Bethesda doing what they do best, RPGs. Video and written review.
“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” is developed and published by Bethesda. Skyrim is a direct addition to the long running Elder Scrolls franchise in which the fourth entry of the franchise, dubbed Oblivion, was very well received and launched the intellectual property and company Bethesda into the “big time”. The success of Oblivion has since allowed Bethesda to now publish and develop their own games free of publisher red tape and or potential restrictions that would have otherwise stopped them from developing their games in the directions they want them to go in. With big shoes to fill it is already an amazing feat that I believe Skyrim to be their best entry into the series amongst all of their previously fantastic games. Sit back and read everything that makes the nation of Skyrim The Elder Scrolls’ best addition to the world of Tamriel yet.
The simple score breakdown of “The Elder’s Scrolls V: Skyrim” is like so…
Graphics/Character Performance and Animation – 8.5/10
Fun Factor – 9/10
Story – 10/10
User Interfacing – 9/10
Learning Curve – Feels just right
Sound – 10/10
Value - 10/10
Total – 9.5 / 10
The story of Elder Scrolls V is my favorite “main story-line” to date from the franchise and much more interesting than anything Bethesda has done in the past. Also, the direct connection to the eventful past of Cyrodiil can really give a returning player from “Oblivion” a sense of history and intimate tie to the universe. This sense of history really adds to the feeling that the world has been active long before you ever arrived. That isn’t to say though that if you have not played an Elder Scrolls game before you’d be lost. As a matter of fact, the period from Elder Scrolls 4 to 5 is a 200 year difference and basically everyone from 4 is dead…a few subtle cameos might show their face here and there though.
The over aching narrative is that you are a Dovahkiin, or in lame man’s terms, you are a “Dragon Born”. You are the destined conduit between the dragon language and their powerful words known as shouts. Simply put, after you have killed a dragon and harvested its soul you can then preform a powerful spell-like shout as long as you have deciphered a “dragon word”. Dragon words are etched into stone tablets around the world of Skyrim and walking up to one allows you to decrypt it and retain the knowledge of the word discovered on the stone wall. These shouts range from things like; slowing time, fire breath, freezing enemies into blocks of ice, or even a dash that launches you forward a handful of meters in the blink of an eye. Each different shout type has three varied levels of potency and they go from its weakest burp to its most powerful siren.
Before all that though, you don’t know that you’re the destined Dovahkiin. The story starts as all traditional Elder Scrolls games do and you are a prisoner. At the start, you’re being carted to a village where your military captures are bringing you and the rest of the supposed rebel troops that they’ve captured. You’ll gain a small amount of insight into the rebellion and civil war going on in Skyrim on your route to the military stronghold via the other captured detainees. After reaching the encampment the military hierarchy starts sentencing the prisoners of war to death due to treason and they start decapitating them one at a time. As they’re putting your head down on the chopping block a strange bellow can be heard off in the distance. Shortly after a dragon interrupts your certain demise and starts to reign destruction on the encampment allowing you to escape your incarceration in the mist of the chaos.
It takes about ten minutes of intro “gameplay” (mostly just walking around) to get to the open-world of Skyrim and out of the game’s short, but eventful tutorial. After escaping the terror of the dragon attack a NPC you escaped with will give you a suggested route to continue on if you wish to, but by no means is his suggestion what you have to do. Ten minutes in you can go where ever you wish and start finding whatever adventure you want. Apart from the "main storyline" there is still a multitude of different other interesting quests, minor quests, and events to take part in if you want a more structured adventuring experience through narrative and scripted events. If you're looking for something more nefarious you should look into the returning Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild. Along with the new rendition of the Skyrim Fighter's Guild now dubbed The Companions. I don't know about you but I always felt as though the Fighter's Guild in Oblivion was a run-of-the-mill fetch quest hub. Normally they would say "hey, go to "Y" cave and kill "X" amount of goblins" then it would be over. This time around the Companions have a very intriguing story of persecution, rituals, just desserts, and werewolves. Overall, even quest that start off seemingly mundane can lead to otherwise rich and absorbing events and more often than not the happenings of Skyrim are a pleasure to take part in.
