It’s about 1:30 in the morning. Bleary-eyed, I traverse through the rocky, unforgiving terrain with my trusted bodyguard. We’ve seen the horrors of battle together…raiding bandit encampments, taking down giant spiders and brutish frost trolls, and eliminating unspeakable terrors in the deep dungeons of the world.
Our objective is just down that valley and across the bridge. Wait! What was that noise? A dragon?? A dragon is attacking? We draw our weapons and ready ourselves, for this will be a fierce battle, but that’s just the way we like it…
This is just one scenario that has played out through while playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. And if I remember correctly, I wasn’t even tackling the main quest. I was in the middle of a side quest…that I had taken while collecting on the bounty of another side quest. And on the way from that side quest I discover a cave…and then I lose track of where I was going in the first place. Side quests in Skyrim do not consist of “bring this do-hickey to this guy in some village”; even if it seems to start off that way, it won’t be long until you’re in the bowels of some dungeon fending off undead hordes.
Needless to say, Skyrim is HUGE, both as a game and the actual in-game geography.
Unlike Dragon Age, where quest areas are separated and distinct and only a short load screen streamlines the traveling from those points, Skyrim has your character physically traveling all across the land. Anywhere you see you can pretty much travel there. There’s a tower off in the distance? That’s not background, you can go that tower. You need to get to a temple on top of a mountain? You better back some warm clothes, because it will be a climb. Not that I mind, though, because the world is just GORGEOUS. The varied terrain is so detailed in texture, and I don’t think I’ve seen better bodies of water in any game ever. There are day/night cycles and looking up at the starry night sky is simply stunning. You may catch a glimpse of Tamriel’s two moons and since you’re so far up north you can see their Aurora Borealis. Sometimes you’ll be pelted with rain, at other times snow will obscure your vision. Just walking to where you need to go is entertaining in itself, not a lot of games can pull that off. And if walking seems to daunting, you can also purchase (or steal) a horse. Thankfully you can travel instantaneously to locations you have already discovered.
The attention to detail is just mind boggling. In other RPGs certain doors in a town will just be inaccessible, but not in Skyrim. You can open (or break into) any door. In RPGs we’ve grown accustomed to just going into somebody’s house and just taking stuff from their cupboards and dressers, but try that in Skyrim and prepare for consequences. Guards will come to arrest you if you’re not careful and you may have to pay a fine, go to jail…or you can just murder the guards. In addition to adventuring, you can do anything from making and improving weapons, alchemy, enchanting, mining, cooking, hunting, and probably much more than I anticipate. My character also bought a house, only to discover I have to furnish and decorate it too!
But the heart of the game is the Quest and your character and his or her development. You start off choosing from orcs, cat people, lizard people, three types of elves, and four types of humans. (The dwarves are all dead from some dwarven holocaust that I’m sure is explained somewhere.) Instead of the old choosing a class and leveling up with experience points, your character gets better at skills he or she uses most…like in real life. If you want to be a warrior, go ahead and swing that sword and wear heavy armor. If you want to be a wizard, don a robe and fry stuff with your magic. If you want to be all roguish and pick locks and sneak up on fools or snipe enemies with a bow and arrow, have at it. Or you can combine it all and wield a melee weapon in one hand, fireballs in another. It’s really up to you how you want to customize your character. The possibilities can be overwhelming. Even if you think magic is for pussies and just want to bash heads, your character will still learn Dragon Shouts. These special powers are learned from secret areas all over the world and are activated by absorbing the souls of slain dragons. These include powers like telekinetic force, spectral form, and fire breath. These add even more variety to an already immense game.
This brings us to something near and dear to my heart: combat. It’s handled in real time in either first or third person view. I prefer the former for greater immersion. Whatever specialty your character chooses, whether using melee weapons, magic, archery, sneak attacks, or a combination, combat is never boring or tedious. In melee combat a successful power attack when your enemy’s health is low will result in a dramatic animation depicting the coup de grace. Setting enemies on fire is always fun, as well as picking them off without their knowledge. There’s always variety in how you approach combat, it all depends on your intentions and your abilities. Occasionally you will have a companion or two, and they make dependable combatants and are useful in drawing enemy attention. You won’t get to know their hopes, dreams, and personalities in a character-driven story like Dragon Age, but I found that I do my best to protect them regardless, because they can die (as in not come back) if you’re not careful.
There’s almost too much to do in Skyrim. In western RPGs I accept every side quest the game throws at me, but in Skyrim I find myself saying: “You know, I think I’ll come back to that the next time I come around this way.” This game will eat your life away if you’re not careful. You can even read books in-game that describes in detail all the lore you never thought you needed to know about the Elder Scrolls world. The best way to describe this is a life simulator in a fantasy universe, a “World of Warcraft” for the loner single player if you will, and it is poised to destroy all notions of productivity and real human contact. And that, my friends, is what makes a great game. Now if you excuse me, my house in Whiterun isn’t going to decorate itself.
- Immense and detailed world
- 100+ hours of gameplay
- Replay value
- Gorgeous Graphics
- Occasional graphical glitches
- The need to eat, sleep, go to work, and interact with loved ones: this means I’m not playing Skyrim.
Final Verdict: Enshrine It
What should be the end credit theme song: