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3/19/2012

REVIEW: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3)



The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is out and after spending almost 150 hours, it is finally possible to come up with a well-elaborated review of the game. Just like its predecessors before it, it is a single-player WRPG where the players create their own character and are free to adventure however they want in one of the beautiful provinces of the fictional continent of Tamriel. 

This time, the public wanders around the northern province of Skyrim, home of the Nord race, white people who resemble Vikings. Like in the four previous titles, the players are able to make a character choosing from the ten different races. Humans like the Nords or Imperials, elves like the Dunmer or Altmer or the beast races Argonian and Khajiit. Each race comes up with different attributes and lean towards better performance at different styles of play, either melee, stealthy or magic-oriented.

The events of the game take place 200 years after the Oblivion crisis where the “Hero of Kvatch” and Martin Septim stopped the daedric prince Meruhnes Dagon from invading Tamriel. With the events, the fourth era of the Empire started. The game begins on a carriage where a group of Nord rebels called the “Stormcloaks” are fighting to stop the imperial dominance over the province of Skyrim and they get captured. The carriage is transporting the rebels to the small southern town of Helgen to be executed but just as the player character’s head is about to be chopped up, a gigantic black dragon attacks and destroys the town, killing almost everyone. 

At that moment the adventure itself starts. The player character learns that the dragons, which were thought to be just legends, are coming back to life and they are under the rule of Alduin. The player, which carries the title of “Dragonborn” also learns that he comes from dragon heritage which allows him to easily perform shouts and understand the language of the great reptilian beasts. 

Just like in Morrowind and Oblivion before it, the players in Skyrim can choose to ignore the Main Quest completely, and if they decide to finish it (which can be done in several different ways), the game will just continue allowing the Dragonborn to keep traveling and adventuring. The province of Skyrim is really big, much bigger than Morrowind and Cyrodill from the two previous games. The environments are mostly mountains with snow and cold plains which resemble the nature of the landscapes of countries like Norway, Sweden, Iceland and the like. 

There are nine main cities in the game, each the capital of a hold inside the province. Each one has its own “Jarl” or governor who rules and administers everything inside his/her territory. The holds are full of Nordic catacombs, caves, mountains, lakes, swamps, forests, plains and even steampunk ruins from an extinct eleventh race called the Dwemer (who were also important in Morrowind), who are unplayable of course. Each of the locations can be freely explored, they all have a set layout, quests and creatures both friendly and enemies.

Graphically, the game is a huge step forwards compared to Oblivion and other similar titles like for example, Fallout 3 and New Vegas. The details on the textures, lighting, antialiasing, colors and animations are all very good. But, like all Elder Scrolls games before it, there are many minor errors in parts of the visuals. Fortunately, these small mistakes do not really hinder the gameplay at all and when seeing and understanding the size of the game and everything it tries to successfully do at the same time, it becomes clear that the visuals won’t be perfect. Still, Skyrim is definitely one of the most beautiful games out there.

Another big improvement is the characters’ faces which were mediocre at best in Oblivion and Morrowind. Now they feel more realistic and each race successfully stands out. In the previous games, the High and Wood Elves almost looked the same, just like most of the human races, while the Argonian and Khajiit were awkward and their faces were not well animated. Now the two beast races look incredible and it’s really hard not to stop running and look at one when encountered somewhere in the game. 

When creating a character, most of the aspects in their faces can be modified completely. The nose, mouth, eyes, ears, hairstyle, color of the hair and skin can be tuned until they look exactly how each player wants them to.  And when playing the game itself, it becomes easy to notice that the animations were improved as well. Now they move really naturally no matter what they’re doing. If they’re just walking, fighting, casting spells or smithing a new weapon, they will look as if they were real. Sometimes, minor bugs will happen but just like with the graphics, they aren’t very common and they don’t hinder gameplay at all.

Skyrim can be played in first-person or third-person perspective. Each one is very cool and looks beautiful. When playing in first person, the players will look at the Dragonborn’s hands while swinging melee weapons, shooting a bow, casting different spells and things like that and when playing in third person, the animations for jumping, running, walking and strafing can be fully seen. There are some things that should have been represented by an animation like when the character drinks a potion or eats some food. Instead, if a player makes the Dragonborn drink a potion, all that will happen is that a “magic” effect will envelop the character for a second or two.

