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Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Note: My time on Skyrim according to Steam is 60 hours. 30 of that was spent switching between tons of characters trying to figure out what to play. The other 30 was spent actually playing Skyrim. I beat the main quest and did a ton of side quests but not all.
For the fifth time I enter Tamriel and for the fifth time I am amazed. Bethesda manages to outdo themselves by such a large margin with each release. The wait for Skyrim was tough for me. For someone that put over 500 hours total into the past two installments of the Elder Scrolls series, seeing how beautiful and refined the experience would be in the Nord lands made it a very long and tormenting time. With every video and piece of information that released I jumped for joy. Yet as the release came close, I started to remember the perils of newly released Bethesda games: GLITCHES. Games from this publisher are gigantic in scope and push the boundaries of their respectively generations of gaming. However, the experience is normally hindered by an enormous amount of glitches and save issues. While it seems that the console versions suffer from the saved game problems more so than their PC brethren, the computer gets more problems overall.
In Skyrim’s case, this is Bethesda’s best effort to release a non-buggy game. While it still is hampered by a few issues, compared to Morrowing and Oblivion, this is a god send. The major glitches I have encountered during my playtime have been dragons falling through the world, enemy pathing issues, collision problems with surfaces and ceilings, areas that crash the game, and just overall the entire Throat of the World area. During my first encounter with a major character in the game, I actually had to turn over player controls during cutscenes so I can activate the rest of the event thanks to an NPC who stopped too short to do it automatically. Right after this I found myself turning collision off so I can go fetch a stuck dragon in the sky so he can return to the battleground. This was the worst I have encountered but easily fixed thanks to the console commands. If this were to happen on the Xbox 360 or the PS3, however, I’d find myself loading up saves to hopefully correct the issues. While Skyrim is less glitched than the series earlier installments, be prepared to hit the tilde button on your keyboard and memorize some of the commands.
As I said in my opening note, I spent 30 hours settling on a character to play. I went through 13 builds before finally picking one to tackle the game with. Some may see this as eccentric but I view it as an amazing piece of the game. Skyrim gives you so much choice with its new gameplay features. No longer do you bound yourself by an archetype during the opening of the game. You forge your path through your actions. You essentially come into your character. It took me so long to finally figure out what I really wanted and in the end I wound up with one seriously confusing character. I looked online to see if anyone was upset at the omission of the Unarmed skill and what I found was a great setup for an umarmed character in Skyrim. I took this and created a Khajit who wore Heavy Armor and punched bandits and dragon to death. With Heavy Armor’s Fists of Steel perk, I was boxing my way through the Nord’s snowy lands. As I went along my journey I wound up leveling Two-Handed, Conjuration, and One-Handed. While I went through many weapon types, I settled with One-Handed and daggers are my preferred death-dealers. My character was a force of good and only deviated from that path when it was absolutely necessary… and when I came across a Daedric Prince’s shrine. Hey, what can I say? I wanted Mehrune’s Razor!
When I finally stopped caring about what my character build would be for my first run through, I was able to enjoy the beauty that is Skyrim. The scenery in this game is amazing. Stunning! You could sit and look at the night’s sky until the sun came up. No matter where you are in the game world you will be stunned when you look outwards. The rest of the game looks fantastic, as well. Bethesda did a great job making sure that no matter what graphic setting you applied your game would look good. On the highest setting, it is hard to think of a better looking game to date. The textures, shadows, and characters look great. This is easily the best looking game Bethesda has ever made and the new engine takes the series (and subsequently the new Fallout, most likely) to the highest of heights. Even with so much going on, I had a very steady framerate as long as I picked the correct graphic setting for my machine. I play on an ASUS X53S laptop and a custom desktop with a 3.0GHz quad core processor, GTS450 GPU, and 8 gigs of ram. My laptop plays on Medium setting with Item Fade, Object Fade, and Actor Fade set to 11 and ran with a steady 45-55 fps. My desktop runs on High setting with the same fade distance as my laptop and got roughly around 60 fps and 45-55 in towns. I’ve seen a friend of mine play a laptop with slightly lower specs than my ASUS and his Medium setting gameplay stodd around 35-45 fps. As long as you meet the requisites for Skyrim and choose the right setting, you should have a great time playing.
The main quest is not long but Elder Scrolls games are about the overall experience rather than the biggest problem the world is facing. If I were to go from start to finish with the main quest only I could probably beat the game in less than ten hours. Don’t worry about that, though! There is so much to do in Skyrim that it is nearly impossible to stay focused long enough to just do the main quest. Every step you take unveils new areas or blips on your compass to new areas. The alluring sense of adventure and curiosity tugs at you every where you turn. Bethesda takes advantage of this greatly with some very intense and fun side quests. You will pick up side quests. Some of them are not avoidable and that is a good thing! You don’t have to complete them but you’d be a fool not to. The longer you play, the more you do, the more you kill, and the more you level will increase not just the difficulty of the game but the quality of loot and enemies you face. This in turn increases the enjoyment of Skyrim. One of the most gratifying things I did in the game was finally finishing up Smithing (after 431 iron daggers) and finding my first ebony ore vein only to find out I needed a Daedra Heart to make the best kind of armor. I could have just went shopping around the Holds to find one for sale but the journey to find the hearts myself was much more satisfying. When I was finally running around in a full set of enchanted Daedra armor, I felt proud of what I made.
As an RPG fan, or just someone who enjoys watching a character grow, Skyrim filled my need of adventure and excitement. Every battle with a dragon felt epic. Entering a new dungeon made me think of what I will find. Smithing new armor and weapons made me feel accomplished. Saving a town from unnatural nightmares made me feel like a hero. Being titled a Thane of a town and given respect from the civilians and my own protector made me feel like I was making a difference. Skyrim does what most games don’t: it made me feel like my character. This was my adventure and my path. I forged my way here and I did it through hard work. I killed that dragon that attacked your homes. I am Dragonborn. With every shout I learned I felt more powerful. Everytime I used Unrelenting Force and FUS-RO-DAH’d someone off a cliff I felt dominating.
Is this something you’re looking for in a game? Skyrim is your godsend. Don’t venture into the Nord lands if you don’t care for exploring and straying off the path. You need to want the full experience out of Skyrim to fully enjoy it. This game has so much to offer and the amount of detail and effort put into it demands your attention. In a year full of amazing games and experiences I have to give Skyrim my complete bid for game of the year. I will be playing this for a long time to come. I look forward to my next playthrough and what path I will take. This review touches on many experiences I had in Skyrim but not all. I don’t want to ruin anything for you. This is a game you must experience.