RELEASED: November 11, 2011
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
DEVELOPER(S): Bethesda Game Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Bethesda Softworks
There's now proof of only one game being big enough to distract me from blogging for nearly one whole month, and I would be stupid not to take advantage of the impact the game has made on me and tell you about it right now, be the Marvel marathon on or not. Since its transition from a PC-exclusive role-playing treat to a multi-platform title in the summer of 2002 with the release of the still immensely popular The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, The Elder Scrolls has gained a foothold as one of the most popular video game franchises in the world, overshadowing the Fallout revival Bethesda carved off the same bark in 2008 in terms of unanimous acclaim. However, Fallout has had its fans through these five years, and I've been one of them - save for a few brief sessions with Morrowind on the PC in 2002, I've never really been an Elder Scrolls expert or fan. I've owned all of the main series games made prior to Skyrim for ages, and the most remarkable thing they've done thus far is look good on my shelf. Little over a month ago, I cashed in on a "promise" I made long ago and did exactly as I promised - I bought The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim 'cause the price was finally low enough. One more Elder Scrolls game on my shelf couldn't have hurt. Well, that particular evening (April 15th) turned out quite a bore, so I decided to take a small trip in Skyrim to numb the senses and kill some time. Last night (May 16th) that trip came to (somewhat of) a close, and I was ready to go out into the real world again, with a daring declaration from someone who's never been much of a "Scroller" - despite its trademark flaws and despite slowly numbing down on the go, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is easily one of the best games ever made, and it definitely deserves some prestigious reward from how it's better worth your money than any game released in... well, ever.
I used to play short, overtly cinematic and unrewarding games like you, but then...
Vladimir Kulich : Ulfric Stormcloak
Corri English : Elisif the Fair
Daniel Riordan : Alduin / Hircine
Charles Martinet : Paarthurnax
Max von Sydow : Esbern
Christopher Plummer : Arngeir
Joan Allen : Delphine
Michael Hogan : General Tullius
Cindy Robinson : Astrid
Stephen Russell : Mercer Frey / Clavicus Vile / Barbas / Cynric Endell / Belethor / Mallus Maccius
200 years after the Oblivion Crisis, the province of Skyrim finds itself in all sort of uproar. The murder of High King Torygg at the hands of Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak has escalated a simple rivalry into all-out civil war between the Stormcloaks and the Imperial Legion. As if that wasn't enough, Ulfric's public execution is interrupted by the first dragon attack in centuries, marking the return of Alduin the World-Eater, the most powerful dragon in history, and thus, the imminent end of the world. You play the part of Ulfric's fellow prisoner, caught by the Legion while attempting to illegally cross the border of Skyrim, and as it happens, you're Dragonborn, the one capable enough to permanently slay a dragon by devouring its soul. The choice of who to stand with and against is yours - but you can't escape your destiny.
|Welcome to Jorrvaskr, the home of enfuriating|
elitists who've more bark than bite. Literally.
I seem to remember a time Oblivion was called the most beautiful game ever made. Well, that time has long since passed, and even if you haven't caught a glimpse of what Skyrim looks like, you can probably concur that playing Oblivion in 2013 isn't quite the same as playing it in 2006 - I said "probably" 'cause I have one friend who strongly disagrees, and he's played Skyrim, for much longer than I in fact. Well, Skyrim is just plain gorgeous, all around. The new Creation engine takes the age-old Gamebryo engine and mops the floor with it. Just to mention an example of eliminated irritation is the better flow of dialogue; the world around doesn't just stop whenever you're having a discussion with someone, and you can even move the camera a bit during the dialogue, which alone makes dialogue feel a little more interactive. There are much less randomly generated NPC's, which helps you actually remember folks that you last met 40 or 50 in-game hours ago, even if you've not had much or any quest-related dealings with them.
The music by Elder Scrolls veteran Jeremy Soule is just magnificent. The soundtrack might get a little repetitive for your taste after the clock strikes one hundred in-game hours, but at the very least the epic theme song "Song of the Dragonborn" is a classic on arrival, which hits at certain phases only during the game and always makes your heart beat a bit faster - and a short excerpt also cues your transition to the next level, which adds to the consistent pleasure of hearing it. Bard NPC's around the world are open for requests for songs that can't be heard anywhere else, and those songs are also among the best on the soundtrack; the performers could sound better, though.