In gameplay, Skyrim maintains the same basis from Morrowind and Oblivion but many changes were made that both improved the gameplay and simplified the role-playing system that was so iconic to The Elder Scrolls. Starting with the good things, no race is prohibited from doing anything. In the previous games, a High Elf warrior or an Orc wizard were highly unlikely to be achieved but in Skyrim, it can be done and while High Elves still lean towards magic and Orcs towards melee fighting, there isn’t anything stopping anyone from playing the race they want the way they want.

Melee fighting is pretty much the same as in Oblivion. There are daggers, swords, axes and maces both one-handed and two handed and damage can be dealt with them using normal blows or power blows which consume stamina (the old fatigue bar). There is no difference between using a mace or a dagger this time, because they will level up either the one-handed skill or the two-handed one. That feels a bit awkward since it doesn’t make sense to level up using swords the entire game and being able to deal full damage with a mace if a player decided to pick one up at a higher level. Archery is also the same as in Oblivion, the old and very cool crossbows, throwing knives and shurikens from Morrowind are still gone. But there are many different bows and arrows to pick up and like in Oblivion; they can be poisoned to deal extra damage with each hit.

Magic saw a HUGE improvement in Skyrim. While the Mysticism school is gone, its spells are now part of another one. Telekinesis and Detect Life are now in Alteration while Soul Trap is now in Conjuration. Most of the spells now have different animations, unlike in Oblivion where a level 1 fireball and a level 50 one looked exactly the same. Now there are cool factors like area-of-effect damage and conjuring traps which can be fully enjoyed especially with the Destruction school that allows using flames, frost and thunderbolts to damage enemies and Illusion one that calms opponents, makes them run away from battle in fear or makes people and creatures fight each other while the mage responsible simply watches from a distance. 

The stealthy skills are still there and they’re pretty cool. Sneak allows moving undetected around places, Pickpocket makes players steal items from a distracted person and Lockpicking allows people to open locks to enter a closed house at night or steal the contents of a chest or drawer. Playing with stealth makes the Dragonborn deal extra damage with fewer hits from a melee weapon or arrow and if played correctly it can make the player character clear out an entire dungeon without any enemy ever knowing he/she was there to begin with.

The most common enemies are of course people and wild animals like wolves, bears and tigers but for the first time in the series, the players are able to fight dragons. They can be seen from a considerable distance to allow players to avoid a confrontation with them if they want to since they’re the most dangerous enemies in the game. But occasionally, one (or two) will find their way to the Dragonborn’s location and launch an attack. It’s pretty awesome when this happens inside one of the nine mayor cities or a small town because the guards and townsfolk will also charge at the huge creature. Sometimes even the shopkeepers (who never carry weapons) will fight them with their bare hands and that’s definitely a beautiful sight to see.

A few negative changes were made to the gameplay. For example, the stat system is gone, which means that there’s no longer a value for Strength, Intelligence or Endurance. Now, only the skill values remain for things like Sneak, Illusion or One-Handed Weapons.  Each time one of the skills is raised a number, a small part of a level-up bar will be filled, and when complete, the Dragonborn is ready to go up a level. This allows the player to give an extra 10 points to Health, Magicka or Stamina (Fatigue), so the character gets and extra amount of the thing he/she uses the most. 

This is usually considered negative because if for example, a player creates a Khajiit with stealth gameplay in mind and he happens to dislike that style when the Khajiit is level 8-10, he can completely switch to magic or melee without anything stopping him. In Morrowind and Oblivion, each character had a set number of stat preferences, major skills and minor ones that when used determined if the character leveled up or not. So, if a High Elf in Morrowind didn’t have “Long Blade” in his major or minor skills but the player using him suddenly decided to start killing things with a sword, the elf would NEVER level up from doing that because he was not created for it. Still, this can be considered a very subjective thing to criticize since the RPG-system in Skyrim is much easier to deal with and allows the casual audience to easily understand how the game works and be successful at it. But the hardcore players used to how Morrowind and Oblivion worked will be a little troubled by how easy leveling up is in Skyrim. But those things are a matter of personal preference for each player.

