Skyrim is here, most of you already know that and are fighting your way through endless quests and missions. For those of you who have not ventured into the latest offering for The Elder Scrolls we have our review on the PC for everyone. Here are some details to help things along though. With the 1.2 patch out I do find it fair to note what I started on for the review so that any issues mentioned might fixed in later patches.
Version Reviewed: 1.0 + 1.1 patch (1.2 patch just arrived today)
Drivers: Catalyst 11.11a (11.11b came out today to help with Skyrim Ambient Occlusion)
Suggested mods: – Skyrim just got a bit better – Graphic mod mania!
AMD Phenom 9750
ATI HD 4850 512 (710/1100)
4GB Crucial DDR2 800
Samsung 1920×1200 LCD 16:10
With that said’ lets roll into the review and see how the latest installment of The Elder Scrolls can deliver.
The Elder Scrolls has always been about story, telling new legends with each installment and consuming a lifetime the player in the process. Skyrim is an evolution on that idea, making the entire world more involved and attempting to place stories within the world so that it never ends. The primary quest revolves around dragons invading Skyrim, they’ve been gone for ages and have faded into the pages of history but a drastic change has come and the world is on the brink of chaos again. You take on the role of the Dragonborn, a legendary figure granted divine power by Akatosh to level the field between the dragons and the humans so that order and balance can exist. It sounds like a hardcore story full of rugged adventure, mystic finds and amazing battles right? Well it is and as you step in, you only sink further and further into each mini story that appears.
If dragons, the end of the world and being a mystic warrior were not enough, you get the added perk of being on the verge of a complete civil war between the Empire and the Nords with the Thalmor eagerly watching in the darkness to strike for control of Skyrim. The last of that bunch, the Thalmor will probably be the most frustrating bunch to meet throughout the game, the arrogance and attitude just grind away as unrest fills the air. Players must pick a path during the story that allows them to side with one faction or simply fade into the pages without directly impacting either side, stack in the issue that both sides have their own downsides and it becomes a mess for any player to decide where their loyalty rests. Of course there’s also another option of being a complete demon and bringing death down upon everyone and having absurdly high bounties wherever you go, it isn’t exactly a quest though, more like something you do on a separate save file.
While Oblivion could eventually be completed to some level, Skyrim is the opposite, with dynamic stories and involvement that keep players adventuring for months or even years through expansion content from the users and Bethesda. Everything takes time in the game and only those in a rush will be able to finish the primary aspects of the game anytime soon. Want to pursue a skill? That’ll take a while, not just because of money, time and leveling but also due to the size of Skyrim, it’s huge and they make no effort to hide that fact. As a result it takes forever to cross from a fast-travel point to a new location, if you’re anti-fast travel it’ll take you even longer to get there as you battle through enemies, sleep, recover, take on more side quests and whatever else pops up. For many it’s a what they’ve hoped to get all along, tasking in the game actually feels like a task instead of just going A to B and being done with it.
If you’re a bit crazy and only out there to do just the main quest it will still set you back in time invested, you need to train like crazy and fight and learn the shouts so that you’re competitive against the dragons.
How deep do you want to go is the question you need to ask yourself, Skyrim essentially allows you to go get as involved in the world as you feel comfortable and to remove yourself just as fast. An example of this is while running around doing quests and pushing on, I realized I needed a place to store my goods outside of an inn for the day or the mages guild. In Oblivion you do have limited chances to purchase homes, depending on where you frequent you might want to live in a specific area though, in these cases you need to earn the trust of the city and do some good deeds questing for the citizens, these stack up on your time and often distract you from the main quest as more mini-quests pop up. Stack in developing your house after you buy it and there’s an entire mess to the madness, I had to pull back for the sake of the review to stop from buying other houses or nothing would get done.
The changes go beyond just the story and quests though, instead of simply walking into shops with a wad of cash or finding the biggest guy to beat the life out of, Skyrim really makes you work for the weapons you want. On top of that, if you want to really make use of the game you need to learn the art of mining for ore as the new smithing skill revolves around it for weapon and item creation. How strong your armor and weapons are is up to you and finding ores without any mods is a bit of a pain given how dense the landscape is this time around and how limited some ores are to make bars from. Add in the need to work through multiple guilds to properly level up your gear and training and the game gets a bit more complex.
Speaking of training, hoping to break into the mages guild and just rock the world? You’ll need to figure out how to get there first after you break out of your shackles and avoid death by dragon fire. Unfortunately there are a lot of bandits, a ton of animals and general difficulties getting out into the mountains and into the right cities. Leveling up to make the trek would be a good idea, keep in mind you’ll need to beef up against the intense cold in the area as well, so many zones are full of blizzards and ice that it’s difficult to survive. It’s not impossible and the benefits are plenty once you get there, you can develop key defensive spells and combinations through research and training to fight dragons, factions and anything else that gets in your way.
