- Lasting Appeal
There was not much on me, an iron short sword, a hide shield and robes for armor. With such meager tools I had barely escaped a cave system infested with Spiders, Imperial soldiers and a black Bear. My perils were already at the back of my mind by then; for before me, was the enchantingly beautiful world of Skyrim, birthplace of the Nords (humans).
I took a moment to stare at its majesty. It felt alive, breathing and teeming with life. The distant snow topped mountains gazed at us through misty skies while to my right I could see a beautiful river ending at a short waterfall just beyond the horizon.
I could not decide whether to split up from my companion or to go to his village, so I took a peek at my Journal; there were two tasks to be done. One of them always stayed active: “Do as you see fit in the world of Skyrim”.
I realized at that point that I could actually just wander off into Skyrim’s wilderness and not bother doing any quests at all. With my sword drawn and my shield at the ready, I headed off into the distance, ready to bury myself into the unknown.
Having never played any of the previous games in the Elder Scrolls series, I found that the learning curve was not too steep. Like most RPG games, the first interactions begin with customizing your player. It gives you 10 races to choose from, each with their own short descriptions, just enough to get you going. What’s unique about this bit here is that unlike most RPG games, you’re not bound to choose your special talent right then and there. Rather, the game allows you to try out each talent while exploring the world and completing quests. You can decide to specialize once you are ready and sure. The Race that you choose does influence your special talent, but not significantly. Nords, for example, are balanced in terms of talents while High Elves can regenerate Magicka (spell-casting ability) quickly.
Therein lays the soul of the game, exploration and experimentation. You never know what you might face in the next turn. Hidden cottages and mysterious dungeons are sprinkled all over the terrain and it is there for you to find them. And though you may encounter many of those locations through given quests, many more always remain for you to stumble upon. Enemies are not necessarily equal in power to your own. They can be ten times more magical and may be able to defeat you in a flash, should you be unlucky enough to step upon their lair. They can be defeated however with a little patience and victory almost always yields a powerful weapon or armor for your inventory.
Swords and shields are not the only things that matter in Skyrim. You can harvest flora, hunt (and cook) deer meat, collect books complete with short stories (there are hundreds of books to be discovered, some of which even show the way to hidden quests or locations), look for ingredients and recipes to potions and meals or just go on an expedition to far off cities. All of this contributes to that feeling of complete freedom, the choice to do whatever and however you wish to without having to suffer consequences.
Now, one does not just walk into Skyrim and not expect dragons (for there are plenty!). Some are placed in specific positions to guard artifacts while some appear at random places. It lets you know it’s out to get you with a baleful screech. Within moments, it lands, flapping its leathery wings and blowing dust around like a sand storm. While its huge form will terrify you, you will be in awe at how detailed each and every dragon is. It’s not just a mini boss that you have to fight; dragons define Skyrim and are a keystone to the game’s glory. As terrifyingly beautiful as they are, it’s not unimaginably hard to defeat them. In fact, their movements start to get predictable at about the third encounter. That however, does not lessen the thrill involved in killing one.
Dragon murder isn’t just there for the spectacle, they are essential to powering up your player to use Shouts. Shouts are magical powers unique to you. With these shouts you can change the weather, breathe fire or throw concussive blasts that cripple your enemy. Absorbing souls isn’t enough to trigger those powers. Your player must learn dragon words hidden away in dungeons and caves throughout Skyrim, all the more reason for you to explore the heck out of the map. Speaking of which, the main theme to the game (Sons of Skyrim) is sung using dragon words which always plays whenever you are fighting one. How cool is that?
NPCs or Non-Playable-Characters in the game are the most dynamic I’ve seen in any RPG up till now. They don’t keep doing the same thing every time you see them. They move around, and while it’s only an illusion, it blends well and your mind never unconsciously wonders why that person is still mopping the same area of the floor. NPCs stay updated to your actions. If you’ve done something important, they react to it and comment on it. Actions such as picking up important objects belonging to other people result in different reactions. These personalities give depth to the NPCs and further pull you into the game.
But yes, since your character does not speak, conversations feel a tad bit hollow even though I’m aware that the whole point of the voiceless protagonist is for the user to merge with the virtual character. The voice acting however is as good as it can get with RPGs, though they are not as memorable as you would expect them to be.
