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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review – Or: I Spent Five Years In Tamriel One Afternoon

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The Gameplay

I’m easily distracted. Throw something shiny in the bushes and odds are you won’t see me for a week. Skyrim is one big, sparkly ball of light. No sooner did I finish the game’s opening tutorial section that I found myself wandering off the beaten path for herbs to taste for beneficial stat boosts, wolves to skin for their pelts, and wandering trolls to engage in deep, philosophical debates concerning the meaning of life and other such meaningful topics.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Naaaaah! Kidding. I murdered the shit outta that sucker then wore his skull as a hat.

I encountered the game’s first blacksmith’s forge and then completely forgot about saving the world for about two hours, so busy was I running around buying up every ore ingot I could get my hands on. Skyrim is a game where you can quite literally stop and smell the flowers since every herb in the world can be picked and mixed into beneficial potions. Abandoned dungeons dot the land, each one fully realized and more than likely inhabited by some sort of critter that needs righteous killing.

In typical Elder Scrolls tradition, you gain points in your various skills the more you use them. Castrate enough Yetis with a one-handed sword often enough (What? Those Yeti balls fetch a sweet price on the open market!) and you’ll gain a point in that particular ability. If the Yeti isn’t keen on letting go of his balls and fights back, you’ll take a few hits and your heavy armor skill will improve. Each skill tree comes with various perks, such as the ability to craft more and more intricate sets of armor in the blacksmith tree.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Yell! Magazine does not recommend the use of alcohol when smithing. Weird ass shit may ensue.

Combat is a tactical affair. Rushing in blindly and swinging a big stick like there’s no tomorrow is a surefire way to end up on the wrong end of a Yeti teabag. (Hey, you’re the one who wanted his balls.) Blocking is essential and small groups of two to three opponents can easily overwhelm you if you treat Skyrim like a first-person shooter. Using the environment, running away to heal and name-calling are all valid options in combat. I played the game as a melee combat specialist so I didn’t delve too deeply into Skyrim’s magic system, but I saw enough to know that it is intricate. Spells can be customized with a variety of effects, as in previous Elder Scrolls titles. However, there’s such a wealth of weaponry to discover and craft that I soon lost interest in magic altogether. Not that I recommend skimping on the healing magic, which I found indispensible.

Obviously, there are tons of things to do in Skyrim but there’s just as much enjoyement to be found in aimlessly wandering around the world. There’s something uniquely satisfying about walking off the beaten path and seeing a caption come up at the top of the screen saying “You have discovered TheMatt’s Den Of Anguish!”, or something along those lines. With DLCs already announced, Skyrim isn’t unlikely to run out of surprises any time soon.

The Presentation

For a game that pushes as many pixels around as Skyrim, I found the PC experience to be quite smooth. Load times are omnipresent and quite long on consoles but barely register on an up-to-date PC rig. Simply entering a house on consoles can take 5-10 seconds but it’s practically instant on a modern computer. Considering that villages can contain dozens of residences, this is worth pointing out.

To call Skyrim gorgeous would be a criminal misuse of the word. Your character comes across a sparkling waterfall early on and I simply had to stop and stare at the perfectly modeled spray and foam cascading down the rock wall. And this occurs after you run into your first dragon. Dragon encounters are major set pieces throughout Skyrim , and each one is a visual blessing. I’ve been playing video games for 25 years and for the first time in my gaming life I found myself thinking, “Now THAT’S a dragon!”

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I would have been fine with slightly less realistic spiders…

Armor and clothing is stunning, both in visual quality and in sheer variety. My old Pokemon addiction kicked in something fierce during my time with Skyrim, I simply had to own one of every single piece of armor in the game or there would be something inherently wrong with my life that no amount of boobs could ever fix. Skyrim appeals to the collector in all of us. On the down side, it was inevitable that a game as huge as Skyrim would have its share of bugs. Ragdoll physics are often hilariously broken. Plot characters will often barge into your conversations with other NPCs because you started talking to the later before the former could path its way to you.

Stuff like that is frequent and in a game that contains over 100 hours of play time, they do add up. And yet, there’s so much good here that it’s easy to overlook the game’s minor flaws.

Music is satisfyingly appropriate to the material, bombastic when it needs to be, and the various minstrels playing at the game’s many inns bring a welcome sense of warmth when you need a break from your adventures. Voice acting, a series hallmark, remains strong throughout.

The Verdict: ★★★★½

Skyrim is without a doubt the year’s biggest RPG, both in terms of expectations and ambitions. It delivers on both counts. I’d say more but there’s a pile of silver ingots with my name on it. Good gaming!

Your faithful reviewer,

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