures, and armor/weapon designs are wonderfully unique and everything looks cohesive, lived-in, and/or used.
Skyrim has a fantastic approach to leveling up. Instead of you ever having to select what kind of combat you want to use, or if you want to specialize in blacksmithing or lock picking, etc., you simply keep using whatever skills you wish. The ones you use the most will level up naturally. The higher a skill is the more it will raise your character’s overall level. Each time you level, a skill point is gained, which can be placed into improving specific attributes of a particular skill.
The quests are extremely varied and almost all are genuinely interesting. The voice acting is great across the board with believable accents, sincerity and personality to most every NPC. The atmosphere and ambience are fantastic as well, with little details like coming into town and seeing a blacksmith working various stations to build armor and weapons. Nuance seems to be the goal that Bethesda had in mind when crafting the rich world of Skyrim. Excellence resonates throughout the title and the sweeping score, while somewhat repetitive is simply amazing. Oh, and there are countless epic fights with dragons that move freely throughout the environment. They are challenging and engaging.
Skyrim does a plethora of things, and it does the majority of those better than most other RPG’s. I loved nearly every minute of my 100+ hours with the game. The combat may be it’s weakest aspect, but even that is good enough to not only put Skyrim atop cloud nine, but catapult it straight out of this world as the best and most robust RPG on store shelves.