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Skyrim Review: A Second Opinion

How would I define Skyrim to someone who has never played an Elder Scrolls, Fallout, or any open world game: a n00b if you will?

– A sword and shield Viking saga?

– A Lord of the Rings, magic style adventure?

– A stealthy medieval assassin conspiracy?

– A story driven, fast-paced fantasy?

– A cooking, potion-making and crafting sim?

– An exploring, slow-paced work of beauty?

Well, all of the above would be a start. Skyrim is a game that empowers the player most of all.

Sequel to Morrowind and Oblivion, Skyrim puts players in the northern province of Tamriel, a snowy land in the grip of civil war. Two-hundred years after the events of the Oblivion Crisis, the native Nords have risen against the Imperial Empire’s rule and struggle to claw back their homeland under the leadership of Ulfric Stormcloak.

But all is not going to plan for the Stormcloak Rebellion: you awake at the opening of Skyrim as a prisoner to the Imperial guard, along with Ulfric, on your way to your execution. The most exciting of starts to an Elder Scrolls game leads you through a daring escape into the Nordic wilds. It certainly puts waking up in a boat and being asked your name at the start of Morrowind into perspective. Where you go after your escape is up to you.

In comparison to the previous titles the creation system has been scaled down. The range of races are just the same; the feline Khajiit, the reptilian Argonians, a selection of Elf races, Orcs and humans, including the native Nords. Each race has a huge amount of options to customise their appearance to your liking. However skill and birthsign selections have been altered. Instead of the birthsigns, Guardian Stones appear throughout the map for you to pick and change from a variety of bonuses. Equally all skills progress equally, meaning the way you play will determine which skills increase. What you want to specialise in is reflected in your play-style rather than a decision in the opening ten minutes. And there are a whole host of ways to play Skyrim.

Each races offer thier own bonues and abilities.

Creators Bethesda invites you to explore the beautiful realm at your whim. If you see a ruin on a hill a mile away, you can go there and unearth its mysteries. Should you wish to climb the peak of a distant mountain, go and do it. The boundaries are so huge you’ll be well within the hundred hour mark and still be making fresh discoveries about the world; dark caverns, ghostly characters and quirky quests.

Entering a crumbling fortress with an Orc guarding the gate presents you with a variety of options; will you talk him into allowing you entry? Sneak past him? Freeze him solid? Take him out with an arrow to the knee? Or pummel him with a double handed axe? The Elder Scrolls games have always left the method to the player, and Skyrim continues the brilliant trend.

Of all the game improvements the magic system is one of the most understated, but one of the best. Yes, the clash of swords and shields feels more realistic, but the look and dynamic options of spells are the most impressive of the combat options. Watching fire fly from your fingers and burn an undead Draugr back to hell is glorious. Frost, summoning and healing effects all look the part, with rich, complex colours and detailed sound creating some of the best magic seen in gaming. However facing off against one of the deadly magic users in the game is a daunting prospect. Enemies don’t level up with you, so in some cases you’ll have to take revenge on that nasty hagraven witch after another twenty hours. During which time every hit with your sword, healing spell cast or lock picked has improved those skills further.

Magic abilities are both deadly and beautiful.

With ten improved skills you level up and are granted the option of extra health, stamina or mana as well as a perk. Another new feature to Skyrim, the perk system (similar to Fallout) offers benefits such as better use of armour, more potent potion making or healing bonuses. It’s a long list, enabling you to focus your play-style down to a specific spell or weapon type of your choice.

And we couldn’t talk about Skyrim without mentioning Dragons. Talk of the legendary creatures has been present in past titles, and their entrance is quite the spectacle. Fighting these beasts is no easy task, with battles becoming an investment of time and resources you’ll want to think twice and pick your fights carefully. Take Sun Tzu’s words to heart, ‘He who correctly judges the strength of his enemy and fights accordingly will be victorious.’ Or something like that. At other times you’ll be their prey, and it’ll be all you can do to run for shelter as they rain down fire as they soar above.

The reward for defeating a Dragon: absorbing its soul, which will unlock the ability to perform dragon shouts. Want to breath fire or slow time? You’ll have to track down those ancient runes and kill enough dragons, but the rewards are impressive and can turn the tide in combat.

It doesn't get much better than fighting a dragon on a mountain.

You don’t have to wage war on your own. A number of guilds inhabit Skyrim, from the mages at The College of Winterhold, to the assassins of the Dark Brotherhood, the Thieves Guild and the warrior Companions. Just finding these guilds are experiences in themselves, let alone joining them and rising their ranks. Each offers a distinct and memorable journey that would make a main plot in other games. Once a member, you can recruit followers from your guild to join you on your journey, or you might just pick a sidekick up after helping with a love affair or winning a pub brawl.

Should you decide to follow the main storyline once your thirst for exploration is satiated, you’ll face an intriguing and enjoyable plot, with a cast of fantastically voiced characters, including Oscar winning Christopher Plummer. You will hear the same voices crop up occasionally, but only rarely. The main characters are all individual and give the impression of depth, even if they don’t always reveal it. The plot will take you to the furthest reaches of the map, and does a good job at encouraging the less adventurous  players to see many of the main tourist attractions. Although not on the scale of Mass Effect, you will be faced with moral choices with noticeable repercussions. And with no clear good or evil decisions, it’s up to you to make judgements based on what you’ve learnt from the world around you.

Skyrim is a beautiful game to behold. Watching the sun set as you pick flowers by a running river, and then witnessing the Northern Lights illuminate the sky whilst the epic score crescendos, is game design at its best. Each city is unique and full of interesting tales to discover. In an age of corridor shooters and formulaic sequels Skyrim is unique in that it moulds to you, rather than forcing every player down a path trodden again and again. There have been infamous bugs and lagging issues, but in all my time I’ve only experienced a couple of noticeable errors. Credit must be paid to the creation of not just a great game, but an astounding world.

However I define Skyrim would be different from the next player, as this is a game with individual stories and routes. But whichever way you venture, you’re sure to find a remarkable piece of entertainment.

10/10

1 Comment

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  1. Zach M. says
    March 5, 2012, 6:38 AM

    In other words. Because it looks better, has a simpler interface and presentation with a significant amount of mechanics taken out it makes it a better game? Last time I checked getting an upgrade actually meant adding more to enhance the feeling of a game. Rather than streamlining it to please the new age casual gamers.

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