Video Game Review of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, was an awesome, awesome game.  Does Part five, Skyrim, also hold on to the legacy?

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Title:

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Genre

RPG

Platform

PC, Xbox 360, PS3

Story

The land of Tamriel is divided into multiple Kingdoms, and this one brings us to the northernmost country, the snow-covered plains of Skyrim.  The land is torn in a civil war between the local “Nords” and the Imperial government. Unfortunately, into the middle of this strife, dragons have returned to the land.  They are being resurrected by Alduin, “The World Eater.” You can take a wild guess how dangerous he is.

Your character is the Dragonborn — who can be any race or name, be it three kinds of elves, to orcs, or bipedal tigers. As such, you are able to call upon the voice of Dragons, using words of power to various and sundry affect.  It’s up to your character, of variable race / gender / name, to save the world.

Mechanics

The user interface in this one is much more interesting and workable than Oblivion.  If you’re using a standard controller, the triggers will call up what you have equipped in either hand — be they spells, weapons or shields.  One button to sprint.

One button easily gets you to the user inventory, where the player can get to the list of items you’re carrying, maps, skills, and magical powers.

Unlike the previous game, the weapons and armor do not decrease in efficacy the more you use them. On the other hand, you can only improve (or create) armor and weapons at proper at blacksmith stations, with the proper materials.

Again, you level as you do things — the use of one-handed weapons improve the abilities of using one-handed weapons.  As your overall level improves, you get perks to improve even further on each ability.  When you reach level 100, you can reset the skill level back to 15, and start all over again, if you so choose, giving you back all of the perks you have to use in other places.

The gameplay here is solid, and it works.  Ride across the land on a horse (or a dragon, if you get the right DLC). Carry too much equipment, and you’re unable to run … unless you have a horse.

Once you get to these various and sundry locations, you can revisit them with fast travel at any point, beaming you right to the previously found location (as long as you are not overloaded with items, or you have a horse).

Gameplay

As you fight across the land, you find and trip over various and sundry people who need your help.  You find the thieves guild, the assassin’s guild, the local wizard’s college, the empire, or the rebel alliance, and you can join any of them (okay, you can only pick one side of the civil war, and you kinda have to, which annoys me no end).

The way this is set up, there are no real difficulty spikes.  Technically, you can take on almost any opponent at almost any time, if you can outfox them. At several instances, I was able to take on and take out enemies much stronger than I was because I could jump and maneuver out of the way, positioning myself to pelt the enemy from a distance with bows and spells.

Music/Graphics

The music is awesome. It’s almost classical music. Some of it reminds me of Wagner.

Speaking of sound, this has an expansive voice cast, from Claudia Christian (of Babylon 5) to Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) as well as Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer.

The graphics are breathtaking and realistic. It’s real. We’ve gotten to the point where games have created real landscapes. The faces are not QUITE as good as some other games out there, and the lipsync is off.  The inanimate objects, however, are exquisitely detailed and beautiful.  The clothing, armor, everything, all feel like they’re real, or scanned from models.

Morals/Appropriateness

This is a tricky one.  As far as I’m concerned, this is appropriate for anyone who has ever seen the Lord of the Rings. However, there are people of questionable morals all over the place.  You can join up with certain guilds, only if you agree to.  The people the assassin’s guild are killing are not as blatantly evil as the ones in Oblivion, so it’s sketchy.  But, again, the player does not have to join any of these guilds.

As you deliver the final blow to the last enemy in the area, the game pulls back so it’s like a movie, where you can watch your character deliver the final blow. It’s no worse than watch Aragon cut off an orc’s head at Helm’s Deep, and mostly better.

There are also dark caves where your character is stepping around blood-soaked skeletons, so there are little flashes of grisly.

If you are seriously concerned about your children’s understanding of theology, this may not be something you give them.  Why? First of all, your character runs into “daedra” (demons) as well as worshippers of the “nine” divines (though if this is a problem, it might be a good thing to not have your kids near fantasy in general).  Second, and more problematic, are that magical items are enchanted and powered by “soul gems,” which are powered by the souls of animals, monsters, and, if you trip over necromatic tools, human beings. So, use your discretion.

Community/Multiplayer

None.

Addiction Danger

This is definitely an addictive game. On the one hand, the gameplay can be stopped at any time at all.  Except maybe in the middle of an in-game conversation, though I never tried it.  There were more than a few times where I thought “eh, I’ll do a few short missions, fast travel here and there, and wrap it up in a few minutes” and it turned into an hour or two later.

Problems/Ending Comments

This is a great game.  Period, end sentence.  Even if this was full-price, it would have been worth every penny.  I put more than a hundred hours into this game, and I’m not even done yet with everything.  However, fatigue will set in soon after the main plotlines are resolved.  I never felt like there was a payoff for becoming the head of the assassins or the thieves, or even the head of the college of wizards–after finishing those plots, and gaining those positions, they all serve as merely a way for the player character to generate money. And, while the assassins and the thieves in Oblivion were quirky, interesting characters, the ones of Skyrim are darker and creepier.  And the civil war aspect of the plot felt like a waste of time

ESRB Rating:   M For Mature, for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol…  Really? I really must ask these people what game they were playing. I must have missed the sexual themes and — according to the ESRB — “decapitations.”  Odd, I didn’t notice any of those, either.

My Rating: 10/10.  There’s lots of good content here, there really is.  Though expect fatigue to set in when the main plot is settled.

About Declan Finn

Declan Finn is the author of Honor at Stake, an urban fantasy novel, nominated for Best Horror in the first annual Dragon Awards. He has also written The Pius Trilogy, an attempt to take Dan Brown to the woodshed in his own medium -- soon to be republished by Silver Empire Press. Finn has also written "Codename: Winterborn," an SF espionage thriller, and it's follow-up, "Codename: Winterborn." And "It was Only on Stun!" and "Set To Kill" are murder mysteries at a science fiction convention.
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