I would like to start this review of Skyrim with an apology. I was supposed to have the article completed by last Saturday, a deadline which I set myself. When the review finally hits the site it will be Thursday though. What could have delayed me so much? The game itself. I was hooked. Big time. I’m a noted MMO & RPG gamer so I suffer (like many) with addiction when it comes to games of this genre. The last 10 days have been a relapse of epic proportions, but I don’t regret a second of it!
Those of you that played Oblivion will know just how high Bethesda set the bar for themselves. The Elder Scrolls IV came with a huge, open world and enough content to keep you busy for months on end. Many feared that Skyrim would be a rehash of Oblivion and ship with the franchise’ trademark bugs, leaving the gamer with a month long wait for a patch before the title becomes truly playable. That’s not the case with Skyrim though, and unlike myself Bethesda know how to meet their own targets and turned up to a high jump contest with a polevault.
I’ll be honest with you and say that for the first two minutes of Skyrim I was unimpressed. Sure, the new menu screen looked sleek and such, but the loading times were ridiculous. I waited for what seemed like an eternity for the game to initially load, even though I am sure it was less than a minute. Once I finally got off the loading screen I was then restricted to being able to do nothing but move my head and watch the dialog unfold. After going back to rewatch it a second time (I was too busy acting like an impatient 7 year old the first time round) I can appreciate it a lot more. The voice acting, as it is throughout the game, is top quality and it had to be. After having Patrick Stewart in Oblivion they were going to need to do something special to replace him. I was rarely left unconvinced or disappointed with any of the dialog if I am honest, so many props to the actors and writers there.
The voice acting is complimented well by deep character development of the central figures to the storyline and the many different avatars for random NPCs you will find scattered throughout Skyrim. Combine these with the ridiculously detailed facial animations and you have yourself an interactive experience with AI controlled characters that is virtually unparalled in any RPG I have played previously.
The game world itself is picturesque. Climbing to the top of mountains often rewards you with breath-taking views, while wandering around the many cities, towns and villages within Skyrim allows you to appreciate the finer details up close. I have seen this on both the Xbox and PC, so I can say with conviction that we (as console gamers) have been screwed somewhat in terms of graphics, as our version seems to be on par with the PC’s medium graphical settings. That shouldn’t upset you, however, as we still get stunning visuals that are years beyond other titles within the genre.
The combat experience has been refined since Oblivion and now comes with the much hyped ability to dual-wield both weapons and spells, a feature I found enjoyable, realistic and more engaging during the many epic encounters I faced during the game. The minor yet important addition of a crosshair in third person mode now makes the view viable for ranged combat. This was a huge negative for me in The Elder Scrolls IV and usually nudged me towards playing melee. Not anymore!
I also love the battles with dragons. I love dragons in general anyway, but getting to face off with them is something truly special. You know as soon as you see one that you’re in for a rough five minutes or so. That’s if you even get to see it at all. Dragons aren’t limited to boss encounters or cinematics, they can (and will) attack you at various times as you travel between cities. If you invested any time into Oblivion then you will welcome this feature, as there was no real sense of danger when traveling between cities. Bandits were not difficult to handle and the occasional wolf hardly posed a threat. Now you can’t set off for a new town without being fully prepared or you could very well be found wanting.
In terms of professions (or hobbies, whichever you prefer) the game has refined its catalog where necessary, as opposed to overhauling it. I was one of the few people that actually liked the lock-picking system in Oblivion, but Bethesda have ripped it out and replaced it with the system from one of its other major franchises, Fallout. While many will say this is a much better system, I personally find myself indifferent. It does the job and is challenging enough, so I guess it’s a good move for the game as it will please the masses. Speechcraft is no longer a useless stat, as with the removal of the persuasion minigame you will now find yourself highly dependent on it in situations where you need to extract information from NPCs or want a better price for your goods at vendors.
Perhaps my favorite new feature within Skyrim is the addition of mercenaries (or companions, as seems to be the coined term). You can have a “companion” follow you into battle and aid you during challenging encounters. There are half a dozen or so to choose from and the first few become available to you extremely early on within the game, which can really take the pressure off while you experiment with various combat maneuvers. Being the “Lone Ranger” that I am, I skipped the mercenaries where possible and picked up a stray dog in town to be my companion. I call him Bubbles.
It’s extremely difficult to sum up a game like Skyrim in such a short space because there is just so much content and depth to it. While I have completed the main storyline (which I have intentionally not mentioned because I don’t want to ruin it – trust me, it’s a cracker though!) and experimented with most aspects of the game, I have invested close to 100 hours already. If I were to force details of all that time into this limited space it would read like a speech by George Bush – not what I’m trying to do here.
My point is that these are only the main aspects of the game and each one delivers exactly what you would want from a RPG, while the lesser aspects are also executed to the same standard. I could honestly rant and rave for hours about how this is the best single player RPG to ever be released and how it’s going to take a mammoth effort to shift it off its throne. I won’t though, because every minute your reading this you’re also wasting valuable “Skyrim time”. Time to get to that game store, don’t you think?