Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed)
If I said The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was an easy game for me to review I’d be lying. This is the kind of game that almost never feels complete, so to pass judgment on it almost seems wrong in some ways. So before I go any further let me say this (because I‘m sure this is what you ultimately want to know), if you have ever enjoyed an action, adventure, role-playing or fantasy game, you need to play Skyrim. Now if you want my opinions on the game, please read on.
In Skyrim you are cast in one of ten different races, which you will you choose at the beginning of the game, each with its own strengths and special abilities. You soon realize that your hero is Dragonborn, which allows him or her to learn certain words of power (also known as Shouts or Thu’ums) that can be used in battle. However, all of this is no mere coincidence because it is revealed that your arrival was prophesized and it is your destiny to stop the dragons who have recently returned to Tamriel. That is essentially Skyrim in a nutshell and I really loved the idea behind the story when it started, but it ultimately fell a little flat for me. I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of Elder Scrolls lore, so this may have played a factor in my overall feeling about the narrative. Don’t get me wrong, the story isn’t terrible, but in the end it felt like something that was just there to push me through the game.
In a game this big you never really get to develop any kind of feelings for the characters. You never really hate the “villains” and you never really love the “heroes. “ This leads to some very anticlimactic quest endings. This is enough to make the story struggle, but perhaps the biggest reason I ended up feeling rather indifferent to the story is due to the conversations in the game. As there are no cinematic cutscenes in Skyrim, conversations with NPCs are what really push the narrative forward. While some of these interactions are fantastic and compelling, most end up feeling rather boring and uninspired. Normally I’m the kind of player that will try to branch every possible dialog option that I can, but in Skyrim a majority of the time I found myself trying to get out the conversations as quickly as possible. I also noticed an abundance of reused voices and dialog throughout the game (I swear if I had to hear another person say, “You shouldn’t have come here!” I think I might have screamed) which really takes away from the amazing world Bethesda created. I understand it would be impossible to give each NPC their own voice and personality, but they could have tried to hide it a little better.
Aside from the main story you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of side quests. Some of them simple and others more elaborate and time consuming. As far as story goes, I feel like the faction side quests really stand out from everything else in the game. There are six factions that you can find and join up with during your time in Skyrim. Each one has its own separate storylines and I personally felt like each were more compelling than anything you do in the main quest. It is a shame that these are optional and some people may never even get to experience all of them.
There are some issues that can arise when taking on side quests however. There seems to be some sort of issue in the game when separate quests take you to the same “dungeon” in order to complete different objectives. I had a quest that refused to trigger during my play through. Basically when I finished a certain quest and the next part of the storyline was supposed to start it just didn‘t. After a little research I found out that I wasn’t the only one who had this problem and that it may have occurred because of the “same place, different objective” problem. This is all speculation, but regardless, at the time of this writing I still never got that quest to initiate and as a completionist (and an achievement hunter) this is unacceptable. If this would have simply been a small side quest it wouldn’t have been that bad, but the fact that it was during one of the faction quest lines it really irritated me.
Another issue I feel like I should address with Skyrim is the absurd load times. Usually this doesn’t bother me, but it was very noticeable in Skyrim. I found that the load times were practically the same whether the game was installed or not, so there was really no getting around it. I’m not going to talk about it too much because I know the game is big and it comes with the territory. So I eventually learned to live with it, but it can really take you out of the game when you seem to see load screen after load screen. Do you know what’s worse than long load times though? When the game completely crashes and you have to physically restart your console. I had the game crash on me four times during my play through and honestly I feel like that’s four times too many. I had similar issues with Fallout 3, so it is kind of disappointing that Bethesda still allows this to happen. Nothing makes you want to stop playing quicker than a game completely crashing your console.
So by this point you might be thinking I have nothing good to say about Skyrim, but there are actually some great qualities to the game. Let’s start with the absolutely stunning world. Some of the best moments I had with the game were just wandering around this amazing environment that Bethesda has created. On more than one occasion, I have actually stopped just to take in the sights. From the random animals that run around to the sudden onslaught of a near whiteout snow, the world is so well designed. The size of Skyrim is astonishing. Not only is it enormous, but there is always something new around every corner, so there will be times where you will get sidetracked from whatever quest you are on just to explore a new cave or area you’ve found. The fact that they managed to fit this entire world onto one Xbox 360 disc almost negates all the problems I had with load times and crashes…almost.
The biggest draw, and what intrigues the RPG nerd in me the most, is the depth you get in customizing your character. The sheer number of ways you can sculpt your character and choose to play the game is probably Skyrim’s most appealing quality for me. Unlike some games, you aren’t stuck in a certain class structure from the start and then throughout the game. As I mentioned, you will pick a race to start with and each has its own special abilities and attribute bonuses, but after that you can shape your character in whatever way you want. Differing from other Bethesda games, like Fallout 3 (where you put points into skills with each level up); your attributes in Skyrim level up as you use them. So the more weapons and armor you forge, the higher your smithing skill will get. The more you use your bow, the higher your archery skill gets. The more locks you pick, the higher your lock picking skill will get and so on and so forth. There are also specialists found around the world that can help you increase your skills for a small fee. This is a great way to boost your stats and become even more powerful. On top of that, there are also skill books you can find as well.
In regards to combat, it can be a bit clunky at times, but it makes up for it in the multitude of ways you can approach it. There are numerous magic skills that you can bring into battle. Whether you prefer to conjure up minions to do your dirty work or would rather blast your foe in the face with a fireball, there is something for almost everyone. If magic isn’t your thing, you can just grab a sword and shield and get up close and personal with your enemies. If you prefer to stay out of harm’s way archery and stealth might be the way you want to approach your next fight. There are just so many ways to eliminate the threats that come at you in Skyrim.
Outside of combat skills there are numerous other ways to develop your character. You can be an alchemist and create powerful potions and poisons to aid you in your travels and battles throughout Skyrim. You can be a sneaky pick pocketing, lock picking thief, which is always fun. Or you can play it straight and learn to forge your own armor and weapons and simply be a hero of the people. If you want to get crazy you can even be a man or woman of many talents and learn to use all of the above. The combinations of character choices are practically endless and that is one of Skyrim’s strongest qualities.
Moving on, I’d like to discuss some of my favorite moments in the game. These come out of nowhere when you are just minding your own business trying to get to your next quest. I’m of course talking about the random dragon attacks. Nothing gets you more pumped up than hearing a dragon roar out in the distance. As the dragon gets closer, the music begins to swell and you just feel like yelling, “Bring it on, you scaly bastard!” I’m not going to lie; I may have actually said that out loud once or twice. I never got sick of these encounters during my 80+ hours in Skyrim and kind of wish I would have seen more.
The final thing I’d like to mention before wrapping this up is the amazing music in Skyrim. As someone who has always had a great appreciation for music, music in games is always something I pay attention to quite a bit. Nothing can set the scene quite like the use of music. For the most part, Skyrim nails it when it comes to the use of music. Each battle feels that much more intense with the use of music and then there are even moments when you are just exploring where you get to hear this beautiful, whimsical score and it almost helps you appreciate the world that much more. I also refuse to start my game without letting the main theme, called “Dragonborn”, kick in at the title screen.
Skyrim has its issues, but aside from broken quests and console crashes, most of them are forgivable. The most important thing I took into account when deciding my final score was, how much fun did I have? I have to say, most of my time in Skyrim was rather enjoyable. Time can really get away from you when you’re playing and that is always a sign that a game is doing something right. If you enjoy video games, I’d highly recommend you at least give The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a shot.