Bethesda Softworks has created a name for themselves in the RPG realm with their hit series The Elder Scrolls. This series has gained more and more popularity with each installment and the previous release, Oblivion, spent many weeks among several review websites “best of” lists. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is no exception and has easily become Bethesda’s greatest contribution to gaming to date.
Their open world is a beautiful collage of forest, mountain, and frozen tundra and can leave one in awe at its magnificence and even down right terrified at times due to its enormity. This is to say that not only is the world open where you can walk from one end of the map to the other and encounter dozens of caves, hovels, towers, villages, beasts and bandits, but the questing system is disturbingly unconfined as well. Sure, there is a central storyline where you are the “Chosen One” or “Dragonborn” and are here to slay all of the dragons to return peace to Skyrim, but even from the very beginning you are completely inundated with such an almost disgusting amount of side quests, that you could easily wander off into the forest for 100 hours of game time and barely even start the main quest line. Not to mention the other dozen or so large side stories that can have you working for the Dark Brotherhood, Thieves Guild, becoming a champion for the Companions, taking sides in one of the sides vying for control over Skyrim or some other group that has you scouring the four corners of the land for their benefit. At one point I had around 10 different story line quests and probably close to 30 little random quests, so obviously, there’s plenty of content.
Another facet of the game that is unconfined is the leveling system. In most RPGs you gain experience for every monster you kill and when you gain enough XP then your character will gain a level in which you typically get to learn a new skill or spread out some points over a certain amount of stats, but such is not the case in Skyrim. You gain experience simply by using a skill. Say you love your giant two-handed axe, well for every successful hit you land you gain XP in wielding a two-handed axe, then once that specific skill gains enough XP it levels. This goes the same for one-handed weapons, shields, light and heavy armor, alchemy, different magic casting avenues, picking locks and a menagerie of other skills. Every skill then has its own skill tree so as the skill gets better you can apply points to the tree to either become more efficient, deal more damage or any other benefit that a particular skill might have. In this system you can be the heavy armored, hack and slash character but still be able to cast a devastating fireball if you choose. There aren’t any restrictions, only that you use the skill.
Your character also will gain levels and for every level you gain, you get one point to add to any skill tree you want as long as you have reached a certain level for that skill, plus you get to increase your health, magika, or stamina. This part seems rather basic but with the way the skill trees are set up there isn’t really a need for a more complicated system. Plus you can save up the points you gain per level and apply them at any time so if there is a particular point on a skill tree you are trying to reach, you can have that point ready to apply once the skill gains the proper level.
One particular skill that doesn’t require leveling and is a central part of the story is the “Shout”. This is a skill that comes with being “Dragonborn” and can give your character the ability to knock back foes, move faster or the use of many other special abilities. These “Shouts” are learned by finding their words imprinted on the walls of certain caves or dungeons and then can be activated by killing a dragon and absorbing its soul. “Shouts” have their own cool down timer and are very useful in completing quests and actually need to be used to finish specific storyline quests.
The use of a henchman was probably one of my greatest necessities but also one of my greatest annoyances. You are allowed one of many different people that will follow you throughout the land and assist you in any way you may need. Whereas their use helped me finish many dungeons, they added just as much frustration. They would stand in the middle of a doorway or block you in a corner and wouldn’t move so you could get out. The simple act of jumping down a small incline would have them running off into the wilderness trying to find a way around the incline since they apparently were unable to jump at all and I wouldn’t see them again for up to half an hour as they ran around an entire mountain just to catch up with me three towns later.
Combat in the game is rather basic. There isn’t any skill bar to select from but rather every enhanced skill from a certain weapon is built into the use or you use another button to activate. For example, I love my archer and I had a skill where I could zoom in on the screen to get a better shot at a monster. This zoom also slowed down time which was a great benefit, but in order to zoom I used a different button then when I had my shot I would use the fire button to release my arrow. Most skills though just increased your hit percentage or added more damage rather then giving you new skills so there wasn’t a need to use a bunch of different buttons every time I got into a fight.
One thing that made combat much easier was you could open your inventory and the fight would pause, then you could use a bunch of health or magika potions to replenish yourself, then close your inventory and resume combat. This did make many dungeons or caves easier to get through although definitely took away from any realism.
Now even with all the praise and compliments this isn’t to say the game is perfect. Nothing is perfect. Even though the landscape was beautiful, if you looked close enough you could see the basic, paint on texture that was applied to much of it. Many caves or dungeons were very similar in the texture department as well, although they were different in design and still very enjoyable. The NPC animations seemed very stiff and blocky. Plus there are a lot of bugs. Monsters would spawn several feet up in the air just to fall to the ground, your character is able to get stuck in many places requiring you to reload a previous save, and sometimes NPCs would start conversations with you if they were on a different floor of a building.
Overall the game is definitely worth the price tag it carries. With easily over 100 hours of content, excellent story lines and an elaborate, unconfined leveling system, it is easy to overlook the random bug or stiff character animations. Any RPG fan, either new or old should be able to enjoy this game for months to come.