Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Platform(s): PC, X-Box360, Playstation 3
Developer(s): Bethesda Game Studios
Bethesda Softworks
Genre(s): Action/Role-Playing
Rating: M for Mature

There was a lot of hype surrounding the release of Skyrim, especially since its predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was such a world-raved success, and because Bethesda Studios had more than 5 years to work on it. The important question then stands, “Is the hype worth it?” especially since such vicious competition as Modern Warfare 3, Arkam City, Uncharted 3, and Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 were all released within 14 days of each other?

I think so, Yeah. 

The first impression of the game is the graphics. Thick mountain forests with non-cookie-cutter trees placed at irregular intervals, a touch of frost on patches of grass or collected in the base of one side of the trees and rocks, and splashed onto the faceted faces of the surrounding mountains. The wagon you are in creaks and warps and splinters as it’s slowly pulled over an irregular landscape, and the faces  of the surrounding initial characters with their several days of stubble, old battle scars, and an articulation of the mouths that match the well-voiced acting.  If you look around, since it takes a minute to realize that the opening scene is in-fact *not* a CG rendered cutscene, you can watch as a small town looms out of the woods, clearly behind on the upkeep as the splintered wooden buildings break under the elements. Then a sense of doom washes over you as before you can even control yourself yet, you are shoved forwards towards your execution. 

And just when you think you finally get a sense for the spectacle, the Dragon appears, and all hell breaks loose. 

The opening tutorial mission is chaos incarnate for an opening mission. The fog of war holds no greater meaning then when you and your allies are fighting tooth-and-nail against unknown enemies in the dark of the cave, and you can’t differentiate friend from foe among those struggling silhouettes in front of you. The landscape is proven to be destructible as it is literally torn apart around you.  When you can finally move on by yourself into the world, the sheer scope of the world is laid bare and boy are you tiny in comparison.

Gameplay is in many ways an improvement over Oblivion. Each hand is now an independent entity to which you can assign a weapon, shield, spell, torch, or go barehanded in any combination you may like. Skills are once again independently leveled based on use, and your own personal level is increased by the improvement of skills, but now there is no limitation to “talented” skills or not. Stat points are reduced to general stats that improve automatically with levels. Finally, skill-related perks are no longer gained automatically with skill rank. Now you have to buy those perks with leveling points, meaning that you really do need to specialize this time, since it is impossible to buy every perk in the game. Another big improvement is that weapons and armor don’t break anymore, so you never have to worry about wasting weight limitations with stupid blacksmith hammers. 

The AI is a major improvement over the predecessor. A pack of wolves will fight like *a pack of wolves!* meaning, one will draw your attention while the others flank, and then they’ll hit and run until you’re dead or they get injured enough to flee. People will press you with melee and defend while their partners pick you off with arrows, and dragons will roast you with their breath from above, strafing runs, or directly in your face on the ground, depending on what is most likely to kill you first. 

Some downsides to the game: The shortcut menu is too limited. With so many spells, weapons, enchanted armors, and powers at your disposal, having only 8 or 9 shortcut buttons simply isn’t enough. The favorites menu quickly fills up into a ridiculously long list to sift through for your chosen thing, and it’s an annoying break in the action to pause in the middle of a fight just to jump through several screens of articles  to equip the next thing you need.  The game sometimes glitches, rendering some missions impossible, such as the one where I needed an NPC to open up the wall to the dungeon, but he’s already further along leaving me trapped in the foyer.  Finally, no matter what kind of character you want to play, smithing seems to become a necessary skill to level, since it’s the only way  to get any decent, or matching, high level equipment in the game. Enemies rarely ever wear anything more than Fur stuff, and hoping to find a type of weapon or armor underground is a crapshoot at best. 

All in all, though, it is incredibly easy to lose yourself for hours, days, and weeks at a time in World of Tamriel across the snowy mountains of Skyrim . Since I had to struggle to find faults with the game, I’d say that Bethesda used these last 5 years of development wisely, and that the Elder Scrolls V is in fact all that it was hyped up to be.

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