Skyrim is the fifth instalment to the well acclaimed The Elder Scrolls series and is set in a time roughly two hundred years after the previous game Oblivion. Skyrim is not a direct sequel to Oblivion but do have some references here and there as it takes place in a similar world but at a different part and time. The land of Skyrim is facing two major problems at this particular time. Firstly, the dragons seem to have returned and secondly, there is a civil war between the Empire and Stormcloaks. How exactly does Skyrim fair in terms of it being a game, a product of Bethesda Softworks as well as being part of the Elder Scrolls series? Read on for my review of the game (based solely on experience on the PC version)
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The main story behind Skyrim is not too complex but is enough to keep things fresh and interesting. To put it simply without any spoilers, you play as a Dragonborn, a legendary breed of man that has the soul and blood of a dragon but the body of a mortal. At this very time, there seems to be a crisis. The dragons have returned! As the story develops you learn of the greater evil and it is your duty to stop it. The main story is set in a time of a civil war between the Stormcloaks, the rebels, and the Empire. With that, you do face some complications here and there with choices to make. It is these choices that make the story even more enjoyable and interesting as it challenges you to think for yourself and make your very own decisions. Besides the main plot you do have several other sub-plots that you can dwell. You have your regular guilds and other mini-stories that you will come across along the way. All the different stories that you will be engaging in are backed with the rich lore and history of both the land of Skyrim as well as the very world that it takes place in.
Skyrim, as all the previous Elder Scrolls games, is an open world non-linear RPG. What this means is that you are free to explore and embark on your very own adventure without giving a damn about the main story or anything else. It is practically a game where you can do whatever you want whenever and wherever. If you’re into exploring you can just go ahead and wander off, no one will stop you. There are some very minor restrictions put into place in order for you to not accidentally break the game. For example, there are some characters that are vital in the main quest and thus they are practically immortal. There are also some areas that I have passed that you cannot access unless you proceed on with a particular quest as it requires a particular item to unlock the area. With that said, the game is still extremely opened and allows you to play it as you want to.
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It is this aspect of a very open world non-linear gameplay that attracts much attention and interest. Rightfully so as the enjoyment and fun that comes from being able to choose what you want to do is immense. With the genre being a RPG, the open world non-linear gameplay accentuates the point about role playing. It is all about who you want to be and what you want to do.
There are several different types of quests. There are the main storyline quests, sub-plot quests and the infinitely generated miscellaneous quests. Let me explain: Main storyline quests are simply quests that are directly related to the main story of the game. Sub-plot quests are those that are related to mini stories that you can embark on for example the thieves guild, the Companions, Dark Brotherhood and the civil war. There are also short mini storylines that you can encounter as you are exploring and adventuring for example the daedric quests. Lastly, the infinitely generated miscellaneous quests are often the most boring and pointless and it mainly gets you doing stuff like going to a location to kill the leader. This is supposedly the “Radiant quest system” but seriously it gets boring and tiring real fast. There are also other types of miscellaneous quest such as finding a particular item for a person. On a positive note, it brings you to locations that you may not have yet explored. All the sub-plots are fairly interesting and fun to play with. There is also no need to worry that your character “class” doesn’t fit the particular guild. At most you will face a little bit more challenge at times but other than that it is all good. For example, I’ve completed the mages guild without spending a single point or effort in any of the magic skill trees; same applies to the thieves guild. My character was that of a head on warrior using melee two handed weapons and yes I’ve completed most if not all the different factions quests.
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Level design is fairly simplistic in the sense that almost all places you go to work out in a similar fashion. It works in such a manner: You will first face several weaker enemies in various rooms. You have a few rooms that are locked with hidden chests. Before the end you will usually meet a “boss” or a much stronger enemy as compared to the previous ones you have already disposed. Kill the boss, grab whatever treasure left behind and head out. There is usually a shortcut out of the place which I really like as it keeps the pace of the game moving fast. There is an occasional simple puzzle that will never ever require much thinking and that is about it. Indeed, when compared to the exploration and free roaming, the level designs are that linear and can get a little dull. However, the combat and backing story (if available for that particular place) makes up for the lack of creativity in such an area of the game. With that said, most quests have you go through such a sequence with the exception of a few other unique ones such as placing items into people’s inventory to frame them or to stealth around and steal something. Else, it will be pure hacking and slashing (or magic, or stealth, or shooting whichever applies) your way through and then turning in the quest.
