When Skyrim was officially announced last year a huge wave of excitement came over me. I absolutely loved Oblivion and it is still the game that I have spent the most time with this generation. As much as I loved my time in Oblivion, Skyrim is that much better. Skyrim is an absolutely massive game where you never really know what is going to come next. At one point I was walking down a path in the wilderness towards my next objective and then a dragon shows up all of a sudden and an epic battle begins between man and beast. As I was battling this dragon I couldn’t help but marvel at how incredible he and the rest of the environment look. His movements were fluid and he was simply awe inspiring. The game is stunning in the visuals department and the environment is unbelievable.
Skyrim opens up much the same way Oblivion did with you being a prisoner. Instead of being locked up in a cell though you are on your way to the executioner’s block. Certain events transpire and it isn’t long before you are free and trying to get your bearings. Once I got to the point where the game opened up to me I simply stood there in awe as I tried to take in everything that was happening around me. As I started to make my way to the first town a fox came up next to me and seemed to observe me for a bit before running off into the distance. Unlike other games this fox didn’t “disappear” as he was running away. I stood there and watched him run across the shallow river bed and down a path until he turned a corner and vanished from my sight. I quickly ran over to where he turned the corner and saw that he was still there walking around. The game continued to keep track of the fox even though I had lost sight of him. This is one example of the detail that Skyrim has to offer you. There are so many things going on in the world around you that you never really know what is going to happen next. You can, of course, simply go from one point to the next in the story if you so desire, however, this is a title that is begging you to explore your surroundings. Going off the beaten path is highly encouraged and you might even get rewarded in the form of finding some additional quests or maybe even some treasure. One lesson that I took away from Oblivion is that harvesting can be extremely important. As I passed by flowers or something else that could be harvested I was sure to collect as much as I could so that I could create a new potion later or whatever the case may be.
The quest system in Skyrim is similar to what was found in Oblivion, however, it does do certain things better. For starters the menu system itself is much cleaner. It is not nearly as cluttered as Oblivion was which makes it a lot more functional and allows you to get to your quest log much easier. Skyrim does a great job of breaking down your quests by basically telling you which quests are important and which ones are simply side quests and aren’t that important to the overall story in the game. You can pick anyone at any time so, if you want, you can just focus on getting through the main story or mix it up with a healthy balance between the two. Completing side quests will definitely benefit your character as you will get a chance to level up, get new items and learn new spells that will help you out in the more difficult parts of the game. As you level up you will unlock the ability to earn certain perks. The skill tree(s) for your perks have been done in the form of constellations. You’ll have your Destruction constellation, Enchanting, Heavy Armor, Sneak and much more. Once you have selected the one you want you zoom in on the constellation where you will find your skill tree. If you pick, for example, the Two Handed constellation then you will get the chance to unlock perks such as Barbarian (your weapon does more damage), Champion’s Stance (power attacks with two-handed weapons cost 25% less stamina), Warmaster (backwards power attack has a 25% chance to paralyze the target) and much more. Each constellation has many different routes that you can go down when upgrading your character and if you are one of those people who like to do everything in a game Skyrim should keep you busy for hundreds of hours.
The main story in Skyrim features your character discovering who and what he is, dragons and other things that I don’t want to spoil for anyone. It doesn’t take long before you are up against your first dragon and it will really make you appreciate what this game has to offer. I will say that the initial dragon battle felt a bit easy, however, that was because I had a whole group with me. There were other dragon battles later on where I didn’t have the extra help and the battle felt a bit more epic that way. Once you successfully take down a dragon you will absorb his soul which will give you a “shout”. These “shouts” can be extremely powerful and, once you learn how to properly use them, will be a valuable ally in battle. Speaking of allies, you can also have some fight alongside you during your quest. They help by both fighting alongside you and being able to carry some of your gear. Just like in previous titles in this series you will only be able to carry a certain amount of items and it is based on weight. If the weight of the items you are carrying exceeds that weight then your character will begin to move much more slowly and you really won’t be able to do much with them. Fortunately you can off load items on to your allies so that you don’t have to leave behind many items. Your ally will also use what you give them so if you give them an old piece of armor to wear that you no longer need they will don that armor which will, obviously, give them better protection in battle. The one complaint that I have about these allies is that it seems to be hard for them to keep up with you. There were times when I would encounter an enemy and dispatch them before anyone else would show up to help me.
