Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim ReviewJoe Green
You know a game is going to be a big one when its guide is almost the same width as a copy of the Bible. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a massive role-playing adventure which is bursting at the seams with content, detail and improvements upon its forebears.
Skyrim has easily been one of this year's most hotly anticipated titles and I for one have been eagerly waiting for it to arrive. Its launch is arguably one of the most important this year and its lasting impression, a hallmark for gaming. But what makes it so good?
One of the first things you will be impressed with is the graphics and the attention to detail which has gone into almost every aspect of the game's presentation. Skyrim easily has one of the best visuals in any game I have ever seen or played. The HD sheen which emanates from every glistening rock, mist shrouded cliff face and elven weaved armor is beautiful. The vistas, wildlife and people which populate your screen will literally make you pause a moment to stare in wonder. Rarely have I played a game recently which has caused me to do this so often. The first time you venture up a mountain and find yourself caught in the midst of a blizzard with snow trolls and wolves at your heels is a special one. Oblivion, the predecessor to Skyrim was a revolution in scale and draw distance for its time, but if you played the game on consoles you will be well aware of its graphical shortcomings. This time however, Skyrim pushes the machines to their limits and achieves a level of detail you would expect reserved only for PC's.
But what good is a graphical powerhouse with hundreds of hours in longevity and no gameplay to substantiate it? Well, the answer is none, and thankfully Bethesda has picked up on many of their games' flaws over the years, with the result being that Skyrim's gameplay is easily the team's best so far. From perceivably minor additions such as sprinting which in fact turns out to be one of the most pleasing to those with more meat to them seen in the combat, Skyrim has come on leaps and bounds since earlier Elder Scrolls before it.
Many would testify that Oblivion, despite being rich with intricate quests, characters and good rpg mechanics, failed to impress with its wooden style of sword hacking, irritating aim-sensitive magic and unusable third-person perspective. Bethesda has recognised these flaws and improved upon them considerably, with the result being a much more enjoyable fighting experience. The third person view is now not only serviceable, but it is good, with an over-the-shoulder approach reminiscent of Resident Evil 4's point-of-view. The sword-based mechanics have more depth and satisfying touches such as slow-motion kill cams seen in the Fallout games. The hit detection can sometimes still feel amiss, with your sword seemingly hitting air rather than a dragon's hide, but this area is one which is largely improved on previous games.
Best of all however is the improvements to magic. These now have much greater and more diverse uses than those seen in Oblivion, which ultimately resolved to you firing off the same trio of destruction spells. In Skyrim, magic has visual flair and the potential for devastating area-of-effect spells, which are an asset to any weary traveller's arsenal of weaponry. All of this of course excludes the fated Dragonborn's use of shouts, which are similar to magic in many respects but without the need for replenishing mana and are often satisfyingly more powerful.
My only gripe in this respect, is that they have excluded the option to shortcut spells and items via the D-pad. Those playing the game on consoles may find that the offered 'quick selection' of items, weapons, spells and any other assortment of powers, is a little cumbersome and can quickly become as crowded as your main inventory. Personally, I fail to see why they have not made use of the D-pad as they have done before.
Once again the sound throughout the game is hard to best, as seen in the noticeably improved voice-acting and method of conversation. Similarly, the orchestral arrangements infuse the game's epic scenes with exciting tempos and uplifting melodies. The music is always perfectly suited to the style and era of the game which helps to immerse you in the world as much as the impressive visuals. Just wait until you walk into a tavern and find a local Bard playing an upbeat tune on his flute.
As in previous iterations of the Elder Scrolls series, the conversation scenes are still not the strongest aspect of the game and this is perhaps the single biggest downfall when scrutinised. The somewhat void expressions and vacant stares can detract from the nature of conversations, drawing you away from the impact of the story.
This is perhaps best described during a scene encountered after a dragon fight in the middle of a town. Words would fail to demonstrate the excitement of the scene which takes place, as homes as burned to ruin and people run helplessly for their lives. Immediately following the encounter however, you will find non-playable characters approach you with limited responses to the drama which has just taken place. Ordinary conversation can still be engaged at that time and they will often repeat their similar phrases which are not fitting for the mood at that time. They fail to react to their immediate surroundings or use the rest of their body in a way which fits their passion-filled words. This is certainly not a major gripe when taken into consideration with the sheer scale of the game and improvements which can instantly be seen elsewhere. However, if Bethesda ever hopes to truly master this element of their storytelling, then reactive and natural responses will need to be displayed from the game's non-playing characters.
And so we reach the pivotal question: is Skyrim worth you're hard-earned cash? That question is determined by your response to three separate questions. Do you like vast and engrossing games, filled with the potential for a multitude of gaming tasks, from the mundane to the epic? Do you like a world where every element of its presentation, from sound to sight and style, tug at your imagination in making you believe you are a part of it? Do you have the time to devote yourself to one of this year's most engrossing and content-filled experiences? I would suggest that if your response is yes to even one of the above, then you would do well to pick up a copy of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and live in its enchanting world yourself.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.