on 11 November 2011
After a much anticipated wait by thousands upon thousands, or 3.5 million plus, 11.11.11 has finally arrived. Some people will have gotten the game on launch day, some unfortunate enough to receive it after. And for the lucky few a day or two before release.
There has been a lot of coverage of Skyrim leading up to its release that people have likely seen, about the animation, the sound, the world, the decapitations and dragon battles. But honestly none of that can truly do justice for how wonderful the game is, you need to play it for yourself to see it.
When running down a snowy mountain and first entering a pine forest, memories of oblivion can start to enter the mind, but they soon get washed away by fresh ones as the many new and improved aspects kick into play. Basically the game is a sure improvement over oblivion and here is why.
Firstly: (MINOR SPOILER) Werewolves are indeed back, and better than ever!
When you charge towards someone and swing a steel great sword with full power at their head, it feels like you're charging towards someone swinging a steel great sword with full power at their head! The way the camera subtly jolts and the dragonborn's body continues moving in the direction of the force for a second. Though these attacks drain nearly all your stamina at first and take a brief moment to recover from.. well if you can land it the attack is as deadly as it looks, usually killing enemies with a single blow. It adds a new found sense of realism just like when it comes to firing arrows at enemies, you no longer have to fire more than 4, no more hedgehog arrow enemies unless they are really strong. Don't think this means the game is easy though, on the normal of the 5 difficulty settings, you can easily be slain if you make silly decisions and forget to block or heal accordingly. Try swinging a sword non stop at one enemy whilst their friends fire arrows and spells at you; see how long you survive.
The dual wielding adds a brilliant new dimension to the combat, you can select what goes in your left or right hand by pressing the L or R triggers in the weapons menu, meaning you can use a spell in both hands for greater effect, two of the same weapons, or mix them up. Sure; the woodcutter axe is for chopping wood at the lumber mill, and the pick axe is for mining ore (both doable jobs) but you can dual wield the two in each hand and do combos with them by holding down both triggers. This means 2 little daggers can quickly become a lot of fun. You can even dual wield staffs! If you can sneak up on someone without them detecting you, you can slit their throat for an instant kill! this is actually more satisfying then the old 3x critical strike of past games as you feel more rewarded for your sneaking, you can still do critical strikes but the slit throat one is also available. And this allows for continued non-detection.
The kill animations are quite satisfying too and tend to happen at random which means they don't become repetitive (my fear was every enemy on low health equaled a kill animation) but sometimes it's a normal kill, sometimes you can run up to a full HP enemy and stick your great sword through them as their body rises in the air. The neat thing here is enemies can do final kill animations to you and each other adding even more gritty realism to the elder scrolls universe.
Magic attacks in this game are awesome and not to be over looked if you are the hack and slash type of player, when you have 3 deranged people trying to kill you, there's nothing better than assigning your flame spell to both hands and unleashing fiery hell on them. There is a nice variety of spells in the game, from the elementals to conjuring, alteration and traps etc. That's before even touching the dragon shouts.
The dragon shouts are alot of fun to use, they feel powerful while the controller vibrates and are a nice new addition to elder scrolls. They can really give the edge in a battle that is difficult. And they are just as scary when you fight a enemy that can use them such as a Draugh scourge.
Five years later after Oblivion, there are indeed new features, and old ones that have been refined to give a more user friendly and credible feel. I'll list them.
- Dual Wield (As you know, wield both magic and weapons in either hands)
- Cooking (using recipes to make food that get better healing properties)
- Grindstone (Used with gathered materials to better weapon quality)
- Workbench (Used with gathered materials to better armor quality)
- Forge (Used with gathered materials to create new weapons, armor or jewelry)
- Tanning (Put a knife to a animal hide to gather leather strips)
- Mining (Use a pick axe in your inventory to gather ore from rocks)
- Smelting (Use gathered ore to create ingots used in equipment creation)
- Alchemy Lab (Use ingredients acquired to create and try new potions)
- Log Cutting/Lumber yard (Two additional ways to make money)
- Buying Properties/Invest (To live in or help increase merchants default funds)
- Dragon Shouts (Acquire dragon souls, spend them on shouts learned from walls)
- Vampires, Dragons & Werewolves oh my! (Be a vampire or werewolf, or get help from a dragon later on)
- Can now press RB to sprint! a much welcomed addition to get around faster, or run away from things faster. Sprinting along with holding R trigger makes the character do highly powerful attacks, they aren't so easy to land however.
