Review
Skyrim

By Tim Krynicki - December 7th, 2011

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I apologize to our readers (and to the author) for posting this late. Between internet shenanigans (ie: cable modem malfunction) and other factors that shall not be named, this seemed to have escaped the grasp of punctuality. It is still a great read, though; make sure you check it out! – ed.

Where were you on Friday, November 11, 2011? I spent that night in line at my local game retailer anxiously waiting for the clock to strike midnight – just to get my hands on Bethesda’s fifth entry in the Elder Scrolls saga – a little-known fantasy epic called Skyrim.

While there’s no denying the radicalness that was the Modern Warfare 3 launch (that also took place earlier that week), I will say that Skyrim’s release was one of the best midnight launches I have ever had the pleasure of attending. It felt like everyone was getting into the spirit of things. There were game stories of old and even new strategies being planned that night. Gamers both young and old were discussing everything from what kind of character to play, what faction to ally with, and what skills are best to specialize in. The only thing was missing was a group of Dragonborn cosplayers armed with foam swords and a 1:1 scale dragon piñata.

Candy-less, I began my odyssey through the lands of Skyrim less than an hour later that night.

Thinking back to the ridiculousness that was the new Conan film, I remember thinking how cool it would be to play a smart-ass barbarian with a weapon in each hand, a bow for ranged attacks, and a couple of magic spells to play around with. That being said, I also recalled one of the gripes I had with the last Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion: if you choose to play as a warrior, then you play a warrior-type for the rest of the game (he same deal applies to other character classes like rogue-types, mages, etc.). If you wanted to change your character up partway through the game, you would basically have to start the game over and build your character accordingly.

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This guy can hit the flea off a dog’s back at five hundred paces.

Skyrim decides to do things a little differently. After the opening scenes, the prison guard asks for your name; so you give him one, only having to change your race and appearance if you so desire; and that’s it. The rest of the painstaking process that used to be creating a character is done in-game through a combination of trial, error, and using the skills and weapons that you want to use.

See, class-only restrictions no longer apply to you in Skyrim. Instead, Bethesda decided it would be a fantastic idea (I agree) to level up your character through a perk system. Think of it like so: an action you take in a particular character department (whether it is getting hit while wearing specific armor, attacking with a one-handed weapon, buffing and healing yourself with magic, sneaking, picking locks, etc.) improves your character’s skill with that particular action. Each time you earn a point in an action, you progress to the next character level.

After leveling up, you get to choose to boost either your stamina, health, or magick. You also get a perk point to spend on the abilities you’ve been specializing in – provided you meet that perk’s minimum stat requirement. This new system is simple, to the point, and it gives you the freedom of playing the type of character you want to play – all of that without the headache of spreadsheets before actually starting the main game. There is a story in here too, but it’s totally up to you if and when you want to go down that path. You could just as well decide do side quests for other people and explore the province of Skyrim every time you load up a session.

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“High on a hill was a lonely goatherd, Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo!”

For those that want to get into the story side of things, your character is what folks across the land call a Dragonborn; and your mysterious powers might be the only thing capable of saving Skyrim from the return of these mysterious creatures. See, being Dragonborn gives you the ability to understand the written language of dragons and various Words of Power you’ll find scattered around the province. Learning and understanding these new Words of Power means you can use non-magical abilities called dragon Shouts after killing dragon and absorbing their life essence (a visual effect that looks really nice once you see it for the first time).

If you run into a rowdy bunch of monsters – there’s a Shout that slows down time for easier crowd control. If you need to get through a trapped dungeon corridor in a hurry – there’s a Shout that gives you a boost of speed over a short distance. Shouts have no bearing on your magical abilities but they do have a cool down so their uses should be kept on an as-needed basis. All of that sounds like a lot of information for a player to handle, doesn’t it? Well, there’s yet another neat feature that helps keep track of what could have easily been a clunky menu and inventory management system: favorites.

Basically, you can navigate and tag your favorite magic spell, item, skill, and/or weapon and can switch to them on the fly in the heat of battle – all with the press of a button. There’s even a handy quest tracker (think of it like a Coles Notes journal) with a map you can use to help pinpoint various quest objectives and locations. You’ll be glad you did because the province of Skyrim is (expletives aside) huge.

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The Orkin man on Skyrim is never really happy with his job.

For 15 real-time minutes you could be searching through an arctic wilderness at the top of a mountain. Once you climb down the other side, you’ll be hiking through pines, oak trees and wildlife with murderous intent. There’s still a lot more that can be said about Skyrim, though I am confident that I have touched enough key points to give you an understanding of the jaw-dropping world that Bethesda has created this time around. While large, it is not flawless by any means (the other day I found a floating pair of shoes); but it is an immersive gaming experience that doesn’t happen too often.

In this case, the game-makers at Bethesda have given you all of the tools and abilities you will need to survive in Skyrim’s horrendously detailed world. – the rest is up to you, Dragonborn. You will have to decide how to spend your time plundering and adventuring during your stay in Skyrim. The world and its secrets are yours to discover (at your leisure) and it never feels overwhelming to the point where you just want to give up in a bout of frustrated confusion.

Skyrim, while not perfect, is still a monumental achievement and has the potential to be hailed as one of the best role-playing games ever made. Whatever direction Bethesda decided to take their series after Oblivion worked with results that exceeded my expectations. Let’s hope they keep these things in mind for the sequel.

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