Elder Scrolls is a name that any Gamer should be able to recognize as the pinnacle of open world role-playing games. A name that has such high standing that there are literally five to six years between each release of a sequel. The last title to release was Bethesda’s first PS3 Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, It was also the first console Elder Scrolls game to be released. Oblivion won plenty of Game of the Year awards back in 2006 and is considered to be sill today one of the greatest RPG games ever made. Can Skyrim live up to its history or does it get the cold shoulder?
When talking about Skyrim there is a lot to talk about, between the interactions of the world, the changes in gameplay, the enhanced graphics, and the diverse stories. With all this content, there is definitely something for every RPG-loving gamer and fan of the series. We are literally dealing with a game is so massive that any player can put up to 150 hours into this game and not get anywhere important with the main story. This figure of speech you may have seen before, and that is simply because it’s true. For the presentation alone we are going to have to tackle this piece by piece to assure long time Elder Scrolls fans that this game does not disappoint but there are some things to watch out for.
First let’s talk the main story, and yes I mean the story of the Dragonborn’s quest to fulfill his destiny, not the civil war quest which I will talk about later as being an entirely separate center piece of the game. The player starts out as a prisoner of war being taken to his execution. As you are taken to the town of Helgen, players will converse with the fellow prisoners on this carriage. Amongst the chit chat between you, the prisoners and the guards leading up to your execution you can decide what race your character is as well as your name, appearance and so-on. This character customization is extensive as far as possibilities and each race presents unique advantages as well as disadvantages depending on the path you choose in terms of what skills you will level up the most. This customization is great however without some type of strategy guide or use of the internet you may not know certain advantages such as how the Argonian can breathe underwater, at least if you are not a long term Elder Scrolls fan. During what would be your execution the town is attacked by a dragon! What takes place next will have you beginning your path on both the civil war quest (from choosing who to go with to escape the town) as well as the main story itself. You are taken on what almost seems like a roller coaster ride to escape this burning town alive as the dragon annihilates everything in its path. For your bravery you are encouraged to talk to the jarl of Whiterun about the return of the dragons. He will then tell you to talk to his wizard who has a job for you which mostly involved retrieving some object he needs to learn more about the dragons. Now I don’t want to say one thing leads to another but eventually you will be asked to assist the south-western watchtower of Whiterun with defeating a dragon. Of course after you do eventually kill your first dragon in an amazing battle your character will absorb its soul. This is where it is revealed to yourself and others that you are in fact the long prophesized Dragonborn. You are told to speak to the grey beards on High Hrothgar at the throat of the world (the name given to the largest mountain in Tamriel). From here I don’t want to reveal too much about the story but you as a character end up following your destiny to defeat the dragons and save Skyrim.
Of these “other things” tons of quest lines are open to you which you can find simply by talking to people in town. Quest lines such as The Dark Brotherhood, the Thieves guild, the Companions, The Mage’s College of Winterhold and much more all give the world of Skyrim a connected feeling that brings the world together to make this single-player game feel like more of a community than some MMOs. This is great and what adds to this community and compilation of side quests is the books (if you’re into that sort of thing). Throughout your adventures there are multiple books you can read to increase your skills or give you background information to the world. Unfortunately there are questions that are brought up for some fans like how is the night mother from the dark brotherhood in Skyrim when you saw her final resting place in Oblivion? There are plenty of holes in the game like this, but it’s not anything big and to knock the game for this would be almost nitpicking yet I feel it is important to point this out so fans aren’t confused while playing thinking things like “But that doesn’t make sense if…” All I have to say is don’t worry about it and just let it ride.
Each of the individual Quest lines does have very interesting story arcs that lead the player through some interesting situations. This is not to say that they are all grander that any of oblivion but rather on par in terms of scale and are relatively solid. You need to look at them like short stories that never get overdone and are always “keeping it fresh”. The best things about each of these individual quest lines is that they connect often throughout the world together further adding to the community of Skyrim and enhancing the presentation.