- Perk Tree (New way to evolve in skills as you choose what perks to spend points on gained from leveling up, and some new abilities)
- Companions (Make people like you enough and they'll let you take stuff from their house, eventually you can marry! Some people are hirelings who will join you and guard you for a small fee, or you can get a pet war dog. Remember Morrowind's companions and pack rats? Seems Skyrims has the goodness of Morrowind in many ways. There is an equipment trade option and excellent command option where you an get your hireling to attack anything, or take/harvest anything)
- Weapons/Armor (The game has all the classics re-imagined for Skyrim plus a nice amount of new equipment for people to get their teeth into)
- Radiant A.I - (Meaning you'll never end up doing the same sub quests! each keyed to different locations by different people. I haven't been able to tell what miscellaneous quests are scripted and what ones are made with radiant AI)
World Map - (Zoom up into a real time view of the world, it is the same size as Oblivion but it feels much bigger to me because of the varying environments esque of Morrowind, like beautiful deciduous forests & huge tundra's to name two. Also though the world has a lot of mountainous regions, and by this I don't mean lots of snowy mountains you have to glitch jump up, but a lot of the time you'll have to traverse up or down craggy water falls and different levels of land, it's somehow great because it makes the game feel bigger and means the draw distances really get put to the test. Bear grylls would love this place.)
The menu - (has been streamlined to make it more accessible and with the favorites hotkey; fluid, this makes using spells and weapons or shouts quicker than ever. In the menu you can also view 3D models of every item!) Also unknown to most without some trial and error. You can hold Left or Right on the D-pad whilst browsing through the items in your Hotkey menu, little numbers (1 & 2) will appear next to the items you choose. Now during gameplay people can switch between 2 things like a weapon and healing, quite time efficient!
As you can see the game has a host of new features, and there are more little surprises I won't mention.
When you pick up something that isn't yours, when you take stuff from your
inventory and chuck it on the ground randomly, when you run into people, NPC's will react to these and many more things you do. Your individual companion will even make comments about a situation or wherever you both go, like "we've reached a cave, but I don't think warm fires and friendly faces wait inside". When you sprint or swing a heavy weapon til low on stamina, your character will gasp as they need breath. Read books and the pages turn with real writing, not text. Spells when fired leave their mark on the land such as ice and fire, blood spatters show on surfaces, enemies, yourself and stay on weapons for a period of time.
The full weather cycle is lovely, best of any game easily, you get rain and thunder, fog, grey cloudy skies (like Britain) then blue skies and sunshine, orange fantasy like late evenings and then the really bad weather. I ran through the northern wastes of skyrim jumping from ice slab to ice slab in the midst of a foggy blizzard that'd make any bad weather we've had in recent times look paltry. Then after tangling with a snow bear and large walrus (horker) I came to a clearing on land and the snow started to get lighter as the fog gradually cleared and the skies opened. Being night I could see stars, the bloodmoon and a reddish aurora that looked amazing. (moments like these can stop you in your tracks, seriously!)
Stand on a outcropping rock near a water fall and listen to the howling wind as you're high up, see the leaves from the pine forest above blow around you, look down to the crashing waters below and watch as they fluidly move around rocks and down stream. Stare at the wolf thats howling at you and circling before firing a single arrow at it's head; the first you tried too fire to quick and it dropped in the stream, the second hits the wolf between the eyes sending it rolling down the hill. Or try standing near the perfectly named "throat of the world" which is the peak of the tallest mountain, it's amazing and will make you feel like you're more closer to the sky than red mountain ever could.
