Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (360)
Title: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Platform: Windows, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
TL;DR: Immense, satisfying and compelling – Skyrim is guaranteed not to disappoint
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The beginning of the tale is inherently familiar – you are an unknown prisoner. You have been mistaken as a member of the Stormcloaks, a rebel group founded by a pretender to the throne who have plunged the country into a brutal and bloody civil war. There is no trial, and your name doesn’t even appear on the prisoner manifest. Nevertheless, you are sentenced to death and instantly ushered towards the chopping block and prepare to lose your head. At the last possible moment a Dragon appears and razes the village to the ground, saving you in the process. You are now fully in control of your destiny, and are quickly faced with your first decision: whether to flee with the aid of a rebel, or a solider. Regardless of your choice you are soon thrust into the startlingly immense, captivating and thoroughly open world that is Skyrim.
From here on in I will avoid mentioning any plot related specifics as I don’t want to spoil the discoveries and twists that Skyrim has to offer. Suffice to say, the world needs a hero and you are uniquely suited to the role.
Whilst Skyrim isn’t a direct sequel to Oblivion, the game is set on the same world some two hundred years later. Whereas Oblivion was set in the province of Cyrodiil, Skyrim is a much more desolate and harsher land located in the north. As with the previous games in the series, you have the option of sprinting through the main quests, or postponing them indefinitely if you fancy sightseeing instead. Thanks in large part to Skyrim’s majestic scenery you will be sorely tempted to take the latter route.
Exploring Skyrim is a real pleasure – you can travel on foot or by horse, by sticking to the main thoroughfares or straying from the main paths altogether and carving a road through the wilderness. Undiscovered areas of interest such a caves, towns and camps will appear on your compass when you’re in their immediate area, as will of course previously discovered and cleared locations. Similarly, arrows will appear on your compass to guide you towards your current goal, a must in a world as large as Skyrim. No matter what route you take there is plenty to see and do along the way. For the first part of the game snow, mountains and pine trees are your main backdrop, giving way to different landscapes as you widen your search. The level of detail in all areas is superb and I often find myself pausing to admire a waterfall, mountaintop view or simply beautifully rendered vegetation.
As you explore you will inevitably come across wildlife and NPCs both friendly and hostile, which brings me to the combat system. Your three main attributes are Health (displayed as a red bar), Stamina (green) and Magicka (blue). All three slowly regenerate over time, or can be instantly replenished through the use of items or spells. There is no class system in Skyrim – you are not shoehorned into a Warrior/Rouge/Mage role and have the ability to develop your own unique style through the awesome leveling-up system.
You will level up various skills simply by using them, such as Lockpicking and Sneak. Armour types, such as Heavy, and weapons, such a Two-Handed, can be leveled up just by wielding them. Through this system you will climb character levels which gives you the option to improve skills further by selecting a perk, as well as selecting a main attribute to increase. The skill and character levelling up system work well together and truly enable you to craft a character with only the strengths, skills and attributes you desire. Not only does this give the bonus of providing you with the option of creating an intensely well-rounded character, it also means you’re not shackled to a decision made at the start of the game: you could begin by working mostly on skills traditionally associated with Rouge’s such as Sneak and Light Armour for example, but ultimately decide that you wish to upgrade your Magicka and spells to the max (just keep in mind that levelling slows significantly after Level 50).
Character development has seen some changes compared to older Elder Scrolls games, too: all races still have different natural abilities, but they play a much smaller role and won’t hinder/ help you in the near critical way they could in Oblivion. Customising your character’s appearance is much more satisfying in Skyrim: the women look like women, there are more customisations to choose from, and a sliding scale gives you greater control over small details. After some deliberation I went with a standard looking female Redguard with black dreadlocks and a dark, warlike tattoo.
As you’re levelling up your preferred weapons and armour you will soon notice that durability isn’t an issue – unlike previous games in the series you do not need to repair them from time to time to prevent them from becoming entirely broken. They can be looted, bought or crafted, whereas spells can be obtained from reading books or unlocked in the traditional way.
Weapons, spells (all eighty five of them) and shields are assigned to each hand (with the obvious exception of two-handed weapons): for example, you can’t use magic if you are holding a sword and shield, but you can swap weapons, shields and spells quickly through a menu of your favourites. During the more challenging fights you will probably find yourself bringing up the menu fairly often and modifying your tactics as well as changing up your spells and weapons, which keeps the action fast-paced and varied.
I have mostly stuck to using weapons and shields rather than spells, but magic works in the way you would expect in an RPG: spells come in a multitude of different types but generally fall under either offensive or defensive, magic that aids you such a health healing or invisibility spell, or one that damages opponents. Shields can also be used in an offensive as well as defensive way through the use of thrusting attacks. In fact, even bows can be used in a limited guarding capacity if you find yourself in close combat. Skyrim truly is a flexible game on all levels.
So, now that I’ve covered how to develop your character, modes of travel and basic combat, you’re probably wondering what fun there is to be had in Skyrim. As previously mentioned, you do of course have the option of sticking to the main quest line, or you can embark on some exploration. Whilst you won’t encounter quite as many Quests along your way as were on offer in Oblivion, there is still a staggering large number to discover, not to mention caves, dungeons, towns and other areas to find and clear.
Along your way you will encounter, dodge or slaughter a wide array of enemies such as: Draugrs, Trolls, Giants, Goblins, Skeevers, Spiders to name but a few. Dragons have a major prominence in Skyrim and you will encounter them in combat many times as they are auto-generated. You can harness the power of ‘Dragon Shouts’ by discovering ‘World Walls’ in some areas, which you can use after absorbing the soul of Dragons you have defeated. There is a short cool down period after each Dragon Shout use.
If you tire of exploration, combat and completing Quests (highly unlikely), or hanker after a change of pace, there are many optional activities you can undertake. These include the highly useful crafting skills such as Enchanting and Smithing, non skill crafts such as Cooking and Smelting, and money making tasks such as chopping wood.
Another similarity Skyrim shares with its predecessors which is worth noting is your limited carry weight. This can be improved by increasing your Stamina, but prevents you from hauling all your hard earned loot from cleared areas back home or to a merchant. You can ask a Follower (we’ll get to them shortly) to help carry your stuff which makes this more bearable, but if you’re a completionist prepare yourself for a lot of mueling.
Throughout your journey companions may join you to help a hand; and so we come to one of the very few gripes many players have with Skyrim. Although useful, they will get in your way. They will stand in your line of fire, and won’t let you pick their equipment. Sometimes, they will disappear into thin air, never to be seen again, so save frequently.
Composer Jeremy Soule returns for Skyrim and does not disappoint. A few songs from Oblivion and Morrowind are featured, but everything else is new. The music is fitting, haunting and adrenaline inspiring at times, such as when you square off against a Dragon.
Skyrim is undoubtedly the best addition to the series to date, and one of the best RPGs of recent times. It will transport you to a barren, Norse land which will tempt you to explore every crevice and untangle every secret. Although I’ve tried to give you a very brief overview of its finest features, there are many more wonderful aspects of the game, but far too many to list in a review. In short, the game not only takes what made its predecessors great and improves upon this, it also irons out many of the wrinkles. It comes with its fair share of bugs and glitches, but this doesn’t diminish its excellence.
- Immense and stunning game world
- Highly flexible leveling-up system
- Abundance of Quests and avenues to explore
- Highly improved character creation setup
- Disappearing and buggy Followers
Skyrim is rated PEGI 18+ and as such isn’t suitable for children.