Review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review (PC)

So, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, henceforth known as “Skyrim” or “that game you have already”. Why would you want to read another review of it after the maelstrom of positivity unleashed last week? First of all this is a PC-only review, and yes I have played the 360 version too for comparison. Second of all, as I may have mentioned in my preview, I utterly hated the last Elder Scrolls game Oblivion. Want someone to compare and contrast from that viewpoint? Read on!

I’m not going to explain Skyrim’s setup too much, we’ve already got one perfectly serviceable review (and the rest of the internet) for that. The game is set in the titular snowy realm, it’s the fifth in the fantasy series that defined the expression “open world”, and it’s got dragons in it. I will say two things though: you need no foreknowledge of previous games to enjoy it, and the opening is f***ing awesome. No spoilers - which goes for everything else in the game as well, since exploration and discovery are at the heart of what makes the series addictive. Which it is, oh boy it is.

Whiterun, winner of the “City That Most Looks Like Edoras” award 146 years running

Now, the biggest problem I had with Oblivion is that it made no effort to make the player care about the world. Cyrodiil was there available for the exploration which is why so many people loved it, but RPGers like myself, who want to care about the people and the world they’re expected to save, were left wanting. Cyrodiil was packed with people, places, and things to do, yet felt utterly empty.

Skyrim corrects this problem, even more so than Fallout 3 before it. The incredible opening thrusts you into conflict, destruction, civil war, and the awakening of an ancient legend all before your tea’s got cold. A far cry from Patrick Stewart in a sewer. There’s even a damn moral choice in there. In typical Bethesda style you’re then suddenly given free rein to go wherever you please, and things only get more interesting from there. Skyrim is cold, bitter, and immediately engaging – a word I would never use when talking about Oblivion.

Skyrim is simply more interesting than Cyrodiil. It’s clearly inspired by Beowulf and other Norse legends, which haven’t really been explored in videogames and so instantly creates a far more compelling world than the generic fantasy land of Cyrodiil. It’s certainly more of a looker too. The graphics engine hasn’t changed too much from Oblivion (they both have to run on 360 after all) but looks much better because Bethesda have wisely decided to go for style, which will always look good, over sheer graphical might.

Central to this style is a sense of verticality, from towering mountains to deep valleys, which has been totally absent from Bethesda’s recent titles. The land is also packed with detail and consequently looks believably real, far better than Oblivion’s cut-and-paste-a-rama. I didn’t see anything get blatantly reused, with the exception of voice actors (which I’ll talk about shortly).

Skyrim’s full of wonderful graphical flourishes that really made me coo, such as aurora borealis and the snowy winds whipping up the mountainside at the top of The Throat of the World (the tallest mountain in Skyrim, which of course I jumped off for no reason). To put the cap on the graphical chat, the PC version looks vastly better than the console versions. Trees for example look horribly pixellated on 360, whereas everything looks good up close on PC – and it’ll only get better with the high texture mods rolling in already.

Stabbing a cat person with an electric sword. It doesn’t get any better than this


The game is also more focused than Oblivion in key areas. Sure, it may be great to be able to talk to everyone and go in every building, but when everyone says the same things and every house is identical it’s better not to have such freedom. Bethesda have wisely decided to cut down the number of people you can properly talk to so everyone says something of interest, and while there are less buildings in cities they are all different inside. Fortunately this focus doesn’t extend to cutting down the amount of things to do, which is as long as a piece of string basically.

There are two main activities in Bethesda games: quests and exploration/dicking around. Both are just as valid and fun. You’ve got the main storyline of course, but otherwise quests can be received from just about anywhere. Talking to people, overhearing an argument, picking up a certain treasure, finding a note on a dead body, even reading a book can lead to quests with a plot and action that can rival the main quest. If you’re anything like me it’s likely you’ll have dozens of quests on the go at any one time. Alternatively just exploring and experimenting can yield equally satisfying results. Sometimes the best stories are the ones you make yourself, such is the magic of the Elder Scrolls series, and it’s never been better in Skyrim.

There’s enough content here to keep players playing for a year or more, not even counting replays. By the time I’m finished with this review there’ll be dozens, if not hundreds, of things I didn’t have space to mention. Skyrim is a fantastic game, one of the best games of the year, and is light-years better than the (in my opinion) dull Oblivion. I just wanted to make all that clear, since I’m going to use the rest of my space for complaints. Don’t worry, none are deal-breakers that stopped me loving it, but they are genuine grievances that stop it from getting a perfect score.

The most pressing is the menu. It’s slightly annoying on consoles but downright tedious on PC. Since I could spend ages on the topic let me just give a short list. Choosing perks on the Skills screen is unnecessarily complicated. Choosing an item or power as a Favourite merely creates an equally long list in-game, whereas a mouse-controlled inventory would’ve been far more preferable. Bethesda don’t mention that you can assign Favourites to the number keys (very useful) but only with 1-8 (why??). You can’t properly zoom the map in and out, with the Local map being particularly cumbersome, and there’s no ability to write on them either which would’ve been nice (“here be dragons!”). You can’t view Options on the Main Menu. There’s no proper Stats Screen for your character. Oh, and sometimes the game won’t let you click the thing you wanted. Yeah, in short, the menu isn’t really designed with the PC in mind.

