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Jeremy Jastrzab
24 Nov, 2011

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

360 Review | Once you go in, you're not coming out for a while...
While generating massive critical praise, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was a polarising title whose nuances could either enthral or infuriate, while it also acted as a technological pioneer for the modern generation. More than five and a half years and a Fallout revival later, Bethesda returns with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, in what is just about their most significant gaming achievement yet. Skyrim stands as the flagship title for Western RPGs, sandbox gameplay and for consequence of choice in gaming.

While none of the Elder Scrolls titles are actually sequels or directly connected, they’re all set in the land of Tamriel. The subtitle for the fifth game in the series represents the region, Skyrim. At its core, Skyrim is set 200 years after Oblivion and places the player as the last ‘Dragonborn’. The player must then straddle their destiny of saving the land from the prophesised destruction at the hands of the Nordic Dragon-God, Alduin, and a civil war being fought between the Imperials and the Stormcloak rebellion formed by the Nord race. While the story and setting are great for not imposing a prerequisite for playing the previous games, long time fans will get their jollies through inexhaustible lore and countless story and world references.

A very daunting welcoming committee.

A very daunting welcoming committee.
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Critique of the story for Skyrim is really secondary though, as it is the very definition of freeform gaming. The story itself isn’t all that long, but the Elder Scrolls defines itself with everything else that’s in between. Skyrim is more than a playground; it’s an entire new world filled with quests, tasks, distractions, details, secrets and an abundance of discoveries. However, the hallmarks of Skyrim would have to be the surprisingly astute mixture of the openness seen in Morrowind, the ability to play as you want, while still being a title open to new comers, particularly console players. While this generation has seen the rise of accessibility, in both positive and negative lights, Skyrim highlights just how good it can be when a proper balance is struck. PC players will also have several mod tools at their disposal, to go completely nuts with the game.

Built on a completely new engine, the Creation Engine, Skyrim is one of the most visually stunning titles ever released, while Skyrim itself is a beautifully diverse world to explore. The new engine allows for a host of dynamic weather effects, increased area to explore and a very noticeable upgrade over its predecessor. From seeing the highest mountain in the distance, to observing a butterfly float by, or even watching your magic spell shoot out of your hand (like a plasmid in Bioshock) it’s rare that a game allows you to see and feel as deeply as this. You can even sit around and enjoy the sunset if you want (and it's a pretty good one, on a clear day). The ‘lucky’ players will get through with barely a hitch (though often the hitches can make for a good laugh) and be shown that this probably what Oblivion should have looked like.

A title of this size, scale and magnitude is bound to have a few glitches and aspects such as animation not always in sync. These may distract enough to prevent the game from being held in irrefutable awe, but none is going to mistake this for anything than an Elder Scrolls title; that is the strength of the game’s artistic merit. The score for Skyrim succeeds in evoking the highest levels of aural stimulation, while perfectly befitting the fantasy setting. Whether it’s crossing the vast fields, or raiding a bandit encampment, you’ll have a suitable score to take you through. In true Bethesda form, you’ll have your share of decent to comical range of voice actors, but along with all that is good and the graphical idiosyncrasies, they all come together to add a unique level of charm.

Wolf season...

Wolf season...
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Now aside from adding dragons - which elevate the game to all different kinds of awesome by default - there are a lot of additions, changes and improvements made over the previous titles that manage to retain and enhance the sense of openness, while also making the title more accessible. This review is only going to sample a few of these things, as a massive pleasure from Skyrim is the scope of discovery. Up front, you choose your race/class and apply the token set of customising options to get them looking as good (or as bad) as you want them. These options seem a little basic in comparison to recent offerings, but you won’t get bored with what’s there.

Crucially, just like Deus Ex: Human Revolution did earlier this year, your race or preferred style of play will not be punished by making certain acts unachievable later on. Just like Deus Ex, there is no one way to achieving the goal you set out for. Sure, each race will start you off with different areas of advantage and disadvantage, but the new skill development and perk systems make up for this. Skills increase as you use them, literally, but not when you’re aimlessly swinging your sword or nonchalantly spewing magic from your hand. So weapon and magic skills will increase gradually while in combat, where as skills such as sneaking increase when used properly, or skills such as enchanting and smithing will increase as you use them, or even as you read about them.

