News NetworkThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review (Part 1)

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review (Part 1)

By Christopher Britt (29/05/2012)3907 words
Tagged: elders scrolls v skyrim review the gaming monolith the directo

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with the sleep.

Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: Bethesda Game Studios
Release Date: Nov. 11th, 2011
Reviewed by: The Director, The Gaming Monolith

What's Hot:
Beautiful World to Explore
Visceral Gameplay
True, Open-ended design
Dragon Fights
Unparalleled Amount of Quests
You can play exactly how you want to.
Level and Skill System

What's Not:
Story can be a little strange, and hard to follow.
A LOT of technical flaws
Load times.
It will end...eventually.

I've been playing games since the Atari age but I've never really gotten into the RPG side of gaming, which might be surprising to some. The only one I've played more than ten minutes is Knights of the Old Republic and when I say more than ten minutes, I mean like, I played it for eleven minutes. The problem that I've had with RPGs over the years is the minute details that they usually have with them.

Everything from choosing from ten different things to say in every conversation that you have with someone to figuring out which one of the four hundred skills to upgrade with your one point to spend, to the turn based combat that a lot of them have. I've never cared for that stuff, I just want to jump in and get to playing the damn game. You can probably guess that first person shooters have been my favorite over the years and that it would take one hell of a game and a reception for that game for me to take another look at an RPG. That particular game has finally come and it's called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

In all honesty, Skyrim starts off kind of%u2026bad. You begin the game riding in the back of a carriage with some rope holding your wrists together and having a conversation with a couple of other prisoners. This section lasts way too long for my tastes and I almost lost all hope and began thinking this was going to be just another RPG. The prisoners don't really say anything important and this intro really serves as a intro to some of the plot elements of the game and to design your character, which I'll delve more into later on.

Back to the story, at times, it's pretty good but it never really takes off and becomes thrilling or emotional. The voice acting throughout the game can be really good and quite bad at the same time and the extreme number of quests that the game offers makes all the story elements hard to follow and lastly, at least for me, it's because of the time it takes place in. All this medieval talk about gods, demons, and all that stuff is just weird for me but this is just preference and has no bearing on my overall score for the game, I'm just saying.

Skyrim is not the best looking game to come out this year, in fact, it's not the best looking game to come out in the last couple of years but, in the vein of games like Bioshock, Bethesda's unique art design makes you forget the not so up to date technical aspects almost immediately. During the daytime, the environments are full of foliage and animal life, the draw distance allows you to see far off mountains and other structures.

Nighttime brings an eeriness to just about everything around you, the moon casts a soft glow over everything that makes everything barely visible and a few times, you might catch yourself looking up at probably the greatest game rendition of the Aurora Borealis that I've ever seen, it's amazing. The game's graphical prowess peaks when one of two things occurs, a heavy snow storm or early morning mist.

When the heavy snow hits, it looks realistic and slightly stylized at the same time, you might find yourself stopping and staring in wonderment, just looking at how beautiful it looks. I'm sure most of us remember the jaw dropping moment that MGS 2's rainy tanker level brought and this is pretty much the same thing, it's astounding.

On to the last reason, early morning mist. The first time you see a massive dragon land on a structure during a misty morning with the moonlight turning a dragon into a silhouette, you'll forget you're playing a game altogether and just sit there dumbfounded at what you're looking at it, it's one of the most amazing and beautiful things I've ever seen in a video game. A lot of Academy Award winning cinematographers would be absolutely jealous at this magnificent sight.

When it comes to graphics, I've always believed a good art design trumps technical mastery every single time and Skyrim is another exceptional example to this belief. Skyrim is a wonderland of amazing visuals and jaw dropping moments because Bethesda thrived to make Skyrim unlike any place us gamers have ever seen before and it works in every way possible. On many occasions, you'll think you're dreaming of a snowy, misty paradise...with dragons.

Alright, strap yourselves in and grab some popcorn for this section because it's going to be a doozy. In terms of gameplay and the amount you can actually do, Skyrim may very well be the biggest game ever made. You could easily spend a hundred or so hours doing random things and never really get into the quests or anything thing of that nature. The Grand Theft Auto series, known for immense content and freedom, is a small dwarf of a game compared to this behemoth.

