8 Overall Score
Epic open world | revolutionary upgrade system | 400 odd hours of gameplay
Missions are samey | Combat is scratchy | Glitchy
There is a saying that goes a little something like this, ‘there are not enough hours in the day.’ This has never been truer than with Skyrim, with its apparent infinite quests, skill trees, and more characters to interact with than a student protest.
And it’s with this in mind that I take on the daunting task of reviewing perhaps the biggest game of the year, in terms of both title and size. It’s so vast, I don’t even know where to begin.
Well, the game is set some 200 years after the crisis in Tamriel, and things have changed in all those years; no longer are we entertained by the fantastical nature of Oblivion, now – like the real world – we have politics to contend with. The assassination of the King of Skyrim is close to engulfing the whole of Tamriel in civil war between those loyal to the empire and the rebels.
But that’s not the main story – the rather dull prospect of a political storyline soon gets forgotten as dragons return, hell bent on total destruction. And guess what, it’s up to you, a person that walks the world of both man and dragon, the Dovahkinn.
Does that mean you get to grow scales, fly around and breathe fire? Afraid not, what you can do is speak the language of the dragons. Not to say you can rock up to one of them and ask them how the family is – it’s more of a nifty support ability, or ‘shouts’ as they are called, which lets you set things of fire, freeze enemies, knock things down and even make you run fast.
So, it’s up to you then to kill the dragons of Skyrim, and that is the only thing that is a dead cert in the game. How you go about this task though is totally up to you, and in typical Elder Scrollsfashion, you have a beautiful world to explore to help you level up, gain powers, learn skills and get to a point where kicking dragons about is more of a realistic prospect.
Actually, that paragraph doesn’t really do Skyrim justice. The immense scope of the game is something beyond comprehension: a world so large and so beautiful that most of the game hours you rack up will be spent exploring the vast wilderness, finding every abandoned fort, cave or mine and then taking a well earned rest in the nearest village inn, tired from walking around a world so big.
It’s a little hard to fathom. You could march into a cave with the pretence of grabbing some gold, perhaps a few gems and so on, but then you discover a chest that has no real right to be in such a run-of-the-mill cave. In this chest you will find an item, which will send you on a quest as big as the main story line missions. This is around 20 odd hours into the game. It’s staggering to think what you could discover if you had all the time in the world to explore every nook and cranny of Skyrim.
Unfortunately, with a game world so big, and the shear volume of side quests, means that repetition is bound to set in. Most of these missions take the form of people asking you to fetch items because they’re too scared or lazy to do it themselves. I guess this wouldn’t be so bad, but some of the main missions are of a similar ilk. Couple that with the fact that these dungeons are all near identical in terms of structure, i.e. you walk a bit, navigate enemies and hazards, find short cuts then rinse and repeat. It is a chore at times, but the rewards sometimes make up for the similarity in the missions. Walking from a dungeon and seeing a gorgeous landscape unfurl itself in front of you is enough of reward at times, along with of course with the obligatory weapons, gold or perhaps a spell.
But these side missions are always worth doing to help Dovahkiin fill his 18 skill trees, which range from destruction spells, to lock picking, to healing. What sounds rather basic, I found revolutionary. There are no massive stats to get your head round – all you need to do to get better at something is to keep using that particular skill. Want to be an awesome archer? Then use your bow loads. Want to be the best one-handed swordsman in town? Then use your one-handed sword loads. It’s as simple as that. Practice makes perfect, as they say. It doesn’t end there either; you can customise your weapons thanks to the blacksmith’s bench or augment them with some magic using an alchemist’s bench, providing you have the right elements and ingredients of course. Despite its simplicity, there’s still plenty of scope.
Of course, once you have used your weilded weapon or magic power enough to master it, you would think that fights and battles would be easy. Well, I guess they would be if the fighting melee system wasn’t so clunky and down right bloody awful to use. The collision detection is way off. Many a time had I backed away from an oncoming Vampire thinking there was enough space for him to miss me. But no, he hit me from like 5 miles away and I end up dead. It’s hard work, so instead I spent most of my time using range weapons and magic.
That, however, is just the start of the technical problems, all of which seem perfectly translated from Oblivion. Disappearing polygons and the pop-in I can forgive in a game world this big, but every character or animal in the game has this weird ability to float up and down stairs. The hit detection, as mentioned, is awful. The sporadic restart points, the clipping, fuzzy textures. All flaws that were present in Oblivion are all back in Skyrim which is unsurprising, but disappointing nonetheless.
What is also disappointing is the voice work. Thankfully the NPCs sound better than the turgid crap from Oblivion, but they still have this annoying habit of talking over one another as soon as they appear near you, meaning that sometimes you miss important mission details as you can’t understand them – especially as most of them have heavy Scandinavian accents.
There is no denying the beauty of Skyrim. Seeing mountains complete with swirling clouds looming over village rooftops is amazing. Climbing higher into these mountains and seeing the grass give way to snowy ground, and getting lost in a blizzard is something that everyone should experience in a game world. The sheer scale of these mountains is remarkable, made all the more grand thanks to the game’s music. Barbarian choirs, rolling drums, and gentle strings are all there to convey the feeling of scale the game brings – upping the tempo when it needs to, or just playing hauntingly in the background giving the player a feeling of complete loneliness.
Skyrim is a hell of an achievement, and a huge game, with one of the most diverse game worlds you’ll ever explore this generation. There is also a hell of a lot of content here, and it will last you a long time. The technical issues raised earlier let the game down somewhat only because it spoils the illusion it works so hard to create. The graphics, although impressive, aren’t the amazing ones we saw in the pre-release hype. They do the job, and do them well, but you can hear the PS3 creaking under the pressure. The linearity of many of the missions doesn’t help either. In fact I would go as far as say this is pretty much the same game as Oblivion, which is no bad thing of course since Oblivion was brilliant. I guess I was just expecting a little more revolution as opposed to evolution.
If you like your beards, middle age mythology, big adventures and levelling up then you will love this game, and should probably say goodbye to your social life for the rest of the year. However, if you weren’t a fan of Oblivion, then there is nothing here that will persuade you to invest in Skyrim.