Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Review

If you’re bored, and want something to do for a few hours...or days...or weeks...then Skyrim isn’t for you. This game will undoubtedly take you months to see all it has to offer, and with solid combat, responsive controls and a ridiculous amount of things to do, you should clear your schedule, turn off your phone and get started, because Skyrim is here, and it’s one of the best RPGs of all time.

If I tried to tell you everything that there is to do in this game, I would literally spend most of the day writing about it. From the first time you open the map, you will see how expansive it actually is. Anyone who’s played Fallout 3 knows what to expect from Bethesda, but the entirety of Fallout 3 could be contained in a corner of the Skyrim map. There are hundreds of caves, dungeons, ruins, villages, and more to investigate and explore, all with their own look, history and treasures to find. There are also side-quests and questlines. Side-quests can be taken from anyone, and questlines work like factions. You join a group of people and do specific quests for them. Joining these ‘factions’ will allow you to gain unique items, and just supply some pretty cool quests.

All of this is aside from the main story. Unfortunately, this isn’t very long. The narrative is quite basic, yet interesting. Dragons are returning to Skyrim. They are being resurrected by Alduin. A badass dragon who wants dragons to reclaim the Earth, and as a Dragonborn, it’s your job to stop him. As I said before, the main storyline isn’t very long, and if you just play to complete the story, you can be finished in about a half hour. That’s because the main focus of Skyrim isn’t the main story, it’s everything else. To take in all that Skyrim has, you will need to clear a schedule for about a month. There are also a number of dragons to slay. Some have designated places and some appear randomly. No matter how many I killed, I still got the feeling of excitement when I saw one flying around in the distance, and I would always diverge from my current quest to go and hunt it down. Killing dragons earns you their soul (and a few other goodies to be picked from the corpse). You use dragon souls to unlock shouts. Shouts are words of power from the Dragon language that you tend to find in the dragon’s nests (although they are scattered around other places as well). Each shout has a different effect, and each effect has 3 words to find. Each word makes the shout stronger and you need one dragon soul per word. Shouts let you do anything from setting foes on fire, to freezing them, to slowing down time, or sprinting, or disarming an enemy, and much more. There’s just an insane amount of things to do in this game.

Graphically, this game doesn’t make any breakthroughs. The character models look a little stiff, and lip synching is generally dreadful, but ugly people pale in comparison to the incredible beast designs. The range of creatures is quite surprising, especially when you look at the level of detail that goes into each one. The varied landscapes also look incredible. There’s a little pop-in and screen tearing here and there, but travelling from snowy mountains, to crumbling ruins, to towns that are teeming with characters to interact with feels like you really are in a full world, rather than the sandbox games that restrict you to a specific area.

These designs are complimented by a positively stunning soundtrack, that can be both beautiful and haunting at the same time. Each type of location has its own music, and there is one particular piece that will have you looking to the skies whenever you hear it. The voice acting is one of the lower points in this game. With hundreds of characters to interact with and only a cast of about five or six voice actors, re-used again, and again, and again, you quickly get bored of the same voices everywhere you go, and I couldn't help but wish that in a game this big, Bethesda could have hired more voices to play the roles.

The gameplay is solid and a huge step up from Oblivion. The ability to double-wield weapons makes you feel more deadly, and removes the problem of choosing between two equally good weapons. You now also have spells in weapon slots, rather than having them mapped to a separate button, which in my opinion is a good thing. Now you don’t have to try and fiddle with the controller to get it to do what you want. You also have two-handed weapons, bows, shields and wards. The wide range of weapons and abilities allows the player a large choice over how they want to play. The levelling up works much the same as Oblivion, by performing certain actions, your skill values increase, and when enough skills have increased, your character levels up. However, Skyrim’s levelling system requires more thought into what you do. For example, you can’t just run across a field to raise your athletics level. You actually need to do something useful to increase the skill.

Anyone with experience in Bethesda’s large scale RPGs should expect that Skyrim would be riddled with bugs and glitches. The abundance of problems that arise really gets tedious and irritating, and when they appear in a game that is otherwise outstanding, they really stand out. Some bugs even prevent you from completing quests, such as the death of characters too early on, or the fact that some characters don’t appear at all. Then, due to the unfinished quest, it is impossible to remove quest items from your inventory, meaning you have to carry them around with you, weighing you down.

There’s also the issue of the dumb AI. Enemies that won’t move to avoid your attacks lead to easy and occasionally unsatisfying victories, and companions that charge into a group of enemies when you’re trying to be stealthy, kill somebody who could easily have been paid off, or blunder madly into traps. They also move in front of your attacks, leading you to kill them accidentally, and when you’ve packed the with things that you couldn’t carry, you get left with a tough choice. Leave the body and everything on it, or retrieve everything you trusted them with, and walk slowly back towards a safe place to store or sell them. Either way, this does get irritating.

Skyrim is an incredible game. 30 hours in and you’ll barely have scratched the surface. There’s enough to keep you occupied for an insane amount of time, and wide variety of creatures, locations and play styles will keep the game from getting repetitive. However, dumb AI and a number of technical issues crop up around each turn, and really pull down the game’s amazing highs. However, a few glitches and bugs should not hold you back from buying this title.

9.5/10 - Fantastic

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