Let's start with character creation, which I mentioned in passing during the story section. At the very start of the game, you'll go through a few minutes of intro without actually seeing your character and there's a reason for that. Your character doesn't actually exist. There's going to be a point where you're brought before someone and asked who you are and this activates the character creation module.

Unlike a lot of previous RPG installments, the creation of your character is rather streamlined, which is really awesome. No longer will you find yourself spending five hours sorting through eye color, hair color, eyebrow color, skinny, fat, kind of skinny, sort of fat but not really, buff but not huge, petite but not a push over, what kind of clothes and shoes you like, what size and color those items are. Where you want all your pimples and facial hair. All of that bulls*** has been done away with and in its place has been out a very simple system.

You can choose from a number of different races, each having their own strengths and weaknesses, it'll tell you so you're not left in the dark as well so you can choose the character that best fits your style of play. You can choose between male or female and make a few additions like hair color, body size, and even the look of scars on your face. It's not overwhelming at all but still has just enough options to make your feel like your creating more than a stock character.

Most of the strengths and weaknesses of these different races go toward the game's eighteen different skills. These range from your armor rating to lock picking, stealth to archery. Each one can be leveled separately, making you more proficient with whatever skill that is and each skill has its own group of specialized perks you can add on too as well. A lot of the different races will get a small boost in the leveling of these skills so if you want to become a complete badass with a sword, choose the normal human that gets a boost in one handed and if you want to be a flame throwing magician that incinerates every living thing in the world, go ahead and choose a race that gets a boosts in magic.

Now, you might be thinking this is very limiting and this is most certainly not the case. Even though every character has it's own boosts, you can still level up all the skills and get all the perks you want. So if you pick the badass human, it isn't like you have to go with physical weapons. You can still level your magic up and be a flame throwing asshole with a sword as well.

The actual leveling up of the skills is handled in an extremely simple way as well. Basically, every time you use that skill, you inch it up a notch. Example, if you're wielding a one handed weapon, like a sword or an axe, every point of damage you land with that weapon will get you closer to the next level. Every lock you pick and in fact, every lock pick that you break will inch you closer to the next level. You have no quest or level limitations at all. You could level your smithing perk all the way by your overall level of five if you wanted too.

It's a very simple system that still makes the leveling up and stuff extremely satisfying and maybe even more so considering how easy it is to get a grasp on it. On the overall level of your character. Every time you level up one of your separate skills, your overall level will increase a tiny amount and when you finally reach the threshold, you'll get bumped up a level and this carries with it some awesome rewards.

As soon as you go into the level up menu, you'll be given a choice to upgrade your health, stamina, or magic by ten points. These points are separated from the skill perks so no longer will your overall amount of health or whatever be affected by the fact that you want an extra addition to one of your skills, which is another simple yet effective way to handle the leveling. After you choose which of the three to upgrade, that's when you'll be given a skill perk.

Skill perks allow you to take advantage of a specialized addition in one of your skills. For example, in the one handed skill tree, you can choose to increase your damage output with one handed weapons by 20%. In the lock picking skill tree, you can choose to make the different lock difficulties much easier to pick or you can choose to have your lock pick unbreakable.

Now, when you spend a perk to activate one of these options, you can't take it back and since you only get one per level, you do have to think about it but you don't have to kill yourself over it because the next perk point will be when you level up again. Bethesda has finally found a way to have an extensive leveling and skill building system without killing the player with complexity or confusion, which is fantastic.

The one major problem with the skill setup is the actual way it's laid out. Each skill and it's perk are shown as star constellations and because of this, some perks sit behind other perks and, in my opinion, this was a pretty fatal mistake in the skill system. There are 251 total perks in the game and the level cap is currently set at 81, which means you can only get about one third the maximum amount of perks. The problem comes when you realize that you can't get a perk that sits farther down the line until you buy the one that came before it. Let's use the smithing skill as an example. There are about ten different kinds of armor and weapons in the game and to craft these at a blacksmith, you need the corresponding perk to actually do it, leveling the skill itself is not enough. Say you want to craft Daedric armor, which is the most powerful armor in the game. Not only do you have to get you smithing skill level extremely high but you have to buy all the different kinds of material perks that came before Daedric to actually craft the stuff.

