Posted: November 23
There are many reasons why we play games. Some play games to experience a story, some play to compete with others and some play to have experiences they have never had otherwise in real life. Alot play games to escape into another world, and live completely different lives, and this is what drives Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, a series that has excelled in creating complete virtual worlds, inviting the player to live parallel lives. Skyrim is the latest world offered by Bethesda to live in, and it seems like its Bethesda’s finest accomplishment yet.
Similarly to the two Elder Scrolls games before it, you start off as a prisoner, and this case you are on your way to be executed. Just before the axe greets your neck, a dragon appears and the entire army base you were in goes into disarray. You are set free after the incident, and it is up to you to find out why are the dragons appearing, and what is your role in the whole ordeal (hint: it rhymes with Shmagonborn).
Bethesda displays such dedication to concept of open world that makes other open world games pale in comparison. Skyrim isn’t just a series of buildings, environments and NPCs, it is the closest there is to virtual living world in a game. The sense of freedom found in Elder Scrolls is unparalleled, and Skyrim is the best implementation of this yet. The main quest is a minimal part of the game, and most of the fun comes from exploring the world built for you. As you go exploring dungeons, assisting NPCs with their problems, joining factions and reading ingame books, you realize what a dense world Skyrim is. It is compelling to learn more about Skyrim, about its citizens and about its politics, and the more you learn about, the more you are invested in the well being of the world.
Through all the running around and exploring, you come across a wide range of missions to complete. The main mission is, as usual, the most interesting one, but the rest of the missions can be worthy, and they are necessary to help you know more about the world. You can complete missions for The Companions (Skyrim’s equivalent of the Fighter’s Guild) to understand how ingrained the warrior culture is in Skyrim, or join the Mages College and be looked down upon by Nords who believe that magic is for sissies. Even miscellaneous missions, such as simply standing up for a Dark Elf against a bunch of racist Nords can be satisfying. Standard fetch quests are to be found here and there, but there are far from being the norm.
The games graphics have been talked about endlessly. Now, Skyrim’s graphics are great, with detailed textures and wonderful environments. Yet it terms of detail, they don’t hold a candle to games like Rage and Battlefield 3. Yet Skyrim is nicer to look at than the aforementioned games, and that is because of Skyrim’s aesthetics. Bethesda knows that when it comes to graphics, art direction trumps fidelity, and in Skryim, the beauty of the world comes from its style. Part of the reason Morrowind is generally viewed as a much better game than Oblivion is because of its fantastical designs; while Oblivion came off as a standard European fantasy setting, Morrowind was a truly outlandish and exotic location that had its own unique identity. Skyrim returns with the art direction that made Morrowind so unique. While the location might not be as exotic as Morrowind, Skyrim it is exactly the blistering norse region that you would think is occupied by burly, war-faring people. The buidlings, the environments, the apparel, the weapons, the creatures, and even the music all give Skyrim its unique identity, an identity that is inspired by real-life Scandinavia, but is in no way identical to it.
The combat, which is one of the weaker aspects in previous Elder Scrolls, is drastically improved here. While there is still the feeling that you are hacking away at empty spaces instead of making a real impact on your enemy, but it’s not as bad as it was in previous games. The biggest addition to the combat system is the double wielding, and it works great. You can go for a sword in each hand, a sword and spell, or two spells, one in each hand. I personally went sword and staff, Gandalf style. There is also a favorite menu for items, a feature that pauses makes it easier to equip items in game. This is designed to save you the hassle of going to the main item screen during the game, but it also gives a tactical quality to the combat, since the menu pauses the game and allows for quick equipment changes, which is helpful especially when fighting dragons.
Dragons appear as random encounters throughout the game, and they are just as imposing as one would imagine dragons to be. You will die alot fighting them, and you would have to rely on myriad of tactics to fight them. A few hacks there, retreat to heal yourself, attack with destruction magic while the dragon is airborne, retreat again, and so on. Killing a dragon is immensely satisfying, and through killing dragons do you acquire new ‘shouts’. Shouts are another new combat feature; they are words in the dragon language which, when you say them, unleashes different attacks on your enemies, or gives you new powers. Shouts are a welcome addition to the game’s combat system, and further adds to the combat’s tactical quality.
Now this is a Bethesda game, which means that bugs are abound. I have experienced a few unresponsive actions from NPCs, same crashes, and an axe suspended in midair. However, this is an area I can’t criticize Bethesda much about. In a game of this size and scope, it is virtually impossible to spot all the bugs before release. To their credit, Bethesda is quick to releases patches that fix whatever issues gamers may have. We can also count on the mod community to tweek all the inconveniences out of the game. Bugs are abundant in the game, and players will experience at least one in every playthrough, yet for the most part, these bugs are miniscule and far from game breaking.
Skyrim is like a music album that has a few tracks that you aren’t particularly fond of, but rest of the music is pure aural blliss that you can’t help but think of the album as close to perfection as possible. I can’t point to a single part of the game and say “that is the best part”; the entire game is an experience. It stays firmly rooted in Elder Scrolls gameplay, yet with enough improvements and additions (and subtractions) to make Skyrim stand on its own. After experiencing the vast, dense and incredibly detailed world of Skyrim, you can’t help but snicker whenever another game is referred to as “open world”.
Good: Vast yet incredibly detailed world, Incredible Depth, Interesting Story, Improved Combat System, Gorgeous Graphics and wonderful style
Bad: Buggy, some standard 'fetch' missions