Skyrim: A Review You May or May Not Be Able to Use [tm]

I wrote a few general thoughts about Skyrim earlier, but it really does deserve a full-fledged review. As usual, I played the PC version.

It is very, very hard to tell you what I think about Skyrim. If you’ve never played an Elder Scrolls game before, don’t worry — I played and hated Morrowind, but it had zero impact on my playing Skyrim. The Elder Scrolls series are, essentially, open-world RPGs. It’s similar to the Fallout series in a certain sense. That’s funny… you might think the same company made games in both series!

The game opens with your character (who is as yet unnamed) arriving on a cart to get your head severed.  Prior to getting the ultimate haircut, you choose a race and a name. Then, shockingly, you do not get your head severed, because a dragon shows up and sets people on fire. You enter the province of Skyrim and look for something to do. The good news is there is a lot to do. People have put well over 100 hours into this game (if I could get online with Steam I’d tell you how many I have — if you t0ld me it was 100 hrs+ I wouldn’t be surprised) and it’s easy to see why. The leveling system (the heart of an RPG) is as simple as you could wish. The game has many skills. If you do those skills, you get better at them. Improve enough skills, and you level up, acquiring a perk.

It’s as simple as that. As a general rule, there’s no “class” system, but the perk system all but forces you to specialize; you can get to 100 in every skill but you are limited as to the total number of perks you can have. (Okay, technically, there is no level cap as of the most recent patch, but you’ll be grinding for a good long time to get every perk.)  That’s a good thing. In my playthrough, I focused on magic but ended up being okay with a sword and a bow. I made some stupid choices, so my character was sub-optimal. That’s okay too. It was more fun that way.

As a game, Skyrim has much to recommend it. The world is massive with lots and lots of main quests, there are any number of minor quests, and even some that infinitely repeat. The normal perspective is 1st person, but you can choose 3rd person if you want. Combat is simple — remember, this is a game that was popular on consoles too — but precise, and most of the time when you die it’s your own fault. (That said, archers can be surprisingly OP.)

The world looks gorgeous; if you told me Bethesda spent 80% of their time and money on the graphics, I would believe you. The music is very good, understated when appropriate. Some of the voice actors are fantastic, and there are a few big names (chief among them Max von Sydow), but it’s obvious that the same people play many, many roles, even to where you have people having conversations with themselves.

At this point in the review, you may be thinking “excellent, I will go and buy a copy right now!” However, this is where I have to talk about the flaws. The world is so big (and I typed the word “bug” initially here — a nice Freudian slip, I’d say) that certain things are bound not to interact well. So it is here. There aren’t any game breaking bugs left (thank goodness), but some quests don’t work properly and the game will crash from time to time. It was much worse in the past, so if you tried it and didn’t like it before, try it now.

There are two major problems I have with the game. First, the AI for your followers is god awful, and you don’t have the option to properly micro-manage them, if you wish, ala Mass Effect, Dragon Age, or Baldur’s Gate. They will set off traps, constantly. They will step in front of you when you cast spells. They will get stuck on a rock. They will stand directly in front of you and not move when there’s a narrow bridge you have to cross. Some of them talk so frequently and say the same thing so often that you want to kill them (I’m looking at you, Mjoll the Lioness). Yet for all of this, for some character builds, they’re absolutely essential, because when enemies are stabbing them they aren’t stabbing you. This time through, I’m thinking of going without a follower just to see if it makes the game that much harder.

That’s one major complaint out of the way. Here’s my other complaint. Skyrim is a vast world, with lots and lots of breadth.

It has absolutely no depth.

The actual plot is straightforward. I can accept that. What is much harder to accept is how trivial even main characters can seem in the game. The only character I genuinely liked came from the Dawnguard DLC (Serana, for those curious). She has depth and shows emotions. Most characters do not. The character that, perhaps, matters least in the entire game is you. It’s a minimalist approach to RPGs, I suppose, and it’s easy to get lost in the game and not care. Yet there are times, there are opportunities to showcase a character, and it just isn’t there.

What with all the dragons, I found myself constantly comparing Skyrim to Dragon Age, both the first and second. Skyrim is more genuinely fun to play, as a game, than either of those. But the story line, and the character development, in even the widely panned Dragon Age 2 is vastly superior.

Now, at this point, you’re probably shying away from playing the game. Yet ultimately, here is the most important thing you need to know: five minutes after I finished, I started a new game. From the beginning. Because there was still stuff to do, and because it is a great deal of fun to play. You (probably) won’t regret it.

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