As of right now, two weeks after the release of Bethesda’s latest Adventure RPG, I have successfully played Skyrim for a total of 52 hours. That’s between college and participating as a disaffected worker in a local pharmacy. I have a level 40 character and intend to rank up until I hit the level cap. I have been a fan of The Elder Scrolls series ever since I played Morrowind close to ten years ago. I love the fiction that Bethesda has created in the world of Tamrial (the continent) and the narrative that the player experiences which continues to expand with every addition to the series. Oblivion was a great game for its time, even with some pretty annoying designer decisions (oh, those Oblivion gates…). It seems that Bethesda has been working for close to twenty years to make Skyrim; it is the perfect Elder Scrolls game thus far and I am excited even now to see where they take the new engine from this point.
In the fashion of the last three Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim starts you off as a prisoner being brought into this strange land. In Morrowind you were on a prison ship that released you into the elven territory washed of your crimes. In Oblivion you were imprisoned in Cyrodiil’s capital until you aid in the Emperor’s proposed escape. Skyrim ups the ante with your character being led in a carriage to a town where you will be executed for crimes you are unaware of. Right as they put your head on the chopping block, a dragon appears and wreaks havoc on the tiny village. At this point, you make your escape into the open world of Skyrim where you are in total control of your destiny (to an extent). It turns out you are Dovahkin or dragon-born and you have the ability to absorb dragon souls. As Dovahkin you are destined to save Skyrim from the dragons and create unity. This is completely up to you though; no one said you had to save the world. That’s the beauty of Elder Scrolls.
Bethesda is responsible for the reemergence of the Fallout series with Fallout 3 and the Obsidian operated, Fallout New Vegas. Though I love those games, the style of gameplay as well as the engine was starting to show its age and they bordered on being archaic. I can assure you that Skyrim is an overhaul in graphics, design, and your interaction with the world. I personally own the Playstation 3 version of the game and even for a console, this game is absolutely beautiful. If I had an appropriate PC to play this on, I would, because the side by side comparison shots make me feel weak in the knees (just Google them). I don’t need to sell you on the look of the game though, just understand that the level of detail has increased exponentially (you have to see the snow effects) and Skyrim may have created a rubric in game design for budding companies.
The leveling up system has been completely revised in Skyrim. It has become streamlined and has changed the way you play these types of games forever. Let’s back it up a bit, in the previous installments; you were forced to pick a character that was predicated to a certain fighting style. After that you had to pick a class as well as what “sign” you were born under (the signs are constellations that give certain abilities a boost). This was rather frustrating because it forced you to play one character a certain way and not branch out to discover the rest of game. You only leveled up if you focused on certain abilities that were related to your class. If you didn’t like the way the magic worked, too bad, you had to start over as something else. Skyrim has successfully created a leveling up system that lets the player interact with world in any way they please.
You have all the areas of learning as before (Two-Handed, Light Armor, Speech, etc.) along with some new ones (Smithing anyone?), but instead of being forced to level up certain areas, you just “up” whatever you like or however you like to play the game. I started off in Heavy Armor but as time went by, I felt I would operate better in Light Armor, so I switched. There is no penalty in doing this and it actually makes for a more diverse character. If you level up in magic and blade fighting equally, you can switch how you play mid-combat. Of course as you gain a higher overall level, leveling up lower areas of learning is harder to improve because the enemies scale with your current level, but it’s not impossible to do. When your character does increase their overall level, you don’t dump arbitrary points into anything (Endurance, Athletics, Speech, etc.) like you did before. The system has been simplified making you choose to level up your Magic, Health, or Stamina by ten points with each level. As well as increasing one of those three areas, you are given one Perk point that you can use to increase an area of learning. So if you are focusing on One-Handed weapons, one of the Perks you can fill in is to do 20% more damage with one handed weapons. This makes for a rewarding leveling up process that increases your need to keep playing and earning perks.
The problem with the last installment to the series (Oblivion) is that many of the areas to explore looked very similar to one another, especially the dungeons. The designers have made sure that each area to explore is different enough to never get stale and they keep you guessing as to what is up ahead. Many of these dungeons have traps and puzzles, and while they are not always the smartest, they keep you on your toes. The Dunmer ruins are cities within ruins, I have never felt so overwhelmed by a dungeon before and there is a certain one that will take your breath away. The game feels diverse and it acts like a real world with people going about their business and awaiting to give you quests.
The game introduces some interesting themes, ones that are apparent within the first few minutes of the game. Skyrim takes place 200 years after Oblivion and we find the world on the brink of collapse. Everything from the Thieves Guild to the Mages Guild is falling apart and in need of a savior. The land of Skyrim is torn with political ideologies that have resulted in a civil war. The Imperials demand that Skyrim follow the rules of the emperor whiles the rebels (aka. The Stormcloaks) believe that Skyrim should remain free and be under private control. I bring this up because politics never move me within a game but I feel that the subtext speaks to our current state as a nation. Not the Imperial business directly, but I feel that we are becoming divided as a people. Also, Elves are hated in Skyrim and serve as the voice of the minority. Skyrim has gone on to create a deeper narrative than any of its predecessors with heavy political themes and consequences. This was more of an aside than part of the review, but I felt it needed some mentioning.
I haven’t even talked about the dragons, the quests, the giants, or any other number of things that make this game awesome. I feel that the leveling up system has changed the game (the game of video games that is) and made for an immersive experience that transcends anything before it. I can see this being the Game of the Year because it has radically changed the way we see video games. Skyrim is about the player interacting with the world and believe me, there is no shortage of things to do. At the end of the day, all you do is accept quests, complete them, and sell your loot, but it’s as fun as ever. This game will rule your holiday season and may keep you entertained years from now. I haven’t been this obsessed with a game for a long time and I really couldn’t be happier.