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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

Steve Butts | 10 Nov 2011 12:01
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Reviewing a game like Skyrim is a bit like reviewing an entire grocery store on the strength of a single orange. The whole game is so vast and so detailed that the context for your experience could be drastically different from mine. The best you can do is extrapolate from an admittedly limited perspective, reasoning that, if the oranges are good, then the carrots and Cokes and canned soups must be good too. Having spent the last two weeks slaying dragons, sabotaging political factions, and stirring potions in the snowy land of Skyrim, I can definitely say two things. First, I love this game. Second, you will too.

The first important observation to make about Skyrim is that it is definitely an Elder Scrolls game. It's hugely ambitious in scope, wonderfully open in terms of player choices, and strangely packed with several franchise-defining features that seem out of step with most modern roleplaying games. If you can look past its flaws, Skyrim is epic in the truest sense of the word - long, poetic, heroic, and full of fire and blood. I've promised myself not to spoil any of the main plot details in the review, but I will say that Skyrim does have all the intrigue and gallantry, and all the magic swords and dragons you'd want in a fantasy adventure on this scale.

The best thing about Skyrim, and the whole Elder Scrolls series, is the freedom to choose how you want to play and what you want to do. Rather than relying on set character classes and pre-set archetypes, Skyrim makes you choose a race, and then starts your character as a blank slate. Your character then develops based on how you choose to play. If you focus on swinging swords, your character will get better at swinging swords. If you prefer to sneak around, or use spells, your character will get better at those tasks instead. The great thing is that developing one ability doesn't limit your chances to develop another.

There are also perks you buy each time you level up, which help motivate you to keep improving and defining your character. My character, for instance, might choose to make his fire spells consume less mana, or develop a high powered sword strike that does extra damage. These refinements are a great method to make your character feel even more unique and personal. When you take a character you've built through how you play and the perks you've chosen into combat, your level of tactical engagement is high. Have you pushed down a single branch, trusting in your two-handed battleaxe or lightning bolts to win the day? Or have you generalized, hoping that a wide range of abilities is better than only being good at one thing?

The freedom of choice is also present in the setting and story. There is a main plot in Skyrim but the overall world is open for you to explore in whatever way you want. Do you want to aid rebels against the reigning political power? Or would you rather climb to through the ranks of the Imperial Legion or College of Magic? You can even link up with Skyrim's criminal elements if they'll have you. Along the way you could become a vampire, either intentionally or not, or discover some ancient power hidden for generations. Or you might just pick up a sword and start murdering townspeople. The game reacts to those choices and presents unexpected opportunities all the time.

Let me give you just one example. I was creeping up to take on a group of enemy mages living beneath a shattered watchtower. As I climbed the hill leading to the tower, I noticed a passing dragon had discovered the guards posted outside and decided he wanted to eat them. He was making low passes over the scattered stones of the watchtower, and the mages were flinging fire bolts at him as fast as they could. I decided to take advantage of the situation by letting them weaken each other before creeping in and finishing them both off. Unfortunately, I moved in too soon and found myself in a three way fight between a handful of enemy wizards and one seriously pissed off dragon.

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