By far the strongest point about Skyrim is the attention to detail given to every quest. Small quests are not usually tied to the main story but they don’t feel unnecessary at the same time. They are fun to complete and provide great means to upgrade your armory and your skill. There’s of course nothing stopping you from completing the main quests first and shoveling through the storyline, but I doubt if any player can keep himself from getting distracted and carrying out other quests in the process. Skyrim is made to be explored and more than half the fun lies in just that. All RPG games are meant to be personal experiences. Skyrim elevates that to new heights. This isolation of quests from each other makes sure that the user enjoys the game without having to worry about time limits or decisions made. Not all quests are free of decision making though.
As mentioned earlier, Skyrim allows you to specialize in whatever talent you wish to master your own way. If you prefer using swords and shields rather than destruction magic, your sword fighting and blocking skills will level up. The more you brew potions and pick locks, the more you learn to be good at them. This method of leveling up one’s skills is a lot more realistic than using XP points which compared to Skyrim’s, seems archaic.
When the player has learned enough of one skill, he is given a choice to add more to that talent. Extensive use of one handed swords eventually allow a special one-hit decapitation skill to your list of talents and that’s just one ability to be unlocked. Potion brewing, archery, Magicka, forging, all have their unique perks to unlock; another reason to why you should come back to the game once you are done with the main missions.
Skyrim’s weakest section is its melee combat. While all hits register correctly, there is no actual feel to hitting someone with a mace, or slicing someone with a great sword. Skyrim is primarily a first person game and so it feels cumbersome to not being able to fight using precise, calculated actions. The combat is adequate enough, but definite improvements need to done here. Then again, there’s so much in the game already that it almost feels wrong to be complaining about this. Skyrim is the definite example of getting more than your money’s worth, but it’s not a bad thing to ask for perfection.
Melee combat aside, Magicka combat (or fighting with spells) feels solid. The game lets you dual-wield spells: fireball for the left hand, electric sparks for the right. If you use enough Magicka, you level up eventually to unlock powerful versions of those spells. It is also possible to have a spell on one hand and a short sword on another.
Every so often the game lets you tag along an NPC to fight beside you. They may be there for a specific quest or under money, given that you’ve completed that NPC’s favor. Sidekicks in Skyrim don’t offer much other than the extra muscle. You can’t interact and form bonds with them like in Mass Effect. But they do come in handy in later fights. There are a few minor hiccups regarding NPC A.I. though, they almost always have a hard time following you up mountains or rough terrain in general. If you engage enemies in that position, your sidekick manages to magically teleport beside you to help you in battle, something that is both convenient and comical.
Skyrim is powered by the Creation engine tailor made for the game. Graphically, Skyrim’s environments are astoundingly beautiful. Every inch of land is hand crafted to feel different; trees and bushes are placed individually to give each area its own spirit. The foliage, animals and mountain ranges don’t feel out of place or position; they feel coherent and natural. You can try and follow a river up a mountain and gaze down at Skyrim from the top. If you have a powerful enough computer, the view distance can be set to maximum to view the whole of the land in all its glory. It wouldn’t be surprising if you to stopped fighting your enemies to gaze at the night sky in the northern parts of Skyrim where Auroras streak across the horizon in splendid fashion!
It’s not only the environments that are intricately detailed. Your inventory manager allows you to view all your armor, weapons, potions, and even food in 3D. All the beautiful details that matter can finally be seen with ease at one’s leisure. Character animations aren’t impressive however. Faces seem blocky and look as if they were done with low resolution textures. But these errors aren’t apparent from a distance and the game seldom zooms in on any faces (this issue can be fixed with mods).
The inventory manager itself is not as streamlined as it could’ve been. Switching weapons requires too many button presses for my liking. Though hotkeys can be custom mapped for each weapon, the game doesn’t make it obvious to you to use those functions from the start.
The game gets so many things right, that the minor graphical glitches that are omnipresent don’t cause too much bother. I am fortunate enough to not have faced any game breaking bug in my play through!
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a virtual medieval playground to get lost in. It doesn’t command you to do things. It sets you free in the truest sense of the word and throws in a mesmerizing soundtrack to help you journey through blizzards and grassy plain lands. There’s always one more task to complete in Skyrim, one more mountain to climb to discover hidden fortresses and caves.
Skyrim is the best of its kind and the most thought out RPG made for any platform and overall one of the best games released in 2011.