I eagerly anticipated Skyrim’s release despite not having played the other entries in the Elder Scrolls series. I am a huge fan of Bethesda Studios’ Fallout series, and the previews of Skyrim, also developed by Bethesda, depicted Skyrim as a medieval version of Fallout. As it turns out, the previews were pretty accurate. Skyrim is best described as a medieval expansion of Fallout.
As one might guess from the name, Skyrim takes place in the medieval realm of Skyrim. When you start a new game, you create your character from one of several races, including Human, Orc, and Elf, each of which has its own attributes. It’s funny that the character creator is so detailed, because you hardly ever see your character unless you play in third-person view, which is just as clunky as it was in Fallout 3 and New Vegas.
Once you have created your character, there is a brief opening scene in which you are about to be executed, but before the axe can drop, a dragon bursts on the scene and starts laying waste. After you escape from the village, you are pretty much free to do whatever you want. Skyrim has a main story, but it is totally optional. You can spend your time pursuing any number of story lines, depending on what it is you want to do. There are several different organizations you can belong to, including a guild of wizards and a guild of assassins, and each organization has its own story line. You can do one, some, or all of them. The problem is, the game gets very confusing if you weave in and out of story lines. First of all, none of the characters have commonplace names, so it’s hard to remember who everyone is. Secondly, the game is so damn long that it takes forever to finish and it’s easy to get story lines tangled up and you often forget what you are doing and why you are doing it if you leave the game for long stretches. I applaud Bethesda for making such an immersive world, but it’s just too much for me. If I decide to play through Skyrim again (I haven’t decided if I will), I will approach each storyline at a time.
Speaking of immersive, you can build and create weapons and armor using blacksmith’s forges, create potions using alchemist’s workshops, and enchant weapons and armor to give them magical properties. The combinations are virtually endless. The leveling up process is also very cool. Each time you gain a level, you first choose whether to enhance your magic, health, or stamina. You then also select a skill to upgrade, and there are a lot of them. Archery, smithing, destructive magic, and healing magic are just a few of the many skills. Each skill has a tree, which looks like a constellation in the night sky. As you move up the tree, you unlock greater abilities within each skill. For example, as you improve your smithing skill, you are able to craft more powerful weapons and armor and improve the quality of the same.
Creating an immersive world and a robust character development system is great, but it doesn’t amount to much if the world isn’t worth playing in. Fortunately, Skyrim boasts beautiful, well-detailed environments. You will climb up mountains in a blizzard, trek through valleys in downpours, and roam the plains under the starry night sky. The music enhances the epic feel of the game and stirs memories of the Lord of the Rings’ score. The realm of Skyrim is certainly much prettier than the Capitol Wasteland of Fallout 3.
Skyrim plays very similarly to Fallout. The control schemes are virtually identical. You can equip both hands with a weapon or a magic power. Equipping both hands with magic power creates neat effects and deals double damage. Likewise, equipping both hands with a weapon lets you pummel your foes into a bloody pulp. The problem is, the control scheme feels so much like Fallout that it doesn’t feel fresh. Not just the same buttons, but the way it works. If you have played Fallout, you will see what I mean. It just seems that Bethesda would have stepped their game up a little bit, what with Fallout having come out three years prior. Skyrim does boast a streamlined menu interface that is much better than the Pip-Boy menu and works a bit more intuitively, however.
Skyrim is a good game. Many are quick to label it a “great” game and it has taken several game of the year accolades. It definitely wasn’t the best game I have played this year, and I think Bethesda got a little bit lazy in making it too much like Fallout when it really could have done more to distinguish the two, considering they have nothing to do with one another. I liked the detailed environments and streamlined interfaces, but I wish I hadn’t mixed up the storylines and ended up with a story that was all over the place. If you like RPGs and you like the Fallout games, give Skyrim a try. Just don’t be surprised when that déjà vu feeling flares up after a little while. — Pedro Moreno
Score: 8.0 out of 10