Skyrim really is a living, breathing world with relatable charters (some may not be entirely relatable) that you will get to know over time. This all turns around as being a large part of the uniqueness of the Elder Scrolls where these characters don’t have to have a lot of depth outside of relatability to make them something the player can connect with. The fact that many of them are extremely one dimensional is surprisingly a good thing because it keeps the connections between each of the characters simple and clean. After playing the game for a number of hours I’m sure any player would be able to tell me the names and positions of at least 20 Skyrim characters off the top of their head.
If there is one quest line I need to single out as being unique it would have to be the civil war quest. As you read earlier the civil war quests act almost as the real center piece of the game in the way that it involves everybody in Skyrim. The Player can choose to fight for either the Imperial Legion or the Storm cloak Rebellion to fight for the sovereignty of Skyrim. Each side is basically a replicate of the other but is the best way to get as much combat gameplay in as possible as you will be attacking camps and forts to take over for whichever side you choose. What makes this even more exciting is in the end the player will take over and fight their way through one of the main cities of Skyrim. This is a very cool quest line and affects almost every part of the world in terms of conversation and recognition. At one point the opposing side might even send hired thugs to kill you!
As far as open world games go, Skyrim is easily one of the biggest in terms of Elder Scrolls games and in terms of relativity to your speed of travel. There is so much packed into this one game, that the environments you will encounter will differ from the obvious tundra’s of the mountains to the subtle marshes in the southern areas. There is an almost overwhelming sense of content throughout the game as well–considering how packed the game is with dungeons, towns, and outposts. Skyrim is easily one of the largest games to come out this year.
Skyrim presents to you a world of vast connections and a real sense of community makes everything you do and every decision you make have an impact. This is done even without the karma system seen in fallout 3, and yet it feels like karma is still a large piece of the game even if it is an underlying effect.
TESV is an obvious graphical improvement over Oblivion and as far as “open-world” games go it is beautiful! The lush environments speak volumes to the art direction and creative locations throughout. The foliage textures are decent with much diversity however I can’t say all is good. The bad things when it comes to the environmental graphics in Skyrim are that the mountains and the whatnot can definitely look and seem very blocky at times. With invisible walls all over the mountain ranges and places where you can see through the geometry there is easily a lot of issues that are covered up by untraversable landscape. This is mostly hidden from the player going through the game but there is always exploration that needs to be done in Skyrim so don’t expect to hide from it for long.
When performance comes to the character interaction I must say it feels way better than Oblivion of Fallout 3. You are no longer zooming in on the character’s head whenever you need to talk to someone. Instead the game holds you in place with the ability to look around while your response prompts arrive on screen. It’s much more fluid but still not perfect. Sometimes on your way to speak with NPCs you end up standing behind them talking to their back or just in other awkward positions when speaking. When you are in a nice position though the interaction feels like it’s perfected for Skyrim, despite the fact that this is another insignificant problem with Skyrim I will say it is something that gets annoying for me as I play the game. As you interact with different people the character models are definitely a great update from the previous tile. They all look unique and lip sync rather well for a game of this size and standard.
From here the only really important thing left to talk about with the graphics are the bugs post level 25. It appears that once the player levels up beyond 25 the game starts to feel like the PS3 version of New Vegas just not as bad. These problems DO NOT I repeat DO NOT make the game unplayable. I hope anyone reading this review takes to heart the obscene overreaction by members of the Gaming press to say that these glitches and errors completely ruin the game because they do not. If you listened to our December 8th Podcast you will know that my opinion as well as that of my colleague is that Skyrim with these glitches and performance issues still top most other games that run flawlessly. IF you are still wondering what happened to Skyrim, well the game basically lowers the frame rate to a crawl from time to time and if it ever gets too bad you should read our fellow editor’s (Ben Adamski) post on how to do a quick fix for the problem.
