Review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review (Xbox360)

It's always a bad sign when you enter a new location and find most of the enemies are already dead. Not in terms of the game being broken, or even in terms of maybe you have dementia and just forgot you'd passed through here already, but it means that there's something so bad-ass lurking in the depths that it prompted everyone else to spawn already dead, out of fear. Or (as we later found out) it could mean that someone had already gone through this dungeon and stolen what it was you were hoping to find. Bastards.
 

"So, you take the 1000 on the left, and I'll take the 1000 on the right?" "Personally, I want to slay the dragon..."
But this is a testament to how well Skyrim, the latest instalment in The Elder Scrolls franchise, is crafted: that the world is so alive and so engaging that you come across set-ups like this and suddenly you're on alert and wondering what went on. Sure, a lot of it is token scripted stuff - NPC's talking to each other, random parties walking aimlessly along random roads... little stuff like that. But on top of that, you have a world that's crammed full of caves to explore, tombs to loot, people to save or kill... sometimes both. Each area has its own little story or theme or just something going on - even if it's as small as a bandit cave not having any actual bandits in it because a troll wondered in and killed everyone. Even stuff like what race, sex etc... you chose at the beginning affect how the world reacts to you, and the deeds you accomplish in the game are recognised and even commented on.

You should all know what Skyrim is about by now, but just in case you don't: The Elder Scrolls games are all set in the fictional fantasy world of Tamriel. Each game usually deals with a different continent in this world, and Skyrim's continent is called, well, Skyrim. It's home to the Nord-race of Humans, drawing on obvious inspirations. You are an unnamed hero, entering a land beset by civil war, unrest and just to top it off - the Dragons have returned. Elder Scrolls games are very free-form, allowing you to go almost anywhere and do anything, in any order. This is actually the first Elder Scrolls game using Bethesda's new engine, which has allowed for a number of improvements both to gameplay, and to the graphics.

The core of the game, of course, is you and how you interact with the world around you. Combat is very fluid, and reaction based. You equip a weapon to each hand (unless it's two-handed like a Great sword or a bow), and you have to time your block and parries with your attacks. If you're dual wielding you can't block at all, but then if you've got a shield you can block and then just smash them in the face. Depending on what perks you chose, you can get certain extra combat-related abilities. Quests are given by NPC's, but can also be found by reading books, exploring, being in a certain place in a certain time... there are miscellaneous tasks, and then major quest threads (Apart from the main one) usually faction related but there are plenty of independent threads as well.

New Elder Scrolls instalments are more evolutions than revolutions - a lot of the basics in Skyrim are the same as Oblivion and past games. The open world gameplay, the quest system, followers, factions etc... hell, you even start the game out as a prisoner again. But those are more behind the scenes stuff - Skyrim's topography is completely different to that of Cyrodil in Oblivion, and it makes exploring and travelling a delight. To plod slowly through a snow-covered pass, only to descend into forest which then opens up into marsh... such diversity really just adds to the whole feel of the game.
 
Views like this make the world worth exploring. Beautiful, even on the consoles...
Other actual changes include the way your character progresses - instead of choosing a class, or even a handful of traits that are the 'primary' traits as in previous games, your skills improve as you use them. Each time you level you then get to choose a perk within a specific skill-tree, further augmenting your abilities. This very free-form character development fits with the game perfectly - it's actually surprising that they haven't done this before now, but then again genre conventions don't change easily.

And then of course there are the Dragons themselves. We feel a bit odd devoting an entire paragraph to these guys, but it's one of the key things the Bethesda's new engine allows for. As we've already mentioned, the return of the Dragons is integral to the main storyline in Skyrim. Apart from any that you face whilst going through that particular quest line, Dragons also exist naturally in the world, and there are two main ways you'll encounter them. First off, dotted around the map are locations where a dragon rests, these are locations you can seek out and add to your map, and even fast travel to. In addition to that, Dragons will randomly spawn and attack you as you travel through the game world. We were a bit sceptical at first, but after having compared notes with other writers, these encounters are truly random, and work very well - to the point where they become no different to any other random mob you may encounter in your travels, albeit a lot stronger.

You'll also be pleased to know that, for a Bethesda title, this game is relatively bug-free and stable - a couple of hiccups and oddities... although we've yet to see how the PC version will turn out (separate review will be done of that). Nothing you can't handle, and considering the complexity of the world it's surprising how well it does hold up. There's a couple of things we were disappointed in - the lack of follower quests, the surprising amount of micro-management you have to engage in sometimes, strange AI path-finding and behaviour (could do with some more work)... little things, mainly. A quick note on graphics - Skyrim is another game that's pushing the limits of what the current generation can handle. On the consoles at least whilst it does look good and better than Oblivion, you can tell it's being stretched.

