The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review (PS3)

Played on: PS3
Played for: 130-ish hours. Completed campaign, a majority of the side quests, explored mostly everything and obtained the Oblivion Walker trophy.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an amazing experience that is guaranteed to suck hundreds of hours of your life away, but even the best games have their flaws. As I’m sure everybody knows, Skyrim is the long anticipated sequel to Game of the Year award winner The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and is a WRPG that focuses on swords and sorcery. The Elder Scrolls series is notorious for their massive open worlds, their “choice with consequences” approach to storytelling, their various faction options, character development and customization, and, of course, glitches. Skyrim is no different.

You start off in Skyrim as a fugitive headed for the chopping block, but as fast as you can create your character your beheading is interrupted by a massive dragon hell-bent on destroying the world. As the storyline progresses, you come to find out that you’re a “dragonborn”, a legendary few who can absorb the souls of slain dragons and use the power of “shouts” by yelling out strings of draconic words to help you defeat your foes in various ways (you may be familiar with the “FUS ROH DAH!” meme making the rounds?). With Skyrim on the brink of destruction, it’s up to you to stop the dragon invasion while being stuck in the middle of a civil war between the local Imperials and their rivals, the Stormcloaks. How the story unfolds is completely up to you. Of course you’re still welcome to help the local townsfolk by undertaking their requests and also joining the various guilds that we’ve all come to know and love in the Elder Scrolls universe, so saving the world isn’t the only thing to do in Skyrim.

Creating your character this time around is more about aesthetics and less about which race is best for which class considering the class system is dead and gone. Each race does have their own racial abilities that could give you a slight edge, but ultimately your character is what you make of it. Using a certain skill levels up that skill to make it more effective and dumps XP in to your character as a whole, if that makes any sense. For instance, if you want to specialize in swinging 2-handed weapons, whacking enemies with a two-handed weapon will gain XP for that skill. Casting a healing spell will increase the level of your Restoration skill, sneaking around will increase your Sneak skill and so on. This allows you to customize your character based on your preferred playstyle.

Leveling up your skills will increase their levels and, in turn, increase their effectiveness, but it’s actually the only way to gain XP in Skyrim. Your character will gain XP every time a skill reaches a new level rather than gaining XP from killing enemies or completing quests, so using a wide variety of skills and making use of the crafting options are key to reaching higher levels.

Leveling up gives you the choice to increase your overall health, magicka pool or stamina, but also gives you points that you can allocate in the new perk chart to improve your character in your desired style of play. Each school of magic, every style of weapon and armor, every crafting profession and every ability has its own perk chart that allows you to spend points for added benefits while you play. For instance, applying points in the Speech chart can net you more gold if you sell items to vendors of the opposite sex or give the ability to sell stolen items. Putting points in to Destruction can allow you to dual wield the same spell to make it a more powerful version and putting points in to Enchantment can give you the ability to put 2 enchantments on the same item. Each ability’s chart has about 10 perks to pick from and you gain one point to allocate each time you level, so there is definitely incentive to build your characters.

Combat in Skyrim should come naturally to fans of the previous Elder Scrolls titles but the biggest changes come with the much improved third person view and the new “shout” abilities. Previous Bethesda titles allowed third person views as well but they were usually pretty terrible, showing your character sliding around the terrain and just overall sucking. Third person combat is much more fluid this time around and in my opinion brought a whole new depth to the character development since I spent a lot more time looking at my character instead of a massive set of Nord hands. Working on better gear not only made my stats better but also made me look like a total BAMF.

Shouts allow you to yell out a string of words in draconic for different effects. They’re learned during the main storyline and by finding giant “word walls” out in the world that are usually guarded by dragons or hidden deep within caves. Shouts are abilities that range from hurling your enemies across the room (FUS ROH DAH!), breathing fire, turning foes to blocks of ice, summoning a massive storm, throwing your voice to a certain location to distract enemies and temporarily becoming invulnerable, but there are 20 shouts altogether, each with 3 different levels of effectiveness.

Adventuring in Skyrim isn’t always a solo affair either. You can recruit various companions that will fight by your side and pack mule your overflow loot and each one has their own fighting style. You can gear your companions to an extent by having them store weapons and gear and they’ll choose the best item for each slot, but that’s as far as customization gets. Companions cannot be killed by enemies but friendly fire rules are in full effect, and that was a problem for me. We played a melee-heavy character and for some reason my companions always ran in front of my girlfriend and I while we were attacking. This lead to two hilarious moments where I headshotted Lydia with my bow as she ran in to the line of fire of a troll and my girlfriend slit another’s throat as they walked in front of her during a sneak attack, so you take the good with the bad.

Combat with dragons was a bit lacking, especially considering the hype of the game is killing them. There were a decent variety of dragons but the variety really just determines their difficulty and if they spew fire or ice damage. Some of the larger dragons can insta-gib you if your health is low enough, but you shouldn’t really have a problem with any of them at all. You’re eventually given an ability that keeps them grounded which makes killing them that much easier, but honestly, I can’t even think of a way to make dragon combat more interesting. I’m glad they didn’t incorporate quick-time events or cheap mechanics, but fighting a dragon was more or less just like fighting any random enemy with a big health pool. Once we nabbed the trophy for absorbing 20 dragon souls, fighting dragons kind of lost its appeal altogether – it didn’t help that their bones and scales weighed a metric crap-ton, so killing them usually ended in return trips to Whiterun to dump them in our storage box.

