Tuesday, May 29

Game Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Genre: RPG, Action Adventure
Developer: Bethesda Softworks 
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC 
Release date: 11/11/2011

The Elder Scrolls V:Skyrim is the latest in the long running series of Bethesda's open world RPGs and may be the best in the series. Set in a pretty typical fantasy world, the story revolves around you, essentially a Chosen One, who is tasked with ridding the world of evil. The story has some interesting nuisances, such as the Blades, but don't expect to be blown away.

Coming from The Elder Scrolls IV:Oblivion, the world of Tamriel is vastly different with shifting political alliances, the landscape itself, wars and natural disasters have occurred since the last game. The history of what has happened the last 200 or so years can be pieced together through dialogue and books, though it is poorly paced at times, with you having no information about a particular event for hours, only to be presented with the option to ask an NPC later.

Visually the game looks fantastic, Bethesda seems to have finally gotten round to hiring good artists. There are plenty of sweeping vistas and dense forests, some cities with beautiful architecture and best of all the NPCs faces don't look like an amateur designed them! However technically the game isn't pushing the graphical boundaries, with many poor textures abound.

Khajit don't look like crap any more, in fact they look fantastic.
Gameplay is extremely satisfying in Skyrim. Melee and bow combat feel visceral, spells have many variations such as spewing fire from your hands or placing a fire ward on the ground, which acts like a magical trap. If you play a stealth character you will revel in stealth finishers. In a similar vein to Bethesda's take on Fallout, Skyrim has the addition of perks. Every time you level up you gain a single perk. Perks can be spend in any of the skills (block, illusion, alchemy etc) and will bestow additional functionality or power. For instance block has a perk which reduces the damage you take while blocking. Pick pocketing has a perk which enables you to place poison into NPCs pockets which will kill them. These perks generally work well, bestowing interesting or enhancing existing abilities, however balancing is often poor, with many terrible perks or progession.

Unfortunately Bethesda has kept up the tradition of quantity over quality and once you reach a breaking point of say 50 hours, you'll start seeing the seams in the world and wondering why certain aspects weren't done better. For instance skill progression is unbalanced, with some skills easily exploitable and others which level ridiculously slow or fast. Magicka scales horribly making magic users feel weaker as the game goes on, you can't design your own spells and dragons become a nuisance instead of epic confrontations.

If you are buying this on the PC (which I really hope you are) then you also have the benefit of dozens of mods which will change everything from perks, to improved graphics, to more quest lines. These mods fix some more of the glaring problems with Skyrim, so thank you Bethesda for being one of the few developers left who still supports mods.

Skyrim is a very good game if not perfect. It does a better job than Oblivion, but still falls into some of the same traps.