Moving on to character builds. This has been one of the most discussed and debated aspect of many of the elder scrolls games (or rather many RPGs). There is always the problem of balancing the game in the sense that perhaps for example melee is often more powerful than magic. It is amusing seeing all the different people debating over how the different stats stack and how in the later part of the game some builds are often always more overpowered than others. For Skyrim at launch, what I’ve seen most people talked about is mainly how magic users are at great disadvantage as their spells do not scale according to the level or something like that. Well, I have to admit that my one playthrough was just purely melee with a bit of stealth and ranged combat so I do not have much ground to make any comments. However, from my observation of magic players they are doing just fine in the normal difficulty. Perhaps some of the skill traits under the melee category can make it a little be less favourable to the magic users but nevertheless the fun is still there, trust me. Using magic is awesome looking and seriously, the higher level spells simply look and sound brilliant. Stealth is more of the one hit KO and melee is the more common standard combat. Each has its own gameplay style so simply choose one that suits you the best. Do not worry about whether being melee will be better or not. It is more of choosing something that you will enjoy rather than choosing something that is more powerful. Come on, it is an offline single player game! Why get overly frustrated and worried over such things? Oh and yes, whatever you choose will do well.
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Each skill has a skill tree that you can place trait points in. When I say skill I mean for example Two-Handed, Destruction Magic, Ranged etc. Each of these various skills has their own separate skill tree. You improve the skill simply by applying it in the game. For example using destruction magic will increase your destruction skill, using a one-handed weapon will increase your one-handed skill. An increase in each of this skill will contribute to the main level of your character. A total accumulated level of several skills will result in your character levelling up, giving you a skill point to use as you see fit. There are some skills that are more useless than others but all in all they do have an impact on the game and the way your character turns out to be. Each time you level up, you get to choose from adding Health, Stamina or Magicka. Yes they’ve dumbed down the attribute system but it still works great.
Skyrim introduced a more in-depth crafting aspect to the game. You have Smithing, Alchemy and Enchanting. All of these are individual skills that you can improve and by doing so you can make really good items for yourself. For example, improving your smithing will allow you to create and improve weapons and armor by quite a bit. Enchanting allows you to put several skill and damage modifiers that will make your life in Skyrim so much easier and much more fun. Alchemy will allow you to make potions that will help you in all aspects of the game whether is it health potions or potions that buff a particular skill. They do add another dimension and depth to the game and is certainly great fun to have them available. This time around you too have other activities that you can perform such as mining, cooking, cutting wood, grinding the wheat etc. Cooking isn’t much of a skill and the bonuses you get from consuming food are pale in comparison to what potions can do. And of all honesty the rest of the activities seem pointless (besides mining) but nonetheless, it is these little things that make the whole game and world so much more believable and engrossing.
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The combat system works great whether is it ranged, magic or melee. The combat system is action based, meaning it isn’t like your typical MMOs where you click an enemy and wait for your character to kill it. Instead, you have to time your swings, aim your shots and charge your spells at the right time in order to effectively and efficiently dispose your enemies. With all such combat systems we always have people finding ways to beat it. Oh yes, the usual hide in a place where it is inaccessible to the enemy while slowly shooting them down with a bow and arrow is present in Skyrim. Still it is great fun and is easy to pick up whichever style you are looking to play. You will get the hang of it quickly and you will find yourself destroying your enemies soon enough. Oh and do look for more ways to exploit the system as I strongly believe that such an activity is also part of the fun in the game.
For all characters whichever class you choose to play as have the ability to use Shouts. As a dragonborn, you can use dragon shouts (called Dovahzaan in dragon language) after you learn them. They are fairly interesting and they can be found and learned throughout Skyrim. To learn these words you have to find and go to specific locations where they have a particular word that you can learn to use. After learning the word, you have to unlock it with dragon souls which can be acquired after killing a dragon. Each Shout have 3 words to it and by knowing all 3 words and unleashing all of it can result in unleashing a devastating power. The abilities are very interesting for example you can Shout at time to slow things down (with the third word allowing you to move at normal pace) and then strategically charge a spell or start swinging your weapon before they can even retaliate. Shouts do have a bit of a cool down time especially when using all 3 words of it. They are cool though both in terms of the visual effects and the effect in game.
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There are several different kinds of enemies that you will face in the game. The strategy to deal with each type does vary, making combat much more interesting and fun. For example you have mages that can do real damage should you let them hit you with their spells. They can hurt especially if you’re melee facing a mage that uses ice spells that can slow you down and prevent you from reaching them. They do hit hard as well in the early stages so do be sure drink the right potions or wear the right equipment as you see fit. There are also some bosses at the earlier parts that can be quite difficult to kill. However, by poisoning your blade or arrow with a paralysis poison and then hitting the boss with it can make the battle a whole lot simpler. To put it simply, there are many ways to go about with dealing with your enemies and the variation keeps things fresh and engaging. There is just one main problem about the game though. The dragons are way too easy to kill. In fact, enemies get way too easy when you’re supposedly reaching the end of the game. Maybe it is the difficulty that I am playing that resulted in this (I play at Adept, the “normal” difficulty. You can choose from 5 different levels of difficulties). I guess there needs to be some balancing of the enemies for instance perhaps making some bosses way harder as compared to the other normal enemies and perhaps some rarer monsters to be as hard to kill as they are to find.
