This review is quite simply born of necessity. Both me and Tim have played Skyrim and it won our 2011 Game of the Year Award. Really though it’s hard to write something about the game that hasn’t been said already. Because it’s just so damned easy to rave and drool over Skyrim. Hell, if you need to read this to make your decision, allow me to prevent you from having to bother to scroll the read the rating at the bottom. Skyrim is quite simply the best game I have ever played.
Set in the fictional world of Tamriel, Skyrim is the fifth instalment in Bethesda’s long running and wildly popular Elder Scrolls series. This time the game is set in the northern and frozen country of… Skyrim. The Elder Scrolls V occurs 200 years after the events from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and so the world is different, so it’s not really a continuation of previous heroes but the start of a whole new hero.
This particular hero starts of captured by the Empire along with some Stormcloak rebels. In a bout of foolishness the Empire decide that they will execute you along with the rebels and not have to worry with the paperwork of letting you go. This is followed by the sudden attack, on the town and Empire Soldiers, by a dragon which were previously believed to be extinct.
You escape, naturally and subsequently find out that you are a hero called the Dovahkiin or Dragonborn. A being with the blood of a dragon and as such can use the magic “shouts” or Thu’um of the Dragons which give you the ability to defeat the dragons.
It’s a massive fantasy epic, as are all the Elder Scrolls really, and also like it’s predecessors Skyrim is set in a massive world filled with a hundreds of NPCs with whom you can interact with, cities, towns and dozens and dozens of quests. The whole point of the Elder Scrolls has always been to tell you what the main quest is and then let you go and do whatever you want, even if what you want has nothing to do with the main quest at all.
There are also more randomly generated events in Skyrim than there have been in previous Elder Scrolls, something I completely approve of. Randomly generated quests, or events in the world always make it feel so much more immersive and realistic as if you really are in a vibrant and living world rather than a computer generated one where everything always happens in the same manner on each character. While it’s good to have a number of large quests with set plot-lines and outcomes, and as in previous games the quests are pretty much all fun, varied and worth doing, it just feels more realistic if a game also has some things which are not always there. Be it a quest to clear a cave of bandits, find an item or the Dragons themselves.
The Dragons are actually such a good addition to the game. Appearing very rarely at first, as you become stronger they become a more frequent sight in the skies. They might simply fly about, roaring and generally showing off, or they might spot you and decide to have some lunch. Despite being around 10 times the size of your character, the fights are actually rather well done, with the dragon able to attack you with different body parts depending on where you stand and then it will take off and strafe you a bit. Plus, I have to say, it never stops feeling absolutely epic and heroic when you down one of the flying menaces.
Comparatively though, they really aren’t all that difficult. In fact, the Dragons are, while tough, not really the toughest mobs in the game. There are bosses at the end of caves and ruins you explore which can be surprisingly difficult (although perhaps still not quite in the same league) and the Mammoths walking the tundra are really VERY difficult to try and kill. In fact, the Giants of Skyrim are widely recognised as some of the toughest fights in the game, especially with the current glitch where they can smack you and send you flying hundreds of meters into the sky.
Exploring the world of Skyrim feels absolutely fantastic. The world itself looks absolutely beautiful and is easily one of the most detailed and fantastic things I have ever seen. I will say though, as I have Skyrim on the X-Box 360, that Skyrim on the current consoles is maybe not the best idea. Even when you see Skyrim on a PS3 after on an X-Box and the step up is remarkable. I imagine playing Skyrim on a gaming PC has graphics so much better and far removed from the X-Box that they could even be different games. Never before have I thought that the X-Box 360 was old, but Skyrim makes it feel so. That said it still looked just gob-smacking.
In fact, the best thing about Skyrim is the scale of it. You can sink hour after hour after hour and still not do everything and see everything. It is my intention on my main character to complete every major quest (I.e every one with a name) and most of the unique Miscellaneous quests. I also intend to explore and clear most of the hundreds of ruins and caves scattered about the place, simply so I can experience more of the game. It’s a fairly daunting task and actually, at present I am hardly into the main story at all. In fact when I look at my progress with Skyrim it’s pretty clear I have barely scratched the surface.
