I’m more of a sci-fi man myself. I like bursts of fire to come from flame throwers and jolts of electricity to come out of shock rifles, not from the hand of a bearded mage. Nevertheless, I’m a sucker for a good story and a world I can sink into. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim provides both.
The many quest lines made available give the world both breadth and depth not found in other games. The story of Skyrim isn’t built solely on the civil war taking place between the Imperials and Stormcloaks, or even the main quest line, which has you slaying dragons. Its richness is built through the nine holds that comprise Skyrim, each with all sorts of societal and political issues that you’d expect when people live together.
Your journey starts in an Imperial carriage ride on its way to Helgen, where you are to be beheaded for a crime that is unbeknownst to you along with the executioners. Regardless, you were in the carriage with the other criminals so your head has to go. Among those about to die includes the leader of the rebellion, Ulfric Stormcloak, who just killed the High King of Skyrim. Because you weren’t on the list you are asked for your name, which then takes you to the character creation screen.
Picking a race is the only character-creation choice that has certain statistical advantages directly built in. Choosing to be the Khajiit will give you an additional bonus in sneaking and unarmed combat while the Imperial will find more gold when looting. Classes have been completely done away with. You simply are how you play.
For instance, using one-handed weapons will increase your One-Handed Skill. When your character levels up, the player is faced with the option to upgrade among Magicka, Health, or Stamina. Afterward, players can spend a point on one of the many perks found in each Skill tree. For example, Armsman, a perk in One-Handed, increases damage done by one-handed weapons by 20 percent.
The skill and perk system gives Skyrim a pick-up-and-play feel that isn’t found in most RPGs, while still harboring the complexity needed to satisfy the statistical-strategy nuts of the genre.
To get some of the loftier Perks, your corresponding Skill level must match the Perk’s requirement. This often forces the player into either spending the point on a Perk they don’t really need or waiting until their skill level breaks that threshold, unlocking the perk for purchase. A potion, allowing players to redistribute a certain percentage of perks, would have been a much welcome addition.
As your head is finally leaned over the chopping block a dragon plunks down on a tower and scatters everyone with a thunderous shout. You fade out then back in to see Helgen in disarray. While skirting around the ruins you’ll enter Helgen’s Keep and travel through its many chambers, dispatching enemies along the way before eventually escaping out to Skyrim.
At last, the world of Skyrim is completely made open to you. If you’re like me, you’ll roam around on foot for a bit, fending off attacks from the bears and wolves that will inevitably cross your path. Skyrim is a rather geographically diverse region, full of mountains and valleys. If you go straight from Helgen Keep to Riverwood you’ll follow a cobblestone road through a lush, green environment that’s brimming with trees and rock outcroppings. Go a little further up in elevation and you’ll notice the snow that eventually accumulates into a white, powdery sheet. Even further up the falling snow is so dense that you can only see a few feet in front of you.
Exploring will not only familiarize one with the world but also uncover small villages and ruins that don’t show up on your map. Once you’ve been to these locations you can fast travel there for the rest of the game. Fast traveling is certainly a useful tool if crunched for time, but it also deprives you of stumbling upon the occasional bandit camp or other crooks and crannies that can be found in Skyrim.
Once you’re ready to settle down, delving into the main quest soon opens up a new power found only in the fifth installment of the Elder Scrolls games: the Shout. Shouting; is a power that can be equipped, granting you special abilities such as knocking your opponents on their back or calling down a thunderstorm.
Shouts don’t use any of your magicka supply and thus have their own cool down rate. This is perfect for those wanting to play a more straight-forward warrior archetype as it gives them some powerful special abilities without having to invest time into the arcane arts. Be forewarned that some of your enemies will also have access to these abilities. The first time an enemy knocked my sword out of my hand sent fear into my soul.
Shouts are usually learned from the Word Walls you’ll encounter throughout your quests, but they can also be learned from other NPCs in Skyrim. Each shout is a sequence of three words with each word being learned individually. Using one word of a shout doesn’t unleash its full power, but instead leaves you with a shorter cool-down period in return. Knowing the words to a Shout is simply not enough. You’ll need a dragon soul to unlock them.
Shortly after slaying your first dragon you’ll notice something odd. You absorbed the dragon’s soul leading those around to call you Dragonborn. As Dragonborn, or Dovahkiin in dragon tongue, you have dragon blood coursing through your veins, allowing you to absorb dragon souls and learn shouts instantly. You’ll traverse the land of Skyrim, investigating why dragons are being resurrected and more importantly, how to stop them.
Most citizens of Tamriel acknowledge you as Dragonborn but seem rather unimpressed by your new-found status. This is a problem commonly found throughout the game. Most civilians are almost always aware of what’s going on, but sometimes lack the appropriate emotional response needed to make it seem authentic. Other times, they’re rather forgetful. One shopkeeper sold me his wares with a smile even though the day before, I smashed his prized vase to pieces in order to extort information out of him.
There are other issues that take you out of this enchanted-sinkhole of a world. As many expect, there are glitches galore in Skyrim, although the game crashing to my desktop has been the only thing to really taint my experience.
I once thought I was fighting some sort of arcane wolf because its pelt was shining bright blue. After looting it, only to find a regular wolf pelt, I noticed other objects such as the trees now had this blue hue. Mammoths will leap 50 feet into the air and enemies get caught on objects rather often giving you the easy kill.
Combat still feels rather empty. There isn’t any heft behind your attacks. You swing your weapon in what feels like the vacuum of space and hope to see your opponents health bar drain. At first, puzzles serve to break up some of the monotony of clearing out dungeons to find an artifact. Later on, you realize all puzzles are cut from the same cloth, making them nothing more than a speed bump.
Despite its shortcomings, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim puts on a dazzling spectacle, and you are left to your own devices to experience its wonder. There is always something left to do. You can kill dragons, get caught up in a civil war, or if you’re like me, travel to remote locations on foot while taking in all that is Skyrim.
- It’s more accessible.
- Leveling is simplified.
- The world that is Skyrim.
- Glitches are found anywhere and everywhere, although most are not a big deal.
- Combat still feels empty.
- The lack of enthusiasm and forgetfulness of Skyrim’s inhabitants.