Also on: PS3
If Bethesda does one thing extremely well, it’s crafting incredibly immersive, ridiculously large worlds for their fans to run around in. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is no exception to that rule. It’s gigantic, and when you start to fill in the map with all the little icons that represent places found and yet to be discovered, it’s damn near breathtaking how much stuff there is to take in. And that’s just the side of the game you’ve found. Even after playing the game for 40 plus hours I’m still coming across new locations and dungeons to explore. If you’re looking for the perfect time waster this season, Skyrim is going to be it.
Of course, Bethesda isn’t new at this. The previous game in the series, Oblivion, was also incredibly large. Fallout 3, another fan favorite, was the same but in a completely different setting. And while I enjoyed the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Fallout 3, I have to admit that it’s incredibly exciting to go back to the fantasy setting of Skyrim. It helps that this game is a step above anything Bethesda has done previously in regards to graphics. The world of Skyrim is as varied as it is vast, and while most of the promotional material has focused on snow-capped landscapes, there’s a lot more to see than you might think.
And surprisingly, it mostly works! Bethesda titles have also been well-known for something less flattering; a series of bugs, some of which could be game crippling. Skyrim isn’t without a few, there’s the well documented issues on the PS3 with the save file sizes increasing exponentially the more you save, and then there’s the texture loading issues that occur on the 360 when the game disc is installed to the hard drive. Personally, playing a 360 version of the game for review, I ran into some longer loading times the more save files I created, and certainly noticed the texture issues. But overall, I feel like the bugs I encountered were pretty slight. They certainly didn’t detract in a huge way from my experience with the game, and the biggest issues I was looking for that plagued both Fallout and Oblivion never occurred. Namely getting stuck in the environment with no way to get out, and having my save files corrupted halfway through the game. Those were a bit more game-breaking to me, and never reared their ugly heads here.
But enough about that, let’s talk about how much of a blast this game is to play. Like the previous Elder Scrolls titles, you’ll be in first person view throughout most of the game, but you can opt to enable a third person camera if you wish. Unlike previous games, the third person view actually looks passable too, I find myself using it when sneaking around to help get a better view of all sides, and your character animation actually looks good with it enabled.
The game scales back some of the class stuff from previous Elder Scroll games, but their absence isn’t that noteworthy. When the game begins you’ll pick from one of a number of races, with fan favorites like Lizard-men returning again. The races all have a particular skill and benefit, like added resistance to frost damage or diseases, or the ability to regenerate Magicka quicker than others. I opted to go with the Nord race for my initial play through, and I’m currently working my way through the game with a Dark Elf mage/thief hybrid. You no longer pick a character class and pour points into specific skills at the character creation screen, instead you’ll mold whatever character you choose into whatever you want them to be. I love that the class restrictions have been lifted, as it really allows me to just do whatever the hell I want.
As you level up in the game you’ll gain skill points to pump into a variety of things, like two handed specialization, lockpicking, destruction magic, and so on. The skill selection is also paired down a little from previous games, but again I hardly noticed what was missing. Overall I think it’s better to see the selections streamlined into things that are actually having a noticeable effect, and I think it’s far easier for new players to grasp the differences between the current selections of skills. And anything that gets new people playing this game is a good thing in my book.
You’ll be introduced to a quick opening scenario once you’ve selected your character, which helps to showcase the new storyline that picks up a couple centuries after the events of Oblivion. And unlike Oblivion, where I found myself pretty disinterested in the overarching plotline, I kept my interest up in what was happening to Skyrim. Having a bunch of giant dragons to contend with certainly helps, but I definitely think the overall plotline is better than the previous Elder Scrolls title. Of course there are also a ridiculous number of side quests to contend with and a lot of guilds to join with their own storylines to uncover. All the side lore stuff that you’ve come to love about the series is still present, and still fun to uncover if you find yourself invested in the world. Not all the quest lines are mind blowing, but some of the content, like the College of Winterhold, almost feels like a main plot thread unto itself.
Combat in Skyrim is whatever you want it to be, and the combinations of attacks and defense available to you are pretty huge. You can opt to go with a two handed weapon, forgoing defense in favor of more offense, but can still block some blows with your weapon. Or you can go with a sword and board tactic, deflecting blows with a shield and whittling away at your opponent in a battle of attrition. Or better yet, equip a one handed weapon and flame magic, toasting your opponents a bit before they get close enough for a taste of cold steel. Or hell, dual wield your magic, but switch it up so you’re tossing flame bolts with one hand and stamina draining frost magic with the other. You’re not limited too much here, so if you find one tactic to be a bit boring, feel free to change it up to something else and you’ll still remain completely viable.
If you’re looking for just one RPG to pass the time with this year (and probably next), Skyrim is definitely it. It’s an improvement over the previous Elder Scrolls games, and certainly Bethesda’s best title to date. I’m still pouring hours that I really don’t have into the game, and find it hard to pull myself away from a second adventure. It does have some technical flaws, but overall I feel like they do little to detract from the experience I’ve had with the game. This is definitely the most polished, open world adventure from Bethesda, and I look forward to playing a lot more of it in the months to come.