The bugs that will be very annoying in this game – as have been evident in other Bethesda games of the same style – is the ones that will impede your ability to complete quests. I have run into multiple glitches where I can no longer obtain certain trophies without loading an extremely old save or making a new character. There are now quests that I cannot complete because of errors where something didn’t happen or something is unresponsive for example the quest known as “The Cursed Tribe”. In this quest I cannot talk to the orcs to begin the real quests because none of them will talk to me while they hide out in their camp. After some online research I found out that when approaching them for the first time the player must assist them in taking down a giant and talk to with one of them to begin a Deadric quest. It feels like this many times in Bethesda games where I feel like I need to be careful in everything I do to make sure I don’t set off some type of event that will hurt my completion capabilities in the long run. It’s definitely a large reason I did not do the Civil War quest until nearly the end of the game. Despite the fact that according to Bethesda doing so will not affect much about your quests I don’t want to take the chance. This glitch or bug was additionally even more of a problem because I had the same issue with the civil war quests! This may not be a performance issue, but rather more of a presentation issue but either way it has definitely hurt my gaming experience with Skyrim. This incident for me has been bittersweet however because Now it has promoted my interest in making a new type of character which I will get into when I talk about replay value.
As far as animations and physics go they are both superb. The characters move and talk very realistically and the creatures do pretty well too. The dragons really shine when it comes to animation and you will know what I am talking about when you come face to face with one as it lands. The physics may seem pretty ragdoll at times with the way dead bodies will slide down hills but it’s something that I feel almost belongs in Elder Scrolls because I can’t imagine what it would be like any other way.
With that being said we are looking at clearly the most beautiful Open World game on consoles. It is massive and filled with glorious textures and even smooth animations for the characters and creatures (including the dragons). Don’t expect to see the next step in revolutionary graphics but rather the next step in amazing graphics that are fit for an Elder Scrolls title.
Gameplay in Elder Scrolls V is definitely addictive if you are even somewhat of an RPG gamer. What is great about Skyrim is that it can stay open enough for most people to get into but have the depth required for the more hard core fans of the series. What is funny about Elder Scrolls though is that gameplay is not really the thing about this game that is defining and may be one of the only games where gameplay really is assumed and what people really care for is the content. There are a lot of additions to the system this time around however that really bring this game to the next level.
Of these additions my favorite has to be the independent control of your equipment on each arm. If that doesn’t make sense then please allow me to elaborate; In Skyrim the player is able to hold two one-handed weapons, a two handed weapon, weapon and shield, weapon and magic or any combination you can think of at it allows you to really mix up your play style a lot without having the controls get confusing or having the setup be time consuming. It’s all really quick and things can be equipped or unequipped on the fly with the quick-select menu. I love this system because there are countless times where I would run out of arrows for my bow or start doing poorly against a certain enemy or dragon and I would need to switch equipment and switching to the equipment I want using the regular menus would easily take the fighting experience out of the game for me.
Another addition to the gameplay of Skyrim during combat is the use of finishing moves. While fighting enemies with a two or one handed weapon your character will at random pull a finishing move that adds a stylistic element to the gameplay. If you have ever played fallout 3 and used VATS with a melee weapon it’s very much the same thing however this is just based on the defeat of random enemies. It’s really cool when it’s done right but other times it will look flawed and throw off the vibe of the game.
The best part about playing Skyrim has got to be the side quest that end up being extremely unique as opposed to most things you can do in the game. For Example, the Civil war quest where you take over one of the major cities is probably the best experience of gameplay you can experience. There is no feeling like storming the walls of solitude with a group of rebels. Other than the civil war there are times when you might even find your character face to face with a Deadric god. The possibilities are endless and this level of combat depth is very rare for a game that is solely meant to be a role-playing game.
Of the gameplay there has been big changed to the leveling system in Skyrim as opposed to other games Bethesda has developed. During your adventures you will have 18 skills the player can level up from things like smithing to archery and destruction magic to light armor. These are leveled up as the player uses each skill and your character’s overall level will upgrade as your skills do. Leveling skills means that quest completion will not impact level progress but rather the things you do during quests will. Each time your character’s overall level is increased you are rewarded with 10 points that can go to Magic, Stamina, or health as well as a skill point. Now this is where things get really cool, the skill points are used on skill trees for each of the 18 skills. These skill trees which are actually constellations will give the player perks in each field for instance archery can get the ability to slow time while light armor can give you perks to assist your carrying weight capacity.
The gameplay overall is good enough to keep people playing especially if it keeps many Skyrim gamers playing despite the bugs and glitches that we’re previously mentioned. The addiction factor is pretty big and I often found myself looking for a way to stop. That is how you know you have a game with beautifully crafted gameplay and the ease of access along with the overall fun factor of playing just makes this title an extremely engaging game. As I RPG fan I am not disappointed with the gameplay and as an Elder Scrolls fan I am most certainly not disappointed with the addiction that ensues from a game like this.