While the people look much improved over the bland characters of Oblivion they still walk a little stiffly, and you’ll still find the same voices many times. Having my sombre-looking elf companion talk like Nathan Drake was particularly off-putting. Speaking of companions, their AI is still utterly horrendous. They frequently get stuck on anything that’s not level (and Skyrim on the whole is as flat as the Himalayas), will block you in, and always set off traps – usually right in your face. There’s no Fallout: New Vegas-style Companion Wheel either, which is a shame.

This is officially my favourite screenshot that I’ve ever taken


The combat is fun, and the dual-wielding with everything is a great idea (Ice Sword and Flame Hands was my combo of choice), but I guess I’ve just been spoiled by Dead Island because I really want to kick enemies and chuck axes at them. However, to go off complaining I do love how using one type of weapon increases your ability to use them. Actually that goes for everything, from lockpicking and spells to talking and alchemy. It’s a very cool system, totally reliant on you doing things you want to rather than just stuffing numbers into a skill.

As you can see, I can’t complain about Skyrim for too long without starting to compliment it again. It’s an excited, engaging, epic tale with you at the centre. There are a number of complaints, a few bugs and the odd crash, but nothing that can’t be fixed with a couple of patches and a legion of obsessed modders. The menu system may not be designed with the PC in mind but the superior graphics and community easily makes the PC version of Skyrim the version to get. I may have hated Oblivion, but I utterly love Skyrim. It’s fixed every problem I had with the previous game and don’t think I’ll be uninstalling it for a good long while. Skyrim’s a huge, impressive, dangerous land, and unless you seriously hate exploration and fantasy I highly doubt you’ll do anything but love it. If you can only buy one game this year, buy Skyrim. Although you’ve probably done that already.

Top Game Moment: Bagging your first dragon is a strong contender, but to be honest it’ll be different for absolutely everyone. And that’s why it’s so great – find your own Top Game Moment!

Videos

Comments

By V4ndall (SI Veteran Member) on Nov 21, 2011
V4ndall
The game is incredibly good, but further the series get from Morrowind the more generic-RPG the world in them becomes.

Morrwoind presented absolutely unique places wherever you went. From walls of Ebonheart, to cantons of Vivec. Not to mention Dwemer ruins or the masterpiece of Tel Vos. Even native fauna & flora where out of this world.

I thought that people at Bethesda realised this after Oblivion, when they released Shimmering Isles, but it seems I was wrong because even though the world in Skyrim is beautiful, it's not only generic but even looks so similar to LOTR movies that it hurts.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 21, 2011
Kres
Looking forward to 1.2 patch and the potential end of CTDs... But yeah, a great game on the other hand...
By noobst3R (SI Core) on Nov 21, 2011
noobst3R
It's a great game, and the UI grows on you after while, but the map isn't that good. I still haven't figured out how to get to High Hrothgar.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 21, 2011
Kres
I'm struggling to find good traders to be able to sell all I need to sell... :)
By noobst3R (SI Core) on Nov 22, 2011
noobst3R
Indeed, the traders are much too "realistically" specific in what they trade. Also, it's hard to keep your level high enough versus your enemies, I'm lvl9 now, and as I progress, the enemies just get too strong...
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 23, 2011
Kres
Hm I'm actually finding that the game is easy. I'm lvl 21 or so though. Can't really find someone that could defeat me (2-3 potions of health in worst case) other then the giants. At this time anyway. Smithing rules!
By noobst3R (SI Core) on Nov 23, 2011
noobst3R
I think I've found my problem: I do heavy armor, two handed, one handed, magic and archery. I'd be better off focusing on one thing...
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 23, 2011
SirRoderick
Levelling up, while also gaining VERY (!!!) usefull skill:

-Collect as much leather and Iron as you can.
-Turn leather into strips, ore into ingots.
-Make huge amounts of Iron daggers.

Especially at early levels, this will raise your level a few notches. Not to mention that even if you never want to smith anything, you can still use the skill to improve your existing weapons and armour, really big improvements too.

I dropped all the daggers I made into the empty firepit in the house I bought. I call it my Pitt 'O Daggers or mini-Daggerdale. Seriously, there's like 200 daggers in there. And some gems...to make it sparkly :D
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 23, 2011
Kres
Yeah, though that's not too bad. I'd just pick one of the two in regard to one and two handed. What magic do you use more often? I use flame hands 80% of the times, healing 15% of times, 5% goes for fireballs and healing sidekicks. Got a sidekick? I'm pal with Sven from Riverwood. What is bugging me is that I can't see any stats from your sidekicks. I don't know what they're good with...
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 23, 2011
SirRoderick
Sidekicks? You use them?!

They just get in the damn way of my Chain Lightning.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 25, 2011
Kres
Yeah well you can put 2 tons of stuff on em. No need to run back and forth to collect things you want to. If nothing, at least for that. And they do take hits in nicely. Though I wish I knew their stats and abilities. They just appear like a meat wagon atm. Don't expect that to be "patched"...
By noobst3R (SI Core) on Nov 26, 2011
noobst3R
I've turned to a one handed steel sword and a pretty strong Healing spell + heavy armor. Can take a few enemies at once, pressing heal and attack at the same time and they're done! :D

I really hate the sidekicks and housecarls. Only got Lydia for the moment, but sent her home after 15 minutes of her on my tail.