Skyrim also has an awesome system of perks that allows for better enjoyment of each skill. Each time the Dragonborn levels up, he/she is able to choose one perk for a set skill. So he/she can choose to deal an extra 20% damage with two-handed weapons, a 50% less magicka cost for expert-level Destruction spells, make triple damage with a sneak attack with bows, the ability to create more powerful poisons with alchemy and things like that. It is recommended that each player knows which perks are available and chooses carefully depending on how their character is supposed to play in each skill because once they’re bought, they can’t be deleted.  The activated perks when in higher levels is what makes each character stand out because there are so many (more than 200) that each player will have a completely different character, even if they chose the same race and gameplay style.

The different factions are still in the game and they’re all awesome. The Mages Guild and Fighters Guild are gone but in their place, Skyrim has the Companions, a group of warriors from all races that work solving problems for the people of the land and clearing out bandits and thieves and the College of Winterhold, a big castle in one of the cities where the mages reside to study spells and their origins. The Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood are still there and their own storylines are excellent, especially the Dark Brotherhood’s one. Besides those four, the Dragonborn can chose to join either the Stormcloaks or the Imperial Legion in the civil war happening in the province. But unlike with the guild and the brotherhood, once a player joins either side, the other becomes the enemy. So it is impossible to finish both of the civil war questlines with a single character.

In the sound department, Skyrim is an excellent game as well. The entire world is filled with literally hundreds and hundreds of sound effects for everything. The wind, objects falling to the ground, spells, weapons hitting things, water flowing in a river of waterfall, etc. The combination of great sound effects make the entire game feel very real and together with a superb voice-acting, it makes the world of Tamriel come to life in a better way than ever. Everything is voiced and each quest is described and narrated from beginning to end by the participants in an excellent way. All the player needs to read are the hundreds of different books that complement the Elder Scrolls universe but the quests themselves are all voiced. 

After spending a few hours in the game and especially when interacting with the townsfolk in the cities, it will become easy to notice that many of the lines are repeated by different characters, so for example, every time you decide to purchase a spell, the vendors will usually say “So you wish to master the arcane arts!” and when noticing many characters saying the same line, the whole thing becomes awkward but hilarious.

The music, composed by Jeremy Soule, is simply beautiful, a fully orchestrated set of songs about 4 hours long which resemble music similar to Morrowind and Oblivion and even movies like The Lord of the Rings and TV series like Game of Thrones. The soundtrack in the game makes a perfect job of complementing the medieval feeling and environment The Elder Scrolls is supposed to have. The main theme of the game, which is awesome, is sung by around 90 people and the lyrics are in the dragon language invented for the game. 

In short, The Elder Scroll V: Skyrim is without a doubt one of the best and most beautiful games of this generation. Being a single-player RPG, it manages to keep the gameplay possibilities endless. The main story, six factions and hundreds of quests in the game allow for around 120 hours of gameplay with a single character. The role-playing system, while simplified for the casual market, is still very deep and requires to be studied to successfully create the character each player wants.

The graphics are excellent, especially in the landscapes and characters themselves. It has a great soundtrack and voice acting and the combat is really fun no matter what style each player prefers. Skyrim is a must-have title for everyone out there with a PC, Xbox 360 or PS3. Bethesda has done a great job again with the series. 


Pros:
- Endless possibilities when creating a character.
- Hundreds of quests to finish, many of them in different ways.
- The Main Story and Dark Brotherhood’s questlines are awesome.
- Magic gameplay is hugely improved.
- The faces are very realistic and well-made.
- A huge territory to explore with hundreds of locations.


Cons:
- Stat system is extremely simplified.
- Some minor bugs and crashes here and there.
- Guards still unexplainably find out about your crimes.



- Graphics and Visuals………..10
- Music and Sound Effects…...10
- Gameplay……………………9
- Replay Value………………..10

- Overall Score……………….. 9.8 / 10

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