You could easily level up your iron or steel weapons and armor, both of which come extremely early in the game, to find yourself having enough materials or gold to craft one of the high end armors because I actually did. But you still have to waist your precious perks on the materials that you won't even use and that's a big problem and this isn't the only skill where this props up. There quite a few actually that have some pretty cool perks sitting beyond some very worthless perks but you have to select those regardless, which really sucks. This may be kind of a cheap way to balance the game out a little but they should have put a lot more thought into it than simply throwing in a cheap way that gyps the player of what they have earned. The skill and leveling system remains amazing even with this problem but it deserved a mention nonetheless.

Now that the leveling system has been talked about, let's spend a few moments chatting about the physical combat system. Ever since the release of Oblivion, I've always wondered how a first person action game with medieval weapons would work and now I have my answer. The reason first person shooters are so popular is obvious, guns are the perfect weapon to use in first person, you just aim them and shoot, weapons like swords, axes, and maces are a whole different can of worms however.

Skyrim combat system, or lack there of, is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, nearly every battle turns into a brutal, visceral hack and slash and is extremely satisfying to behold. Especially when the game decided to activate one of the many finishing moves it has. As far as I know, there is no way to actually do one of these moves on purpose, it's all random but they are some of the most satisfyingly violent moves I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. They include running your victim through with your sword or performing a couple of quick slashes to their face, you even perform the most satisfying decapitation I've ever seen with your sword if you purchase a particular perk. You character does a 360 degree turn and performs a backward slash, taking off your enemy's head, complete with blood geyser...awesome.

The stamina bar that you have judges how proficient you are with these physical weapons. There are two types of swings you can make with your weapons, standard and power. Standard swings do not use up your stamina but do pretty weak damage. If you're looking to just wail the crap out of your opponent, a power attack would be better suited to you. Just hold down the right trigger and you'll perform a power swing. This does double the weapon's base damage but uses a significant amount of stamina and requires a rather lengthy wind up so don't expect those power attacks to be your standalone tactic. This system, while keeping it simple, allows a little customization in how you approach the battles and is a welcome touch overall. It also never gets old when you run into a relatively weak enemy and drop them with just a single power attack, you'll grin and think that was awesome time and time again.

Now for the other hand, there really is no method to the madness when it comes to Skyrim's combat, at least for me. Now, in some ways, I think it should be like this. Anyone who has seen the movie Braveheart won't remember a whole lot of tactics or anything of the sort, you just start swinging whatever your holding and hope to whoever that you hit something. You can pick up a shield and bash or block an opponents attacks and you can time your opponent's swings and all of that but I've done no such thing during my time with the game. This is more of a blessing than a curse however because I think a combat system that is too complex, which is usually the case for an axe/sword/mace game, can bring it way down and make it very little fun, however, I would have liked to see a rather simple system so you could tactically maneuver and all of that. Some of the enemies you encounter will be quite a bit more powerful than you and there really isn't a way to beat these enemies unless you use loopholes to get past them and I found this to be rather limiting. Since this is a game where you can go and do anything in any order, I found it a little cheap that you could actually walk into an unbeatable enemy.

On the flip side to that coin, you will walk into fights that are a little easier as well. Also, back to the finishing moves, I wish, like REALLY wish that there was a way to actually do those on purpose instead of them being randomized. This would unbalance the game a little bit but hell, make it to where you can't do one of them until the enemy is at a low health or something but come on, they're f***ing awesome and I want to do them all the time.

Anyway, when all is said and done, the combat system is extremely fun and satisfying to get into. All the weapons feel like they have weight and that they do some serious damage to whatever you're swinging at so, despite its flaws, overall, Bethesda couldn't have done much better in my opinion, swinging a sword or an axe has never been this exciting or visceral.

