Reviewed: November 25, 2011
Released: November 11, 2011
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is almost too good for this world. Since getting my review copy, I've spent dozens of hours exploring the mountains and valleys, the glaciers and forests, the caves and ruins of Skyrim, battling dragons, and getting involved with secretive orders of assassins, ambitious thieves, and brave mercenaries. And despite that, I've only seen a fraction of what Skyrim has to offer. A genuinely massive game with literally unlimited content, Skyrim's not only a strong contender for game of the year, but game of the last few years as well.|
Putting you in the role of a prisoner, captured for an undisclosed crime, Skyrim begins with your execution interrupted by a dragon laying waste to the city, and after a hasty escape, you're put into the world with a few leads, and left to your devices. While you can follow up on your initial quests, following the road to a little logging village and starting the chain of events that leads to you becoming a legendary dragonslayer and hero of Skyrim, you can also wander off in pretty much any direction and get copious amounts of adventure shoved in your face.
Really, if there's one thing Skyrim's not even remotely short of, it's things to do. Not only are there an insane number of things to do, with the Dark Brotherhood, Thieves Guild, Mages' College, Companions, two armies, and the Bard's College to join, but you can hardly look around a city without finding something fascinating. Whether it's a quest where a daedra-posessed house forces you to find the priest of a rival dark god to worship at its altar, or simply feuds between NPCs that can end in someone dead, there's something going on around every corner.
To help facilitate this ridiculous amount of awesome stuff, Skyrim has some terrific improvements over the last Elder Scrolls games. Dual wielding is a great addition, and adds a new layer of strategy to fights, with the ability to switch weapons on the fly, bring out spells, and ready the magical shouts that you can gain by killing dragons and exploring ruins. You might start a battle with sword and shield to block an archer's attacks, but once you shout his bow straight out of his hands, you can unsheathe your warhammer and go to town on him.
For the magically inclined, when a fight goes south, you can break out two fistfuls of restoration magic, or go full-blown Palpatine with a lightning spell in either hand. Of course, mixing and matching comes into play as well. A defensive wizard might carry a shield, while a thief trying to maximize space for stolen goods while still keeping prepared could leave their gear at home and just carry a magical barrier spell and a spell to conjure a sword.
While the loss of spell-making, an Elder Scrolls staple, is a shame, the shouts that players get access to nearly make up for it. Words of power in an ancient draconic tongue, the shouts let you use magical effects which, in many cases, aren't duplicated by any of the spell schools. Whether it's shouting an ice troll off the side of a cliff and watching as he tumbles to his death, whirlwind sprinting into battle, or throwing your voice to distract the guards before you steal some potent magical item, the new abilities add quite a bit to the game.
Of course, all this adventuring, terrific combat, and cool magic wouldn't amount to much if the game was a pain to behold, and luckily, Skyrim wins out in that department as well. As I've traveled through the countryside of Skyrim, I've paused numerous times to admire the beauty of the landscape. Whether it's huge glaciers in the midst of a blizzard, snow-capped mountains, or highland forests, the environments of Skyrim are incredibly pretty, and the interactions between creatures highlight its beauty. Whether you're watching a dragon defend its herd of mammoths from a dragon, or a pack of wolves chasing down a deer, Skyrim constantly generates incredible imagery of its fantasy Norse landscape.
I could go on about Skyrim, about its incredible dungeons filled with tricks and traps and puzzles and deadly foes, about the game's infinite quest generation that lets you keep working with your favorite factions long after you've finished their storyline, about the sheer variety of tracks to take and choices you can make, but it all comes down to one thing: Bethesda's created their most incredible game yet. They've created a world as much as they've created a game, and it's utterly brilliant. If you've got a computer that can run it, and the ability to manipulate a keyboard and mouse in any way, you owe it to yourself to play Skyrim.