Bethesda Scores Again With Complex, Open-world Goodness
The next chapter in the Elder Scrolls series is finally here, and with it comes a lot of questions. The main one everyone has been asking me is if Skyrim is just Oblivion with better graphics? The answer to that question is no. But before I delve into what makes these two games so different from one another I want to talk about what is the same.
The world is still open, and in true Elder Scrolls fashion, the story starts with a prisoner on their way to execution who is freed by a series of unusual events. During this time you’ll mold your character into one of the many races found in the world of Tamriel. The races are Nord, Imperial, Redguard, Khajiit, Argonian, Altmer, Bosmer, Dunmer, and Orcs. Each race has advantages and disadvantages based on what type of character you want to play. This doesn’t mean that you must play a certain race if you want to be for example, a mage, but it does mean that some races are easier to start off with if you want to go down a certain path.
This is where the similarities end and the differences begin. Let’s start off with the world. Skyrim is a huge open world with nine major cities and plenty of smaller villages scattered through the countryside. One of the major differences Skyrim and Oblivion is that the smaller villages don’t require separate load times to enter. Instead, you can just walk straight into the village and start conversing with its inhabitants. This may only seem like a small change, but not having the load times left me with feeling that the world was actually one giant realm instead of being split into smaller separate realms, which is how Oblivion felt.
Another huge change to the game is the character depth of the NPC’s. Walking through a town and catching pieces of side conversation was present in Oblivion, but the difference here is that each conversation has a level of depth to it that makes it feel so much more real. It also really helps that there are more than ten voice actors, but more on that later. Listening in on some of these side conversations can lead you to take quests or find locations on the map without ever having to talk to a NPC.
Moving on to gameplay, I found that there were a lot of changes in Skyrim. Skyrim drops the class system that was found in previous Elder Scroll games. Now each skill leveled up will work toward the character’s main level. This leaves it open for a person to play as an archer for most of the game and then decide later on that they might want to do some training in magic as well. While at first I didn’t like the idea of not having a class, I soon came to embrace it when I realized 20 hours into the game that I wanted to be a smith and enchanter as well as being a destruction mage and a conjurer.
This brings me to the new system for character leveling. When the character is ready to level up you are given the choice to raise one of three stats, Magicka, Health, or Stamina. Each of these three stats plays a major role in how you play a character. For example, Mage-like characters won’t really want to add much to their Stamina since it mainly helps in melee combat, and on the flipside a melee character won’t really care about how much Magicka they have, since they will be more focused on physical damage and not magical damage.
After choosing which stat to increase we are also given a perk to choose. Perks are separated into different skill trees named after the advantages to the skill they improve like Destruction, One-Handed, and Archery. The perks in these trees do a lot to help improve the character however they choose to advance. For example, when going for Destruction, the very first skill to learn is that all novice level spells of that type now cost half as much to cast.
Speaking of casting spells, there has been a major change in the combat system in Skyrim. We now have the ability to dual-wield! This doesn’t just apply to weapons though, mages can also dual-wield as well. Dual wielding weapons require that you have two one-handed weapons equipped, obviously. Damage can be pumped out much faster this way making it a fair trade off for not having a shield. Mages work a little bit different when it comes to dual-wielding. While they do have the option to cast two separate spells at the same time, they can also cast the same spell with both hands and turn it into a beefed up version of that same spell. This applies to almost any of the spells including the new Rune spells.
There are some significant changes made to Skyrim to help balance out the different types of characters. For example, you can no longer run at the same speed backwards as you could forwards. Those who played archers in Oblivion easily understand that this helps to balance out archer versus melee combat. In Oblivion, an archer could just run backwards as fast as the person was running toward them and continue to shoot them the whole time. This doesn’t leave Archers without a defense though, you can now do melee attack with your bow!
Mages also no longer have the ability to create their own spells. While I’m sure many people are going to complain about this, I’m sure we can all agree that a mage in Oblivion who made custom Alteration spells was easily the most overpowered character in the game. Instead though, mages now have spells that are constant, for example each type of spell (fire, lightning, ice) now has a spell that basically acts like a flamethrower. Mages can also place Runes on the ground and when an enemy steps on the run it will damage them, making it advantageous for mages to set up traps before a battle.