The simple reason why I wasn't apeshit about Skyrim or the whole Elder Scrolls franchise in the first place is that I've never been a medieval fantasy geek. I'm not too much into traditional dungeons, dragons, swords, kings, all that. I've always been an RPG fan, but the RPG's through time I have held the dearest have _usually_ been far from traditional fantasy, either they're pure sci-fi, post-apocalyptic stuff or radically multi-influential. Skyrim is a very multi-influential game, much more so than it would seem on the outside, on which it's the fantasy geek's holy book. Yeah, sure, it's a dungeon-crawler above all - and there are dragons, magic swords, kingdoms to save / ravage, elves, dwarves - or rather dwarven ruins, as dwarves have been dead in the Elder Scrolls universe for centuries - all sorts of races for the other ones to despise in a vintage adaptation of real-life racial disputes, all that. But, there's much more. Vampires and werewolves, assassins, smugglers, God-sized conspiracy theories, religion wars, even time travelling to some interpretation and extent for a non-fantasy geek like me to thoroughly enjoy. Not to mention the huge fucking world this small disc contains. I dare not even think how much bigger Skyrim is than the Capital Wasteland, but it definitely is much bigger, and almost every step you take reveals a new spot of interest on the horizon. Shit gets so crazy that you'll find yourself revering the inventor of fast travel as a god before all that long. If it isn't clear to you fellow anti-Elder Scrolls people by now, Skyrim's one to watch for if you had half the adoration for the last two games in the Fallout series. It will stick on you like an arrow to the knee! Just had to fit that in somewhere.
|Building your own house in the somewhat|
poorly received Hearthfire add-on. It was
decent, I think.
In most RPG's of late - or games with an RPG-like character development system, the line between an action game and a role-playing game is very thin nowadays - you gain EXP from everything. Well, let's return to Fallout 3 "for a change". You leveled up from killing enemies, completing quests, lockpicking, hacking, disarming traps, simply discovering new locations, whatnot - that summed up pretty much the whole game. That kind of applies to Skyrim, but it also retains the individual skill development system from the earlier Elder Scrolls games at the same time, resulting in a system that a lot of people will dislike but which I believe those same people will learn to comprehend and respect as time goes by. Since I was never a serious Elder Scrolls fan, I'll use a very early example of how the system works from a franchise I know "pretty well" - Final Fantasy II.
Released in 1988, Final Fantasy II was one of the first console role-playing games, as well as the first (and thus far, only) Final Fantasy game to incorporate a character development system that depended on the skills you actually used. If you used a lot of magic, your mana points went up. If you took a lot of damage, your health and endurance points went up. Now just imagine how this system would work for Fallout, and you're pretty close to how it works for Skyrim. Use a lot of one-handed weapons, your One-Handed skill goes up. Use your shield a lot, and your Block skill is bound to go up. On the other hand, refrain from picking locks and/or pockets, and you're up shit creek if and when you join the Thieves' Guild, 'cause the most essential skills you need in that company are still at the nominal level for your chosen race - of course it's not that big of a problem if you're a representative of a race famous for their natural thieving skills. Yes, it has that much weight; each race has a natural perk or two, which you should carefully investigate at the start of each new game. Anyway, as each skill develops to a new level - I'm too lazy to list 'em, but you can probably guess at least a half of 'em - your overall character level goes up a notch as well. But, you won't level up from anything else, which basically means that you can hack through tens of less busy or low-level dungeons without leveling up at all. Well, not quite, but that's how you'll feel like. That's not all to initially hate about character development in Skyrim.
