19 October 2012

The Long Overdue Skyrim Review Post

It's getting close to a year already since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released. I got it, and begun playing, on release day. I always intended to write a review for my website, but wanted to at least beat the main story of the game first. Well, it took a little time, and I've had some long breaks in playing, but I'm finally at a point where I can sit down and write about the game. In the meantime, I've discontinued my review section, so it'll just be in the form of a rambling blog post.

In case someone doesn't already know, The Elder Scrolls is a series of first person 'open world' fantasy action roleplaying games. All the titles in the series have been set in the same world, but in different regions. Skyrim is the continent's northernmost province, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) has taken much of its influence from Viking culture. You can freely explore the game's world and find quests to take on by talking to its people. There's a main storyline, and side stories based around various factions, plus numerous independent side quests.

(I should mention at this point that, while I played a little of the previous title, Oblivion, I never got very far in it. This was largely due to the fact that by the time I discovered the series, having focused more on Japanese games for many years, Skyrim's release was already drawing near, and I didn't wish to sate myself too much playing a similar game.)

So last night I finally finished the main story. At this point I had been playing for nearly 120 hours, according to the game's clock. This is easily the longest I've ever spent on a single playthrough in any game. (I think the longest before have been some JRPG's, in the vicinity of 70 hours or so.) And there's still entire questlines I haven't played.

This is perhaps the most important thing to say about Skyrim. There is just so much to do! There's tons of quests to complete. And new, intriguing quests have a habit of falling in your lap even when you're not looking for any, sidetracking you from the ones you were already on. The world is pretty big, with many towns and villages with plentiful inhabitants, and dozens of dungeons to explore. OK, so after 120 hours naturally there's some repetitiveness. A lot of the gameplay involves venturing into a dungeon (most frequently inhabited by undead creatures) to retrieve some item. But there's still enough variety in quests, encounters and locations to keep me entertained.

There are glitches. There are crashes. There are load times. But given the sheer scale of this game all that just fades away. The world looks very pretty, in my opinion (and probably would look even prettier on a state-of-the-art PC than it does on my PS3, but I have no complaints). The views from the high mountains are inspiring, there is a nice variety of terrains ranging from harsh tundra to beautiful forests, and each of the major cities has unique, and frequently impressive, architecture.

Oh, and did I mention dragons? Dragons! They look cool. They are cool to fight. Watching a dragon swoop down on a village and perch on a rooftop, breathing fire, while the villagers react, is just an... experience, for lack of better word. That being said, I would have liked to see a little more variety in the game's monsters. One of the main causes of repetitiveness in dungeon exploring is the fact that they tend to be inhabited by a relatively small selection of different creature archetypes.

A word about voice acting. There's a lot of dialogue in the game, and a large number of actors (a few big names as well). And a lot of it is pretty good. However, there are also voices that apparently are trying to do a Scandinavian accent, but instead end up sounding like a bad Schwarzenegger parody... The guards (ubiquitous in every city) are often among the more annoying examples, and their lines also soon get very repetitive. (Need I mention knees and arrows?)

Game mechanics have been streamlined a little from the previous title, which I think is good. Some pesky stuff, like having to repair equipment and the stupid persuasion system, has been removed entirely, and you have even more freedom in regards to character development, with no class selection to limit you. And there's many ways you can play, focusing on melee, archery, magic, stealth, crafting etc.

So, yeah, overall, Skyrim is, honestly, one of the most impressive and immersive games I've ever played. It's easy to forget yourself for hours just exploring the world and doing quests. In many ways I think the province of Skyrim feels like the closest thing to a living, breathing fantasy world that I've encountered in video games to date. It's not the most original fantasy world I've encountered, with its heavy Viking influence and somewhat clichéd, D&D-ish feel, but it's a fun world to spend some time in, anyway.

I'm unsure whether I should continue with the remaining quests using the same character, or save them for trying out a different character build sometime. Now, however, I think I'm in the mood for something completely different again. I've had a slight itch for some classic Final Fantasy, but we'll see...

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