Before your escape from the dragon’s devastating attack and the executioner’s axe, the guards do not know who you are and ask you. This is when you create your character. The character creation is vastly superior, not only to Oblivion, but also to any previous Bethesda installment from an aesthetic standpoint. There are tons of different options to make your character have the appearance you wish. You still choose from ALL of the Elder Scrolls races like; Argonian (lizard people), Orcs, Nords, Redgards, the various ethnicities of Elves, and so on. And that is all you choose. You only choose your outward appearance. You no longer pick a birth sign, primary and secondary skills, class, or attributes points.
Besides the return of all of the Elder Scrolls races and the freedom to go where ever you wish, the game still supports other franchise additions that have been staples since the days of Morrowind. You can still look through every pantry, basket, barrel, people’s pockets, and interact with basically every little thing around the entire environment. Let’s get to that, shall we? The environments.
This game exudes character through ambiances and the environments radiate thick, deep, and immersive atmosphere. Seriously, the small additional idiosyncrasies like misty caverns or water trickling from the ceiling really add such a level of immersion to the environment’s character of which you can almost taste the stale air or feel as though you could nearly smell the musty damp aroma in the corridors of ancient passageways. The environments are not soley about “point A to point B” they’re also about the space in between. At times you can really feel the air or thick mist as it clouds your perspective which makes the trek from point “A” to point “B” a delight because of the attention to detail and love that went into each individual environment. Compared to Oblivion nearly every dungeon and every cave has aspects that are unique to its own. You might walk up the same archer tower here and there a handful of times, but overall the places that matter are very uniquely crafted to create their own identity to differentiate themselves from one another. The wildernesses are diverse and range from things like icy lakes, snow drifted mountains, swampy marshes, and steaming geyser fields to name a few. All the while the landscapes are populated with structures and tapestries that are influenced by gothic and Viking stylizations. My only gripe with the environments is the cities (I basically have zero with the wilderness). The cities still feel a bit like a village…all of them. Sure the NPCs are more realistic and your interaction with them is much better, but the inhabitance of the cities and towns feel spars. You’re not going to find the lively city-NPC activity or population of what you might see in games like Assassin’s Creed. In the end though, the varied breath taking wildernesses and the tension of venturing across an alien vista for the first time is what really steals the show when it comes to the environments you’ll be visiting in the nation of Skyrim.
Now to get to these environments you can still fast travel once you have found a specific location via the game’s in-game map system which has changed from a “paper” map to a newly rendered 3d map interface. I was worried when I first saw this system because I thought to myself “Why would they have a map that basically details the environment I am about to go to. Not knowing what it looks like is the fun of adventuring.” Well, I can tell you that basically all the map really is is an altitude map with a nice paint job. Essentially, the places you go are not entirely accurately represented by the 3d map system. It’s basically just a fancier way to display the longitude of mountains than a flat 2d paper map.
The 3d map is entered through the game’s new slick user interfacing mechanics. I have read that some people really dislike the new interfacing, but I on the other hand thought it was intuitive and extremely simple to use. You simply hit tab followed by either up, down, left or, right (W, S, A, D) to jump to the part of the interfacing you’re wanting access to. Say you hit “D” (right) twice to jump to the inventory. You can then cycle through the different sub-categories of the inventory like crafting materials, armor, weapons, books, and so on. After which if you want to go back to a previous menu you simply double-tap “A” (left) to cycle to the original “main menu”. It's very quick and easy. That being said, the UI is not perfect. It has interfacing fumbles that are unclear at times between when to hit Tab or the esc key to get to your desired menu or how to exit it and sometimes it is hit or miss whether you can simply click on something to interact with it or not, but it is definitely a better system than Oblivion’s menu interfacing.
In relation, the heads-up display of the game is also very clean and does not clutter your view of the game’s fantastical scenes. If you’re at all familiar with Bethesda’s on-screen “map” it is still basically the same. A bar across the top of the screen indicates north, east, south, and west and those directions spin in a mimic as your character does. Besides this small thin bar at the top of the screen your HUD is empty when out of combat. When you enter combat a bar for your health, stamina, and mana become opaque. Otherwise, the HUD is clean and does not obscure your observation of the screen.
So overall, many of the development aspects of the game from the vastly improved environments and their satisfying atmosphere, better narrative and NPC interactions, and the slickly more intuitive interfacing all come together to make the presentation of “Elder Scrolls V” marvelous and improved from its predecessors.