Graphically, Skyrim is one of the most visually stunning games I’ve ever played. Standing on top of a snowy mountain and looking miles away to another area and thinking “I could actually go there if I wanted” was an amazing feeling. Environments are highly detailed and always felt different, so exploring every nook and cranny of the Skyrim world never got old. While the environments were given the royal treatment, enemies look great but lack overall variety. Catacombs will contain Draugr, caves will contain Frostbite Spiders and camps will contain restless tribesman and the game rarely strays from that. You’ll come across the occasional giant camp or troll, but more often than not you’ll be slaying the same 5 or 6 different enemy types. This is a very minor complaint though since you have to take in to consideration that Skyrim is a living, breathing world that has existed forever and these are the races and creatures that have continued to thrive and survive the harsh environments.

The importance of a game’s soundtrack is going to vary from player to player, but Skyrim is a feast for both the eyes and the ears. Nom nom nom. Every track fits the exact mood the environment is trying to portray and just as well changes to epic battle music whenever you enter combat or the town you’re in is attacked by a dragon. Skyrim has a massive soundtrack as well with the OST being a 4-disc collection.

Completing the main storyline will take you around 20-30 hours, but branching out to join factions, collect Daedric artifacts, explore dungeons, rob houses, get married, kill your spouse, loot their corpse, vend their wedding ring, kill vendors in their sleep, fill their corpses with overflow loot, craft better weapons and armor and, of course, slay dragons, will easily add over 100 hours of game play so Skyrim will definitely give you your monies worth.

The beauty of Skyrim is its ability to immerse you in to its world with even the most mundane activities like buying a house, decorating it and organizing everything from your bookshelf, your alchemy supplies, your weapon rack and fueling your sick obsession with collecting of The Lusty Argonian Maid novels. I also found myself getting sidetracked from the main plot over and over again as I walked toward my objective, noticed an area I hadn’t explored, spent 2 or 3 hours killing stuff, looting and then heading back home to vend, work on crafting professions and realizing I hadn’t even made it to my initial objective. Skyrim makes you want to explore the world but never forces you to do so. Why you wouldn’t though is beyond me.

As a self-proclaimed “trophy whore”, earning trophies is a big deal to me. Skyrim had the perfect mix of story-related trophies and time sinks with only one missable trophy overall. They range from hitting level 50, joining a faction and learning every shout to finishing the main plot-line, maxing a skill to level 100 and exploring 100 locations on your map. Skyrim also allows you to continue playing after finishing the storyline rather than forcing you to focus on unlocking all of the trophies beforehand which was a huge plus.

While the game itself is downright mesmerizing, by now everyone has heard about its problems with every version released. Xbox 360 versions are having issues with texture pop in when it loads from the HD. PS3 & PC versions are experiencing terrible lag problems when the save file exceeds 6MB, much like Fallout 3 and New Vegas experienced, but a patch has been released to counter this issue. However, with this new patch came new problems such as dragons flying backwards & constant freezing during loading screens. There is also an issue with the PS3 versions causing the auto-save feature to corrupt the data, but I myself haven’t experienced this at all. Across the board players have been noticing mammoths spawning in mid air, giants hitting players thousands of feet in the air, dragon corpses falling through the ground and not granting the absorbed soul, trophies and achievements not unlocking and the random dragon skeleton falling from the sky whenever you load in to a town.

Bethesda has made it clear that they’re working to correct the issues with future patches, but these issues really hinder the overall experience for some people. Between my girlfriend and I, we’ve put over 100 hours in to Skyrim on the same character and our save file is around 13MB. We get a ridiculous amount of lag during dragon encounters, enter a heavily populated city and visit any area with mass amounts of snowfall. In those 100+ hours, our game has frozen 3 or 4 times, mostly while the game was auto-saving and once during a loading screen. We’ve never seen a floating mammoth, been knocked in to the air by a giant or seen a dragon flying backwards. All of these have been problems for other players, but it’s just something we never experienced with our copy of Skyrim. Just lag and a few freezes.

My only other complaint outside of the obvious bugs is the inability to reallocate your perks. I had the same problem with Dragon Age: Origins and I was honestly surprised it wasn’t added in to Skyrim somewhere. Once you allocate your perk points, you’re done. After 20-30 hours in-game and having a better understanding of how everything works, I wanted to go back and re-do my perk tree but I was stuck with some rather lackluster Speech perks that I wouldn’t need until much later. Really though, if that’s my only other complaint, this game must be something special, especially considering the ridiculous amount of time my girlfriend and I put in to it.

The Verdict – A

Overall, Skyrim was my most anticipated game of 2011, even over Skyward Sword, and was my vote for Game of the Year. The new installment in the Elder Scrolls series blew me away in every aspect and not only met, but exceeded my expectations. The graphics are mind blowing, the soundtrack is fitting, the new leveling system was executed extremely well, but it’s a shame that such an amazing game is riddled with glitches. As long as Bethesda keeps to their word and addresses the issues with patches, I don’t so much mind the occasional lag spikes, but I know some other players beg to differ as the glitches vary from person to person. Even with the glitches, I still give Skyrim an A since the good far outweighs the bad by any stretch of the imagination and I can’t wait for future DLC. It’s a huge world with welcoming guests and if you’ve got the time to invest, you won’t be disappointed.

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