The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim

Posted: September 17, 2013 in Movies & TV
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The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim

Thoughts and Musings on an Epic Adventure

 

(Warning: Minor Spoilers abound!)

Skyrim is one of the most popular games of the current (soon to be last, which makes me chuckle when I realize I’ve now lived through nearly five video-game generations) generation of both console and PC gaming. The Elder Scrolls IV – Oblivion was one of my favorite games I’ve ever played. I got completely sucked in by that game and its detailed and expansive world, it seemed like the land of Cyrodil was a living and breathing place.

 

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I had seen the pre-release trailers for Skyrim and was really impressed. The graphics were gorgeous and it seemed Bethesda had done the same again, making a new world for gamers to get lost in. As the game was released I looked on with envy. I didn’t have a current generation console at the time (I now have a PS3, which will suit me well until the PS4 drops in price) and playing it on my laptop was completely out of the question, it would probably spontaneously combust during the install alone. But I finally got Skyrim around two weeks ago and I can firmly say it was worth the wait.

For those who don’t follow the Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim is one of several different provinces that make up the land of Tamriel. It is part of the Empire and is populated by the hardy Nords, who also happen to make up the vast majority of Imperial citizens, or at least the peasantry. Tamriel is watched over by the Nine Divines, the gods of this world. But there are also a bunch of Daedric Princes, demonic demigods who rule the plains of Oblivion and often get involved in the affairs of mortals.

In Skyrim, you take up the role of a previously anonymous adventurer who has been captured by the Empire while trying to cross the border into the land. This is a common theme in The Elder Scrolls, the player always starts in shackles. The Prisoner soon discovers that he is the Dragonborn, he may have a mortal body but he has the soul of a Dragon and is the only known warrior capable of truly killing a Dragon by devouring its soul.

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Which is really convenient as the Dragons have just made their return after millenia of supposed extinction. The player character is even inadvertently saved from his execution at the start by the Big Bad of the game, Alduin the World Eater. Ah the glorious coincidences that make up the vast bulk of great fantasy stories!

This sets the stage for a truly epic adventure through the nine holds of Skyrim and beyond. The foundation of the game is simple exploration and it is this element of the game that is so engrossing and absorbing. You simply get lost as you walk the mountains (so many mountains) and paths of the land and delve into the many, many dungeons and barrows that dot the countryside of Skyrim. Trying to simply get from point A to point B can start off hours of branching stories and side quests.

This is helped along by the incredible world building that Bethesda has undertaken from day one with the Elder Scrolls games. There are hundreds of books in the game that fill in the detailed backstory of the world. There are countless references to previous Elder Scrolls games, with even a possible appearance by the player character of Oblivion. The characters seem like living and breathing people, helped by the awesome voice acting. While not quite on the same level as BioWare’s Mass Effect games (then again nothing else is) when it comes to random NPC’s, an incredible amount of detail was put into the people of Skyrim.

Another great element is the way you level up and make yourself more powerful. Rather than going for the traditional ‘points and attributes’ style that has served fantasy role playing games so well, the character advances his skills through use. Bash someone’s head in with a mace or an axe enough and you’ll advance your One Handed skills, brew up loads of potions and poisons and you’ll soon master Alchemy. Every time you advance your skills enough you then get to level up and choose to raise your Health/Magicka/Stamina and pick a new perk, for example a thief would choose one of the Sneak perks. This style of advancement is amazingly addictive and it allows you to craft your own play style. I typically play as the classic Thief, creeping through the shadows in crypts and sneak attacking whoever is unlucky enough to be in front of me without them ever knowing where the arrow that killed them came from.

It’s a truly beautiful game. The graphics are astounding, especially the environments and particularly the views from the tops of the mountains and the night sky. Inside buildings the lighting is incredible and everything looks great. The only negative about the graphics would be from a design perspective as things tend to look the same all around, with only minor differences. But to be honest I only started noticing this later on, when I had been through a fair few different dungeons. Plus when a game looks this good it’s not really fair to hold things like that against it. The moment you start playing it’s clear why this game took five years to be released.