Go into someones house at 7pm and see the adults and their kid eating supper while a parent asks you to not make any trouble. Hold A down and again you can move objects freely thanks to Havok physics (It took me awhile to find out you hold A down!) You can make people fight over equipment, when a animal see's you it will watch you which makes dogs/horses feel like living creatures. NPC's have perfect lip sync when talking and blink etc (the game has no cutscenes so everything is done and seen in real time.) Also upon entering a giant cave under the bottom of some Dwemer ruins (filled with large luminescent jellyfish looking mushrooms) my own character looked up at them in awe (his mouth was open etc.) There are dust particles in beams of light, doors to new areas now open and handles move when npc's or yourself enter them. The animations and movement transitions from 1st person to 3rd or one direction to another are seamless and perfect unlike Oblivions sometimes awkward movements.
Don't let the resurrected werewolves or twilight remove your love for vampires in this game, it's done perfectly and has a good way of showing things such as the stages of vampirism and how the sunlight will effect your character when outside during day, caption sin the top corner will also tell you if you're dying or just losing energy. Your characters fangs show fully and npc's will react to the different stages of lycanthropy or vampirism, even remarking you when you're ill with a common disease.
If you already complete a quest or have an item before being given it, npc's will cleverly react to it and praise you.
As for dragons, when you hear their ominous roar in the distance and see their shadow darken where you stand for a second, it's really quite something. When fighting them they aren't a pushover. Sometimes they circle mountains in a distance, sometimes they'll come from the darkness at night to set a town alight. And when that happens you'll probably feel compelled to save the town. The guards will tell everyone to run inside as it lands on roofs and does all sorts of madness (it landed at one end of a snowy town and fired a fireball that flew down the street, cooking guards and narrowly missing me as I charged towards it, so it's attacks vary too) For instance beware they don't thrash you around in their mouth like a dog, it usually means death. I thought I was a badass, ran up to a newer dragon, hit it with a hammer, it then ate me..
There are many more instances of realism within the game that make me wonder how Bethesda could fit it all in.
And as a final note to the realism, I played tag with a little girl! (I stood on a wooden slat so she couldn't get me, I know, aren't I lovely) I could've played hide and seek but maybe next time.
I think better equipment appears as you level up though some is available if you can get it. NPC's however don't exactly level up with you which is another good feature. (Oblivion made everything level up with you which made me feel like my character wasn't getting any stronger) Regarding enemies with their set levels, I've bumped into one or two when I was level 9 and they are very deadly! making me do things I don't normally bother to (like use my scrolls, different potions etc) so it opens up more gameplay perhaps. And even then I had to avoid the ice temptress lady..thing.
This game seems like it's made for you to level up to well over the hundred region like MMORPG's. In oblivion my character got stuck at level 19 after doing everything, but in Skyrim you can reach that level without touching a quarter of the quests and still get slaughtered by some opponents. You unlock one perk per level and there are 280 perks, but Bethesda revealed it's a 1-50 game in terms in leveling, and mathematically can go up to 70, maybe more who knows.
Another thing worth mentioning is the political side of the game which you must delve more into, in real life though not oblivious by any means, I personally can't be bothered with politics. But in this game it all feels very real and has quite some depth to it, before you know it you could be torn both ways with whom to side with. And by this I mean the stormcloak rebellion against the imperial empire.
Skip this next block of writing if you like as it's just abit of back story surrounding the political side of Skyrim.
As you may know, the Imperial race of people and their emperor reside in the central province called Cyrodiil (where oblivion was set) They rule the empire which consists of the other provinces. The ones fighting against the empire's presence in Skyrim are led by Ulfric stormcloak, they are Nords who fight because they don't want Skyrim to be part of a crumbling empire anymore, they want their native people to stand alone; retaining their own traditions and freedom without their kings becoming weak and their towns filling with outsiders or spies. What's more they feel the empire let them down.
After the oblivion crisis there was a great war against a large (and supremacist) nation of high elves (these people wanted to destroy the dominance of man over elves and take over the empire) They are now known as the Aldmeri Dominion. This nation of elves was formed after the Thalmor took government in the high elves homeland Summerset Isle.
The empire surrendered to the aldmeri dominion after years of battle and accepted the elves terms to ban the worship of their god Talos. The nords took great losses for the Imperials in exchange for that outcome (in game read a book called The Great War) For these reasons the stormcloaks fight to the death against the empire.