Melee characters have been balanced out by slowing down the speed at which the character can swing a weapon.
Sure all of these seem like bad things, but they are a necessary evil to try and keep people from breaking the game mechanics and making Skyrim too easy.
Unique to Skyrim is the addition of Shouts. Shouts are a power granted to the character for being the first Dragonborn in 200 years (Martin Septim from Oblivion was the last one). Shouts vary in what they do, but for the most part are intended to give the character an extra advantage in combat. The first Shout learned (and soon mastered) for example is Unrelenting Force. This shout as you might have already guessed hits the enemies with an immense amount of force. At first it only staggers an enemy but by the time it reaches its maximum output you’ll have groups of enemies flying through the air like rag dolls. Using a Shout doesn’t require any Magicka but instead has a cool down time before you can shout again.
A small but great change in the gameplay also makes keeping a companion much easier. Instead of just killing a character when their health is gone, you will knock them down to a kneeling position. This position is used for yielding in combat. When your companion yields like this, the enemies will leave them alone and instead focus on you. This makes it much less of a hassle to keep a companion alive and not have to worry about them dying. I’m not going to say it makes them invincible, since crossfire from arrows and spells can still kill them, but I found it to be a nice addition that actually has me keeping a constant companion in Skyrim.
Now finally to the main addition in Skyrim that everyone is excited about: Dragons! After a short way into the main story, Dragons will start randomly appearing while you adventure through the world. Some people have asked if the appearances really are random or if they are scripted. I’m going to guarantee you that the appearances are random. I can’t imagine that while I’m working on a quest for Azura, whose Shrine is at the top of a mountain, that it was scripted for a dragon to fly in and attack me and the servant of Azura. It held no value to my quest and instead forced me to put what I was doing on hold, so I could deal with it.
Dragons don’t always have to be fought either. On more than one occasion I’ve had a Dragon fly over my head and instead of running in guns blazing, I decided to hide until it flew away, because I wasn’t up for a battle at the time. Battling Dragons feels amazingly epic and I only have one complaint. Mages who cast dual spells that are powered up can stun a dragon because of a perk in the game. This makes it way too easy to just pin a dragon to the ground and continue to hit it with the same spell over and over again until it dies. I would suggest a patch be released so that the Impact perk in the Destruction skill tree no longer works on dragons as it makes the battles way too easy.
Now I want to talk about the graphics of Skyrim. The first thing is that the world is b-e-a-utiful. With rivers running through the world, wind kicking up snow in the arctic areas, and stunningly huge mountains to be scaled, the sheer amount of detail put into the world left me in awe.
The world wasn’t the only thing that got an overhaul in detail though. The different races in Skyrim have had an immense amount of detail put into them as well. Those who play as Argonians, Orcs, or Khajiits are going to be immediately pleased with the changes made to these races. No longer does every class just look like the base Imperial with a different head and texture. Each class has their own distinct appearance now. With Argonians having an oily sheen to their skin, and Dunmers appearing more scrawny and small, each of the races has been given the proper attention they deserve.
Now we reach the final stretch of the review, the sound. As I briefly mentioned above, one huge change to Skyrim from Oblivion is the addition of more voice actors. There are over 70 unique voice actors in the game now, so no longer will you see characters with the same voice talking to one another. This was a huge complaint I and many others had with Oblivion and I’m glad Bethesda listened to their fans and fixed the problem in Skyrim.
To go along with the superb voice acting is the music of the game. Music changes depending on what kind of situation you’re in. From battling against a dragon with the epic sounds of battle and a barbarian choir or calmly walking through the streets of a city and hearing soft melodies play as you listen to conversation and search the market to see if there is anything you might want to buy, the sounds were always great. I can guarantee that I’ll be picking up the soundtrack for Skyrim, I mean when the main theme of a game is done by a choir of over thirty people singing in the native language of the Nords of Skyrim, you know they went all out.
After spending around 40 hours on Skyrim I still feel I’ve only scratched the surface of this game. With its beautiful and deep world I know, I’ll be spending a lot more time in Skyrim and I easily expect to pass over the 200 hour mark that I achieved in Oblivion.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim leaves me amazed and in awe, and so I give it a perfect 5 out of 5 GiN Gems!