Have you heard the call? The call of the Dovahkiin! Does that sound like gibberish? Then you, sir, have been living under a rock for the past year. Skyrim is Bethesda’s latest installment of The Elder Scrolls series, which was preceded by Oblivion. This new game involves a seemingly unimportant soul in the universe who, due to a bizarre set of coincidences, discovers he is of the Dovahkiin (Dragon Born).
Apart from a very Nordic-sounding name, the Dovahkiin steal dragons’ souls in order to power certain abilities, which would be messed up if it weren’t so bad-ass. These dragons have it coming, though, since they wreaking havoc across the land in a very destructive way. The people of Skyrim are not sorry to see these dragons vanquished.
Players start off as a nobody, who has been accused of being a rebel and is about to be executed like a common criminal. Then a dragon just happens to interrupt that ceremony with its anger. This type of escape from imprisonment has been a recurring theme in the Elder Scrolls series. For instance, Oblivion started you off escaping from a jail cell.
All of those rebel mates who were escaping the dragon attack are either killed off in the attack, or bid you adieu as soon as you reach the first signs of civilization. This fits very well into previous installments as well as the overall feel of the game, which inspires a feeling of loneliness. Thrust out into this semi magical world, what will you do with your life?
There is a storyline that you are supposed to follow in order to get the real purpose behind the game. But Skyrim, like all the other games in the series, tells you instead to “be yourself.” The first step to this is taking that unremarkable blob of a nobody and giving it a face! There are ten races in the game: Nords, three kinds of Elves, cat people (Khajiit), lizard people (Argonian), Orcs, and a slew of different human looking races. Each race has their own perks to being that race, so it’s best to choose wisely. The character I played was a High Elf, which offers an additional ten points to illusion magic, and five points for every other kind of magic.
Character customization has changed, but not in a dramatic way. Face shape can still be determined via each item of the face (such as noses, eyes). Skin tone is and has always been able to be customized in the game. What changed here is the ability to put a specific tone on a specific part of the face. Want your bottom half of your cheeks black, but the top part red? Done. There are less options for altering specific body part’s shapes then there were in the previous game, although the amount of customization here is still adequate. Hair styles for characters are still terrible, and it will be hard trying to find something that does not make your character look messy.
Finally, the Skyrim version of you is created, after you give yourself an appropriate name. Escaping the dragon is an easy task in the beginning of course, but actually fighting one is a more difficult process. The first time a dragon is fought in the game it’s scripted, and the player will be warned that it’s going to happen. Battle is essentially what you would expect a duel between dragon and human to be: difficult. It does get easier further into the game when magic and dragon shouts are obtained. Aside from the scripted dragon battles that garnish the story, there are also random encounter battles with these fierce creatures as well. Often, taking the scenic route to an unexplored destination can get players into more trouble than they intended on having.
Dragons can appear out of nowhere and attack the player if they piss it off. Dragons aren’t aggressive while flying overhead, but that can create a problem later in the game, because they can ignore attempts to get into fights with them. It’s downright frustrating that — when it’s most tempting to hunt these creatures down and vanquish them — they can remain oblivious for 30 minutes while you are shooting lightning and other elements at them. Dragons can be rude, that’s all I’m saying.
There are less exciting, but equally challenging, creatures that are also encountered in game. Trolls, for instance, are very powerful and very fast. They can be anywhere in the game, from mountains to caves. The other particularly difficult enemy in the game are giants, who are seemingly slow moving until they build momentum. They can also kill a player with one smack of their mighty club. They’re almost always accompanied by mammoths, who have tusks that can be sold for a high price. Since the mammoths are herded by the giants, it’s best to handle killing them before attempting to pick off one of the mammoths.
Less menacing, but still difficult, are wolves and spiders that frequent any number of areas and will attack on sight. There are also deer, goats, rabbits, and foxes to prey upon in the game in order to use for food or pelt. The animals in this game show off a surprising amount of intelligence because they will do anything they can to stay away from people (like running into and through very deep rivers). The exception to this are the goats, who seem like they want to sit there and accept death.
With all these animals, and their environments to go with them, it would be expected that Skyrim is a pretty beautiful place, right? In theory, this would be sound logic. In reality, it depends on what the game is being played on. This review is based on the Xbox 360 version, and there are a lot of glitches and graphical shortcomings to be seen.
Textures are really rough, and in some places just plain lazy. “Paper berries” are a very common berry in Skyrim. What’s a paper berry, you may ask? Well it’s a bush made up entirely of 2D berries, in a 3D world. They look very out of place here, but they are not alone, as there are a number of paper thin plants out there. Terrain textures are kind of primitive looking as well, such as snow, grass, and dirt. It reminds me of the days of the original PlayStation in some parts. Fur on animals is another lazy looking feature in the game.
There are things that Skyrim did right as far as looks, though. The sky can be at times breathtaking to look at, especially at night when there are hundreds of stars twinkling. Weather is forever changing in the game, so seeing the same sky that you saw the night before is literally impossible. Some towns or paths are tough to navigate in a blizzard, which is why the “wait” function of the game is so handy.
Talking to folks in the game still feels like you are talking to a soulless robot, but there seems to have been some improvements regarding facial animations. The AI in the game can at times be downright stupid though. Doing something wrong in the game (such as accidentally stealing) can be neutralized sometimes by simply talking to the person after doing it. Stealing itself is still very easy to do, because often the NPC will not notice the player rifling through their cabinets when they just have their backs turned.
Quests in the game have the same draw as the previous games, and most of them are well made. The best quest lines in the game are easily “The Dark Brotherhood” and “The Thieves Guild” story lines, which revolve around the joining of these specific factions (thieves and Dark Brotherhood.) It is very hard not to want to be a bad person in the game with these in particular, but in general there doesn’t seem to be any conflict of interest when joining different factions. Therefore, you can be both a cold-hearted killer and fight for your country. Some quests can be glitchy, having the previous goal of a quest stuck on your map even after you complete it. If this happens it may be entirely impossible to ever complete that quest, which is unheard of for those that want to do everything.
When players are not questing they can build up their character’s skills by reading, cooking, and black-smithing. Reading some books will give you magic skills or those skills related to specific skill sets such as pick-pocketing. Other books are just there to enjoy and further understanding of the game; they are all worth a read.
Alchemy is another fun tool that is just a matter of trying to see which ingredients make potions. Three ingredients can be used at a time, and once a potion is successfully made, it can be easily selected from a list for future brews. Cooking works in a similar way, except that the list is pre-populated.
Besides a few glitches, Skyrim succeeds in doing exactly what it was supposed to do: allow players to experience the adventure in their own way. The best part of any Elder Scrolls game is the ability to not be rushed into the story in a manner that is not of your own choosing, which is why they tend to steal away your time like crazy. The only thing this game is guilty of is being too much fun.