These physical weapons that you use can actually be created with different materials you find throughout the world as well. Just head to you nearest blacksmith and you can forge new weapons with a couple of leather strips and chunks of different metals, called ingots. If you want to improve something you already have, you can do that as well. If it's armor you're looking to upgrade, go to the work bench, if it's a weapon, head on over to the grindstone. You'll need different chunks of metal to improve them as well so don't think you can always have the best weapon available without earning it. Some of the higher quality weapons need materials that are rather hard to find too so when you do eventually get around to upgrading something, it's a truly rewarding experience.

Now let's delve into the more magical side of things. When you're playing Skyrim, you have two hands to work with, in your hands can be one metal weapon and a spell, two metal weapons or two spells. Knowing this, you can form your combat style pretty much to your liking and the game has a serious quantity of items on both sides of the fence.

Spell casting in Skyrim works a lot like it did in Bioshock. Most of the spells that cause damage are ranged and they go off a stand along magic meter that recharges when you're not using it. Some spell examples are Flames which is basically a flamethrower that comes out of your hand. Sparks, which looks like you cut a power line and are now aiming it at your helpless enemies and Frost, which is basically the flamethrower but with ice, which is capable of slowing your opponent down.

Within each type of these magic groups are numerous different kinds of spells, some may be more powerful but take more magic to cast and some may take less magic and do a small amount of damage over time. Dual wielding these spells can be deadly for your enemies and most of them will have strengths and weaknesses to a particular type of magic. For instance, a conjured Frost Astronarch, which is a giant creature made of ice that the enemy can magically pull out of their ass, will be weaker toward fire spells but have a big resistance toward ice based spells so you'll have to plan accordingly during each fight to make sure you're putting out the most damage possible.

The spells in the game aren't just for dealing damage either. There are also healing spells, which usually heal you or a friend until you magic meter runs out or your health bar fills back up completely. Your health recharges on its own anyway but you can speed up the process dramatically with the use of a spell. There are also a few spells you can cast that up your armor rating for the duration of the spell which can be quite helpful in a pinch since you only use one hand to cast this one, leaving your other hand open to attack something.

Back to the giant Frost creatures I mentioned earlier, you can cast your own as well. They have separate health bars and will fight on your side until they die so like I said, the options available to you are tremendous so no one player will have the same experience and no player will have a tougher or easier time overall if they went with an magic based character or a weapon and shield based one.

You do have to remember that there is a huge advantage overall with using a magic based character however, and it's called range. With swords and things, you'll have to get pretty close to the face of your enemy so you can hack it off but with spell casting, you never really have to get terribly close so if you're not very good with the metal weapons or you're just a big pussy and would rather not get close at all. Magic allows you to feel like a complete badass anyway.

Remember though that the vast amount of enemy types in this game will keep you on your toes either way. You'll run into to anything from normal human bandits, to undead zombie like creatures, to wild animals, to magicians and vampires and all of these enemy types require a different combat tactic to beat. I chose the sword wielding character way and I'll tell you, the first time I ran into a decently powerful magic character with those damn fireballs, he whipped my ass. When this happens, you'll have to actually think about every single thing in the battle to best them and you'll still probably die a few times.

Luckily, your character will have a few abilities that nearly no one else in the world will have, barring a few exceptions. These abilities are known as shouts. Early on in the main quest, you'll find that your character is a special breed called Dragonborn and what this basically means is that you can harness the powers that dragons have and use them against your enemies. These range from Fire breath, which is self explanatory to Unrelenting Force, which is basically a strong burst of energy that will send your opponent's flying away. Not all of them are used for damage though. There's one you can cast that will confuse the enemy and make them forget where you were and even one that allows you to clear the weather out to make it bright, sunny, and happy again.

Author - Christopher Britt (thumbnail)
Author - Christopher Britt
My name is Chris and I am the founder of The Gaming Monolith; a brand new review blog for video games and movies. I've been a gamer since the Atari days but it was Goldeneye and Mario 64 that really got me hooked. I also got into writing at a young age. I figured why not write about stuff you enjoy doing? The rest is history.