There’s nothing like a lengthy and immersion-filled gaming experience. Becoming the character you’ve so lovingly created and leveled-up in specific fashion is a real treat that other mediums just cannot emulate. The interactive gaming format allows its fans to enter strange worlds in a completely different and innovative way, when compared to film and television. Although the latter two create a bit of a disconnect, as viewers must watch scripted characters from afar, gamers can become those characters with the help of some sort of controller or peripheral. Instead of watching, they’re able to move within the fictional environment, living out the required actions and unfolding events through entertaining design.
When a standout game fitting the above description releases, it usually causes waves throughout not only the gaming community, but the entertainment community at large. Bethesda Game Studios‘ latest release, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, has done exactly that with its pre-release buzz becoming an epic force. Thankfully, it’s a phenomenal and incredibly engrossing experience, which makes time seem like it’s absolutely flying by. In reality, the effect is caused by a great immersion-based addiction which is created within this type of Western role-playing experience, sucking players in so much that time becomes a forgotten element. Then again, it’s not much of a surprise that hours fly by while playing this game, considering it comes from the role-playing game masters who brought us incredible games like Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
The team at Bethesda Game Studios certainly knows how to kick off a game’s storyline, choosing to have Skyrim open as a wagon-driven convoy of prisoners makes its way down an incline. Their route finishes at the centre of a walled-off town, where a mass beheading is scheduled to take place. For some reason, our main hero has been picked up as a criminal, forced to live out his final moments in uncomfortable style. Luckily, things don’t go as planned. The torture ceremony comes to a quick and violent end when a winged beast sets its fire-based breath upon the village and its inhabitants. The resulting commotion allows for an action-packed escape into the wilderness at large, thus beginning an incredibly memorable adventure.
Early on, the game hints at a correlation between the player’s arrival in the Skyrim province, and the dragons’ strange return to a land which they’d previously vacated. Apparently you’re a member of the Dragonborn – select individuals found throughout time, who all have the uncanny ability to absorb the beasts’ souls. Not only that, but those blessed with this strange ability also have immensely powerful vocal chords that can be used to shout. Learned throughout your quest, through exploration and quest completion, shouts contain a few lines each and can assist the player in many different ways. Examples include the chance to sprint at lightning fast speeds for a brief moment and an enemy-hitting push back effect, which are the first two learned. Since you can speak their language, the dragons are sometimes drawn to the player, attacking whenever the please. Their presence adds tension and difficulty, through lengthy and challenging battles.
For the uninitiated, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a first-person action role-playing adventure. Think of a first-person shooter and change the scenery from a crumbling war zone, to a vast and varied fantasy environment. Freedom is a key aspect of the experience, allowing players to do whatever they want at any time. Quests can be initiated, but there’s almost always a chance to put them on the back burner if something more interesting comes along. Play on your own time and create the adventure that suits you best. Player choice starts at the beginning of the game and never dissipates.
What gets so many people excited about these games is the incredible amount of choice they allow, essentially creating an unlimited amount of replay value. Those who’d like to become a fierce warrior who specializes in melee combat can do just that, though the class choices are organic and varied. Become a magic-wielder, shadow lurker or pretty much anything you’d like to be in a fantasy world. First, a supporting character class must be decided upon after an in-depth review of the lengthy race list. Each one specializes in something different, giving a ton of choice. Though, these are just base assets and bonuses, meaning that the way a player upgrades his or her character will make the biggest difference.
New to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a celestial perk system. When a new level is awarded, based on experience point plateaus, two different forms of character development must be thoughtfully dissected. The first thing to do is to decide if you’d like to give a boost to one of three stats: Health, Magicka and Stamina. Both of the former two speak for themselves, though the latter one needs description. It focuses on a green bar of energy, which depletes during sprints and combat. Like in real life, energy depletes after physical exertion, returning when a break is taken. That is exactly how this bar works, becoming something to always watch. Move out of enemy range and slow it down for a moment, to allow for a relatively quick recharge.
Next, digital wanderers must look to the stars for perk selection. These options work as beneficial boosts, providing bonuses in one of many selected categories. Instead of employing the creative and quirky system that was found in Fallout 3, the development team decided to go with a much more traditional selection list. However, there’s nothing traditional about the way it’s all set-up. Taking the form of constellations in the sky, each category’s perks unfold in a starry grid. When the first star is completely upgraded, it will open up pathways to one or more others within the same constellation. Examples of the available choices include weapon damage percentile boosters, better lock picking skills and stuff like that. You can go very in-depth here, with the ability to even choose which type of magic to upgrade with a perk.
Once gamers have finalized their character selection, putting thought into the type of creation they would like to form he or she into, it’s time to start the quest. An adventure unlike many others, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim requires hours upon hours to complete its storyline alone. In fact, there’s almost an overwhelming amount of content to be found, with many of the residents of the province of Skyrim having something they need help with. Choosing to help most will bring up a miscellaneous objective quest, but the odd one will instigate a side quest. Those are much like your standard story missions, though they serve as more of a way to flesh out the experience than a way of progressing the game’s main plot line. Completing every minor activity and all quests could develop into a venture lasting well over a hundred hours.
Certain quests will bring up moral decisions, such as who to pledge allegiance to in the time of war; something which plays a large role in this game. There are also more minor moral choices to be made, such as who to side with in a confrontational love triangle. Not only that, but players can also pick guilds to join. Having these choices included adds some extra depth and choice, as fans can revisit those sections in later campaign completion attempts, making different decisions. The decided choice can alter the situation in various ways, which is interesting though somewhat daunting as well.
