A province on the verge of civil war… and the Dragons have returned.
Before I even begin my review, I have to explain my rating here. At least I feel I have to. Because I can literally count on two fingers the amount of times I have ever given a game a perfect score. I will ALWAYS find something in a game, that drags it below that very high standard I have for a perfect game, even if it is ever so slightly. Just as much as I have only given one game a flat out 0 rating, because every game (usually) has at least one redeemable nugget of shit in the giant trash heap that makes it an awful game.
Skyrim, in short, has it all. For those who don’t know, Skyrim is a role-playing game set in a high fantasy world known as Nim, on the continent of Tamriel, in the province of (you guessed it) Skyrim. Sounds like a Tolkein novel, right? Well, in some ways, the detail that has been put into this world over the course of five games could certainly qualify that statement.
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim has many things that can help push it to the quality of perfection. The first of these being the “world” the game takes place in. The province of Skyrim is easily the most detailed of any I’ve experienced in any RPG. The world you get to explore is beyond well thought out. There isn’t a spec of it that feels placed as a bit of filler. Every step, every mile feels alive. Whether its bustling cities, a temple at the top of a mountain caught in a perpetual blizzard, its all here.
The story is the best one yet for an Elder Scrolls game. You start the game on your way to an execution… your own. Evidently, you were caught trying to sneak pass the border into Skyrim, and youdidn’t do so well. Just when it seems the headsman’s axe is going to find its home in your neck, all hell breaks loose and a dragon attacks. From there you make your escape. You have a decision to make right from the beginning… do you follow the rebel who was being executed with you? Or do you follow an imperial soldier beckoning you to follow him to safety, despite the fact that it was the imperials trying to kill you? It is decisions like this, and many many more, that help craft your experience into something very uniquely your own. The story is fantastic, and filled with some good twists as well. Not to mention the fact that it seems everything you do effects pretty much everything else down the road.
The “game world” itself feels like a living, breathing character. In fact, it feels like the main character of the game, where you’re part of it, able to shape it, but nevertheless it lives and breathes. And oh what a site it is to look at. Skyrim has some of the best looking graphics this year, and easily the best on the 360 and PS3, pushing them to their limits, quite literally in some cases. The PC version (if you have a beefy system) is the best looking of them all. All the screenshots provided here were taken on the highest settings, and if you can run comfortably on that setting, you’ll be hypnotized at how real it all looks and feels.
Immersion. You can’t talk about an Elder Scrolls game without talking about immersion. Skyrim wants to be more than just an RPG, and it is. Skyrim is an experience, something you create as you go, and your experience can be completely different each time. There are so many decisions to make, not to mention an infinite number of procedurally generated quests. People react to everything you do, word of your exploits (or notoriety) will spread, and they’ll mention you as they pass. All of this helps pull you into the game itself, and forget that you need to do things like eat, shower, and sleep… speaking of which, I reek.
The seedy town of Riften, run behind the scenes like something out of a mob film, FEELS uninviting. People look over their shoulder as they walk, whisper as you pass. Everyone feels uneasy, warning you to avoid certain people unless you’re looking for trouble. The town of Winterhold lives up to its name. Nestled deep in the northern most extreme of Skyrim, you can feel yourself shiver as another blizzard picks up, making it hard to see more than a few feet in front of you. Basically, no part of this game world feels randomly placed. Bethesda went out of their way this time around to make the entire game an experience. That’s the only way to describe the level of immersion in Skyrim, you don’t ’play’ it, you live and experience it through the eyes of your character.
The gameplay is beyond addicting. Skyrim bucks the old Elder Scrolls trend of ‘Classes’. This was something lamented by some of my fellow gamers (before they played it). Bethesda gives you the ability instead, to be what you want as you play. I can’t begin to tell you how well this works. While I was initially a naysayer as well, this works, and for the better. You want to be the next Legolas? Use your bow exclusively. Want to bend the forces of the world with the wave of a finger, AND crush someone’s face with a mace when you run out of magicka or they get too close? Work on using blunt weapons and blasting the shit out of someone with your magic. The possibilities are limitless.
Not to mention Skyrim’s incredible leveling/perks system. As you continually increase in your skills, (which then increases your experience points), you’ll eventually increase in level. When you do, you’re awarded a perk point, and a choice of increasing your health, stamina, or magicka (magic points). You then also have a chance to further specialize in the disciplines you’ve been practicing. Increase your blocking enough, and invest in the right perks, and time slows down “matrix style” if you’re blocking when an enemy attempts a power attack. There are so many choices, after a week and a half and 72 hours invested, I still find all my choices daunting, and the rpg geek in me is just giddy as fuck every time.
There is so much to do in Skyrim this review could be pages long just on that alone. There’s crafting (creating and upgrading weapons, armor, arrows, etc.), cooking, tanning, mining and more. You can work a mill to earn money, chop wood for townsfolk for a few coins. Or you can be the quietest, soon to be richest thief in all of Skyrim. The choice is seriously up to you. While games like this are normally very intimidating to people that are not used such a “sandbox world”, Skyrim does an incredible job of making sure you know where your quests are and what you have a choice of doing next. But the choice is up to you. It is a blast to simply walk off the beaten path and explore.
Oh, and there’s dragons. Badass, fire-breathing, hero-chewing-and-spitting-them-out dragons.
While you can read other reviews that will spoil a good portion of what this game is about, I refuse to, just in case you haven’t read the big crux of the game. Dragons are fun to fight, and even when you get powerful and they’re not as tough as they used to be, you can still run in to elder and harder versions of the regular guys that can still leave you an ashy pile of hero shite. They’re a long requested addition to the series, and they were well worth the wait.
The presentation of Skyrim is just solid. Graphics, sound, music, everything is top notch and of the highest quality. Even the melee combat system (which was the series weakest point and something I generally could not stand) has been so vastly improved that its enjoyable, exciting, and really doesn’t get boring. A series first.
What does it take to make a perfect game, especially in a long running series? Improvements on all levels. A damn good story from beginning to end (even though technically, this one doesn’t ‘have’ to end). Graphics that will look good even a few years from now. An efficient game engine. Choices out the ass of what you want to do and how you want to play it. Music that you’ll catch yourself humming without realizing it, and an uncontrollable urge to get back and play “just a bit more.” In this day and age, no game is ever perfect when it comes to bugs, but I have yet to run into anything that I’d call showstopping, or anything that has detracted from my experience. Skyrim, in that case, is the perfect game.
I rarely ever award a perfect score. And I don’t feel I’ve touched on just how much there is to do in this game or how awesome it is. All I can say is: If you’ve liked previous Elder Scrolls games, or if you enjoy a good RPG, if you want to play a game where you can make your own story based on how you play, and just want to lose yourself for hours in a believable, living and breathing world…
GO GET SKYRIM NOW.