As I progressed in the game I noticed that there are choices that will be made and consequences for those choices. In particular there are a couple of groups feuding and you have to pick which group you want to join. Once you make your selection you can’t go back and the option to join the other group (along with its potential quests) is gone. There is even an achievement for “Taking Sides”. I’m obviously not going to go into detail about what happens and spoil it for you but I was happy with the side I picked and I definitely want to play again at some point and pick the other group to see what happens there. Guilds have also returned in Skyrim with my favorite the Dark Brotherhood, Thieves Guild and some new ones as well. Each one of these has their own story for you to experience in addition to everything else that is happening around you. The development team has also made it easier for you to steal items in the game and not necessarily for the better. If you are in a house, business or whatever you can go up to an item and either take or steal it. There is a clear distinction between the two illustrated by the fact that the word “steal” is in red to try and make it stand out while the word “take” is white like everything else. What I had to get used to was just how easy it is to unintentionally steal something. If you are trying to talk to a trader in his shop you better make sure the reticule is on him before you push the button or you might wind up stealing something you didn’t want and then you have to deal with that whole mess. While I was in the various shops or other businesses I really enjoyed the ambience that each one had. While I was in a trader I listened to a discussion between a brother and sister about holding a sale in the shop to try and draw in some more customers. In one of the hotels you could pay someone to play a musical instrument and even make requests. As you go through the game you are definitely going to want to talk to everyone that you possibly can to try and experience everything the game has to offer.
In addition to epic scale of Skyrim there were also a bunch of little things that were done that I really appreciated. Enemies appear on your radar as red dots so you can tell friend from foe. The game seemed to keep track of what you have done and what you have explored. If I walked up to a treasure chest and it was empty then it would tell me so. I wouldn’t have to guess about whether I had already been there and end up searching through items multiple times. Additionally, the map has a similar function. There are hundreds of dungeons within Skyrim and once I clear a dungeon and go through any quest(s) it may have then the map will show it as cleared. This is a tremendous help on a map that can have hundreds of items on it. Being able to see what I have and have not done without having to waste time traveling there definitely saved me quite a bit of time. It cuts down on the redundancy these games sometimes have due to the epic scope of the overall title. As you explore the world you will come across tiny camps, small villages, big cities and more. As you find different locations they will show up on the map. Some of the bigger cities and locations are on the map from the get go so you have a general knowledge of where they are located. You can quickly tell whether you have visited a city by the color it is on the map. If it is black then you haven’t been there yet and if it is white then that is a place you have visited. Once you find a location you also unlock the ability to fast travel there from that point forward. To say Skyrim is a massive world would be a huge understatement and being able to fast travel to any location you have visited in the past is definitely a blessing. In that respect you could always set out to explore the world of Skyrim before ever doing a single quest. Doing this will allow you to fast travel to locations when a quests do come up, however, it might be a bit more difficult to do that as you won’t be quite as powered up. You level up your character and items through repetition in Skyrim. By using a sword against an enemy in battle you are gaining experience with a one handed weapon. If your character takes a beating then your armor is gaining experience too and will eventually level up. Your restorative powers will become stronger the more you use them. As you talk to more people your speech skill will increase and you can use your skill of persuasion to get better prices from merchants and persuade others to see your view point. For these reasons it might be a good idea to do some quests and get leveled up a bit before to start to fully explore the world, however, that is the beauty of Skyrim. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want.
As I made my way through the various environments the powerful score swept over me. The soundtrack and the sounds of this game are truly amazing. Whether it is listening to the sounds of a waterfall nearby, a kid playing with his dog or a dragon closing in on me I was constantly amazed by the quality of the soundtrack. The music helped set the mood and further drew me in to the environments and experiences I was having. This is a game that really needs a surround sound set up (or a good pair of surround sound headphones) to get the full experience.
As amazing as everything is with this game I can’t end the review without talking about some of the glitches that I encountered. There were a few instances when enemies would get stuck on pieces of geometry. There was one fight in particular where a tough enemy got stuck somewhere and couldn’t do anything except stay there until I killed him. While it made it easier for me to accomplish my task it was still a little weird. When going up to talk to people there were some times where they didn’t appear to be in the correct position and so I was left staring at something I shouldn’t have been instead of the character speaking to me. There were other times when I was talking with someone where they would seem to slowly “slide” down a flight of stairs while talking to me. There were a couple of occasions where the frame rate seemed to take a momentary hit but these instances were far and few between. There also seemed to be a glitch on one specific quest that wouldn’t allow me to even select it from my list. It wasn’t a main storyline quest but it was a bit annoying all the same. With all of that said none of these issues are game breaking and they are really nothing more than a temporary nuisance. Throughout my many, many hours with the game these glitches were a rare occurrence, however, there was an occasion here and there where it would happen. Honestly, with a game as massive as Skyrim, I was pretty impressed that was all I came across. There is so much going on in the world at any given time that it is pretty impressive that everything works so well, generally speaking. I’m sure there will be people that never come across these bugs and I am sure there will be people that come across some that didn’t happen to me. Bethesda was really great about supporting Oblivion and I have no reason to believe they will be any different with Skyrim.
Honestly, there is no way for me to cover everything in this review. Skyrim is absolutely massive and everyone will have a different experience. Yes, everyone will experience the same major plot points in the main narrative, however, everything else is completely open. Skyrim was a hugely ambitious title for the development team over at Bethesda and they pulled it off in spectacular fashion. This title not only meets the expectations I had for it, it exceeds those expectations. You can, and will, lose hundreds of hours to this game. Even if you aren’t typically a fan of these types of games you need to give this a try. This is a title that deserves a spot in your gaming library. The environments are stunning, the level of control you have over your own experience is amazing and, simply put, Skyrim is an epic experience.