Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NN REVIEW: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

How can I even begin to write a review for a game like Skyrim? I've played roughly 24 hours of the game and so far I've completed probably less than half of the main quest line, become the new Arch Mage of the College of Winterhold, slain about 10 dragons, crafted armor, bought a house, become a Thane of both Whiterun and Falkreath and so much more. I still have not joined the Thieves Guild, gotten married, passed level 30, used a bow and arrow, or even traveled to all of the main cities. I was struggling with deciding when and how to write this review since if I waited until I completed all of the game's content it's likely this review wouldn't come out for at least a year and possibly never. But my time with Skyrim has revealed a few things to me. It was in no way overhyped, it is likely the best game of the year and it is possibly my favorite game of all time. So let's jump in.

I can't ever remember playing a game in which I stopped so frequently to simply gaze at the world I was standing in. Skyrim looks absolutely gorgeous. I'm playing it on the Xbox 360 and the graphics are fantastic. With the mountains shrouded in mist constantly hanging in the distance, weather that changes with the seasons, vast plains that open up before you and more, this game not only offers countless areas to explore but it invites you to take the time to wander into its farthest reaches. The other day I was on my way to a dungeon to acquire an amulet and halfway there I crossed a bridge with a river gushing beneath it. From my perch I could see distant waterfalls leading up to a mountain peak covered in snow. Naturally I diverted from my quest and explored the terrain only to come across a bandit hideout. I smote my enemies, took their supplies, and began to head back towards my original destination to recover the amulet. This is what Skyrim is all about. Bethesda has spent so much time making a game that encourages you to explore and discover new places that it's almost an insult to the makers if you simply stick to the main quest.

The main quest is certainly intriguing enough if you do decide to spend some time with it. Although I haven't done all of it I can tell you the basics. Dragons have returned to Skyrim after being absent from the land for hundreds of years. This has put the people of Skyrim on edge because the monsters can cause massive amounts of damage and wipe out entire civilizations. You quickly discover that you are a Dragonborn. Meaning you have the power to absorb the souls of dragons when they are killed which allows you to speak their language and use their powers. Killing dragons will give you souls and finding specific walls throughout the world will teach you words from the ancient language. Combining the words with the souls lets you unleash the powers of the dragons which include slowing time, sending your enemies flying through the air, freezing everyone around you and other incredible feats. In short, you are the only one with the ability to keep Skyrim safe from the dragons and you must find a way to solve the mystery of their return. Definitely awesome.

Magic. There is something quite satisfying about pouring two molten streams of fire from your hands until your enemies start to run in fear before you chase them down to finish them off. I've been playing as a mage focusing on Destruction and Conjuration with some dabbling in Restoration. In the last Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, the combat for magic was lackluster and not truly a viable option for doing damage. This is not the case with Skyrim. The developers have taken the time to make sure that no matter what style of combat you choose whether it be magic, massive two handed weapons, the classic sword and shield or the stealth based archer with daggers for close combat you will be a real threat to your enemies. I've been talking to friends who are also getting lost in the world of Skyrim and it quickly becomes apparent that no two people will ever have the same experience...not even close. The new talent system makes it easy to improve the skills that you use most, awarding you a talent point each time you level which you can spend in trees that are aimed at specific aspects of the game. Simply put, whatever you use the most is what you will become the best at.

Let's go questing! The sheer number of quests in Skyrim is overwhelming. A couple hours into the game you'll already find your quest log packed to the brim with missions. Some, more important quests will have their own tab while smaller quests will be bunched into the miscellaneous category. By selecting a quest from your menu, you can activate it to show on your map. This makes it easy to tackle one quest at a time when your log may seem a little cluttered. Assuming you're ever able to focus on one task long enough to finish a quest I can promise you that there is very little repetition in this game which is an astounding feat. Some of the quests I've completed so far have involved killing bandit leaders in camps, retrieving artifacts from dungeons, following a talking dog to a temple where he and his master (a god stuck in a statue) seem to be at odds, collecting bear pelts for a woman who simply hates animals and a few even stranger tasks. Some quests are extremely quick and will be completed within a couple of minutes while others will send you across the world, deep into the wilderness to reach your goal. It is a testament to how much time Bethesda put into making Skyrim that the quests never feel tired or tedious despite the fact that there are hundreds upon hundreds of them in the game.

For all its glory there are a few minor issues with Skyrim that are actually quite amusing at times. With such a massive world there are bound to be a number of glitches and there are certainly some issues within Skyrim. Players have encountered issues such as flying mammoths, disappearing heads, quests that won't load for some time and some terrain issues. In my personal play through my head has disappeared a few times and one of the quests I was on led me to a dungeon where I was supposed to meet a man outside who never showed up. Eventually I left to do some other quests and upon returning a couple days later he had miraculously arrived. Bethesda is already working on some patches to resolve these issues but to be honest they are so minor that it never feels like they truly take away from the experience.

It's absolutely incredible how much more I could talk about here. I didn't even cover things like becoming a werewolf or vampire, buying a horse, settling the civil war or decorating your house. The sheer amount of content in Skyrim is glorious and it ensures that hours into the game you will still be discovering new vistas and unlocking new powers. Everyone will find something to enjoy from the combat, to crafting, to simply walking through town talking to people. Bethesda has accomplished something truly marvelous with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and it's an experience that I think everyone should have. Skyrim is easily my favorite game of the year and it is steadily becoming my favorite game of all time. A remarkable feat.

MY RATING: 10/10

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