Nov 16, 2011

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Review-in-Progress: Skyrim Impressions #1

Review-in-Progress: Skyrim Impressions #1

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a massive RPG, with more content and features than almost anything else on the market. I’ve been logging hours since the game’s midnight launch, and have embarked on the daunting task of reviewing the game. The Elder Scrolls is a game series that I have deep respect and admiration for. If I’m going to review this game, I’m going to give it the time and deep analysis it deserves. And so, in an effort to give you a fair and comprehensive look at the game, I’m going to do things a bit differently.

I’ll be posting a series of articles over the coming weeks with my latest impressions, thoughts, and concerns as I rack up playtime. I’m not sure exactly when I will feel comfortable giving it a final verdict – there’s a hell of a lot to cover. Eventually, this series will become the official Vivid Gamer Skyrim review. For now, enjoy my impressions thus far, and leave comments below with what you’d like me to cover in future updates. The guidance of fellow Elder Scrolls fans and our Vivid Gamer community will most definitely help shape the final review into something that gives the game a proper critique.

 

UPDATE 1 [3:01 PM, November 15]

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My journey with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim began at 1 AM CST on the morning of November 11. In the time since, I’ve ranked up to level 16 and explored several key areas in the central region of Skyrim. I’d probably be higher-leveled if I wasn’t stopping so much to admire the scenery. Graphically, Skyrim isn’t a perfect game – texture pop-in, framerate drops, and flickering low-res shadows are all problems on the PS3. At the same time, Skyrim has produced some of the most incredible vistas I’ve ever seen in a video game. Bethesda’s painstaking care in crafting a believable and immersive landscape is apparent from the moment you’re set loose in this world, and things only get better from there. The babbling brook at your feet accentuates snow-capped mountains and towering pine forests, all tied together by incredible weather effects and fantastic architecture. Some might excuse a game this big for having subpar visuals, but Skyrim needs so excuse. Rest assured, this game looks amazing.

Speaking of being set loose in the world, it’s this moment that defines the Elder Scrolls experience for many, and Skyrim doesn’t disappoint. After being treated with a story-heavy opening sequence that hides a tutorial in a heart-pounding escape, you’re asked to follow one of two potential allies to the next destination in the game’s main story. Needless to say, you don’t have to. I followed my new compani0n (a member of the Stormcloak rebellion) briefly before breaking off to hunt the first deer I had seen – a creature whose only mistake was crossing my path. What happened was three hours of adventuring and exploring that spanned numerous caves, a couple bandit camps, and a waterfall. I never caught that deer, but that single catalytic moment of deciding to give chase blossomed into a personal journey that ended only when I began nodding off on the couch.

In some ways, that unpredictability is the single biggest appeal of The Elder Scrolls, and Skyrim in particular. I’ve embarked on numerous side missions and miscellaneous quests while making a name for myself in a few big cities and smaller settlements, but the best feelings come from knowing that setting off on an adventure will never go as planned. A Sabre Cat may appear with a hunger for flesh, forcing you to flee and be diverted from your path. You may spot a road off the beaten path and become excited by the possibility of treasure or a secret temple, only to find that your hour of exploration led to repeat deaths at the hands of powerful witches. Or, that enticing path may lead you to a new city, where you suddenly get the idea to seduce the local tavern waitress or build a reputation as the town drunkard. Seeing a powerful spell in action while questing for nobles may convince you to change career plans and travel north to the College of Winterhold for some mage training. Days (or weeks!) later, that original adventure you accepted is still waiting, albeit forgotten, amidst the sea of possibilities in this incredibly well-realized Nordic land. Just like real life, there are millions of permutations for how one character’s experience could play out, dependent on everything from Murphy’s law to that relationship you built with a shopkeeper days ago.

From a gameplay standpoint, Skyrim is very solid. Melee combat feels weighty in a Killzone 2 sort of way – responsive, but realistic. Thanks to excellent attack animations and clever camera work, I totally feel like I’m in my character’s shoes slaying bears, spriggans, or what have you. As an Imperial battlemage, I’ve primarily been raising the Destruction, Restoration, Heavy Armor, and One-Handed Weapon skills, with side excursions into Enchanting and Smithing. All of my perks have been allocated to these skill trees so far, with the majority going into Destruction and One-handed Weapon. For those who don’t know, skill values raise as you use them. If you bash a ton of bad-guy skulls with your mace while casting defensive spells, your One-Handed Weapon and Alteration skills will increase appropriately. Your character gains a level for every ten skill-raises you achieve, and every level allows you to unlock a new perk and raise either Health, Magicka, or Stamina by 10 points. So far, the game feels balanced, though a bit difficult at times. The decision to forgo a world that scales to your abilities was lauded by purists, but fans of Oblivion should be warned that difficulty spikes will arise as a result. Gone are the days when you could tackle anything you see. If that Giant wielding a club bigger than you looks intimidating, it’s because you’re probably not ready to face him. Trust me – if you’re just starting out, you’re not.

The use of magic also feels much better in Skyrim, this time aided by new spell animations and effects. New spell types like runes and shields open up more tactical options, while old favorites like Firebolt have been revamped to look and feel badass. I’m glad that new magic can be learned by finding spell tomes while exploring, even if the vast majority of new knowledge comes from buying these tomes off certain shopkeepers. Fans of Morrowind and Oblivion will notice plenty of recurring items that complement a greater number of unique weapons and armor. A lack of distinguished loot and a reliance on enchanted variations of Dwarven, Steel, and other armor types hurt Oblivion in the long run, and it’s refreshing to see a greater amount of items with interesting designs and function. The overhaul given to Skyrim’s presentation benefits this variety. Every single object you pick up can be fully examined in the character menu, which helps craft a greater sense of immersion. The menu itself is also very well designed, allowing access to your weapons, items, and magic in a way that feels very intuitive and doesn’t break up gameplay too much.

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There’s so much to say about Skyrim, and I’ve only scratched the surface. This is just the start of my impressions leading up to the review, so be sure to leave your comments and suggestions below. Let me know your burning questions and sincere hopes for the game, and I’ll try to touch on them as I post over the coming days. Thanks for reading, and stay locked to Vivid Gamer for more on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.