Travelling around Skyrim can be done in mainly two ways. The fast travel or the conventional walk/ride a horse. The fast travelling helps to keep the pace of the game moving at a considerate pace and the conventional walking and riding allows you to explore and find new places to adventure into. Each has its own merits and they blend together perfectly to allow you to fully enjoy the game. On a side note, I strongly suggest you get a horse as it is way too useful to be omitted in any adventures.
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Getting around Skyrim is really easy with the fast travel as well as the presence of the compass and map. The compass will notify you of any nearby point of interests and the map ensures that you will never ever be lost. It might take a little realism away from the game but I strongly believe they are there to improve the general player’s gaming experience. You can choose to disable the compass if you want a more immersive and realistic playthrough. It should be fun and much more exciting to find places purely through exploration and experimental adventuring rather than following the compass and a map. Yeah so go ahead and disable it if it should make your playthrough a much more enjoyable one. My recommendation to most gamers though is to simply leave it there and use it; less hardcore but equally satisfying.
Major cities all have a distinct unique feeling to it. The only problem however is that the ratio of land to population of people is appalling. There are simply too little people to make the cities feel believable. As much as they look great, feel great and are all filled with their own personalities, a denser living population will top everything off. Putting that aside, there is opportunity for you to own a house in some of the major cities. Houses are great places to store all that loot that you have acquired through your adventures and to rest and relax. It is also unsurprisingly satisfying to display all that epic weapon and armor that you’ve got by putting them up on the display stands. It is a nice touch to the game and the main function of these houses in my opinion is simply a place to store stuff.
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The freedom you get in Skyrim is accompanied by stunning visuals and amazing sound. The visual effects and the general look of the game in terms of its environment simply make exploring and adventuring in Skyrim a joy to behold. Weapons and armors are done in great detail and you can really feel the power of your character as you equip the end game items. The way weapon glows when they are enchanted and how powerful the spells look when casted simply creates a sense of satisfaction and achievement. The ability to choose either first or third person perspective to play the game is welcomed as each has its own benefits. Playing in first person view allows you to admire and adore the beauty of your weapons and for third person view you get to drool and go crazy over your characters outfit.
The sound effects in the game are fantastic as well. Voice acting is very much improved as compared to Oblivion with not only more voice actors but of higher quality as well. You can feel the character’s personality oozing out from the way they speak. Other sound effects such as the way the waterfalls sound, enemies’ growl and how your Shouts shout is just brilliant. The backing soundtracks are a treat to the ears. It fits in perfectly with the theme and genre of the game, making everything feel so epic. The visual, sound and gameplay simply complements each other and blends in so well to make Skyrim such a complete game.
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With all that said, Skyrim isn’t perfect. It does have some negatives mainly with the glitches and bugs that come with it. You may experience crashes to desktop at times or weird things such as dragon bones popping out all of a sudden and then sinking back into the ground and all that nonsensical stuff. It happens, and it isn’t to anyone surprise. Putting all the glitches and bugs aside there are too some minor irritants in the game for once people butting in when you’re having a conversation. It is fairly disturbing to have your main conversation be drowned with some miscellaneous nonsense that another NPC is saying. The level design as mentioned previous could do with a bit more variation and complication. Other than that Skyrim is just great.
It gets even better though once the mods start flooding in. The creativity and intelligence of the modding community is simply fascinating. The fun simply never stops. If you want an even better looking game, do wait for some high resolution texture packs that I am sure would come out soon enough. New weapons, armors and all kinds of amusing stuff will be released no doubt. It is just a matter of time. As such, do keep hold of your game as you will want to get back to it whether is it having another playthrough in vanilla version or another playthrough with additional tweaks and toppings on top the already tasty game.
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The bottom line is, if you like RPGs you must give Skyrim a try. For all the issues that people are pointing out, fret not as the positives simply outweigh them by a huge margin. Come on, the complainers are probably enjoying Skyrim as much as they are complaining. As mentioned, nothing is perfect so there are surely molehills to make mountains of. For everyone else, do give Skyrim a go as it is one of those titles that are to be remembered in the times to come. For now, have fun and be prepared for even more fun once the mods start being released.