Monday 12 December 2011

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Review

Skyrim is all about freedom.  When the game begins your character is a blank canvas, a blank canvas that you paint all over for the next two hundred odd hours.  Of course there's a story here, a good one at that, but Bethesda aren't telling just one tale with Skyrim, they are telling many.  Some are more compelling than others but nearly all include some form of choice, sometimes impacting on how the story plays out but more often than not the choice is how to approach the tasks the story includes.  As your character progresses, those choices become defined by your earlier decisions, your skill sets developing as you use them and thus becoming more powerful.

For those who enjoy getting lost in the heady numbers of a traditional JRPG Skyrim won't necessarily appeal immediately.  The stats stuff is there but it's in a beautifully designed development system that hardly uses numbers at all.  Your character grows steadily, the hard part is choosing which perk to unlock each time you level up.

Character progression is one thing, the world that character inhabits is another altogether.  I've never played a game that feels this alive, looks this beautiful or that feels so cohesive.  I tried to love Oblivion, but it wasn't like this.   Skyrim is a world you want to see every bit of because you're never sure what lurks behind the next hill or over the next river.  Its vastness never feels entirely over whelming although there are times when being attacked by a dragon and then being immediately set upon by a Wisp can feel a little unfair.  But that's the wilds of Skyrim: beautiful but unpredictable.

Playing the PS3 version of Skyrim has not been without its problems.  The lag/frame rate issue, which wasn't properly cleared up by the latest update, has been a niggle rather than a game breaker and the odd graphical glitch usually brings a wry smile rather than a fling of the pad.  A game this big, this detailed, was always going to ship with some bugs not getting spotted but kudos to Bethesda for being upfront on their blog  about what they're working on to improve the experience.

For the most part though the problems are forgiven because the game, overall, is a stunning achievement.  Everyone playing it is having a different experience totally defined by their actions within the game.  It is perfectly possible to ignore all the story stuff, after the opening sequence and go and become a blacksmith.

You make your own stand out moments in Skyrim: time a walk at night just right to catch the northern lights, climb one of the mountains on a clear day and just breathe in Skyrim, creep up on a sleeping dragon and sneak attack with your elven dagger.  Whatever you do in this vast open world, wherever you go, it keeps giving.

Game of the Year?  No question.  Best game ever?  Yes... (once those flaws are ironed out completely).

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