Let’s now talk about combat and lead into character and combat customizations.
Okay so, the basic combat mechanics are that you still click for one hand and the opposite mouse click for the other hand. The only difference in wielding is now you can put a spell or one-handed weapon in your left hand whereas before you could basically only use your off-hand for a shield or to help support a two-handed weapon. You could put a spell in your off-hand but you could not cast them simultaneously so it kind of defeated the purpose. That has all changed in Skyrim. You can now wield whatever you wish in either hand and use them in conjunction. This compliments character development and adds a level of sophistication to your protagonist’s tweaking while being able to easily be more proficient in multiple offensive and defensive disciplines simultaneously. This new system seems to be directly inspired or derivative of the system the Bioshock series has always implemented into their dual wielding aspects. If anyone is familiar with that franchise then they know it can amplify the action quite a bit and adds to the combat depth.
Another new, yet simple, addition to combat is the sprint function. Now you can use your stamina to gain a burst of speed in your forward trot to accompany your other stamina driven movements like rolls, tumbles, and power attacks. Intelligent management of your stamina and abilities that require this endurance make combat situations more complex and clever.
To engage in these combat situations you're going to have to get gear. Gear is basically the same as in Oblivion. Sadly it is too much the same. There are still several tiers of light and heavy armor going from leather, elven, glass for light and then Dwarven, Orcish, Ebony, and Daedric for heavy with a set of Dragon sitting at the top for both armor classes. Weapons follow this same set of increments. All of the outward aesthetics of the weapons and armor sets have changed though and most look pretty good. You still equip both hands with either weapons, shields, or spells and then your armor articles are head, chest, gloves, and boots. This time around you can only equip a single ring and one necklace. To fill these gear slots you can get items from various different ways such as random quest rewards, loot the dead, or craft them for yourself.
Crafting in general is much more advanced than in Oblivion. From blacksmithing to other crafting professions they can feel more in depth and influenced by popular MMORPG mechanics and complexity. You can find a set of certain crafting components and put them together to make different articles of...whatever. Potions, necklaces, rings, helms, daggers, poison weapon coatings, two-handed serrated maces, and much more can be crafted and enhanced through the game's more satisfying crafting systems. To gain the materials needed to make these augments and items you can find crafting components in various ways; from snatching a fish out the water, hitting a vein with a mining pick to plucking an insect from the air or uprooting an herb from the earth you can gain materials from a multitude of different facets around the lush world. Creation of and crafting these items will make your character raise in levels.
To level up and progress in Skyrim is fundamentally unchanged from previous Elder Scrolls installments. Unconventionally you do not gain experience points as you would in other RPGs to progress and become more powerful from killing enemies. Instead, as in other Elder Scrolls’ games you will traditionally level through honing skills through their usage. Meaning, the more you cast flame spells the higher your destruction school will get or if you block with a shield your block skill will become more proficient. When you level a skill like blacksmithing or archery you will get a percentage toward your overall level depending on how high that skill is. For example, say your character's level is 20 and your sneak skill is level 60, if you got your sneak to increase to 61 it would give a much larger chunk toward level 21 than say getting alchemy from level 22 to 23. After you do achieve so much skill progression as to make your level increase you will no longer choose from attribute points like Strength, Intellect, endurance, and so on, but the benefits of these attributes do appear in the game in one form or another. Weight capacity for example is simply increased by a few points in your threshold per level and endurance (HP), willpower and intelligence (mana and all of which effected your stamina in Oblivion) have been removed for a simpler system. Instead, when you level you simply choose from either increasing your health, magika, or stamina by 10 points and you will gain a single perk point for each level gained.
Perks are not completely new to the franchise, but have been refined and made much better. In Oblivion you gained perks from gaining increments every 25 levels in each skill. Now perks are more in vein with a similarity to Bethesda’s Fallout games. The perk trees really add to character customization and the play style you want to focus on. Whichever play style you choose to focus on will innately become more powerful because your methods of engaging game situations will cause you to use said skills to become more proficient with. So, if you like sneaking and stealth gameplay then stalk around or if you’re more interested in being a spell caster then you should cast spells and become better at them passively the more you use them. Not only being able to interact with the game in the gameplay style you want, perks also allowed for previously broken or unfeasible gameplay styles to become tangible. Through the new perk and leveling system I want to say that this is the first time in Elder Scrolls’ history that I feel each gameplay style is complete and enjoyably viable. Not only do these perks make basically all styles of play feel viable but they also make you feel as though you’re progressively becoming more and more powerful. At times though, at least at much higher levels, I felt as though I had become FAR too powerful and it made combat not as fun because it had become much too easy. I’d say by the time I was in my mid-thirties I could dispatch dragons in a dozen seconds.
