Better book the week off.
If you ask me, it’s been far too long since we had a new Elder Scrolls game. I mean, come on, there have been two Fallout games in between Oblivion and Skyrim! Well, the wait is finally over, Skyrim is here. Bethesda’s epic series has undergone an overhaul in just about every department, and promises to be one of the biggest RPGs you’ve ever played. We’ve seen the map, the mountains, the dragons and the dungeons but is it any fun? Yes. Loads.
In case, by some miracle, you’re not familiar with the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim is the fifth game in this Action RPG series. Players create a character, from a huge number of race and visual options, and jump into a fantasy world complete with magic, swords, castles and, finally, dragons. Combat in Skyrim is, for the most part, first person melee. There are ranged weapons, magic and shields to round out the experience though. If you’ve played its predecessor, Oblivion, you’ll immediately be able to recognize the updates to Skyrim’s combat system. First, your hands are controlled independantly of each other allowing you to equip a different item in each. When going with the classic sword-and-shield your left hand can be used to raise your shield or bash opponents. Prefer magic? You can equip a spell in your off-hand to blast your opponents while you close the distance. Really prefer magic? Equip a spell in each hand, mix and match for different effects.
Where combat had previously felt like endlessly bashing your opponent until they fell, Skyrim really puts emphasis on timing, blocking and strategy. Fighting smartly will reward you with critical finishes that play out as slow motion kill scenes and really add a sense of accomplishment to the combat sytem. These finishing moves are always contextual, based on the position of your weapon relative to the enemy and look much more real than in previous iterations of this engine.
Skyrim is set in, well, Skyrim. This area of the world is a snowy, mountainous region that is home to the Nords, an analog of earth’s ancient Scandanavians. This isn’t to say Nords are the only people you’ll run into, all of The Elder Scroll’s races are well represented in and around Skyrim. War is brewing and, if that wasn’t bad enough, dragons have been seen in Skyrim for the first time in hundreds of years.
This is definitely Bethesda’s best looking RPG yet. Fans of Bethesda’s RPGs will notice, but maybe not right away, that a lot of this owes to the ditching of the ‘cookie-cutter’ in favor of designed set pieces and backgrounds. No longer will every dungeon look the same. You will not find yourself staring at the same rock wall for the 50th time while navigating the caves of Skyrim. Houses in cities are now distinct buildings following the local architectural style rather than being copy-and-paste clones of each other. It’s not just in the backgrounds either, each dungeon, cave or ruin is designed to have its own set of rooms, features, traps and doors. The days of “oh great, another cave” are dead and gone. There are, however, some texture issues on the Xbox version. Most objects look fantastic but you will frequently come across snow covered objects that look like they were rendered in a much lower resolution than the rest of the game. Since we’re talking issues, the load times can also border on ridiculous and only slightly improve when the game is installed. Neither of these issues are show-stoppers, but they are worth mentioning.
The moment when this level of variety suddenly stuns you will be when you finally realize just how big Skyrim is. This game is huge. I still can’t believe it all fits on one disc. I once found myself in an ancient Dwarven ruin, fighting off mechanical spiders for three hours while not working on any part of the main story or quest. This was just a huge area that I found and couldn’t stop running around in. Once, when loading a save, I realized I was 20 hours into the game and had finished maybe two quests from the main story. Skyrim will suck you in and spit you out weeks later. Not including the main story quests there are a large number of factions and organizations you can quest for, not to mention just random townspeople you can get work from. The majority of these quests involve specific areas, story and items rather than just being fetch or kill quests. Bethesda is also introducing the new Radiant Story system which will randomly generate quests from NPCs until the end of time. You literally never have to stop playing.
Levelling up in Skyrim has been simplified, but in a good way. You no longer have to pick, or create, a class with set skills. You get better with practice. That’s right, sneak around and your Sneaking skill will go up, use one-handed swords and your One-Handed skill will go up. Raising skills raises your level meter and when it is full you level up and get to boost your Health, Magika or Stamina. It’s a simple system but it works great. The skills you don’t use just sit there doing nothing, feel free to ignore them. Each level you gain will also grant you a skill point that you can use to gain a Perk. Each skill has its own Perk tree, so frequent use of a particular skill will also allow you to apply these bonuses to it.
Skyrim, as a game, is huge, engrossing, and hard to put down. The story is great, the quests are fun and the exploration is addictive. You frequently get the sense that you are the first person to see the particular part of the game you’re in at the moment. You will be playing Skyrim for hours and hours and will love every minute of it.
There are no multiplayer modes in Skyrim. Hey Bethesda, can we please get some co-op next time? Pretty please?
Skyrim’s achievements are designed to encourage you to experience everything Skyrim has to offer. From story achievements to faction quest line achievements to reaching Level 50, Bethesda wants you to do it all. ‘Delver’ will probably have you here the longest as it is unlocked for clearing 50 dungeons. Clearing them, as in killing everyone. Some of these dungeons are huge!
Looking past a couple of technical issues, Skyrim succeeds, at being a game, on every level. It is engaging, fun and addictive. It offers a ton of content without being repetitive and always causes you to stay up way too late. Book some vacation, stock up on snacks, give your kids a hug and go buy Skyrim.