The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
MSRP: $59.99

I hated Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Sure, I put a dozen or so hours into it, but that’s only because it was the only launch game my brother bought with his Xbox 360. My memories of that game consist of: tall mountains, counter-intuitive leveling, ugly fucking people, and awesome glitches – not exactly bullet points you’d want on the back of your video game case. Nothing about Oblivion’s world resonated with me; the same cannot be said about Skyrim. Skyrim presents the most impressive world I’ve ever experienced in video games.

Skyrim is a volatile region of Tamriel. It’s a world covered in snow, amid an inevitable civil war, filled with dragons that can be seen and heard from far away as they hover above the mountains they also take refuge on. I was worried that the snow themed region would become repetitive and rather boring in presentation, but this isn’t the case. When you’re climbing a tall mountain, you’ll see the wind weaving its way along the mountainside, all while the snowfall increases and it becomes much harder to see what’s ahead. You’ll seek refuge in a newly discovered town only for a dragon to attack, causing everyone in the town to run indoors as the town guards and I prepare for battle. Save frequently – you never know what to expect in Skyrim.

Character customization is incredibly intuitive to the point of feeling natural. You’ll first select a race, each with its own inherent attributes. Then, depending on what you use/do in-game, that skill will simply level up. Using offensive magic levels the ‘Destruction’ magic skill; wearing heavy armor levels the ‘Heavy Armor’ skill; using enchanting tables to add bonuses to your equipment levels the ‘Enchanting’ skill. As your skills level up, your character collects experience. Once you level up, you’ll be prompted to increase one of three options: Magika (a meter that dictates how often you can use magic), Health, and Stamina (a meter that dictates how long you can sprint for, as well as use of stronger melee attacks). You’ll also receive a ‘perk’ or skill point that can be used on one of the many skill trees. These perks make the skills you’ve already been using better, so you’ll probably enhance skills you’ve already been using.

By taking advantage of the systems in place, some skills can be leveled up faster than they should. I maxed out my sneak skill by repeatedly hitting an important NPC repeatedly in the back; I maxed out my smithing skill by repeatedly buying iron ingots to create over 300 iron daggers; I maxed out my block skill by engaging two mammoths and proceeded to stand there and block their attacks; I maxed out my speech skill by continually persuading a bartender in Riften (an option that shouldn’t have still been there). Doing these silly things makes the game easier, but they’re optional, and they’re peculiar nature and execution make it difficult to find how and where to do such things. But that’s the fun: Skyrim is a huge world, offering players many different ways to enjoy what it has to offer.

For the first twenty or so hours, I barely touched the main quests and only completed a few other quests – I was more focused on exploring Skyrim’s expansive world. At the 20-hour mark, I had discovered more locations that my friend had at the 40-hour mark. Because there are so many ways to spend your time in Skyrim, no two people experience the world in the same way.

Once I grew tired of exploring Skyrim, I started to go through a few quests and HOLY SHIT! The quests are the single best aspect of Skyrim. All of them have their own narrative and characters that makes them far more engaging, even if many of them are: talk to person, go to cave/ruins/temple/fort, find item/kill baddie, return to person. You’ll find journals detailing characters motivations and plans, sometimes someone may follow you (and then betray you), or maybe you’re just looking for a ghost child’s family. Each quests is exciting because you never quite know what to expect (Lost Innocence, the first quest of the phenomenal Dark Brotherhood questline, is my favorite, making me feel like both a savior and perhaps the worst role-model for youngsters…ever).

There’s nothing more satisfying than creating a character from scratch, leveling him up to ridiculous extents, crafting superior apparel, all in order to take down a beast of epic proportions. Skyrim lacks this, and it proves to be rather frustrating. After putting 75 hours into my character, I want to be able to put him to the test by going against a beast so foul that you had to play the game this much before even thinking about taking it down. I want some kind of acknowledgement from Skyrim where it lets me know that all of this time spent was worth it, yet it never does. I want to ask, “Yeah, but have you defeated Paragornarx?” as my peers look at me in shock. Looking back at my time with the game, it simply doesn’t reward you like other games do. Skyrim isn’t a game, rather it’s an interactive world, one with a beginning, but no end.

Looking at each component of Skyrim, it’s easy to say that it’s greater than sum of its parts: combat is engaging yet simple, dragon battles feel epic but are actually underwhelming (wait for it to land on ground then ATTACK!), smithing and enchanting are easy to level and can over-simplify battles, etc. But the chores become rewarding due to the game’s structure. If I can forget about all the things I should accomplish – writing for Squinshee, going to work, folding my laundry – and can be instead absorbed in a world that rewards my inconsequential deeds as often as it does, its clear that Skyrim presents itself as the most engrossing game world to lose yourself in, even though all of your accomplishments within it feel more vapid the further you progress. Leaving Skyrim is difficult – there’s still so much to uncover – but without meaningful motivation to progress, what’s the point?




Quick tidbits:

– I played as a two-handed Orc who couldn’t be stopped.

– For those who’ve met him, Ciciero is perhaps the greatest character to grace an Elder Scrolls game.

– Daedra Hearts. Daedra Hearts. Daedra Hearts.

– There aren’t enough enemies in this game. I fought way too many fucking Draugrs and not enough Spriggans.

– “Yo, Farkas, I’m trapped and you’re surrou…WTF?!”

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