Video Game Review: Skyrim

First up: a dopey robot.

What do you want? These are fun to draw.

OKAY, SKYRIM. Or, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It came out in 2011 (?) and is a very beloved hack & slash role playing video game. I love(d) Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior for the NES, and also dug the Willow NES adaptation, which unlike FF/DW you would control the character’s sword swings, as opposed to choosing “Attack” upon the villains you randomly happened upon during your travels and hoping for a critical strike. And you’d level up. I think Legend Of Zelda 2 is the only one in the Zelda series where you’d level up in stats after fighting characters, as opposed to finding more “hearts” around Hyrule.

For those of us who are clumsy at controlling characters on the screen, the FF/DW tactical mode of combat seemed more fun. Maybe Willow was just easier than Zelda 2. Maybe there’s a chemical in my brain that lets loose good feelings when I level up and complete a task. I’ve not really been into the role playing video games these days – sure, Borderlands 2 has a lot of side quests, but many are placed strategically so as to go along with the story, often providing the best and most relevant weapons at that point in the game.

Skyrim has a huge sandbox to play in, where you can’t go five feet without accepting a new side quest. That might be an exaggeration, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. It’s, for the most part, a ton of fun. I’m not familiar with the previous entries or the Fallout series, but I’m familiar with sandbox worlds, just not where there are multiple possibilities and outcomes for almost every mission.

You’re a (create your own character out of various d&d/Lord Of The Rings types) who starts out captured by the magical land’s empire, and put on the chopping block when a dragon attacks. What luck! Also, how horrific, but your escape is the tutorial that shows you how to defend your self (by attacking) and search for items and interact, or even avoid, characters. From there, you can choose to go hither and yon, choosing who you side with, or what sort of profession of countryside serial killer you’re going to train yourself as.

The weapons seem limited, with special weapons found in dungeon crawls less effective than the ones you can buy & modify if you know what you’re doing. Which, in those cases, you might not. It took me a long time during my first place how to create, say, fire powered weapons that I could have used early on. Maybe it’s because I’m not familiar with the series, but it’s strange that that element wasn’t mentioned in the tutorial.

You accrue points the more you use certain weapons or magic spells or engage in activities like haggling or sneaking, and when you level up, you are able to unlock further abilities within those methods. This is pretty ingenious – but knowing that you can only get to level 50, when there’s SO MUCH YOU CAN DO, you can’t master everything and unlock all abilities. Granted, some of us have a certain playing style – mine is impatience, and of the three characters I created (all named something like “fart” or “poop”), all three would end up being small two handed sword and/or archery experts. It just seemed more efficient to prepare a guy who could cut up monsters up close, or nail a villain from afar with an arrow that drains them of hit points (and giving it to you!). This in the face of a massive side quest where you work with a wizard school – there are no lessons that I remember, just a bunch of side quests and any magic I learned from NPC’s I had already picked up in tomes found in various dungeons.

One thing I noticed is how for some of the larger side quests, you end up becoming the head of the organization you’ve helped. My character JUST arrived in this crazy land, does he have to weigh in at monthly budget meetings at mage school? That’s a side quest I haven’t seen.

I recently ‘finished’ what I think is the main storyline(s) – there’s a head dragon that ended up in Skyrim and is resurrecting a hoard of dragons thought long extinct. There’s also a couple of factions trying to wrestle control of the land – the imperials and the stormcloaks. Do you assist in a revolution or do you restore order across the land? And will you have time to fight the dragons? Or join a thief guild? Is it odd that you’re joining a thief guild while restoring order across the land? Why is my character spreading himself so thin? When’s he gonna have time for HIM?

I had gotten quite distracted with the side quests while forgetting what the whole story was a bout – I decided to restart the game with a new character once I got the hang of things I preferred about the combat so that I wouldn’t waste power-ups on skills I wouldn’t use in the game. Now that I’ve murdered numerous bandit camps and underground civilizations, I thought maybe “fart” should do something about the whole dragon situation, which no one in the land seemed all that bothered about.

I’m enjoying this game immensely, but for all the interacting you can do (with ways to use magic to calm down attackers and talk to them before cutting them down), there’s a deadly cost to errors, such as if you accidentally nick a guard while trying to hack at or cast a fire spell at an attacking dragon. I was murdered by a battalion after taking down a dragon because one of the guards got in the way of an arrow I shot. That’s not just a weaselly excuse for murdering an NPC – I had to stop the game and restart from the last save because I’ve accidentally murdered one of the assistants the game generously gives you – like, I take aim, fire, and the warrior at my side has dived into the same battle ahead of me…in front of the already launched arrow. How did they do that? And, stop doing that!

I would have more to nitpick about but for the most part, because of the vast amount of activities in this vast land…like life, a little poop happens when you try to experience everything. The land in the game is pretty large so there’s no guarantee you’ll find every nook & cranny, so at the point I’m not bothering – It is a ton of fun, with most of it coming from exploring the beautiful digital landscape. The battle action and interaction are almost just as amazing. Highly recommended (I got my copy for $2.50, so quiet the deal for the amount of time I’ve spent). Buuuuuut…I think I’ve lived in this land enough. Thank you, Bethesda.

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