As my body sailed across the room from the one-hit kill, I reflected on how much time I had spent on this one boss and how much time I had spent on this game already. Make no mistake, Skyrim is a time sink like no other, but you will be too busy trying to kill dragons to care.
Skryim, the successor to Oblivion, and Morrowind before it, is a real-time RPG. Your left and right mouse buttons are bound to your (opposing) hands and you swing, draw your bow, block, cast a spell, etc. by clicking for the hand you wish to do an action with. This means battles become much more dynamic, as you attack, defend, and dodge based on the positioning of you and your enemy in the game world.
Skyrim does away with the standard attributes found in other RPGs. Instead, your character has a set of 18 skills that are improved based on how much you use them. This means that your character, instead of growing artificially based on a defined class, grows based on how you play. Gone are the days of trying to tack on an extra skill to a class that does not use it by default as all skill levelling contributes to your overall character growth.
In addition, there are perks associated with each skill. When you level up – obtained after levelling up skills – you are given a perk point. Each skill has an associated tree that you can spend these points in, from making your brewed potions more powerful to enabling you to combine the same type of spell in both hands to create a more powerful version.
The weaponry is largely western based. There is the usual assortment of swords and knives if you like stabbing things, while hammers, largely absent in other RPGs, and maces provide a more blunt route to your opponents’ death. Staves exist in the game not for hitting, but for acting like a magical gun, having a set number of charges of a spell and can store any spell in the game.
In Skyrim, the player gains the ability to refine weapons using crafting benches and forges scattered around the world. This can turn a normal weapon into one that is superior for its level, and gives more variance in an upgrade path than in previous games.
The sounds are amazing. There are a number of moments where the feeling of sitting in a room is lost. It is incredibly immersive, with birds, bugs, and weather noises all adding to the feeling that this really is the bleak north. Fighting sounds do not sound like the same four noises repeated over and over again, while almost everything that can be moved has a unique sound associated with it.
Voice acting is much, much better this time around. There are still a couple of times where a person can be heard talking with themselves, but Bethesda did a better job getting a variety of voice actors. As opposed to the thirteen voice actors for Oblivion, there are more than 70 for Skyrim. Only a few of the actors sound completely unprepared and wooden, but the majority sound clear and crisp and really help give the game a Nordic feel.
It is likely that you have already seen a screenshot or video of the game and thus know what the vistas look like. Unfortunately, because the developers did not want to have the “repeating texture” problem of low-resolution textures mapped over large areas, as you start ascending mountains, fog and snow start blowing in and your visibility drops. While more realistic, given the northern location of the game, it still feels like a somewhat cheap move, given how the large view distances were touted in Oblivion.
Faces have been vastly improved over Oblivion. Most games are still firmly entrenched in the uncanny valley, but Skyrim has started the long process of inching the industry out of the hole, falling short only because of poor lip syncing and “low” resolution textures. Textures are all 512×512, so a high-resolution texture pack will likely be released by some enterprising modder sometime soon. Normal mapping feels absent. If it is there, it is woefully understated.
There are a few bugs in the game, however. Since the game is meant to be primarily first-person, some of the animations still feel a bit rigid, like jumping. The way water is handled does not feel like it is water at all, but just a slightly more viscous version of air that you cannot see through as well. Also, running water is probably the least realistic looking aspect of the game. Finally, if you run through a pile of physics-enabled objects, it can damage you because of the objects getting pushed around and bouncing back at you. However, note that to find these complaints, I had to dig. These are minor things that do not spoil the overall experience.
The game is demanding, but will take advantage of multi-core processors, something which Oblivion also did, but not very well. While running, the game uses about one gigabyte of RAM out of my nine gigs. No comprehensive tweak guide has been released like there was with Oblivion, so that number may increase based on what you do to the game. The game utilizes DirectX 9.0, and, contrary to what was originally announced, it appears that the game does not have DirectX 11 support yet.
Finally, Bethesda is very good about releasing a “Construction set,” which is a nice front-end interface for editing just about anything in the game world. When this gets released, you can be sure that there will be plenty of mods for the game that range from adding new areas to tweaking textures to changing the entire way that you level up and gain skill points. That means that if you do not like an aspect of the game, you can likely change it, at least if you are on a PC.
If you have not already purchased this game, or made your decision regarding purchasing, the rating I would give is “shut up and take my money.” It is a worthy successor to Oblivion and well worth the $60 price tag.
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