The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The Kotaku Review

The tantalisingly brief Skyrim teaser trailer debuted by Bethesda Softworks late last year filled my mind with visions of titanic battles between man and beast; of shining steel bathed in ancient flames; of a champion rising from humble origins, prepared to sacrifice everything for the fate of the world. After 60+ hours with the game those visions have been fully realised -- and rendered largely inconsequential.

In the frigid northern province of the continent of Tamriel the legendary dragon god Alduin rises, bringing with him a plague of ferocious flying lizards and the promise of the end of the world of Nirn. Only one being stands between this malevolent force and the people of the eponymous continent Skyrim: Dovahkiin, the Dragonborn, a figure blessed with the ability to absorb the very powers these terrible creatures seek to unleash upon the land.

It's the sort of tale that fuels ancient epics and trashy fantasy novel trilogies alike, certainly sufficient enough to serve as the plot for the average role-playing game.

This is not your average role-playing game. In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, this titanic tale is merely a framing device for a much larger story.

My story.

Battling a dark dragon god is merely an excuse to plunge the player headfirst into this immense Nordic-themed fantasy sandbox, much like the murder of Emperor Uriel Septim VII served as a gateway into Cyrodiil in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. In grand Elder Scrolls tradition the players begins the game as a prisoner, confined to an exciting but linear introduction before being set free from the cages imposed by more structured role-playing experiences. You can return to the cage at any time, but there's a whole wide world to be explored, and what the hell, it's not like Alduin set a date for the destruction of everything; overwhelming evil's flexible work schedule is one of my favourite aspects of the series.

Battling a dark dragon god is merely an excuse to plunge the player headfirst into this immense Nordic-themed fantasy sandbox...

Unhampered by a ticking doomsday clock, the player is free to reconnoiter the beauteous countryside of Skyrim to their heart's content. Far-removed from the alien landscapes of Morrowind, its neighbour to the east, Skyrim's rolling hills, frigid tundra and towering mountains wouldn't be out of place in a real-world nature documentary. I could easily see myself climbing its peaks, delving its depths, and crossing its streams (sometimes that's OK), and when the dragons make their appearance this realism serves to make those encounters all the more terrifying.

But those dragons, so immense and impressive at first, soon became nothing more than an occasional interruption in my personal tale, dropping out of the sky just as I was about to enter a mysterious dig site at the behest of the Mage College or worse, bringing an early end to high-spirited games of Herd the Moose.

I never said my story made sense.

I'm not sure if it's a testament to Bethesda's open-ended game design or my own frivolity that in a world filled with thousands of built-in activities I spent several hours making up my own. I earned no skill points for relentlessly pursuing elk across the frozen wastes, cliff-diving into shallow pools, or attempting to cross entire towns using only rooftops, but I felt just as fulfilled as I did when I was swiping a valuable trinket for the Thieves Guild, deterring a rambunctious bard from pursuing an unwilling maiden, or battling Dark Elf racism with my bare fists. Skyrim is the ultimate OCD adventurer's playground, packed so full of entertaining new experiences that you can barely complete before the next appears on the horizon.

When all was said and done my 60+ hours of adventure consisted of perhaps seven hours with Alduin and company, 10 hours of random exploring, and the rest of my time spent devouring just a small portion of the side quests -- the real meat of the game. Ranging from short fetch missions to adventures so lengthy and memorable they rival the core story, it's almost insulting to call them side quests. They are the beating heart of Skyrim.

Traditionally a single-player game, Skyrim has spawned its own social multiplayer component.

Traditionally a singleplayer game, Skyrim has spawned its own social multiplayer component. By stocking the game with so much content that only the most dedicated player (or those armed with strategy guides) could hope to see it all, Bethesda has created an ever-growing community of storytellers, each eager to hear the unique tales of others while sharing their own. It's happening on internet message boards. It's happening on Facebook and Twitter. It's even happening in game stores, where the mere mention of the game's name evokes spirited conversation between total strangers. As I write this I'm actively resisting launching into tales of my mage's exploits. He's really rather keen.

Skyrim is not a flawless game by any measure, but where fans of other titles might rise up against rampant glitches and shoddy programming, this impassioned community has embraced it. Thrown into the air by a giant's club? That's hilarious. A horse that mysteriously blinks in and out of existence? He's our legendary steed. An overall lack of proper combat targeting? Damn those stupid non-player characters for jumping in front of my fireball. I've seen accusations since the game's release that reviewers are giving Bethesda a pass because their games are always flawed, but it's not the reviewers. Hell, I'd take 10 points off right now if a) we used a point system and b) I wasn't afraid of being trampled by an angry mob.

In the early hours of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a single word is heard, echoing from the heavens. "Dovahkiin" exclaims a mysterious voice, urging you to embark on a heroic quest to save the world. "Dovahkiin" is also Bethesda's call to arms, beckoning any gamer that's ever dreamt of traversing a magical land armed with spell and steel to an unforgettable role-playing experience. Ignore it at your own peril.

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Comments

    Awesome review. one Nitpick: Morrowind doesnt have an "alien landscape: that would be Vvardenfell, an island in Morrowind. Morrowind itself is more of a jungle or rainforest.

    If you get one game this year fellas, get this one!

    I am more of an RTS/MMO/FPS player, because I love the multiplayer experiences. But nothing beats the sheer immersion and story telling of a good singleplayer game such as is Skyrim.

