The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim Delivers Despite the Flaws
One of my most anticipated games of for most of last year - simply because Oblivion (despite its faults) was one of the largest and fun open-world games I had played. Skyrim continues that trend and, while there are still flaws, I didn't find it nearly as broken as what others have reported and in the end (nearly 200 hours later) it is just as engrossing, sprawling and fun - with some improvements that make it even better.
Presentation: There was footage being thrown about left and right before the game came out. But from what PC, Xbox 360, PS3? A lot of people have complained that the PS3 version suffers the most as it just can't keep up with game. I admit, like Borderlands, sometimes it does take the game a bit to render everything and certain things appear blurry before it catches up, but overall, the game looks as fantastic as I was expecting. The level of detail that goes into not just the environment, but to the weapons, armor, and yes, even the characters look a whole lot better compared to Oblivion. I am not a graphics whore - I'm sure that the PC and probably even the Xbox 360 version handle things better, but from what I played, the game looked stunning.
Story: Probably the biggest complaint out of Oblivion was that the story was a bit lacking. Skyrim does it's best to give you an overall story arch while still allowing you the freedom to do the many, many, MANY, sidequests (should you choose). There are actually two "main" story lines - the unexpected return of dragons and the civil war between the Nords and Imperials. Both of these story lines can be tied into each other - you can actually broker a peace between the two sides as part of the dragon line quest if you choose. Me? I went with the Nords all the way and wiped out the snooty Imperials and their unwelcome rule (despite the fact I played as a Redguard). The dragon quest is much more interesting, however. As the game opens and you're about to be executed, in sweeps a massive dragon who then lays waste to the town, allowing you to escape. You soon realize you have the ability to "Shout" - shouting is actually speaking in the dragon's tongue - not just that but you are the dragonborn - and can absorb the souls of dragons and use that to unlock these abilities. Alduin - the main dragon and actually an aspect of the gods, has grown drunk off his own power and has for some reason chosen this time to return.
There is also plenty to do outside the main story line: you have the Thieves guild, the Dark Brotherhood, the Mages College and the Companions (taking the place of the fighter's guild). I'm sure, like Oblivion, you should just choose one path and go with it, but I did each one, and it gives you plenty of extra content. Both the Thieves and Dark Brotherhood have fallen on hard times and you must work to regain their power. The Companions harbor a secret (hint: think full moon and getting hairy) while the Mages College deals with an artifact of unimaginable power. Not only that, but you also have the various Daedric quests (doing the bidding of various "evil" gods for their respective weapon/armor rewards) and then you have the random tasks to do for each of the realms of Skyrim not to mention uncovering Words of Power or tracking down Dragon Priest for their pretty masks. If you want content, you've got it.
Gameplay: While as first glance it would appear that not a lot has changed between Oblivion and Skyrim, dig a bit deeper and you'll uncover a wealth of new mechanics and streamlined upgrading that I think makes Skyrim much easier to handle. One big change is the ability to dual wield - you can stick with the standard shield/sword or duel wield two swords or go magic/sword or duel wield magic to create a massive spell. You also have the standard bow or two-handed weapon as well. This makes it much easier to have balanced character who isn't just raw strength or magic (unless you want to play it that way). I mostly switched between bow and shield/sword combo. Early on I used some magic, but as the game progressed, I put less and less into magic and more into weapons. By the end, even the final boss was pretty cake to get through.
The leveling system is also improved. You still level up your character by earning points in various ways - fighting with a sword improves your one-handed skill, using a bow the bow skill, each school of magic increases that skill. Speech, sneak, pickpocketing, lockpicking, smithing, enchanting, alchemy (potion making) - each has a set of skills. However, once you level up, you can choose which of those skills is most important to you. For me, I focused on Heavy Armor, One-Handed and Bows, with Smithing and Enchanting secondary. I ignored most of the magic, threw a little into Speech, Lockpicking and Pickpocketing. Since I rarely used light armor or two-handed weapons, I passed those over. It gives you more control over the way your character is shaped. As you level up, it takes more skills to reach the next level. When you find someone willing to train you - if you can spare the gold, do so. There are also many skill books scattered all over the world that are likewise helpful and some quests also earn you skill points. All I can say is choose wisely - unlike Oblivion, if you choose to just smith and enchant and sneak all day - a mudcrab won't suddenly take you out in one hit. Still, choosing the right perks makes the game a whole lot easier.
So, how about those bugs? This game is not perfect. It did freeze on me on occasion, though not nearly as much as either Fallout game or Oblivion. In fact, I think only about five times - and I never lost any major progress thanks to the auto-save feature (and my own paranoia). I didn't encounter any game-breaking bugs, though after one of the patches when through jumping into water broke the game, and I did have to delete and reinstall the data to fix that. Otherwise, the most hilarious bug I found was the random farmer outside of one of the cities who just started to clone himself. At first it was him. Then it was him and another copy of him halfway in the ground. Then two of him and the half-man. When I did one of the final civil war quests that had me attack the town he was outside of, there were literally six copies of him milling about (plus the guy in the ground). Luckily he wasn't an important character. I didn't encounter any backwards flying dragons, no crippling frame rate slow downs, no unfixable glitches that broke the entire game - maybe I was lucky, I don't know, but I really had very little trouble during the game.
Overall: This should easily be a candidate for game-of-the-year. I won't fault those holding out for the "Special" edition with all the DLC included (which hasn't even been released as of this review) - if that's your prerogative, so be it. In the end, I got more than my money's worth out of this game and, I'm happy to say, it's one of the few games I'm proud to say I got the Platinum trophy for (mainly because you can get it in one gameplay and don't have to go back on "Impossible" mode to unlock the last few). The game is truly epic - in scope, in sheer amount of content even its story feels fleshed out. If it wasn't for bugs, I would give it a perfect score, however, it falls just short though I can say without a doubt this a game you should play.
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5