I sat inside of an inn, basking in the warmth of the fireplace as I read over a few books that I had collected along my journey. The quaint establishment was full of chatter that ranged from talk of a thieves guild I had helped re-establish to a bard playing his lute while singing a song I had heard many times. Patrons interacted with each other independently of my influence, and even gathered around the singing bard, waving their cups in the air along with the song. It was a small moment, one of many, but one I couldn’t help but to seep myself into as I sat on my own couch in the real world eating a meal that would keep me going for a few more hours. I had barely delved into the main quest to rescue the world from the threat of the dragons that looked to end the world, but I had cleared my way through many dungeons and conquered what they had laid out before me. Uncovering many stories within that I might otherwise had missed. It was this sense of discovery in a world that never ceased to give me things to do that inspired me to impart so much of my free time into a game that rarely failed to immerse me in a way I had never been before in this medium of entertainment.
There are so many small moments within Skyrim that stuck in my memory and made me happy that I had a bit of a problem staying on target while playing. I had met old gods named Daedra Princes, that had me do their bidding against my better judgement, I had run into a man in another inn and joined him in a drinking contest that ended in something like The Hangover: Medieval Times. I had even stumbled into the mind of a long dead ruler that had been driven mad, and I had shared a feast with an old god in a moment that reminded me a bit of the tea party with the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. The world of Skyrim had made me feel regret for a few of my actions, it made me chuckle as I played a game of tag with a few kids in a city, and it always made me feel inspired to continue to discover what was hidden within the frozen mountainous land of the Nords (The Elder Scrolls version of the Vikings). Bethesda‘s magnum opus to the open world genre had me grinding away hours of my life picking flowers, hunting deer for their hides, and chasing after butterflies like a child with attention deficit disorder just because I could. It was essentially a gateway to a wonderful new place that made me realize that I possibly had a few mental disorders I wasn’t otherwise aware of.
Skyrim is an exquisitely crafted piece of a world that has been built upon over five different games, and it is thick with mythology and lore so finely detailed that it is absolutely mind-blowing to consider the amount of time put into each slice of the entire life sucking pie. A pie that can easily consume well over 100 hours of a gamer’s free time. Skyrim made me a feel like I had missed something when I had put away Oblivion, only playing it for maybe ten hours before I had forgotten to pick it up again. It made me regret that I had never tried to go back through Morrowind when it had glitched on me many hours in and made a main character disappear, ruining my chances to play through the main storyline. I had however played through Fallout 3 in a fashion that could only be described as religious, so I knew full well what Bethesda was capable of. Yet, no matter how much I loved the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout, Skyrim had introduced me to the harsh continent of Tamriel and I was enamored by the amount of detail woven into every bit of it.
Skyrim is a game defined by the small moments like the ones I described in the first two paragraphs. While the main quest has its moments, the freedom of the open world led to a path that I imagined looked more like a heart rate monitor than a straight cohesive line to an objective. There is very seldom a sense of urgency, and while a player is fully aware the world is under the threat of world ending dragons and that they are the chosen dragonborn with the destiny to defeat them, it is just far more fun to run up that mountain and see what’s over the ridge. It feels like a bit of a downfall, but one hardly worth being much of a complaint. Bethesda has done a wonderful job accumulating all they have learned from their previous games and streamlined much of the content that bogged down the experience of the previous installments. No longer is character creation about picking a class and having to stick to it, things are as simple as choosing a race with some benefits in one area or the other and then going on your adventure.
Skyrim has changed the way I feel about the way a character should level, the freedom given to players to do what they want to do in the case of character development is impeccably clever and I hope RPG’s in the future take a few hints from it. If you want to wield magic, you simply do it, and the more you use it, the more it levels. Want to become a sneak thief that can pickpocket a weapon and the clothes right off a guard’s back without being detected? Skulk around in stealth and pickpocket simple things until the skills level up to that point. The system of building a character based on what a player actually uses is an idea that should have been implemented long ago. The leveling itself has been streamlined, it as simple as placing a point in magic, health, or stamina and then picking a perk if you have leveled a particular skill high enough, it just makes sense. There is no need to wait for a level so you can increase the lock-picking skill to get into that treasure chest found a few dungeons back anymore. If a lock is set to a high difficulty level and the players skill is low, it simply means the puzzle is going to be more difficult and they will likely go through a lot more lock-picks. There is no longer a feeling of being punished when a choice of what class the player has chosen keeps them away from content within the game.