We could go on, but then this review would be in danger of being as huge as the game is itself - there's plenty of stuff we haven't talked about (Shouts, Werewolves), hell, probably plenty of stuff we've forgotten to talk about. Just go and play it and you'll see what we mean. Despite how good the game is though, in its own way it's a little niche - not in terms of content but in terms of the core of its design. A lot of people don't like the openness of free-form games, the lack of direction, and if you're one of the those people then you probably won't get on with Skyrim because it's openness personified and in that respects nothing has, or will ever, change.
 
The Nords of Skyrim are actually pretty racist, and as such you rarely see some of the more outlandish species of Tamriel

But, assuming you're fine with that, then Skyrim is, in a word, amazing. Sure, it has its problems, its oddities, and again some of these are just down to how the game is made and others just need some extra patching or work done to it. There is always a danger with games like these that you'll get bored, or you'll lose your drive - Bethesda have done a wonderful job of staving off that feeling in this game. People commented on how much of a cop out the main quest in Oblivion was towards the end, and whilst the main quest is better in Skyrim, it honestly doesn't matter - there's so many other threads, both big and small, to pull you along you'll never want for something to do. We can honestly think of no better game to while away your Christmas vacation.

Top Game Moment: There have been many memorable moments so far, but we have to say the best out of the bunch was when we did a finishing move on a dragon.

Videos

Comments

By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 10, 2011
Kres
Wohooooooooooo they didn't screw it up! I'd go and buy it but it's still not out! Bloody hell. But gonna be a short weekend! :p
By hunter612 (SI Core) on Nov 10, 2011
hunter612
Oh my God! Lol I just finished Oblivion and now this! Pretty expensive but I'm going to buy it anyways!
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2011
Kres
Downloading it now!
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2011
nocutius
Niice :).
I was just a little bit worried but this clears things up. Just a question on leveling, do enemies level with you (as in oblivion) or not?
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2011
SirRoderick
I will literally DIE if I don't get to play this within the week.
By YouriRevenn (SI Veteran Member) on Nov 11, 2011
YouriRevenn
I don't like the new equipment list. :( But the game is awesome with Ultra graf. settings!
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Nov 11, 2011
JustCommunication
@Nocutius: I honestly don't know the answer to that question - that's a behind the scenes thing that's not easily apparent when you play through it. I'm assuming so though going by my experiences.

@Youri: That was somehting I forgot to mention in my review actually - inventory management isn't great, as it's just a list of stuff. Using the 'Favourite' option makes things easier for a bit, but then you end up favouriting so many things that you end up with the same problem.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2011
SirRoderick
They don't level with you. I remember them expressely denying that.
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2011
nocutius
Good then, i'd hate it if it was the same as in Oblivion.
If you can meet an enemy that can kill you without breking a sweat that would probably mean their level is not tied to yours.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2011
SirRoderick
And no more ragged kahjit bandit wielding a glass waraxe of √úberstomping.
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2011
nocutius
That was really dumb too. what's the point in exploring if the first bandid you meet already has the best stuff?
I'm really glad they changed that, if they really did it.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2011
FoolWolf
I have played for two hours, it is buggy, poorly optimized, stunted and ripe with console dumbed down controls a d interface. A few good things like dual wiled, nice ghraphics.. But so many thin gs that made a TES game is gone. No attributes, no major minor skills no magic spell making and makingpotions isn't to write homeabout either. Glitchy graphics, floatig enemiea etc....

Don't run and buy on PC - wait awhile for modders to make it resembling a PC game. I can imagine that on console moat things are for the better but on PC it is not so :(
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2011
SirRoderick
That's...remarkably negative?

"No attributes, no major minor skills no magic spell making"

Don't honestly care, and that was well advertised. Never even used spellmaking.

"makingpotions isn't to write homeabout either"
And it was in Oblivion? Nearly useless.

As for reliability, I'll have to see for myself I guess.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2011
FoolWolf
Well, as far as your style of play not being affected, you may be lucky ;) I'm mostly pissed that they managed to screw up yet another launch. Advertised features not being present - sure but I miss them more then I thought I would. The game plays and feels more like Divine Divinity or Gothic than a TES game.

