It is an undeniable fact that the Elder Scrolls franchise has been a staple in the video game industry for the last 17 years. The series has held some of the best RPG’s in the history of video games, with such titles as, “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind,” and “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.” Bethesda Game Studios is no newcomer when it comes to making a beautiful, expansive, and heavily addicting RPG, but does their latest outing in the Elder Scrolls Series live up to its own legacy and the expectations of the fans?
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the latest installment in the epic Elder Scrolls series of fantasy Role-Playing Games, developed by Bethesda Game Studios.
“The Empire of Tamriel is on the edge. The High King of Skyrim hasbeen murdered.
Alliances form as claims to the throne are made. In the midst of this conflict, a far more dangerous, ancient evil is awakened. Dragons, long lost to the passages of the Elder Scrolls, have returned to Tamriel.
The future of Skyrim, even the Empire itself, hangs in the balance as they wait for the prophesized Dragonborn to come; a hero born with the power of The Voice, and the only one who can stand amongst the dragons.”
At the start of the game, the player takes control over his or her character. Bound and being taken to an unknown location via carriage, the player knows nothing of the circumstances he is in, why he is there, or how he got there to begin with. The player quickly learns that the High King of Skyrim has been murdered, and by none other than the man sitting in the seat beside him, Ulfric Stormcloak, the leader of the Stormcloak rebellion. Over the course of the next few minutes, the player disembarks from the carriage, along with the other prisoners, and is ordered to present himself. This is where the player is allowed to truly create the character he wishes to be in the world of Skyrim. Once that is finished, the player witnesses the execution of a rebel soldier by decapitation, whose fate will soon mirror his own…or will it? Only seconds before the player’s head is no longer acquainted with his body, a frightening and mythological being manifests over the town. Dragons have returned and one is about to decimate everyone and everything within the town. This begins a series of events that will begin to shape the rest of the game. The player is presented with the first of many choices; does he follow the Imperial soldier, who was a participant in his almost untimely death, or does he choose to follow an escaped rebel? This is a choice the player must make with only a split second to decide.
As the plot unfolds, and the player learns more about the events that are occurring around him. One fact becomes undeniable, the player is the Dovahkiin, or Dragonborn, capable of learning and using the Thu’um, which are several Dragon “shouts” capable of destruction, enhancement, and mysticism. Dragons have returned to Tamriel and are beginning to wreak havoc on the world, lead by the ancient and feared dragon Alduin. The Dovahkiin is the only person capable not only of saving the world from this new dragon threat, but also of ending the campaign of civil unrest in the province of Skyrim. Who will the character become, and what choices will he make in the world? This is up to the player to decide.
Oblivion V. Skyrim
Right from the start, I have to say I’m a huge Elder Scrolls fan. I started the series with Daggerfall, skipped to Oblivion and am now heavily involved with Skyrim. I can honestly say I’ve had my fair share of experience with the vast differences in play style and overall gameplay change in the series. It would be an obvious statement to say that Skyrim is nothing like Daggerfall, but surprisingly it would be a lie to call it similar to Oblivion. For those of you who have played the Skyrim already, you probably know what I mean. In my eyes, Oblivion and Skyrim have almost nothing in common, with the exception of the overall style of the series, but that is a good thing. Before the release of Skyrim, Oblivion was my favorite video game of all time, and I held Skyrim to a very high standard before I got my hands on it. That being said, after playing Skyrim for a surplus of 100 hours now, I can say that Oblivion and Skyrim should not be compared. I feel that Oblivion and Skyrim are, for the most part, two stand alone games, both of equal merit and amazing gameplay. These two games may be within the same franchise, but as Bethesda tried to stress, Skyrim is not a sequel to Oblivion, it is the next chapter in the history of Tamriel.
The main quest line of Skyrim is obviously the main focal point of the game, and the majority of what was marketed before the game’s release. Without sounding too much like a fanboy, Bethesda delivered once again with a thrilling story line and even better guild quest lines. The main quest, albeit short, is probably one of the better story lines of the Elder Scrolls series. Bethesda finally brought Dragons to the series, which the fans have been asking for quite some time. Without giving too much away, the main quest is as action-packed and thrilling as ever before, with a few shocks and surprises thrown in for good measure.
On the other hand, I think side quests are the real selling point of the game. While the main quest gives the player a role to fill, side quests let the player choose who he wants to be, starting from the very beginning of the game. The most fun I had playing the game was during the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood guild quests, mainly because I’m more inclined for stealthy gameplay. The guild quests definitely have the most entertaining and best experiences in the game. Other guilds, like the Companions and College of Winterhold offer entertaining experiences as well, but for me the “guild” that tops them all is not considered a guild at all. What I’m referring to is the early choice to either join the Imperials or the Rebellion in the fight for Skyrim. While the quests were admittedly repetitive and don’t vary much between the two sides, I had the most fun deciding where my personal politics sat in the game and what the morals of my character were, which increases the role-playing value. I’ll admit it took me awhile to decide whose side to join based on what they both stood for, and ended feeling like I chose wrong during my first playthrough. I found (between my two playthroughs) that who my character was determined which side I joined. While I had joined the Imperials the first time around, out of habit, as a Bosmer, the second time I joined the Stormcloak Rebellion as a country-loving Nord. Overall, side quests in general really sold the game for me. As usual, Bethesda injects both humorous and challenging random side quests that keep me coming back to the game. I took great pleasure in killing a crew of bandits that were able to trick me into an ambush by using an “injured” decoy. This is only one example of the “endless” side quests in the game.