Graphically, Skyrim looks amazing out of the box. The time it takes to paint in and organize and arrange every little facet of t he world, the wisps of snow and ice over mountain edges, the glow of the night in each city and the arrangements of grass and brush throughout the world just lifts it into another level. Even with countless mods to Oblivion, it doesn’t compare to the base engine and design quality of the game. The water, the trees, everything just shines with quality to provide a great modern experience. Higher poly models, higher resolution textures and a new experience are difficult to top and the community has already reacted to support the game with 2K (2048×2048) texture mods, improved water, optimized shaders and more. Any details Bethesda missed are already being addressed with HQ packs from the community to make the game shine and they’re free as well.
Character creation is back of course, enabling male or female races with an improved UI to handle the shape and look of your character, instead of a flood of sliders they’ve taken time to slap everything into clean categories and control the extremes the slider can go to. As a result you can get some very interesting characters to develop and even mimic some real-life actors or figures if you wish. The hair would be the biggest drawback at this point simply because it’s extremely… uhm, messy. Short of that, they really nailed the options for character development and the ability to really personalize a character without having to make them alien or freakish.
The audio department is no slouch in Skyrim, beautiful orchestrations flow throughout the world, calm songs playing as you make your way through the game giving a cinematic feel. As you meet enemies or animals you get a twist with some extra energy and a faster pace, as you fight dragons it gets more intensity and drama to the sound. Part of the immersion that comes from the game is based just around the attention to detail in the audio, walking the mountain paths in the storms hearing the blizzards whip around from side to side. It’s a unique experience and they worked hard to tailor it as best they could for the gamer. I do suggest trying to experience the audio in more than a 2.0 or 2.1 configuration. I was using a 4.1 setup with everything positioned properly and the audio shined, allowing for positional audio to work at full potential and environmental effects to circulate while walking around.
Some may feel compelled to use a game controller to play Skyrim on the PC but it’s really not required, the keyboard commands are simple and the positions have gone under great consideration so that the hand remains stationary during gameplay. Casting shouts is a simple swipe of the pinky, interaction, drawing or hiding your weapon is a swipe of the index and middle fingers, it’s all in one place and the mouse is harnessed to allow for additional actions as well. The response and flow are great, the only issue one might have is if they wiggle or bump their mouse during a conversation, suddenly the camera will track off quickly and take seemingly forever to position back over the person you’re talking too. Locking the mouse when you need it to interact with dialogue sequences would be a bit much though and even the camera needs to shift when sequences come up with multiple AI.
Bugs are present in the PC build for sure, the most notable in the play-through came from Esbern, his vocal files were glitching and as a result it was a guessing game getting things going again. Meeting him at the door provided endless headaches of reloading and shaking the door handle over and over. Eventually I downloaded a vocal pack to install directly into the data directory that got things back on track. If you keep going that way you’ll hit issues with him during multiple points of the game as he’s part of the main story line. How this ended up as an issue I don’t know, it is frustrating and logs online show that it ruins game play if you’re unlucky enough to be sacked with it. Other glitches include instances where the engine isn’t able to initiate parts of the story properly, during a flashback I sat for 10 minutes waiting for the rest of the sequence to finish, after loading it again it played through within minutes. With such a large amount of data processing at once in the engine it’s easy to understand hiccups but they’re still a point where the user breaks out of the groove.
Is Skyrim everything I hoped it would be? Yes. Is it something Elder Scrolls fans will no doubt enjoy and mod the life out of for years to come? Yes. There’s so much they did right that it’s easy to ignore the Esbern moments or the cinematic glitches because you get so into the game and the story and the mentality of the character that it’s a small sacrifice for the reward that you get. The story and quests have a deep involvement that drag players in even if they think they can resist it, plan to go lone wolf? Too bad, you’ll need a house eventually and then some furniture and then a collection of something to showcase in there, on top of that you’ll need to make nice with the community in the city and by then it’ll be too late. Expect to lose hours of work, school, social time and family time to Skyrim, it’s extremely good and even though I powered through to some extent I know I’ll most likely start it all over just to take my time section by section because the story is that good. Sometimes having regrets about not helping find that missing loved one or the precious artifact lost. About not taking time to clear up some of the corruption in sections of the world when I could have, rushing for a review does have some down sides but it is critical to experience that core story in the game even if after that it’s just a footnote in a larger situation between the Empire and the Nords.
Many RPG’s have come out this year but Skyrim just presents it with a unique touch that is hard to resist, the formula is so honed and simple and the experience is always enjoyable. Pick it up for your winter break this year and you’ll have plenty to keep you busy through the new year. If you’re coming from Oblivion, think of that as a vacation, you see the sights you try the customs and you have a good time, when you come to Skyrim, you move in you live it in every single step.