Hopefully the sheer size and new map and the mods that are bound to pop-up will do the same as for Oblivion, turn a so so game to a really good one. It is still huge on potential. if only they could have shown some love for the PC gamers....
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2011
SirRoderick
Well I'm getting it soon myself. I'll see if it makes me want to pull my hair out when it gets here :)
By YouriRevenn (SI Veteran Member) on Nov 11, 2011
YouriRevenn
It has many bug indeed, but i'd like the idea to play hammerfell and morrowind ect. with this new engine.
A remake would be nice from them.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2011
SirRoderick
I played Morrowind after playing Oblivion, to see what the fuss was about. I played for maybe an hour or two. Games like that are better with nostalgia I guess.

I don't see the point of a modern remake honestly.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 12, 2011
Kres
It's a great game! Though I get a CTD every say 2 hours. Not a disaster, but it does cause me to lose a decent sum of unsaved time (which is what just happened and why I'm here)...

As for skills, attributes, spells progression, I see nothing wrong with it. A bit different approach but it's cool.

What combo for weapons/magic do you use? I got used to fire burning (or what's it called) in left hand and one handed weapon in the right.

Don't buy magically enchanted weapons cause they dry out! Waste of money... Unless you want to recharge them here and there... Though that's annoying.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 12, 2011
SirRoderick
I've just played about 5 hours myself. I love it!

Didn't have any serious bugs so far, so perhaps some of the claims are inflated OR I'm just lucky. So I'll put down a small list of pros and cons so far.

Pros:
-Combat system makes more sense than Oblivion.
-The new smithing system.
-Spells feel more useful.
-Dual wield system.
-A vibrant and detailed world, absolutely gorgeous.
-New graphical style overall is much better.
-Plenty to do.
-Skill system (yes Foolwolf, I actually like it)
-Dragons...seriously, come on!

Cons:
-Obvious console roots, annoying menus.
-Some voice acting could be better.

That's about it for now.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Nov 13, 2011
FoolWolf
The game is slowly growing on me - after some more hours - the game shows that it is the same ol same ol hidden behind a lot of flare. The menus are horrid - but the favourite menu is great addition.
I have had some CTD's and floating enemies and last night I had some missing textures lighting up the sky with some clear blue Christmas looking trees and a Kajiit bandit gave himself away by having the same light blue shiny tail...

I agree with SirRoderick that combat is better - way better.
Like the new smithing system-
I don't overly favour the new graphic system because it is still low def textures missing out on many of the benefits of HD textures.
I'm hoping a few more patches will make the mouse and key bindings work. Right now I have a problem with switching from 1st to 3rd person camera and refigure "E" key and "r" key to for example the mouse doesn't work in many menues since they seem hard coded into the system. This is an obvious console crap low optimisation for PC's. Many major title aimed for consoles have the same problem, Just Cause 2, Dead Space etc...

Still the game play is closing in on the Morrowind feel and the get better at what you use is still good. Still lacks a few things but I'm getting over it. Raided my first necromancer hide-out and sneaking about shooting nasties with arrows and finishing up with a dual handed approach is never getting old ;)
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Nov 13, 2011
Wowerine
Should I get this on X360 (and play it on a 42" screen), or PC and play it on 21.5" :)

Are the controls better on gamepad? What are the main differeneces between the 2 versions?
By YouriRevenn (SI Veteran Member) on Nov 14, 2011
YouriRevenn
In PC U can use many mods, what improve the game. And the graf is better than XBox.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Nov 14, 2011
JustCommunication
I don't know WoW, someone else is doing the PC review.Obviously, the PC version would be far superior graphically, and there'll be mods, but it's still a fantastic game on the console. I find the gamepad pretty easy to use, the only real drawback being inventory management is a bit rubbish on console.
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Nov 14, 2011
nocutius
The PC version will become far superiror with mods eventually, if the game will only be played once and that's that, then it should not matter much. Then it comes down to which controls you prefer.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 15, 2011
herodotus
Well, I am converted, especially with the listing of the stand-out mods (for PC). Just have to find an inexpensive way to get it (digital is out of the question - USD $90 most places) and physical takes several weeks from o'seas.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 15, 2011
Kres
$90 digital? I paid 50 EUR for it on Steam. About $68.

Inventory management is rubish on the PC indeed.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Nov 15, 2011
JustCommunication
It depends on territory Kres - Hero is in Australia I beleive, and games cost way more over there.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 15, 2011
Kres
Yeah I know he's in AU, but $90??
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Nov 15, 2011
JustCommunication
Yup, expensive and in some cases very late as well.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 15, 2011
herodotus
More expenive than they are in-store, which is crazy. I can get the CE from the UK for AUD $68, with all the extra bells and whistles. Price-gouging is alive and well here, and has been reported to our complaints body the ACCC many times this year already.
Greed is the only reason, and Publishers can't see that it actually promotes PC piracy.