I should never have played Skyrim. I was all ready to type up an article about how the game is over-hyped, ugly and goofy (I mean come on…a first-person RPG? How lame is that?), and then I made the mistake of sitting down to play it. I’d never played an Elder Scrolls game before, but friends had tried to get me into past installments. I remember seeing bland, uninteresting environments, blocky and awkward character rendering and cheesy first-person melee combat. Needless to say, I fully expected Skyrim to feature more of the same.
I was wrong. I’m man enough to admit that. Not about the goofiness of the first-person RPG, that is still gross, but Skyrim has fixed the problems its predecessors had with the third-person perspective to the point that you can actually opt to use it without throwing up. Once I realized I wouldn’t have to put up with a shoddy gameplay perspective, curiosity about the depth the game alleged to offer started to get the better of me. Could you really become a warewolf? Contract vampirism? Dual-wield magical spells? Yes. Yes and more.
GAMEPLAY: I thought about making a list of the cool things you can do in Skyrim, but “Things You Can’t Do In Skyrim” might be the shorter list. A lot of the aspects are stock RPG fare, with a three-pronged crafting system (smithing, alchemy and enchanting), a perk system that Bethesda fans will recognize from Fallout, and an experience based advancement system. Notable in comparison to other RPGs is the complete absence of a class system. In Skyrim, have an overall character level, the advancement of which earns you 10 points in the base stat of your choosing (Magicka, Health or Stamina) as well as a point to spend on a perk that will improve one of your specific skills. Your individual skills level independently of your character, and you must have an appropriate level in the skill you want to improve in order to use a perk on it. So, for example, on attaining level 10 you might decide to improve your health by 10 points, and then put your perk in Archery, improving the damage your bows deal by 20%.
This system is incredibly intuitive and lets you be whatever character you want to be, since your skills improve only through use. Want to be a sneaky thief? Then you’ll become better at sneaking and thieving simply by doing those things. Likewise, you can’t put all of your perks in archery if you never pull out your bow.
The combat system is a blast, far more intense than what I was expecting from an RPG. Skyrim lets you equip spells or weapons in each of your hands. Want to dual-wield axes or swords? No problem, just pull the corresponding trigger to swing each weapon. Want to do the same with fire and ice spells? The exact same play functionality applies.
Like I said, I could go on and on about the stuff you can do in this game all day. From roving dragons to bandit-filled dungeons, hoofing it across the vast landscape and plundering ancient ruins or simply hunting for food and crafting materials, every inch of Skyrim is packed with adventure.
INTERFACE: This is my only real peeve with the game. The interface is the prime potential downfall of any RPG, because taking a pause from the action to open a radial menu that brings you to another menu that lets you drink a potion is liable to kill your sense of immersion. I found that Skyrim wasn’t exactly innocent of this. One button opens a menu that lets you access your weapons, magic and skills as well as your map. You can save any of your items to a “favorites” menu that is accessible by pressing “up” on the D-Pad, but even that brings combat to a halt. Not to mention that between potions, scrolls, weapon sets and spells, you wind up having so many “favorites” that the menu isn’t much more convenient than what you start with. The trade-off is that you get a really uncomplicated HUD which allows the open-world aspects to really stand out. You’re not constantly looking at charts and bars and numbers, which allows for those rare moments where you blend into your interface with the controller and “forget” you’re playing a game.
AESTHETICS: It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what makes this game draw you in and refuse to let go. I think it’s a combination of beautiful graphics and epic, enchanting music that further blur the lines between a game experience and a real experience. Lots of games pit you against dragons, but only in Skyrim have I seen the swooping shadow of a great winged beast and felt the excited tension crawl up my spine as I try to time my shifts in direction to avoid the gouts of flame he’s shooting my way. I won’t get into the story, but I assure you there is one, and the pursuit of it is adequately epic and fantastic to hold the attention even of a practiced roleplayer.
The bottom line is that I was dead-set against everything this game stood for as all the hype was being unleashed in the run up to its release. It didn’t take long for Skyrim to completely reverse my opinion of it. So grab a copy of this game, make a character or two and start exploring the vast expanses of your own fantasy world. The potential is limitless. Enjoy it.