The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

A vast, varied, unique and complex role-playing game

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Bethesda Softworks The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Bethesda Softworks The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Bethesda Softworks The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Bethesda Softworks The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Expert Rating

    5.00 / 5

Pros

  • Intensely detailed and nuanced environments
  • Excellent character development system

Cons

  • Some gameplay elements (like the economy) are just a facade
  • Mediocre combat system

Bottom Line

Skyrim represents the culmination of a long balancing act, of all Bethesda's learned and mastered about epic nonlinear play. It's a triumph of freeform design, less a roleplaying game like so many popular D&D-haunted others than a glimpse of what it might be like to inhabit another world, its rules and interface folding seamlessly into the gameplay instead of snapping you out of the moment with Byzantine menus and soul-numbing math. If someone asks you where games are headed, you can point to this.

Would you buy this?

But these are minor quibbles. Wouldn't it also be nice, after all these years playing cat burglar types, to be able to scale buildings like Ubisoft's Ezio and sneak in through upper-storey windows? But now I'm asking for a game this isn't, and if "better than decent combat" is Skyrim's chief flaw, with everything else on tap here, I'm flirting with unreasonable to expect more from it.

"They extolled his heroic nature and exploits..."

Skyrim may, given the recent surge of interest in George R.R. Martin's books, seem like Bethesda's Song of Ice and Fire — it's riddled with enough political intrigue, and its individuals follow narrative arcs that turn on complex choices. But since so much of Skyrim's allure involves its setting, it's worth mentioning the page it borrows from the Old English epic Beowulf (epic, heroic, Scandinavian, and the source for all those boldface quotes), which it then folds into the second Lord of the Rings movie. The province of Skyrim could be Weta's Rohan, a flat, rocky, scrub-covered bowl surrounded on all sides by cloud-crowned mountains — mountains not like the Rockies or Himalayas, but rather the Alps, climbing in piles of cinereous rock toward gnarled, windswept peaks. It's like stepping into one of filmmaker Peter Jackson's New Zealand backdrops, only weirder (or if you want a fitting Anglo-Saxon pun, wyrd-er). Bethesda's said it wanted more of an exotic Morrowind feel for Skyrim, after Oblivion's boilerplate medieval setting. Gone are Oblivion's bosky dells, crenulated castle walls, and demonic other-worlds, replaced by wind-scoured ruins, eldritch barrows, and secluded mountain monasteries. The company's even found a way — and in one case, an incredibly creepy one — to bring children into the series.

It's all part of Bethesda's painstaking workmanship, to surprise gamers by crafting a world that marries the familiar and the alien. This is also, by the way, the game other role-playing games have in some sense been striving to become, before even The Elder Scrolls: Arena emerged, unlooked-for, in 1994, with its then-unparalleled macro-level approach. Arena traded depth for scope — you could see all the way from one side of Tamriel (the continent of which Skyrim's one province) to the other, but little of substance between. Daggerfall, Morrowind, and Oblivion have each drawn their world-cameras closer, zooming from continents to regions on down to individual provinces, each more vividly coloured than the last, the company balancing what it dreams of doing — full-on world simulation — with what time, resources, and the technology allow.

Skyrim represents the culmination of that balancing act, of all Bethesda's learned and mastered about epic nonlinear play. It's a triumph of freeform design, less a roleplaying game like so many popular D&D-haunted others than a glimpse of what it might be like to inhabit another world, its rules and interface folding seamlessly into the gameplay instead of snapping you out of the moment with Byzantine menus and soul-numbing math. If someone asks you where games are headed, you can point to this.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

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