What’s there to be said about Skyrim that hasn’t already been said? Bethesda’s 2011 epic role playing game has become one of the highest selling games of this generation. No game on any platform has had a higher Metacritic review score since (although The Last of Us may change that) and the game has become a pop culture phenomenon. In fact, every game which has sold more on the Xbox 360 is a blockbuster first person shooter, with the exception of GTA IV and Kinect Adventures (which comes bundled with the Kinect). Not bad for a nerdy fantasy RPG. Even after one and a half years, it’s still widely talked about and consistently in the top 10 most played games at any given time on the 360.
So why am I reviewing game which came out in November 2011? Well Bethesda has just released the “Legendary Edition”, combining the latest version of main game with all downloadable content expansions. That includes the latest update, and the Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn DLCs.
Skyrim is easily one of the best games of this generation. It’s one of the games that you get as much out of as you put in. It’s also one of the games you play exactly how you want to play. You can choose to ignore the main story immediately after beginning or play through the quests like a linear action adventure game. Speaking of quests, there’s an awful lot of them. Even after playing over 170 hours, I have a plethora of quests on my active quest log, never mind the ones I haven’t even started yet.
The main story is centred on the return of dragons to the world. Pretty soon, you find out you are the legendary Dragonborn, a man or woman with the ability to consume dragon souls. It’s your job to find out why the reptiles have returned and try and protect the world from this new menace. This is the first time dragons have been featured in Elder Scrolls games and they provide an interesting new gameplay dynamic. They are always a challenge to fight and can randomly appear at any time you are outside and in specific locations or quests. Even after defeating countless dragons, your adrenaline gets pumping when you hear a roar overhead and your controller vibrates letting you know a dragon is swooping in on you. Being a role playing game, your character gets stronger the more you play, but dragons (and most enemies) remain challenging to fight as more powerful versions emerge as you level up.
Combat much improved compared to previous Elder Scrolls games. You can use a variety of swords, axes and warhammers if you’re into hand to hand combat. Alternatively you can use a bow if you prefer. If you’re more into the arcane arts, you can use hundreds of different spells to defeat your enemies or you can just be sneaky and avoid them altogether. You can gain the ability to turn into a werewolf or vampire lord and unleash terror that way. Then again you can tame a dragon and unleash death from above. Or you can use any combination of the above and a lot more. The way you play is completely up to you.
No matter what your style is, it’s always handy to make use of the new “shout” powers. These give you many new abilities, such as the power to breathe fire and ice, slow time, call a dragon to fight for you and even unleash a fierce storm with lightning bolts killing everyone around you. You can also use the Kinect microphone for shouts; shouting Fus Ro Dah at your TV to send someone flying through the air never gets old. Each shout has three words which are learned from “word walls” strewn across the province, from the deepest dungeon to the highest mountain peak, providing you with another excuse to explore long after you’ve finished the main story.
While the main story is engaging, some of the more interesting tales are found in the side quests. Pretty much every faction in the province of Skyrim is recruiting. Some of the more interesting groups to join are the shadowy group of assassins known as the Dark Brotherhood, the notorious Thieves Guild, and the Companions; a noble fighters guild with a sinister secret. In the same way you can choose what quests you want to do, you can choose exactly how to complete the quest. Need to get information off someone who’s not willing to divulge? You can bribe them, intimidate them, fight them until they yield, pickpocket their secret-containing diary or straight up murder them and obtain the diary that way.
Despite the sheer number of quests, you can spend hours at a time without even touching one. Simply picking a direction to travel and exploring is very rewarding. There are hundreds of dungeons, each with their own back story, enemies and loot. Every dungeon is unique but some are definitely better than others. It can be a drag to work your way through some of them especially after you’ve cleared 30 similar dungeons before. Furthermore, while there are many different creatures and enemies in the wilds of Skyrim, the undead Draugr dominate the forgotten crypts. It would have been nice to see a bit more variety to the dungeons but this is just a minor gripe. Speaking of gripes, you will notice some bugs here and there. You’ll get the odd freeze and frame-rate drop and sometimes quest objectives won’t trigger. None of these really detract from the game and the latest version of the game is much more stable than at launch.
But by far and away the real star of the game is the land of Skyrim itself. The landscape is beautiful no matter where you go; great forests, expansive grasslands, misty marshland, and the striking mountain ranges around the border of Skyrim, every different environment is beautiful in its own way. You’ll come across plunging waterfalls, tranquil lakes and raging rivers. Even after playing countless hours, stepping outside and seeing the northern lights backdrop against misty mountain peaks will take your breath away. But it’s not just all form and no function. The game world is filled with hundreds of locations; from mighty cities to tiny settlements, abandoned underground dwarven metropolises to small caves, each with their own stories to discover.
You can buy a house in the five largest cities in Skyrim, or you can build your own mansion with the included Hearthfire DLC. The DLC also adds the option to adopt up to two children. While parenting is an interesting distraction, the novelty will wear off after a while so I’d recommend adopting after you’ve finished most of the main quests. You can build up to three houses in the countryside, and customise its size and different wings. You may choose to build an armoury on one wing to store and display your weapons and armour and a master bedroom on the opposite wing to give your spouse, children and yourself luxurious sleeping quarters. You can also grow your own vegetables and alchemical ingredients for making into potions and own a cow and chickens. One drawback is you can’t customise the layout of the interior of your house e.g. by placing tables and chairs exactly where you want them. After you choose to furnish your house, each item has its set place and can’t be moved or removed.
If you get bored of the Nordic landscape of Skyrim, you can always visit the island of Solstheim, included as part of the Dragonborn DLC. The southern half of the island is covered in volcanic ash and is very different in atmosphere to the mainland. The DLC adds more than 20 hours of extra gameplay, including a new main quest and various side quests. This is the best DLC out of the three and if you want to read the full review, click here.
The other DLC is called Dawnguard, and is centred on a group of vampires who plan to take over the world, mwa ha ha! You can either choose to join them or the Dawnguard, a group of vampire hunters. Each side has its own benefit and you’ll want to play the DLC twice to see both sides of the story. Joining the vampires gives you the ability to transform into a vampire lord. In this guise you hover above the ground, draining health from your enemies and dealing a lot of melee damage. You can also summon gargoyles to fight for you and turn into a cloud of bats to teleport nearby. It’s not always ideal playing as a vampire lord, as you’ll sometimes find yourself too big to get through doorways. You’ll also be attacked on sight in the major towns and cities if you transform. Playing as the Dawnguard gets you some neat toys to play with, including the crossbow.
It’s worth mentioning the plethora of mods available on PC which can extend your Skyrim experience to no end. If you can think of a mod, chances are it exists, whether it’s graphical enhancements, gameplay tweaks or new items, locations and even quests, the possibilities are endless. There’s still so much I’ve left out, and to try and describe every aspect of Skyrim would fill an encyclopaedia. In fact, the official Legendary Edition strategy guide is no less than 1100 pages long and contains more words than the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. Ultimately, it’s up to you to discover Skyrim for yourself. No two players will have the same experience with the game. But no matter who you are this is a game you have to have played in your life. Whether you’re a seasoned RPG player or have never touched one in your life, you will enjoy this game. To deny yourself this game would be to deny yourself one of the best experiences in recent gaming history.
I have thought long and hard about giving this game our very first 5 star score. No it’s not perfect, there are flaws. But the game gets so many things right that these flaws are like a small stone on a perfect white sandy beach. Ok, that’s a terrible simile but what I’m trying to say is that the flaws don’t affect the overall quality of the game and you won’t notice them unless you concentrate hard. Did I mention I think you should play this game?