The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. That’s all I really need to say for those who know the game, the series, or the experiences waiting within. This is the fifth of the main titles (as evidenced by the large Roman numeral V on the title), but it’s actually the fourteenth addition to the series including expansions. That’s a lot of games, so obviously the western RPG-giant Bethesda is doing something right, right? Right.
This new addition to the series is set 200 years past the previous game Oblivion. No longer taking place in the Imperial province of Cyrodiil, this game puts you in the frozen northlands of Skyrim where the Nords primarily call home. They are a hearty people and absolutely pulled from history as the Vikings of old. The game starts with you being a lowly nobody, as they all do, until you discover your true heritage and what your destiny is (according to the Elder Scrolls, ancient texts that predict everything). You are “Dovahkiin,” the Dragonborn, and you are destined to fight against the rising dragon menace before they bring about an apocalypse of sorts. Being Dragonborn, you have special abilities and powers that nobody else possesses, and it is with those you are able to stand on equal footing against the dragons (otherwise you’d be killed pretty quickly).
Essentially Skyrim is billed as an open world role-playing game, allowing the player to go where they choose and do as they please. It amounts to a sandbox game practically; though not on the same level as Grand Theft Auto (even if you can straight up murder everyone). You are given a blank check to play the game as you please – if you want to do the main quest first, do it! If you want to tool around and just empty out the numerous dungeons and kill the random living beings across the wilderness, do that! If you want to sit around and steal the pants off of everybody you meet, what’s stopping you? Nothing. It’s hard to accurately describe an Elder Scrolls game simply because there aren’t many limitations within the game – you start the game, pick your race from the 10 to choose from (orcs, elves, and humans, oh my!), and then receive a pat on the back and a “good luck” as you’re tossed into Skyrim fully.
Gameplay-wise though the game series hasn’t changed drastically since the previous installment, and in fact Skyrim has kept much of Oblivion’s structure in place. You’re able to block with shields easily, wield two handed weapons, do the heavier attacks, use bows, etc. The bigger changes that have occurred though have done a very good job at balancing out characters and giving players more freedom. Older titles had players choosing specific skills and signs, like Heavy Armor, One-handed, Destruction (magic); and by raising those skills they could progress and level. Skyrim has redone that system and by leveling anything on your skill list, you receive credit towards the next level. You can literally make and play a character as you see fit; it’s a wonderful change that I wholly support. Topping that change are the new skill bonuses they’ve added within the game. Leveling up your different abilities to certain points, like Heavy Armor to 50, will grant you the option to place a skill point onto the Heavy Armor skill tree and give yourself a little extra oomph of protection, or maybe some other type of bonus (like no weight while equipped!). This new system for skill points is a fantastic addition and lets you further modify your character to the badass super-adventurer you want. The other change I enjoy, the sign system, previously had you pick out a special star sign that supported you in some way – now those have been replaced with stones you can activate and receive specific bonuses based on the stone. While under the influence of one of these stones, you’ll continuously receive the bonuses, yet you’re able to change your sign at any point unlike the previous games.
Further changes have been made to streamline the game more, like the journal system and new map as well. Overall I would say the changes are honestly all pluses. Even with the dragons that will spawn from nowhere, I STILL say this series has made leaps and bounds in terms of progression and making that “perfect” Elder Scrolls game. For fans of the series, I believe most of these changes will be met with praise and admiration, but there will always be those naysayers out there that prefer Daggerfall over Skyrim.
Graphically the game is beautiful, much like its predecessor Oblivion. Once again, further changes have been made to the graphics engine (Skyrim uses the Creation Engine, Bethesda’s own creation), which have once again produced some amazing results. One of the biggest complaints from the last game was the character models – all of which looked like haggard plastic dummies walking around. That is not the case this time around, though there are some character animations that are still odd. Then again, I can take an odd character animation here and there over a prune-faced crone talking to me for 20 minutes. The random wildlife (and dragons too) all look great as they either flee or try to rip your guts out, and just in general the game has reached a new level graphically in my eyes.
Rounding out those graphics are the great musical numbers you’ll hear. From the time the game starts until the second you finish the game 300 hours later and shelve it to never play again, the music will capture your attention. The dead quietness at times will too for other reasons (walking along the wilderness with no sound can get…a little boring), but the music is still the greatest aspect of the game. It has great orchestral pieces that just move you, and the theme song, The Dragonborn Comes, is fun to listen to from the bards in-game.
Elder Scrolls V is a fantastic game that I recommend to everyone. Even casual players can peruse the game and have a blast – it’s not all about adventuring. I dabbled a bit in just exploring the countryside for the fun of it. I feel this game has something for almost every gamer out there. You’ll find yourself diving into the game and emerging sometime in the future a battle hardened warrior, an all powerful mage, or even the best thief and assassin in all of Tamriel – who knows?Note: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was reviewed on Xbox 360. A physical copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.