The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review
Great game, but not the "Game of the Year"


Welcome to the world of The Elder Scrolls. If you haven’t heard of it by now then there’s something wrong with you, as it’s been all the talk for the past couple of months, and for good reason. The newest (and fifth) addition; Skyrim, was released on the 11th of November and has since been the winner of many Game of the Year awards. Just from that statement, you would have to assume that it’s amazing. And it is…. Well most of it. While it’s a decent step forward from its predecessor Oblivion, it still has many, many problems and feels like it’s in the Beta stage of development. So why has it received so much praise then? I guess the plain awesomeness tends to distract you from the negatives most of the time. In any case, it’s an incredibly enjoyable game that could be so much better, and the good news is that it most likely will be after several patches are released.

After loading the game up, you’re soon tasked with the creation of your character which requires you to choose a race (ten unique races with their own strengths and weaknesses). After this, the story takes off faster than Usain Bolt in fast forward. Almost immediately, your execution (you were at the wrong place at the wrong time) comes to a halt as a massive dragon flies down and wreaks havoc on the poor town of Helgen. Even more interesting is the fact that dragons haven’t been seen in hundreds of years, so why have they come now? That’s the plot line you’ll be following through the game. While not an epic by any means, it gets the job done and is a definite step forward from the past Elder Scrolls instalment. But honestly, no one bought this game for the story. It’s the huge world, the exploration and the freedom that you’ll be playing it for.

Oh yes, the world is huge, as expected from an Elders Scrolls game. There are hundreds of locations to discover ranging from booming towns and ancient ruins, to gloomy caves and sunken ships. I played the game for well over a hundred hours, and I doubt I even discovered and fully explored 50% of the locations. And that’s what makes the game so good. 15 minutes into the story and you’ll be able to do whatever you want, when you want, with next to no limitation. For example, a wimpy Twilight fan may want to become a vampire and play the game in the shadows, while a psychopath may choose to slaughter a chicken, then everyone else in the world! There’s no right or wrong way to play. The world is in your hands. Below is a map of the world to give you a sense of how large it is.

So apart from the story, what is there to do? There are over 200 side quests to find in the game. These can be discovered and activated in many ways such by talking to characters or reading certain books. The addictive nature of discovering and completing these quests can be blamed for chewing up most of my play time. Fans of the series will be pleased to hear that the quest lines have returned. These are basically groups or organisations around the world that can be joined and include the College of Winterhold, the Thieves Guild, the Dark Brotherhood, the Companions, the imperials and the Stormcoaks. After helping them out enough, you’ll climb the ranks until you’re the kingpin. While some of these quest lines were written quite well and others need some work. For example, after a few quests for the College of Winterhold, I was made the Archmage (the leader). The funny thing is that I only cast a couple of spells throughout these quests which seems very illogical considering I’m now running the place. Longer quest lines and more emphasis on actually having to use the skill sets associated with the group is needed before I’ll give this the two thumbs up.

The freedom doesn’t stop at the huge world. The way in which you build your character is one of the best I’ve seen in sandbox RPG. The way in which you unleash chaos upon the world will directly affect the growth of your characters skills. There are 18 skills that can be improved, such as several types of magic schools, stealth, blocking ability and blacksmithing. If your character has a shield in one hand, and a destructive spell in the other, constant use of these will increase the Destruction Magic and Blocking skills, making them more powerful. This works almost exactly like its predecessor: Oblivion, but where it really shines is in the new Perk system. After increasing the level of several skills, your characters core level will increase. By doing so (after selecting whether you want to increase your health, stamina or magic) you will be rewarded a single perk to spend on a skill tree. These skill trees are expansions of the 18 skills, and each tree has about possible 15 perks to learn, so it would be impossible to learn them all in a single game. This is where strategy is required. You’ll need to plan out how to spend these in ways that will best benefit your character. Below is a skill tree for Conjuration. As you can see, the first perk ‘Novice Conjuration’ will half the magika cost for novice level Conjuration skills. This would obviously only be beneficial for characters that use conjuration magic.

The battles themselves have seen a successful improvement from the past games of the series. Each character has two hands (surprising, no?) that can be used to equip a weapon, a shield or a magic spell. You can pick and choose how you want to go about it, such as a dagger in the right hand and a healing spell in the left, one destructive spell in the left with a summoning spell in the right, or simply one large two handed weapon in both. As you could probably guess from the past instalments, casting spells will drain your characters magika, and power attacks will drain your stamina. Then there are the Shouts that can be found around the world. These run on a cool down system and add something extra to think about before charging into a cave. However, these Shouts seemed to only work some of the time, causing some very frustrating deaths. To conclude; the battle system is a enjoyable hack n’ slash that easily retained my interest through the entire Skyrim experience.