The combat, as you might imagine, is amazing. Whether you want to run into combat swinging a battleaxe or a sword, sneak behind your enemies and kill them with a dagger, kill them from afar with a well placed arrow, or even obliterate them with a fireball, you have the freedom to choose one or ALL of these options. Unlike Oblivion where the player was basically restricted to one type of combat based on his or her decisions, in Skyrim the player can experience all types of combat in one playthrough. One of the main points that Bethesda Game Studios championed during marketing, was that if the player wishes to do something, all he has to do is actually perform that skill and he will get better.
Aside from how you fight, the fights themselves are equally amazing. Fighting is smoother than ever in this game. Whether you fight with a two-handed battleaxe, a shield and sword, or two daggers the combat is fluid, easy to master, and fun to do. Combat is pretty much straightforward, with the exception of finishers. I can not describe the amazing feeling I get when I perform a special combat finisher, such as decapitating my enemy or shoving my sword through their chest. These new finishers really bring out a dynamic that was missing in previous Elder Scrolls iterations. Fighting has evolved further than finishers as well. Each unique enemy you come across has its own unique way of fighting as well, so the player must create a strategy to combat them all. I found myself utilizing stealth kills and archery for the majority of my fights. Stealth remains mainly unchanged from Oblivion, the familiar “eye” is still present to represent when the player is hidden or seen.
Finally, the biggest leap in combat that Bethesda has taken in the series is the Dragon Shout, or Thu’um, which the player has access to throughout the game. The Thu’um are a collection of many, many different powerful shouts that the player can advance in power by collecting and spending dragon souls. The shouts range from destructive fire breath to the ever-so-useful “Dragon-Rend” which has the ability to make Dragons land. The possibilities are endless in battle when you utilize these shouts, and become an essential part to combat.
Graphically, Skyrim is a beautiful and majestic game. The people look real, the environments are alive and full of life-like flora and fauna, and the sounds really immerse the player into the landscape. For the first time in a Bethesda game, everything is true to life. The NPC’s no longer look overly plump and comical like Oblivion, or squarish and un-emotional like Fallout 3. You can really tell they spent a long time re crafting their character models. The enemies as well are realistic. A bear will run like a bear and not like a wolf, as in Oblivion. Each enemy now has its own movements. In addition to the characters, the environments and settlements are absolutely gorgeous. One of my favorite things to do in the game is climb High Hrothgar to the peak of the mountain and look out across Skyrim. The design of the world is something you need to see to understand. Finally, all of the caves and dungeons are not identical, and settlements vary greatly in style and size. My one and only complaint is the city size. Although this is Skyrim, a mostly unruly place, the settlements are dwarfed in comparison to Oblivion. The largest city is Solitude, which is large, but no where near the size of The Imperial City. I feel that the game is missing something without at least one enormous city.
The UI and HUD are simple, quick, and easy to use. No longer are the days of searching deep within the menu to find a certain spell or item. Bethesda cleaned up its act and made the menu as simple as it can be. You want a spell? Click to the left. You want to level up? Click up. It is simple and easy to understand, but even still, Bethesda has implemented a “favorite” section which is easily activated at any time, which can allow the player to quickly and seamlessly change gear, armor, weapons etc. on the fly.
The map also underwent a drastic fix. Although the player must still drag the pointer around, it has become faster to do with the addition of the zoom in/out and rotate option. The HUD is also well balanced and the screen is never cluttered, the only bar on the player’s screen is the “compass” on the top of the screen and the reticle. When in combat, no health, stamina, or magic bar will appear until the player takes damage, uses stamina, or uses magic, respectively.
Levelling up and the class system have also undergone a major change. The player is now free to be a mage-archer-knight-rogue within one save file, instead of being forced to choose and level up one class. As previously stated, if the player wishes to be a mage, he just has to cast more spells, if he wants to be an archer, shoot more arrows. It really is as simple as that. As for levelling, players now have the option to pick “perks,” similar to Fallout 3, that allow the player to gain an advantage in a particular skill tree, or in this case, constellation.
Without going on an on extensively, I really don’t have to say much about the soundtrack of an Elder Scrolls game. I mean, really. As usual, the music is beautifully crafted and perfectly suits the environment the player finds himself in. Whether it be a snowy mountain or in the midst of an epic battle to the death, the music is always there to accompany the situation accordingly. Like any great story of epic proportion, Skyrim has an amazing epic soundtrack to back it up. The score could probably win an award in and of itself.
Although Skyrim is amazing in almost every way, and is one of my favorite games of all time, no game is perfect. As many are already aware, the game is facing some troubles post-launch. Many players have been experiencing frame rate drops, major lag, as well as texture problems. Bethesda has been working nonstop to correct these problems via patches, but in some cases the patches themselves have caused more problems than they fixed. In addition to these problems, as with most Bethesda titles, Skyrim suffers from a multitude of bugs and glitches, both major and minor. To this day, I still am unable to complete the “Blood on the Ice” quest, which would definitely be considered a major issue. Minor issues include: dead enemies not despawning, quest items remaining attached to the player’s inventory, and other minor bugs.
One thing I can say, is that Bethesda has been dedicated to the fans and working tirelessly to fix these problems. Most people might not realize the difficulty a developer must go through to find and fix problems, as well as getting the patch through Xbox and Sony. I have the utmost faith in Bethesda to fix whatever is broken in the game.
Despite all of that, Skyrim is still an amazing experience, that definitely should NOT be missed. This can be attested to by the “Game of the Year” award that Skyrim won at the 2011 Spike TV VGA’s, as well as Bethesda Game Studios’ “Studio of the Year,” both of which were well deserved awards.
Don’t miss this game!