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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review
Game Name: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC (reviewed)
Publisher(s): Bethesda Softworks
Developer(s): Bethesda Game Studios
Genre(s): First person action-adventure, role-playing, open world
Release Date: November 11, 2011
ESRB Rating: M
Big Ups: Good gameplay, huge world, tons of content
Big Downs: Horrifying bugs, questionable writing, Radiant AI

Bethesa has done it again. After five years since Oblivion’s critical success, they have created yet another potentially legendary hit, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Skyrim takes everything great about the series and attempts to fix everything that is bad. However, some of the bad remains. I cannot completely blame Bethesda considering the intimidating amount of content in Skyrim. Being well into the game, I still feel I have a ton to experience. That kind of scale warrants minor flaws being overlooked.

However, it is absolutely necessary to call Bethesda out for the blemishes that restrict Skyrim from being perfect. For starters, the game is racked with bugs. Characters and various objects indiscriminately float; certain scripts have not thoroughly been tested; and arrows and spells collide with invisible walls protruding off the most mundane objects yet sail through the limbs and bodies of many enemies. I found myself watching a deceased Markarth guard’s bow slowly ascend towards the heavens, resetting scripted events using an item with bizarre qualities, and unintentionally pinpointing my location to my intended target because my arrow dinged against a conveniently placed invisible wall jutting out of a pebble next to them. This really affects immersion Bethesda! Sure, your world is full of endless magic and mystery but when goats walk up an invisible platform and curl into the fetal position, it ruins the suspension of disbelief. It’s hard to believe in a world where the combat AI boils down to exploiting terrain so that the enemy is more occupied with pathfinding than avoiding arrows to the face. I have had an ongoing struggle with Radiant AI. On one hand, it’s a fantastic system; it’s like playing a gigantic Animal Crossing game except with more things for the NPCs to interact with. On the other hand, it acts as a small mask to a very basic setup. Sure, random events happen but it is simply because all NPCs have their own schedule and after hours of gameplay they might just run into something hostile towards them either leading in them killing the aggressor or being killed. It’s cool in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. because the world is dog eat dog, but Tamriel is supposed to be populated with civilized and educated people who have no reason to be hostile on sight. A new system has been implemented where aggressive NPCs will throw out a couple warning shouts as you approach them giving you an opportunity to turn away from a fight, but this isn’t consistent between NPC to NPC. Other issues with the game have already been targeted by the modding community who has been releasing quick fixes since day zero.

All flaws aside, Skyrim makes up by providing a gorgeous looking world chock full of content. It becomes difficult not to be pulled into the realm of Tamriel. Excluding the new adventure limiting carriage rides and quick travel, traveling by foot or horseback rewards the player with the discovery of hundreds of caves and dungeons dotting the Nordic countryside. Unlike Oblivion, however, Skyrim’s locales all possess unique character so that no one feels like the other. Letters are strewn about some, revealing a story on events that took place there or corpses will be found in others that hint at what the player will possibly encounter. The game doesn’t fully explain a lot of the details but this lack of complete stories creates a convincing, living breathing world. This is accented with various quests. Bethesda said there would be an endless supply of quests and my disbelief has actually turned to belief. How they managed to pull it off is very intriguing considering all of the quests seem like they are placed intentionally into the game. The writing in the quests suffers from excessive tropes and archetypical stories that you would find in any fantasy world. There are a lot of quests based on popular stories and movies of the recent era. I will warn you ahead of time, there is a quest tastelessly based off The Hangover. The amount of quests still manages to make up for the lack of innovative storytelling; I will willingly say Alduin is Bethesda’s attempt at capitalizing on World of Warcraft’s recent release of Cataclysm. Yes, all dragons have core similarities mythology but the appearance and mythos between these two are too alike to be ignored.

Oblivion’s voice work suffered by the limited cast of actors. Luckily in Skyrim, they have added just enough so that it’s hard to pick up on recurring voices. Unless you have experienced this first hand, you cannot even begin to imagine how pleasant the audio quality becomes. It helps make the characters that much more convincing. Sadly, the animations are not convincing. Every character moves with the same apathy. It is very robotic. I think if Bethesda added more articulate animations, their world would truly be complete. Maybe it will be so in the next game.

The new gameplay is the most refreshing of the changes to the series.  I don’t feel the need to elaborate much more than to say it makes combat rewarding; no more swinging your sword senselessly until your opponent dies. The feedback from the combat accurately illustrates the real danger the player faces. This is even more apparent during dragon battles. Consider these the better alternative to Oblivion gates. As you roam the countryside, you will find roosts or encounter random occurrences of dragons. These battles are intense, typically introduced with a vicious roar in the distance, requiring skill and patience to succeed. As you dodge dragon breath and tail swipes, the screen shimmies and shakes. It freshens the monotony of travel and sets you up for the occasional unexpected boss battle that keeps you on your toes. From these battles comes dragon souls which allow you to unlock dragon shouts that you find throughout your adventures. These are the most interesting aspects of the game as each shout has its own unique features. I suggest that you don’t use the Unrelenting Force shout that you receive early on from the main quest if you wish to have a challenging gaming experience; it basically makes almost all combat situations a simple one hit kill. Another ditched Oblivion feature is level scaling. This was quite possibly the biggest reason why Oblivion did not hold a special place in my heart. I played hundreds of hours but I hit a point when I realized I would receive no reward for my efforts. Skyrim gives you ample opportunity to develop a character who actually feels powerful. Bethesda made sure to include enemies that keep you feeling challenged but never grow with you. Wolves will always have the same hit points and giants will always rocket launch you into space with their clubs. From this development style comes my biggest dilemma, the RPG elements. The consolidation of skills definitely made sense. One handed weapons are now lumped as such and acrobatics as well as athletics are removed. But when you look at point allocation normal to most RPG games, it is entirely removed. Instead, the player must choose between Magicka, Health, and Stamina which gives you no obvious point increases other than meter capacities in their respective categories. Yes, the loading screens remind you these increases do other things but seriously? When you are not given a legitimate read out of what you are leveling, why even have leveling to begin with?

As much as I have bitched about Skyrim, it’s a solid game. If I wasn’t my typical jaded self, I know I would be capable of playing this game for hours and hours. If you love this genre, you need to get it. Regardless of its price tag, the game buys itself even without mods (yes console owners, I am saying Skyrim is acceptable to own on your systems).  For those who haven’t even played an Elder Scrolls game, I demand that they play Skyrim. You will be coming into the series at a prime time. Skyrim lingers in a nice little void at this point and because of this I must give it a Major Distraction. It keeps you attracted, but will lose its appeal depending on the player.

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