On the surface, Skyrim is an open world first person role playing game or third person with the press of a button. A FPS RPG so to speak. Skyrim and the Elder Scrolls as a series are games that let you do what you want, play how you want. If you want to be a big axed barbarian, a thief, an archer, a mage, a healer or any mixture of them, you can do it. If you just want to mess around and shout goats off of cliffs, go for it. You’ll be able to select a race, each with its own look and perks. You can even be a lizard Argonian or a cat Khajit. Whatever floats your boat. You’ll even be able to turn into a vampire and werewolf. The NPCs are a lot more diverse with facial hair, body sizes and so on, its a good step forward to bring Elder Scrolls to what other games have had for a decade. The game offers nice diverse gameplay for any style, you can stealth around, avoid combat completely or just run in swords blazing! The game has excellent killing animations that are new to Skyrim. You can sink hours, days, months into this game and even if you were to run out of things to do, mods would still provide a lot more content.
So what’s the story? Dragons are back and only you can save Skyrim after one of them levels a town. The story is unimportant. Its basically the same story from Oblivion…. portals pop up and destroy a town. You are Dovakin and gain the ability to shout. What is shouting? Its like magic with a button of its own. Its really nice having a quick magic button. Much better than the former way of having to call upon a spell. Now in Skyrim the game, you can equip each hand with weapons, shields or spells. So dual weilding magic or weapons if you want or a big weapon in both hands. It makes for something fresh and new healing in one hand, fire spelling in the other all while shouting to stun your enemies. The combat feels a lot better and less generic than before. The spells are a lot more fun to use with good visual effects.
The dragons are notably awesome. They fly around burning down villages, mercilessly killing everything and they’ll follow you. You’ll see them burn down towns, not because its scripted, but because that’s what the AI is programmed to do. You’ll see villagers pull out daggers, clear out of houses all to fight these dragons. Once a NPC is dead, they’re dead. So if it was your favorite shopkeeper, they’re gone. Sure there are spells to make them return as a zombie and fight for you, but the game is forever or at least until you console hack. You’ll be able to fail quests if NPCs die and you don’t get that quest back.
The AI and its interaction has always been interesting in the Elder Scrolls series. You’ll see guards defend towns against attacks. You’ll see bandits attacking people. Now in Skyrim you’ll see wolves hunting lesser animals like goats, chickens and foxes. It makes the game feel alive and you can use that AI to your advantage. Since nothing is scripted, its all your experience. You can talk about how you were saved by a ranger on a horse or how you baited a strong bear to a group of hunters that killed it.
The game has an abundance of dungeons and each one feels like a healthy chunk of gameplay, especially for explorers. The Elder Scrolls series has come a long way since Morrowind. The prefab dungeons that all look alike are gone. Every location looks beautiful, dungeons, exteriors, vistas, and they somehow even made the sewers diverse, gorgeous and rich with color, style and interest. There are plenty of monsters and seeing giant spiders is just nightmarish. Even playing all of the horror games I do, no other game has made me as squeamish. Enemies have random levels, random loot, weapons and armor so you’re never really fighting the same enemy twice. The cave entrances are a lot more realistic and actual caves rather than doors. While that’s not exactly important, the game is really all about the look. That seems to be the big takeaway that I get from this game.
For those that don’t like deep dungeon delving, other than the first dungeon, you don’t ever have to enter another dungeon. You can hang out in cities, exploring the wilderness, hunting, thieving from people, murdering everyone, running from guards, mixing potions from ingredients, doing quests, making spells and a beautiful new system to make armors and improve weapons. It feels much better and realistic than the old method of using hammers generically. Now you need to find a blacksmith, use his forge and grindstone. Enchanting and alchemy are similar processes, you can’t just do them on the go, you need to find an alchemist and enchanting table. It makes sense and it doesn’t seem like a step back from what it was, it just feels more realistic. You’ll also be able to mine for ore and chop wood for gold.
The game has a healthy length, more than most games and that’s even when you use the game’s fast travel system. Exploring is a lot of the fun though and you can’t just fast travel to a new location, you need to find it and there is something around every corner. On your way to ancient ruins, you can climb a mountain, find a bandit hideout and do everything but actually reach those ancient ruins.
Skyrim is a cold wintery place inhabited by mostly nords. It is very reminiscent of viking culture and that’s a good thing. It makes the game feel far different than Oblivion and Morrowind.
New to the series is a breakaway from typical direct face to face dialog. Instead you’ll be able to talk to people as the world around you still lives. There is a new minimalistic menu instead of a giant text box at the bottom of the screen. It is all designed to look like a photograph and not break immersion. Everything is fully voiced and masterfully voiced, but the only catch is there are only a few voice actors for thousands of lines of dialog. Speaking with someone is a typical dialog tree, and this game, more than the previous games make me feel like this game matters with the things you say to people when given a choice.
Like all open world games and previous games in the series, there are bugs and flaws. NPCs have a daily cycle and you’ll see them disappear in front of doors as they enter. The animation is pretty awful and stiff fro the NPCs, watching them run, turn, then run some more is painful to watch. You can easily knock clutter around, but not nearly as easily as Dead Space. None of this is a game breaker. These are small prices to pay for a game so good and it never really breaks the immersion as much as I make it sound.
Since the game has been out so long, its been on Steam sale several times, along with the Legendary Edition that comes with all of the official DLC. The game also makes full use of Steam’s workshop to easily add mods and keep them updated. This is an amazing game, if not the best of its console generation.