The largest quests of the game, excluding the main story, could include the “Rebellion” arc, the Companions, Dark Brotherhood, Magician’s Guild, Thieves Guild. And I haven’t even started half of them (though in fairness I won’t be doing the evil quests). So the sheer size of the game should be beyond question.
The gameplay is fantastic and well balanced. Choosing your skills in the new perk system works really excellently and the various forms of combat, be it the standard sword and shield combo, twin wielding fireballs or a bow and arrow all feel excellent and balanced. Everything fits together seamlessly and the occasional extra animations as you crush someone’s skull or finish them off with your spells are a nice bonus. The only gripe I have here is that the Dragon shouts you get do feel surprisingly under-powered, given the focus on them in trailers and pre-launch interviews. After you get some of the better ones you do feel a lot more powerful and stronger, but they never really feel as strong or amazing as I was expecting, which is a shame.
I also want to suggest that Bethesda really need to rethink their potion system. I only ever keep potions of restore health and mana because everything else I simply never use. I never have felt the need to use a potion of resist frost, or poison or whatever and who the actual hell thinks that a potion which removes an enemy’s stamina is in any way useful. As most of them are so completely pointless it does feel a bit odd that there is such variation and I do feel a little guilty for just selling pretty much all of them.
The AI of Skyrim is much improved from previous instalments and fighting either with them or against them feels a lit smoother and smarter. Despite the occasional moment of irritation and frustration with your companions, especially when (famously) they stand in a doorway and you can’t get past them. Despite this I so rarely find anything to fault with them it doesn’t bother me.
Chatting and talking is also a lot better from Oblivion. A wider contingent of voice actors and more lines of dialogue between NPCs makes each NPC much more human and believable. It simply adds draws the player into the game more, convincing them that this is a real world with real people.
The game isn’t completely perfect of course, although I will keep insisting it’s as close as you can get at the moment. The inventory is a massive pain in the ass. After every other game ever makes it’s inventory menu (or any menu) take a step backwards when you press B it’s annoying as hell that when you press B now it completely closes the damn thing.
I will continue to complain, as well, about the morality system in Skyrim. Or rather the lack of one. Despite approving making everything more realistic and praising it’s ability to draw me in. I really don’t like it when a game doesn’t have some set definitions of good or evil (despite it being unrealistic). I want to know that those I am killing mercilessly are evil bastards who go around punching kittens and disliking Skyrim. If I ever get the impression, for example that the enemy could have a family or is being forced into this, then killing him suddenly makes me feel guilty and troubled, and I don’t need or want that from a game. I’m exaggerating, of course, and perhaps being a little childish. But I do wish the game would make those sort of decisions for me. Especially when the two major warring factions of the game both could theoretically be argued as being the good guys. I, for example, am siding with the Stormcloaks, but really I am basing it on not much more than the fact that the Empire were going to cut off my head at the start. So I’m just being a petty fucker basically…
I think the worst thing about Skyrim is perhaps the lack of focus on the quests outside of the main story. For example the whole Rebellion arc, you’d expect that after winning the Rebellion or defeating it, suddenly the world might feel different and the people might act differently. According to Tim (I have yet to complete the arc myself), it really doesn’t make much difference. In a game with such vast scale and awe inspiring immersiveness, the lack of effect caused by some of your greatest deeds is perhaps a little unfortunate. But, hell I’d still do everything anyway… simply because I have to!
I was being honest earlier when I said I think it is the best game I have ever played. I recommend (or rather, INSIST) that everyone try and probably aught to buy this game. It looks, feels and just basically IS amazing and awe inspiring in so many ways. And while I am now parted from my copy and main character (my X-Box can’t come with me back to University) I do think I will/would be playing this game for a very long time to come.
All in all, if it wasn’t for Tim insisting I don’t be silly I would have given this game a Z rating. Simply because it broke the laws of reality and was so good it went through A+ and started from the bottom…
P.s. When I return home in April you can expect me to continue my diary of Skyrim and the story of Sabor, the Angelic Battlemage. Until then I hope you play the game yourself!