The perk system is quite well handled too, as it gives you reason to start picking skills to concentrate on, rather than try and pass off as a jack-of-all-trades. Navigating the skills and perk system has been innovatively handled as well, as console players will be treated to what is probably the most accessible RPG menu ever seen. Now it might seem strange to harp on about a menu, but when you’re spending as much time as you are in RPGs, it’s a pretty important part of the game. While the ‘interactive’ menu from Fable III was too ambitious, Skyrim gets it right with a smooth, unobtrusive, minimalist yet informative and robust presentation. Aside from there being nowhere to keep records of what you read, there is a good chance that every other game will seem clunky and dysfunctional afterwards.

Come at me, bro!

Come at me, bro!
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Players brought up in the hand-holding era of caffeine-induced set plays and choreographed explosions might not know what to do with themselves with the vast open fields and multiple quest paths of Skyrim. Furthermore, the actual play in the game could be seen as pretty mundane. After all, your core actions are pretty basic, what with the simple trigger movements and actions. However, it’s the content and sense of discovery that move things forward, as these core actions are enhanced by the sheer number of possibilities of what can be done within the actions, but all done within reasonable limits. Even actions such as cooking, smithing, enchanting and potion making all seem daunting at first, but are simple enough once learned and open a huge amount of possibilities, if the player is willing to explore them.

The world of Skyrim isn’t just for show, as you’ll have a number of crucial decisions to make throughout. And these decisions are really devious and consequential; nothing that’s just black and white, and nothing that adds a plus or minus to an arbitrary meter. Even something as simple as stealing for a shop owner could have a contract placed on your head, while your decision in what seems like a minor side or miscellaneous quest could have significant political implications later on. Furthermore, the game isn’t short of things to do. Even as you head towards the latest story quest, seemingly random events such as innocents looking for help, bandits looking for a sucker or a fire breathing dragon will appear, as will quests that take you to corners of Skyrim and show you events you didn’t think were possible. As players will have seen by now, you can put an hour count anywhere between 25 to over 100, but suffice to say, if you’re aiming to clock the game as quick as you can, you’re doing it wrong.

I JUST WANTED A HUG!

I JUST WANTED A HUG!
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With all said and told, Skyrim is just about the epitome of Western RPGs and sandbox gameplay. The famed series glitches will get everyone in some way or another, but for all their charm, some unlucky ones will suffer from a few game breakers. It might only drop the player back a save or two, but it’s still an undesirable facet of the game. Occasionally, the game can come off as clumsy, be it with an accidental death through inconsistent path finding or ill-timed combat manoeuvres, an accidental knock to a group of friendlies that will set an army on you, or the inane behaviour of friendly AI meant to help you. Otherwise, for all the freedom you have in Skyrim, one thing that doesn’t do quite as well as, for example, Fallout 3, is do enough to make the world relatable and one that you’d care about. That’s not to say it’s disinteresting or likely to bore you. It’s just not as compelling is it probably could have been, given the fantasy setting.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, as a game, can be very easily picked apart. But you don’t go through Skyrim the game. You go through Skyrim the experience. And as a title that allows you to go, see and do everything at your own pace, as you want to, it’s pretty much the epitome of the sandbox play and Western RPGs. Furthermore, it’s manages to robustly straddle the line between a core and accessible experience, making sure that no one is left out from either challenging themselves to conqueror another part of Tamriel, or exploring the glorious fields for the first time. This was the title that Oblivion set to be, and it’s great to see that Bethesda finally got it right. But probably the biggest compliment to the game is that regardless of how many hours you spend in Skyrim, it’s very hard to shake the feeling that there is still more to experience...
The Score
Just about the finest example of core, yet accessible, Western RPG and open-ended gameplay. In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Bethesda have realised the game they wanted to make since the inception of HD gaming.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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17 Comments
2 years ago
Great review, gotta agree with you on the fact that it would be easy to sit there and rip apart the game on the minute details. But it's kind of missing the point. That said though the save file frame rate glitch for the ps3 version is kind of unforgiveable.

