The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
A vast, varied, unique and complex role-playing game
- Intensely detailed and nuanced environments
- Excellent character development system
- Some gameplay elements (like the economy) are just a facade
- Mediocre combat system
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.
A confession: I haven't finished Skyrim yet, so I don't know how it ends, except that I do, because it doesn't end, and there's no such thing as "finished" here, unless you count achievements, which you shouldn't — they account for a fraction of Skyrim's sights and sounds. I've clocked over 50 hours so far and I'm nowhere close. I've squatted in dozens of one-of-a-kind barrows deciphering puzzles, paddled through streams and over waterfalls, altered ledgers in shops to sabotage record-keeping, burned bee hives for profit, forged then refined hide helms using component parts, gone spelunking for strange gems, broken out of prison, broken into prison to do dark deeds, gone hunting for the truth about legends stumbled upon in books shelved in out-of-the-way dungeons, bought and outfitted a home, cooked food using scavenged and bought ingredients over that home's fire pit, planted filched goods to incriminate others, betrayed confidants, visited vast mystical trees the size of redwoods deep beneath the ground, taken a literal tour of a museum of curiosities, and stared in wonder — honest-to-goodness wonder — at the shimmering auroras that on rare occasion fill Skyrim's cold, arctic skies.
"When wind blows up and stormy weather makes clouds scud and the skies weep..."
Of course the closer you look, the more you're liable to find small discontinuities, a natural consequence of giving gamers more than they've ever had before and implying the world's deeper still. It's a world that sports a tentative albeit cosmetic economy. Woodsmen chop wood, and you can too. Blacksmiths craft weaponry and armour composed from realistic components, as can you. Log cutters even hook logs and roll them onto platforms that send them rolling over whirring saw-blades to fall in piles of timber. Alas, the economic import of these activities is only so deep. The log piles never deplete, and no one picks up the cut pieces, which endlessly reset to prevent spatial overflow. There's no economic interplay between towns, no trade routes to violate or caravans to plunder (though there are other things above and beyond Oblivion's knight-on-horseback patrols). While there's a patina of David Braben's Elite here, it's to set the mood — enjoy the Hollywood facade, in other words, just don't look past its doors and windows.
But that's as it should be, given Skyrim's scale and scope. Sometimes objects exist just to further your sense of place: a meadery housing oak barrels of ale, harvestable potato plants and leeks in a garden outside a family farm, a grain mill with a functional millstone, a chance meeting with revellers in a twilight glade who'll offer to share a bottle of ale, and so on. Half the time you'll spend just exploring for the sake of exploring, bumping into local flavour, admiring the world's variety and versatility, deeper than anything you've encountered before, from Liberty City to Bethesda's own post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. Bethesda wasn't kidding when it said Skyrim would come brimming with unique content — make that more by several orders of magnitude, then.
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