The empire however have the support of the other half of Skyrim, because these people believe when Ulfric murdered their High King as an example, he's simply a deluded murderer and power hungry for the throne, they also believe they need the help of the empire in order to rebuild Skyrim.
Remember the trailer where the epic voice says "when the sons of skyrim spill their own blood" thats what it means!
- Joining one of these factions isn't doing the dragon filled main quest, but it's yet another great bunch of side quests to get lost in.
For me, the bad points would be;
- The player menu can be fiddly at first due to it being streamlined and new, for instance you only need to use directions but will probably press A to go to the next section of the menu; meaning you may press both by accident going to a part you don't want to, and pressing B to go back; which exits it all together (directions are to go back also) when you get used to this though it's fine. Also the opacity of the menu can be annoying as there's no option to make it more opaque.
- Another thing regarding the menu is with the streamlined nature you cannot read your quest notes and what people have said like in oblivion and Morrowind, it just says the next step and a brief summary of the quest, you can still search it on the map thankfully.
- Regarding the infamous bugs, there are some minor bugs that Bethesda will patch soon and you may not see, but they're not horrendous like Obsidian Entertainments fallout new vegas. One is when a giant MURDERS you, your body can fly off, I found this funny and harmless though, they do hit with frighteningly hard blows after all. Another few are some type errors such as a word in a book, an armors name etc.
- There doesn't seem to be a proper animation for swimming backwards unlike in previous games which is a mystery to me. It looks like swimming forward reversed.
The only other animations I don't like is the roll forward animation and the unsheathing a staff animation. The forward roll looks daft compared to Link in Zelda when he rolls forward (this is a stealth perk anyway.) And when pulling out a staff it isn't from the characters back like in Oblivion, it's from thin air.
- When in large scale battles the framerate can suffer ever so slightly from one spot to another. This is to do with accumulative game save data on the PS3 mainly, and what remnants there are of this on the 360 will soon be gone.
- The calibration of the ripples when running through water look very slightly off to me, as though the are forming from where the characters knee is and not the center.
- The blood on the ice quest that must be completed in Windhelm to purchase the house there, it cannot be started after a certain point in the stormcloaks quests. And the quest itself has many bugs at the present. This will be patched in 1.04 however along with many quest and gameplay issues, so the performance of the game should be much better than it already is. Bugs were a problem at first but now are not a problem to me as I play through it.
To put it simply, the game is amazing, the sound effects are second to none and that includes voice talent along with the music which isn't intrusive or repetitive; but perfectly ambient, setting the mood for any situation. There must literally be about 50 different sound effects for the different kind of things you can walk on, be it snow/gravel/cobblestone/marble ruins etc. I've played games where there is just 1.
The visuals are indeed improved (I love the streams and water falls) also some of the creatures show a wonderful job done by the artists (take the Hograven for instance, when you come up against one, you'll see they are the epitome of the witch) the architectures and designs for many structures are also wonderful and feel both nordic and out of this world. And the game has more than enough features and quests to keep you happy for weeks on end!
The game is friendly to both newcomers to the series, and those who have played the previous ones (A certain khajiit is back, somewhere...who knows where.. elsweyr? Yeah bad joke)
The storyline I've now completed, I will say it could have and should have been longer. If you bought this game to simply beat the main quest and nothing more, it'd be about as long as a call of duty campaign on veteran. But of course the vastness of this game comes from everything as a whole, such as the many side quests that are thought up cleverly enough to be main storylines for lesser RPG's and not fillers. Also the main quest despite being not too long, is quite epic! Alduin is badass. I enjoyed it.
It's lifespan will easily hit 200+ hours (I'm 134 hours in now..time flies by with this game)
And regarding DLC or updates, Bethesda are a awesome developer because they are giving new features for free with patches that other developers would charge you for. (New kill animations for all weapons and new ranged kill cams for the 1.5 update)
From the insane and epic start to the perhaps never ending finish (because of the many hours this game will offer) No game is perfect but this one is close, and I'm sure everyone will enjoy it!
My Rating: 5*
[Sorry for making this a long read but thought being a large game it deserved it, and wanted to make a proper unbiased review so had to add a lot of details.]
Thank you for reading!
Final word of advice:
- Don't piss a giant off.
- Or chickens, leave chickens.