I mean I get glitches are going to happen and to expect a game to be glitch free is a little bit absurd, but a glitch that leaves the game basically unplayable is just fucked.
2 years ago
Good review. Some may be interested to know the differences and issues between the different platforms; it would have been nice to have a paragraph dedicated to that.
2 years ago
The menus may be great on the 360 but on the PC it is obvious that no effort was put into it.
2 years ago
I was experiencing frequent menu lags until i deleted alot of stuff off my 360 hard drive. since then the game has been working well. but i have ruined a few missions by killing the boss before i started a quest. A top game though icon_smile.gif
2 years ago
Great review. I get lost in this game for hours and loving every single minute of it. Best game of the year
2 years ago
Cyph wrote
Good review. Some may be interested to know the differences and issues between the different platforms; it would have been nice to have a paragraph dedicated to that.
My 360 runs this game very well. I do have a recent slim model. Not sure if that helpes but frame rate and detail is very good. Also had no game freezes.

I doubt the upcoming patches will make things much different. For the 2 consoles comparison, 360 is better for this game IMO.
2 years ago
I've bought Skyrim on the PC and I'm rather disappointed with the quality. Heavily 'console-ized' with poor menu's and controls. For a AAA title, Ridiculous. Games like this shouldn't cost so much to play on PC because its not a PC game. It's a 360 game emulated on the PC.

Good work on the 'Experience though' there's nothing quite like skyrim. Hopefully elder scrolls 6 wont look like vomit and require heavy modding to look passable.
2 years ago
@Bigboss
I know it isn't ideal but playing with a 360 pad on PC makes the experience much more enjoyable. I don't really need the precision of a mouse for the game so lounging back with a pad works well. That said interface mods should be out soonish. As always, TES modders outdo Bethesda!

As to the game looking like vomit... I think the artistic direction transcends the relatively low res texture work. Much nicer than Oblivion and for some reason I just can't shake flashbacks to LOTR The Two Towers. All that tundra just looks like it needs some Rohirrim.
2 years ago
BigBoss wrote
I've bought Skyrim on the PC and I'm rather disappointed with the quality. Heavily 'console-ized' with poor menu's and controls. For a AAA title, Ridiculous. Games like this shouldn't cost so much to play on PC because its not a PC game. It's a 360 game emulated on the PC.

Good work on the 'Experience though' there's nothing quite like skyrim. Hopefully elder scrolls 6 wont look like vomit and require heavy modding to look passable.
You're going to need to mod and tweak it to no ends but when you do, it will look like a proper PC game. There are some interface mods but yeh, in general, it sucks.
2 years ago
Yeh i opted to use a 360 pad to play, just makes it easier. But i just think that its sad that it comes to that.

Got a heap of mods and textures installed, theres a nice texture and mod packs on piratebay that a user put together.

TES modders for the win, they did in 2 days what a major production company like Bethesda won't do cause "it's to hard"
2 years ago
I'm a big fan of the water textures. I play crysis just to stand in the waterfalls icon_razz.gif
2 years ago
BigBoss wrote
TES modders for the win, they did in 2 days what a major production company like Bethesda won't do cause "it's to hard"
Or because they don't have the budget to devote doing texture packs for the pc crowd when they're probably in the minority of people playing and then the minority of them again who would actually care about it, where as the modders work for free?

But no no, keep assuming that when a development company doesn't do exactly what you want it's cause they're lazy slackers.
I mean why let rationality get in the way?
2 years ago
To be honest, I was still quite impressed with Skyrim's overall image quality without mods. Yeah it can be better but I kinda play games to play a game, not gawk at technical stuff and call it a day.

And yeah I was expecting the mod community to do all the cool shit, in which they have considering how batshit insane my game looks now.
2 years ago
^ From a business perspective... you're right. But some of the textures issues are because they were made (too) low res for the console releases, higher quality textures could be made available out of the box for PC users.

But yeh, guaranteed they knew people would mod it so why bother.
2 years ago
Its a shame that PC got the raw end is all on launch, must be a Friday, or any other weekday or every other weekend.... icon_razz.gif
2 years ago
Haha sucked in! PC gets raw end with Skyrim!

Consoles: Forever-vanilla. Low level textures, lighting, draw distance and 30fps framerate. Can't easily take screenshots or record video to share awesome experiences. No fixing various glitches through the console.

PC: Menu that isn't ideal for a keyboard/mouse for a few days until some menu mods have been released.

wait... icon_sad.gif
2 years ago
also someone allready linked to menu mods in the skyrim thread in general gaming.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  11/11/2011 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Bethesda
Genre:
  RPG
Year Made:
  2011
Players:
  1

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