We have talked about the gameplay, the presentation, and the graphics; now we’re going to tackle sound! When it comes to voice acting don’t be looking for anything that will challenge that of Uncharted 3 or Heavy Rain, but rather it’s just really regular and unimpressive. Many of the character voices will feel like they we’re used on more than one character and the even though the large sense of community is present throughout the game there is not a large effort to make the world feel as real I would wish. Notice what I am not saying here now, I am not saying that the world doesn’t feel real but rather that it could have felt even better given the voice acting was more up to snub with the rest of the game.
The voice acting may not feel that great but the original score is fantastic. During your travels through Skyrim there will be beautiful orchestrated sounds that have a very calming and peaceful tone to them. This effort gives the experience of the game a large influence in terms of the need for exploration. It’s the kind of music that will make you feel like a real adventurer and this commanding spirit of musical theatricality really improves the experience of the game more than it does to any other game I have played. It’s one where the soundtrack never feels overwhelming but always feels right in place with the rest of the world. This is just during your exploratory adventures too, the combat score is even better yet giving every great battle dramatic influence that can really suck you into the moment and keeps your heart in the game further adding to the addiction.
There is an element of music I have to discuss here that really hit home with me while playing the game and literally made me stop and stare. I had just finished the main story quest in the game and began some miscellaneous objectives. Walking through white run I made my way into the bar to talk to one of my quest NPCs for the next objective on my quest. I was about to leave when out of nowhere I began to hear music…folk music. What I heard was music about me! The dragon born music! After completing the game there are certain characters or NPCs that will sing songs of your great deeds. Normally this would be a pretty cool, but not fantastic feature. What made this one fantastic was that the singing in these folk songs was absolutely superb! I literally had to double take when seeing that level of quality in a feature of the game that was so sensory to the rest of the world of Skyrim!
Do I really need to talk about the lasting appeal? I do because there is literally no other console game I have ever played that had more lasting appeal. If the addiction factor isn’t enough to describe it then allow me to explain. Now don’t get frightened by the word addiction, It’s not something that will feel over demanding of your time (not that that is necessarily a bad thing) rather the addiction factor is more of a deep interest catcher that will secure the fact that you will keep coming back.
Obviously Skyrim is a large place with hundreds of dungeons and quests, but it is also expansive enough to offer many different styles of play. This game really gives you this feeling of play your own way more than other RPG games or otherwise that I have played in the past. The great things about this are that it offers a lot of replay value on top of the lasting appeal you will have on your first play through. This is very relevant considering both the fact that some quest glitches (that I mentioned previously) will encourage you to start over with a new character but also because quests given throughout the game offer many different choices and the consequences of these choices will likely change with different a play through.
In essence this could be the largest game on consoles today in terms of available playtime. With all the afore mentioned features and places (which you will be going to on foot considering you cannot fast travel somewhere unless you have previously visited said location) players have not one but multiple lifetimes that can be spent on this game. The best lasting appeal plus amazing replay value equals a game that can suck so much time out of your life it can be seriously questioned if you will need another game all year?
Overall, Skyrim is not the ideal image of the best RPG game of all time; what Skyrim “is” is an amazing game from top to bottom that is so good it can make players literally look past the glitches and bugs. Some of the bugs even promote multiple times playing through! These bugs aren’t small frame rate drops either and if a game of this scale can look good – bugs and all- then it deserves a great amount of recognition. With Bethesda working hard to repair all the bugs in the game I’m sure they can make a great game even better but even without the patch we have a golden title.
The Replay value is the easy winner here in terms of Skyrim’s greatest assets. But the replay value would be nothing if the gameplay was not good enough to offer so many individual play styles. This gameplay is enhanced so much by the graphics and sound that the world literally sucks you in with its presentation and with that we are right back at lasting appeal.
If I needed to find another reason to say Skyrim is an amazing game I can do it without a problem but what matters here is that of all the games that have released in the past 2 years if ever there was one worth the $60 you pay Skyrim is easily the value.