The combat system itself has been improved vastly over that of its predecessors with a simple tweak known as dual wielding. It may sound like a small attachment, but in practice it completely changes the way the game is played. You could wield two single handed weapons and tear apart foes with speed, or equip a shield spell in one hand and blast away with fireballs in the other. You can even do like I did and spend most of the game with one hand always ready with a healing spell as you slash away at foes with a weapon in the other to then switch off to dual wielded fireballs to lay waste to stronger foes from a distance. When two of the same spells are wielded together with the right perk, the results are spectacular. There was something downright fulfilling about blasting away with lightning in two hands as if I was Emperor Palpatine.
The combat in the Elder Scrolls series has always been known to be a bit airy, with impact sometimes feeling a smidgen off. While I noticed this in earlier games, it wasn’t much of an issue in Skyrim. Each hit felt visceral and impacted with the right amount of gory sound to be satisfying. The pull out cinematics from the Fallout series return here, and instead of limbs being blown off by a shot, we are instead treated to beheadings, quick cuts taking out the legs before another slices deep into the neck, and even the occasional impaling upon a large sword. These are a thankfully a well added addition, and while at times the animations can be sloppy and underwhelming, they feel good none the less. So what if a mace cleanly beheads a person as if it was a sword, or if you accidentally get treated to a scene of anal sword rape. It is a nice addition, and the glitches simply follow the knowledge that this is indeed a Bethesda game.
Glitches are bound to happen in a world this large with this much detail. NPC’s move about a city or around the paths on the terrain as if they are all actually going about their lives separate from a player’s involvement or manipulation, it is an impressive feat that should be filled with a lot more bugs then we see in the final product. Dead Island didn’t get away from game breaking bugs, and its world was far smaller and less detailed. This is a difficult game to tackle for developers and the occasional floating corpse or flying mammoth is well within the bounds of acceptable. I don’t hear much about game breaking glitches, there is the occasional lock-up that can be frustrating and it is made ever more so by the obtrusively long loading screens. Nothing however serves to break the experience, most of the time the glitches are simply funny.
Speaking of loading screens, this is one complaint I can lobby without remorse. They are a tad long on consoles, and make the latter part of the game a bit of a chore when fast traveling from place to place to get quests done or entering a new city and exploring to gather up quests. It isn’t much of an issue when delving into dungeons or traveling the vast world, but in cities every door that is opened prompts a loading screen that can take a minute or so, just to spend a few moments inside the shop before exiting to another loading screen. Fast traveling is a quicker way to get around, and while the designs of individual characters, dragons, doors, and tables are impressive. There are only so many times I can manipulate them on a loading screen before it all just becomes tedious and the immersion is dampened.
The main stories themselves are all well and good, but as with most Bethesda games they are slightly underwhelming when everything is said and done. The civil war comes off rushed, and the main story comes to a conclusion a bit too easily. The guild quests are at best engrossing and at worst uninteresting and uninspired. As I stated before, Skyrim stands tall on the small details, the side quests, and its sense of discovery. It is a more streamlined interface that makes exploring more rewarding and less laborious thanks to icons appearing on the compass when a player is in an area that has some points of interest. If the icon is black, it hasn’t been discovered, if white, it has. This makes going on a mission in a new area far more difficult since Timmy is likely going to have to wait to find out about his parents well-being in that one dungeon because there are far to many black areas on my compass along the way, and I have to see what is there. It is Bethesda’s fault for randomly placing interesting quests within these discoveries that makes me feel like I’d be cheating my experience by rushing through an objective. Oh, and one more complaint. The menus… they do suck quite a bit. Expect to spend more then enough time digging through them constantly to get to where you want to be.
Final Call: Skyrim is not a perfect game, but with such scope and imagination it is damn near impossible to really get everything right. Bethesda Softworks has created a title that is the new bar for what is possible in a video game and is their masterpiece to the open world genre. It may suffer from the occasional hiccup and glitch, or a story that has little sense of pacing and comes off as underwhelming by the end, but the real story of Skyrim is the one the player creates. The best moments lie in the scenery and the side quests, they lie in watching a giant mourn over the loss of his mammoth on the bank of a river, so struck with grief that it doesn’t lift a finger to attack when approached by the player. Skyrim is a fantastic place that continues to add to the mythos of the Elder Scrolls world, and I was more then happy to spend damn near 100 total hours in it.
- Highly detailed world that is large and riddled with tons of content
- Visceral and pleasing combat mechanics
- Possible to spend a reported 300+ hours with the amount of side quests available
- Streamlined traveling and leveling system makes the game more accessible
- Beautiful graphics with an eye for the smallest of details
- Side quests so finely written, that they can often trump the main content
- Incredibly long loading screens
- Main story is underwhelming and left feeling unimportant
- The occasional bug can freeze the game
- Clumsily designed menu system