Now, let’s get on to some of the factors that caused a near broken controller and a serious case of sudden hair loss. I’ll start with the loading, the lag, and the glitches. As emphasised before, the world is huge, and requires a lot of instant travel and town visits. Sometimes you would have to go through several loading screens just to get to a certain room. I know that these loading screens are required due to the massive world, but there’s only so many coffees that I can make and take in a gaming session without having a heart attack. This, however, is nothing compared to the lag. The PlayStation 3 originally had a serious lag issue making the game unplayable. After 30 or so hours, the game would start chugging along and require a reset after only about an hour of straight play. The first Patch fixed this for most people, but at the expense of retarded dragon flight patterns and no magical resistance at all. And that’s just for the lucky ones. All I can say is that I hope these get ironed out in the future. With that said, if they’re going to work on improving something, let it be fixing the glitches! There’s nothing more annoying than playing the game for an hour only to find your character make like Spiderman and stick to a wall. I have experienced glitches in many games, but never anything this bad. How can a game with so many imperfections win the game of the year from so many sources? You tell me.

The world is filled with thousands of non-playable characters (NPCs), but they feel like illogical machines rather than thought out citizens able to immerse you into the world. Take my lizard friend for example. At one stage, I killed his wife, so he has every right to be pissed off with me (in a perfect game, he would attack you on sight for the rest of the game), but no. He simply continued to talk to me with his happy-chappy outlook whenever I was near. In another instance, I needed to talk to someone to complete a quest. Instead of talking to him, I accidently took a book from his desk causing him to chase me around the entire city until I killed him. I guess there’s no finishing that quest. I do realise that due to the size of this game, personally customising every NPC to react to possibly hundreds of possible outcomes is a lot to ask, but the NPC mechanics do clearly need some work in order for the world to be more immersive.

I have already explained the many paths that your character can take in terms of developing them for battle (via the Skill Trees), but there has been quite a fuss raised regarding the balance of these trees and builds. Archery, for one, was one of the most common skill trees as it allows you to hunt your prey from the shadows, often killing the target in a single hit. This and others such as the Sneak, Smithing and One Handed trees seem essential. On the flip side, trees such as Healing and Lock Picking are next to useless in comparison. This severely reduces your options if you wish to create the most powerful of characters (remembering that there is a limit of perks that the player can choose to activate from these Skill Trees). I felt that this was done quite poorly and was a clear blow to Skyrims replayability. Below is an image of archery in action. Who needs a sniper rifle when you have a bow, right?

Skyrim gives you the option of recruiting other warriors to help you on your journey. This sounds pretty groovy in theory, but the system is deeply flawed. The main problem is that they can die, for good. You’re probably thinking that this sounds fair enough, but when their death can only be granted by your blade, you could start to imagine the frustration. When the enemies deplete your companions’ health, they simply drop to one knee, wait a while, and then join you again in combat. However, if your blade, magical spell or arrow accidently comes their way (and it will, as they’re really good at jumping in front of you mid attack), they will most likely be gone for good. I can’t for the life of me fathom what was going through their minds when they created this system. Apart from this, everything about the companions is mediocre at best. Simple improvements would be the ability to check a companion’s statistics, or personalised quests that you can take on if they’re in your party. This would allow you to learn a little about their lives and hopefully feel something for them. It seems like the Bethesda put little thought into this aspect of the game which is disappointing considering how amazing the game would be with a well devised party system.

As you progress through any game, it’s natural for your skills to improve as you learn the game mechanics. Video games tend get harder as they go on in order to keep testing your abilities, provide you with a challenge, and ultimately keep you interested until the end. Skyrim unfortunately does things a little different. The beginning of the game, in fact the first 40 or so hours, provides you with a very befitting challenge, and I’m saying this with the normal difficulty in mind. The Master difficulty, as the name suggests, is for the masters of the game. But once again, this is only for the first 40 odd hours. After this point, when you truly start pimping out your character, things start to take a turn and soon you’ll probably be pushing the difficulty up to the maximum in hope of not being able to kill your enemy in a single strike. Skyrim needs to account for both the increase in the players’ natural ability and the increase in the characters strength. This unbalance certainly affected my enjoyment through the later hours of Skyrim.

I know I’ve raised a lot of negatives but that’s simply because I believe you should be aware before you buy it with the expectation of playing a masterpiece worthy of a “Game of the Year” title. It has its problems, and lots of them, but despite this, I do a guarantee that you’ll find much fun within. Skyrim is a great game and after a few more patches I have no doubt that many of these core problems will be fixed. If you’re willing to put aside the issues raised in this review, then go out and buy it now. Otherwise, play something else, wait for the price to drop and pick it up when the patches iron out some of the problems.

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