In addition to the aforementioned new perk and shout systems, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim also includes some interesting gameplay upgrades and alterations. Now, magic users can intensify their unleashed elemental power, by equipping the same spell in two hands. Sometimes putting a healing spell in one hand and a damage-dealing one in the other is a better choice, however. The nice thing is that gamers are free to play as they’d like. Some won’t want to use magic at all, choosing to go with the old school sword, shield and potion combination. If that’s your style, then so be it. Have at it. Others may fore-go the blocking shield by choosing a large, two-handed weapon. Play as you see fit and enjoy the experience; this game is all about customization and choice.
Questing through this pixel-crafted adventure is like moving to a completely different land. The world feels alive and interesting, with a lot going on – whether it’s story-related or scripted NPC communication. I promise that you will never feel like there’s a lack of things to do within the gigantic world. If you only buy one game per year, this one is a perfect candidate considering its immense amount of content and unlimited replay value. Once you’re finished playing as one character, then there’s ample reason to jump right back in as another type of hero. Though, even if you do feel like you’re finished playing, there are a ton of interesting books to discover and read. They contain songs, historical passages and guides, to name a few subjects.
Exploring the lay of the land will allow for the discovery of hidden dungeons and crypts, as well as some fortified above-ground encampments on lightly-used roads. Taking the time to search out every location is one of the most interesting and exciting parts of the game, as you never know what to expect. Perhaps a discovered area will set off an interesting chain of events or set the stage for an epic battle against those hunkering inside. Arguably the driving force and biggest motivator for this type of extended travel is loot. Well-hidden caves sometimes hold the best collectibles, hidden deep inside of their labyrinthine designs and interesting puzzles. Just make sure you can handle all of the undead creatures lurking inside before you decide to knock on the door.
Fans of Bethesda Game Studios‘ previous releases will feel at home within The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s reminiscent of past successes, with elements from both Oblivion and Fallout found within. The game is accessible yet tough to master, with tons of different spells and potions, plus varied armor and weaponry. Players are always discovering new things or items, which provide gameplay awards and an experience point boost. Those who attempt to take on the exploration challenge mentioned above will have a great time earning experience points for finding new places. One of the most notable new things to look out for are around thirteen different blessing stones, which have the ability to give the player benefits from the gods, so to speak. Only one blessing can be used at any specific time, making it important to choose wisely based on personal preference and play style.
Despite being a very polished and content-filled experience, the game still has a few rough edges which will hopefully be addressed with future patches. There were some moments of immense slowdown noticed, as well as a couple of visual glitches. Considering how large and expansive the game world is and taking all of its content into account, these relatively minor issues are quite easy to overlook. Still, it’ll be nice to see if the team will be able to patch these issues in order to make the game run as well as possible. Don’t let either of those small-scale problems scare you away from purchasing this phenomenal title, though. That would just be silly. Other than the odd glitch and occasionally strange-looking horse movement animations when ascending some terrain, it’s very hard to fault this game.
Jumping into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the first time, gamers will see a noticeable visual upgrade thanks to its new engine. The world is more detailed, and so are all of the character models strewn throughout it. Impressing me the most were the varied enemies, all of which must have had a lot of work put into their individual designs and animations. Sometimes the player is the hunter and, at other times, he or she becomes the hunted. This is especially true when gigantic cave men and even bigger mammoths come into the picture, though the ferocious sabre cats cannot be forgotten. Non-playable characters met along the way have their own unique looks and uniquely detailed touches.
Perhaps the most impressive facet of the game’s visual design is its weather effects. Pouring rain drops occasionally fall in realistic fashion, but the snow effects are the most impressive of the two. Mixed in with rolling hills, lush greenery and inhabited spaces of all sizes are vast mountains ranges. Combining greyish tones with a smattering of white stuff at their onset, those areas eventually become snow-filled landscapes. Venturing deep within, one will notice blizzard-like conditions, where the snow becomes a bit of a visual hazard. It’s not only a well-done effect, but is also a nice touch of interesting detail.
Throughout the years, we’ve become accustomed to lengthy role-playing games which only feature text-based dialogue. Skyrim, much like like its studio’s previously-released titles, takes full advantage of subtitles. It’s a good way for the hearing impaired to follow along with the game, or for those who can’t play using a loud volume to find out what is going on. For other parties, full voice acting is supplied, bringing the experience to life. The cast is diverse, with a lot of skill put out on a showcase pedestal for the entire gaming community to hear. There aren’t any things to complain about when it comes to the auditory performances found on this disc. Sweeping, originally-orchestrated musical pieces also slot in perfectly throughout the quest. Both of these presentation elements, factored in alongside some quality sound effect work, end up creating a great soundtrack for a phenomenal game.
In the end, it’s hard to find faults with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s a great game, which shows well as a passion project from a very talented development team. Every single member of Bethesda Game Studios‘ staff should be commended for putting together an exceptional product which will take over the lives of millions of gamers worldwide. It’s hard to fault this outing, which made reviewing the game a treat. If you’re on the fence for a specific reason, it’s time to take the plunge, as Skyrim is a can’t miss release.
This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game which we received for review purposes.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a phenomenal game, which will meet gamers' lofty expectations and then some. If you're going to buy one game with the hope of it lasting a long time, this one is a perfect candidate.