The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review
Chris Davis

Review

Fight or Flight

Men are But Flesh and Blood, cont.


Character leveling and upgrading is a staple of any role playing game and Bethesda titles are no exception. What you will find in Skyrim, however, is a far different system from all the other titles before it. Instead of choosing which skills to give stat-building points to, this time around the entire system has been redone. No longer will you gain experience for completing quests. Instead, you will earn an overall level by completing leveling of the various skills at your disposal. The eighteen different skill sets are divided into one of three categories: Mage, Warrior and Thief. There are no acrobatic or mysticism skills in Skyrim, so don’t think you can just go running and jumping across the countryside to level up your character. Sorry, this time you have to earn it if you want to reach the game’s level cap of fifty.

Within those eighteen skill sets you will find another new ability: perk activations. Similar in concept to the system utilized in Fallout 3, each skill set contains a perk tree that gives you access to more powerful ones if you can both unlock the preceding ones in the path by continuously leveling that skill. Using the archer skill set, you can, for example, unlock the ability to zoom in and slow down time when drawing your bow. Others, like the smithing skill, allow you to create and upgrade various different types of armor and weapons, depending on how much you level it. The ability to unlock a perk becomes available each time you level up your character but you are not required to unlock one during this process. Perk saving is a welcome addition to the series and I can only hope it sticks around.

Unlike Fallout 3 though, whatever character you choose, you will find that Skyrim returns to the tradition of allowing you to max out your character in all aspects, rather than having to rely on specific specializations. To do so, however, is a triple digit investment of hours so those daring enough (and have that amount of time on their hands) can certainly have their cake and eat it too. Regardless of whether you are willing to invest that kind of time into the game or not, you’ll still find yourself more in control of your character than ever before.

They Know Their Doom, But not the Hour


I have made it clear in the past that I believe that only one game has ever done first-person melee combat right; Condemned: Criminal Origins. Condemned’s mix of simple, strike and block mechanics made combat both easy to understand and at the same time quite intense. In Oblivion, a title that arrived a handful of months after Condemned, the combat felt weak in this author’s opinion and was a factor that affected the title’s overall worth quite negatively, enough anyway to prevent me from returning to the game after closing my first Oblivion gate. What I find remarkable about Skyrim is that there doesn’t seem to be a hint of Oblivion’s combat system within it at all, which is an exceptionally welcoming sight to see. Combat in Skyrim runs the standard gambit of single and two-handed weapon combat with the added ability to dual-wield any combination of weapons and magic you see fit. Players can even combine magic spells for increased effectiveness, or to gain added affects to yourself, your target, or both.

As the Dovahkiin, you have access to one other ability: shouts. As you progress through Skyrim and explore both the story and the many locations scattered throughout the province, you will locate pieces of the dragons’ language. Each location will yield one word of a phrase that you can wield as you see fit and each word is unlocked by absorbing a dragon’s soul. Each has a different effect when used and as such, differing degrees of recharge times (you cannot spam them endlessly). Earning souls and learning words to fill a full phrase can unlock powerful variants that cannot be overstated in their usefulness. These improvements are definitely superior to their lesser counterparts, the difference sometimes being as significant as using a shout to cause an enemy to flinch vs. fully knocking them off their feet or throwing a fireball vs. unleashing an inferno. Shouts are exceptionally useful in combat and can often mean the difference between life and death.

Earning dragon souls is no easy task and it is here that we address the most talked about (and anticipated) part of the Skyrim experience: fighting dragons. You will find that, while some moments are scripted to continue the story along, a vast majority of the encounters with dragons are either random occurrences or even optional endeavors. You will often find yourself wandering through the land only to hear a sharp rush of air and the roar of one of the beasts as it passes overhead. However, despite its imposing arrival, they will sometimes just circle overhead and fly off. The random nature of the dragons really makes the experience more exciting.

Fighting a dragon is no small order of action though. Should you engage (or perhaps be engaged) by a dragon, you’ll find yourself fighting a formidable foe that, at a bare minimum, is as strong as you are. These beasts will fly around and attack you from every angle, often forcing you to shift between short range attacks and long range ones with a bow and arrows. Dragons also come in a variety of types such as fire, frost, blood and more, so you may have to shift your strategy based on exactly which one you are fighting. Dragon attacks can sometimes have you facing two of them at once, as that very scenario happened to me. Should this become reality, your only hope is to use the terrain to your advantage and pray you are near a settlement whose defenders will come to your aid. But if neither of those can be utilized, it is probably in your best interest to act on the later part of your fight-or-flight instinct. Regardless, fighting a dragon never gets old and when the sweeping chorus of Nordic chanters take over the game’s soundtrack and the beast begins flying toward you murderously, you’ll always draw your sword with a smile on your face.

9.5

fun score

Pros

Massive, immersive world

Cons

Autosave system only applies to leaving/entering an area