In the beginning though, dragon encounters are very fun and exhilarating. Dragons howl and intimidate the towns below as they crash down on rooftops and spray fire without regard for anything in their path. Music spikes and pulses rise making these battles a great experience. After conquering these monstrosities a dozen-or-so times they can become a bit predictable. You shoot them down or wait for them to land and then slaughter them once you’re powerful enough. I would have liked more of the dragon encounters to be a bit more scripted, but overall the dragons are the best and closest thing the game has ever had to the traditional “boss” encounter.
Besides dragons there are undead, uncivilized druid-like people, bears, giants, and mammoths…oh my, and many more enemy types to test your steel against. Mostly though, combat in any gameplay style seems to go hand-in-hand with a lot of back peddling and waiting for enemies to find only air on a missed strike to then take your opportunity to attack. There is some intelligent AI here and there with foes that know their own strengths and try to avoid melee or flee to get backup. Backup is more often than not just simply more people for you to slaughter though.
And for that slaughtering the addition of the random cinematic quick kill at the tail end of an enemy’s health is primal and mildly gory to great satisfaction. These quick finishers don’t hinder the flow of combat because of their short and fast execution and the fatalities are varied and I am still finding new ones I’ve never witnessed before. Sometimes these finishers exit first-person perspective and show you the carnage from third-person and vice-versa.
The third-person game camera has been changed for the better with better animations and adapting features that have become standards in the industry. These changes are not having the character centered in the middle of the screen and slightly off to the side. The third-person perspective has overall been improved and I found myself in that view just as often as I was in the first-person view. All though, when in third-person perspective you can sometimes have your complete view obscured by your body when you’re in narrow corridors. Though the third-person vantage has been improved you can tell that the game was still developed mainly for first-person…or at least with the idea in mind to seldom change between the two.
Let’s talk game problems for a bit. In my time with the game I personally have not experienced A LOT of the reported problems other people have claimed. That doesn’t mean that they do not exist, but I simply have not personally ran into them. I have not ran into a problem with my character getting stuck on the game geography. I have not seen enemies randomly spawn far in the air and fall to their death. I haven't seen NPCs showing to my wedding dead on arrival. Lastly, I have not seen a single broken quest. For any of these problems that may or may not exist it is a good thing the game now stores three auto-saves for you to revert to, just in case. A simple, but fantastic addition that you can only say "why did no one do this before?" to. Problems I have witnessed are texture tearing and NPCs can do an oddity from time to time. Overall, for how much rich content there is in this game I am actually surprised at how polished the game actually is.
In the end, there is simply dozens or more gaming qualities to admire for each one of the game's minor issues.
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Bethesda has made an amazing gaming venture in which it is up to the gamer to craft their own experience with the tools Bethesda has given you. Those tools are vast through gear and character developments and rich in content through narrative and the nuances of the goings-about of Skyrim. You can choose what you want to do and how to go about doing it. You can loose arrows, flame-throw, stealth throat cut, brutally bash with massive weapons, and or shout your way to victory in Skyrim. The series has made some mainstream changes like simplifying interfacing, complexity of leveling, and character development, but this is one of those rare examples where mainstreaming game features does not necessitate meaning bad changes. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an example of when thoroughly and well-crafted RPG elements mixed with one of the richest “sand-box” experiences come together to create Bethesda’s best fantasy action-RPG adventure game to date.
All in all, if you like games that feel expansively enormous and are jammed-packed with rich content you should take a look at The Elder Scrolls V. As a matter of fact, even if you don’t like fantasy games you should still take an interest in Skyrim. There are simply too many elements coalescing to create this masterful experience to not respect the work Bethesda has brought to the gaming industry. I don’t think this game should be missed by anyone, regardless of your history with the first-person RPG franchise. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of the best gaming experiences to be released. Don't miss it.