20 Nov 2011

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim [video game review]

This is likely to be one of the most hyped games of the past few years. After the success of Oblivion a few years back, fanboys have been biting at the bit for a follow-up. With the wait finally over, does Skyrim have what it takes to win over the fantasy crowd? Dear, sweet baby dragons, it does.

As with my previous video game reviews, I won't be looking at graphics or gameplay dynamics, but rather my focus is on the plot, characters and atmosphere, and the immersive experience as a whole.

First of all, Skyrim is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind bogglingly big it is. The cities, forts, caves, random farms and bandit camps have been created with such detail that you can easily spend a week's worth of gameplay without ever even touching the main plot (as I am currently doing). Every person you speak to and every book and note that you find gives you a more expansive view of the world. Missing a seemingly useless piece of dialogue from a drunk in a tavern might mean you lose out on an enchanted weapon buried beneath a beautiful landscape on the other side of the world. That kind of depth makes you want to explore every nook and cranny as much as possible rather than just plow ahead with the plot.

This detail extends beyond the confines of your character and their immediate surroundings. Racial tensions, old grudges and relationship troubles abound in every place you visit. Each serves to enrich the world and give you a better understanding of the cultures within it.

My character of choice was a leonine mercenary assassin who is slowly becoming corrupted by the Thieves' Guild. The level of customization and freedom of play style is astounding. Should the whim take me, I could change my style to a conjurer who doesn't lift a finger in a fight but summons/hypnotizes others to do things for him. Skyrim's scope allows for a player to create their own story other than the 'Dragonborn' plot of the main quest. Depending on how you interact with others, certain quests will be made available to you or revoked as you make choices that shape your character. In Skyrim, you can ask yourself "how would my character act in this situation?" and be able to do just that.

If you're looking for a quick play of something action-y that you can finish in a few hours, Skyrim is not it. If you want a massive, open-ended world where you can go anywhere and do pretty much as you please, then I highly recommend it. From a writer's perspective, Skyrim is a great opportunity or you to get inside your character's heads by recreating them in the game and seeing how they act and react to situations. If you are a fantasy fan, you need this game.