Another negative is the games set pieces with Dragons, and it’s difficulty level with more elite classes of foes. Truth be told the Dragons aren’t really that impressive, or challenging from a game-play point of view. After your first encounter with Mirmulnir in Whiterun every dragon seems to be the same. Every dragon has the same routine of fly about, land, fly about and then land. If you’re playing as a ranged character like an archer the supposedly all powerful Ysmir are disappointingly simple to take down.

This is harshly countered with the more elite types of enemies, such as the Draugr Dreadlords or the Falmer Stalkers. If you aren’t prepared you’ll swiftly get your ass handed to you. Particularly if they are a mage or have a two handed weapon like a bastard sword or battle axe. In contrast your own attacks only seem to chip away at their health.

In my opinion it isn’t really balanced that well at all. As you reach higher levels it’s especially noticeable. It really hit home for me when I started the Dragonborn DLC and reached the Temple of Miraak quest, which is the second quest of that DLC and the first combat based part. It was really disheartening to repeatedly get killed by one particular enemy (the aforementioned Dreadlord class draugr, the Gatekeeper) meanwhile earlier in the main game I’d been swatting dragons like bothersome flies.

I actually rage quit at a couple of points, and believe me it takes a lot to get me to rage quit a game. It’s not fun in the way that punishing games like Dark Souls are. It’s not challenging, it’s unfair when you’ve gotten used to the more common enemies. It doesn’t spur you on for the rest of the game, it makes you not want to play any more. Maybe I’m just a bad player?

The biggest negative in the game however is the diabolical user interface, such as the pause menu. It’s clearly designed with us console players in mind, which I fully appreciate, but it doesn’t really work as well as Bethesda hoped. It’s not sleek like a Mass Effect or a Metal Gear Solid, it’s clunky and slow.

Why can’t I map a button to go straight to the world map? Why are there two different buttons that essentially do the exact same thing (I’m talking about Start and Circle/B) when they could all go under the same one and be navigated with the shoulder buttons? Why is it so unresponsive while auto-saving?

The load screens are really annoying too after a while. I can easily see why they’re needed, it’s an absolutely huge and detailed game after all, but there’s only so many times I can look at a spinning werewolf or alchemy table; or read about how the different holds track crime separately before I start dreading opening doors.

It’s just a little confusing to see that Skyrim needs one to go from an entrance hall of a castle to it’s dungeons, but outside in the huge world you can practically walk from one end of the realm to the other without having to stop once. I guess it’s just one of the realities of video-games, it’s got to load at some point I guess.

Another slight negative is the mountains in the game. If you’re not on the path laid out it’s scarily easy to get lost in the crags and be unable to progress without going back to the bottom of the mountain and try not to lose your way on the path. But this somehow manages to help the immersion factor. The player feels like the Dragonborn when you’re going up the massive slopes. This is especially noticeable with High Hrothgar on the Throat of the World. High Hrothgar is where the Greybeards are and it’s where the Dragonborn has to go. It’s an epic climb to the top and you’re relieved when you reach the temple. It feels like you’ve just climbed a big ass mountain.

Another great element is the music in the game. It’s old school Hollywood blockbuster worthy. Jeremy Soule continues to make great music for the Elder Scrolls games that helps with the immersion and world building. Of particular note is the player characters theme, The Dragonborn Comes, which plays whenever a Dragon notices that it’s fighting the Dragonborn rather than a random guy and promptly lose their shit. It wouldn’t sound out of place at all in Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

In conclusion, Skyrim is a great, great game. Well deserving of the praise heaped upon it by the gaming media and the legions of adoring fans. On the otherhand, Skyrim is a Bethesda game, so there’s the occasional issues with bugs and glitches, but personally I think these are overstated by some corners of the gaming media. Reading some comments you’d think it was unplayable but I haven’t really noticed many bugs. Perhaps I feel this way because I’m coming into the game two years after release after the game has been patched and such.

Skyrim has shot into my list of favorite games, replacing Oblivion, and it’s one that I’ll be playing for a long time to come. Skyrim is one of the main factors in my decision to invest in a gaming PC, I can’t wait to load up some of the mods I’ve seen online so I can get the best Skyrim experience possible.

Story: 09/10

Graphics: 09/10

Immersion: 10/10

Music: 09/10

Voice Acting: 08/10

Game-play: 09/10

Game life span: 20000000/10


Overall Rating: 09/10

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