|A little bit o' Alice in Wonderland.|
Well, that's it for character development, let's take a gander at some other stuff. I mentioned your character's race as a key factor, but there are no real pre-determined classes here - you can pretty much decide on it on the go, once again thanks to how the skills develop according to their usage. Let's take my character, for example - 1. I'm always into melee contact, and preferrably with "light" weaponry, in this case a mace and shield, and the heaviest armor I can possibly carry. 2. I'm not too much into any kind of magic tricks; even when it comes to health, I'd rather use potions than restoration magic. I make the potions myself, too. 3. I love picking locks (especially since they replaced Oblivion's irritating lockpicking feature with one taken straight off Fallout), but I'm not that much into emptying a passer-by's pockets. 4. I'll much rather build and upgrade my own armor set than pay my ass sore for just one piece of it. 5. I love sneaking around and picking off individual, unsuspecting enemies with a well-placed arrow to the kn... neck. If that won't work, I return to entry number 1. There are more skills which are important to me as well, but these five entries are the most essential descriptions of my gameplay style. They basically summarize that I have very high skill levels in One-Handed, Block, Heavy Armor, Alchemy, Lockpicking, Smithing, Sneak and Archery - and very low skill in Two-Handed, Light Armor, all schools of magic and Pickpocketing. And still, I've made it well in my own way - I've finished most main questlines, and I'm at level 50. At no point whatsoever has the game forced me to learn some skill outside my personal comfort zone or brought me to a complete halt.
Skyrim includes a LOT of options for both hands and other vitals, so a traditional speed dial for items and weapons isn't nearly enough. Instead, there's a Favourite menu, to which you can add all the stuff you want, and a list of the stuff is easily accessible by one upward press of the digital pad, which pauses all action. Weapons, armor, spells, potions, special powers, and even more special powers which I'll get to next, all that you want to be there can be moved there with ease.
|They know, you know. What is it they know?|
As the final subject of gameplay, before letting you who still haven't experienced Skyrim correct that outright mistake, I'll speak of the Companions. Not the prominent faction of warriors you'll most likely bump into first out of 'em all, but the NPC's that you can take along by your will and that alone. Some of them are mercenaries; you don't need to do anything but find them in the world, pay them, and they'll tag along as long as you want 'em to. Some of them are more unique NPC's you might have to help with some issue(s) before they swear their allegiance to you. Especially the outdoor areas in Fallout: New Vegas were very hard to manage without a companion at your side, and the same applies to Skyrim's early goings, but as useful as a companion is, especially in those early goings, having a companion means having to endure some serious brainfuckery. Think of Donna in Doctor Who - you've got every companion in Skyrim. Basically effective, but ultimately annoying, sensitive and riddled with glitches.
|These guys keep popping up in the most|
random occasions at the most awkward of times,
but well, at least they're accompanied by a
killer theme song.
There are all sorts of glitches all over Skyrim, and some of them can never be gotten used to, primarily the occasional system lockdowns which have plagued Bethesda's games for years, as well as the occasionally very untrustworthy autosave system, which very often goes hand in hand with the sudden freezing. But, the situation with the last update for the game is not nearly as bad as it was with the final updates for Bethesda's last two games - I guess I have to give them some credit, after all the game is too damn big to be even imagined as completely bug-free. Besides, hilarious glitches are always a treat to witness on a bad day - severed heads spontaneously rocketing off the ground, floating corpses, naked priests, suicide divers.
|Even the damn forest's out to get ya.|
Some - OK, quite a lot of folk - claim that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is so magnificent and fresh that it'll take away all your desire to play the earlier games if you still haven't. I disagree - I think Skyrim is just so magnificent that I'm finally ready to take on the whole series after all these years. It adds to the thirst instead of quenching it - who gives a shit about how the earlier games look nowadays, really? Even though I'll always be on Fallout's side when it comes to thematic appeal, I have to admit that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is thus far the best, most balanced and diverse game Bethesda have ever made. My hunger for a new Fallout game has grown to ridiculous proportions thanks to this role-playing GEM.
+ Of ridiculously epic size, there are literally hundreds of hours to spend in the largest open world yet
+ Equally ridiculous freedom to develop your character
+ Great level design with a good amount of different enemies
+ Beautiful graphics, awesome soundtrack
+ A handful of simple, yet effective solutions to usual small nuisances, for example the Favourite menu
+ Unique, great character development...
- ...Which takes some time to present its good side
- The storyline has its fair share of good parts, but a lot of dull parts to tip the scale; it's the sidequests which make the game (Dark Brotherhood!!!)
- Glitches galore, Bethesda-style
- Monotonic voiceover work, Bethesda-style
- Shouting's an amusing feature, but not all that useful
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