    I made a Nord Warrior, who I have played some 60+ hours with, and completed the 'main' storyline with (which was both a good and bad thing but I'll let people explore their own experiences with the questing).

    I was curious to see how other combat modes worked though, so I decided to restart my adventure as a Dark Elf Archer... and OMG, It's like a whole new experience for me, finally a game where using a bow doesnt gimp you for choosing to play as a ranged 'class'. The pace of the game is largely the same though as an archer. Where I found myself bowling through dungeons hacking and slashing with my Warrior, I found myself sneaking around every corner and 1-2 shotting undead and bandits with my bow, leaving their comrades exlaiming "What was that, I think I heard something?"

    And if things ever got too hairy, I'd just turn hairy myself and rip them apart as a werewolf. (Yes you can be a werewolf... or vampire!)

      Way to ruin that reveal for people dude....

        Gee mate, I hope it didn't wreck the game for you.

        Seriously, what constitutes a "spoiler" these days barely allows me to talk about the game at all.

        Its a series staple (though it wasn't in Oblivion), it was revealed by Bethesda pre-release, its not story oriented, I dont think its revelation was intended to surprise (so much as the way you are turned) and this very article discusses the fact a big part of the game is gamers sharing its secrets. You will not find everything by yourself, its almost impossible.

        Anyway, what Im saying is, dont worry tgat the gane has somehow been spoiled, you'll still enjoy it.

    Amazing game, my fav of the year so far. It has consumed all of my game time! I had to force myself not to play it last nite so I could give Sonic Generations some time!
    Luv it to bits, & this is my first Elder Scrolls game. That soundtrack I never forget, epic & beautiful.

    I dont know if anyone has the same problem...but I tried playing Skyrim last night and after an hour or so I became incredibly motion sick :(. The same problem seemed to plague me when I tried to play Oblivion :\.

      That sounds like something to get a doctor to look at. Might be epilepsy. Or a brain tumor. Hey, I'm not a doctor.

      It only appears to happen with FPS's with excessive screen movement or games where the camera is very shaky (Gears of War 3 was unplayable for me because it made me want to vomit). ...And for some reason Elder Scrolls games :\. I've tried wrist bands, ginger pills, motion sickness pills and everything T.T

        It's not a tumor!

        Tried Playing it in 3rd person view only?

          Yeah, Third-Person-View will help. It's because in Third-Person your eyes have something specific to focus on. Kind of like why they put that dot in the middle of the screen in Mirror's Edge.

          Its difficult to play Skyrim completely in third person because the whole combat system appears to be based around being in first person perspective. You have to actually aim your attacks and magic. Unlike say in DA where all you needed to do was point and click. Exploring might be doable in third person but combat is more difficult and far too finicky from the 3rd person.

      oblivion and bf3 were the worst for me to begin with, but once i got used to the slower framerate I managed to remove the nausea - the other trick I used was to wear headphones and sit further away from the screen.

        Guess I can try headphones and see if that helps. I've also tried switching lights on and sitting the furthest I can without straining to read text...and thats been no good. I saw my doctor about my motion sickness last time and he said there is little i can do aside from hope that my brain either gets used to it or it just never will.

          @Silver_Samurai - I have similar problems sometimes with games. There are a bunch of factors. Firstly, viewbob. If the camera moves to simulate walking movement (rather than sliding along like it is on wheels) it can really give me the spews.

          The frame rate is important. If you are on PC and running at high settings, try nudging it down. You want a minimum of about 40fps. 60fps is perfect and should be your ideal goal. anything above is a bonus.

          FOV (Field Of View) can sometimes be set in games. Too zoomed in and I get sick. Too zoomed out and the edges get distorted. You need a good balance where it doesnt feel like you are looking down a zoom lens.

          Those are the main issues in games that I find can give me motion sickness. Sometimes just dealing with one of them (often viewbob or FOV) can make the game experience much better for me.

            you can change the fov by bringing up the console "~" and then typing "fov 90" or whatever you prefer

            I'll tune the frames down when I get home and play with the FOV a bit and see how I go. Thanks for the suggestions! I really dont wanna miss out on Skyrim!!

              Get a friend to drive you around blindfolded for half an hour with the Skyrim soundtrack blaring through headphones. Open your eyes momentarily every few minutes. If you vomit, I'm sorry.

              Anything is worth a shot.

    I was a little disappointed with the lack of mushroom trees. Nevertheless, the storey itself is suitably epic. I just hope it doesn't end with me banging a hammer against a hong.

      It has mushroom trees. Just look harder.

        It also has migrating herds of walking smiley faced cup cakes and flcoks of flying fairy bread men.

    I truly find this game incredibly addictive and amazing. It blows me away constantly and you can see people singing it’s praise all over the place. However, some things still bother me. I really don’t feel like they’ve made much progress with developing the NPCs since Morrowind – their movement is still bizarre and they just don’t feel right. Not to mention a lot of the cities still feel pretty empty and Mournhold from Morrowind was far bigger and more interesting than a place like Solitude or Whiterun.
    I’m not saying that the cities are that much worse than Morrowinds and in a lot of ways its been more fleshed out, but I think they could really improve on this. Currently everytime I enter a city I feel like I’ve lost some of my immersion so it seems like they’ve left these aspects behind.
    Oh, and would it kill them to make a blanket system to go over NPCs?

    I put more hours into this game in the past week than any other game i have purshased all year.

    I don't even think I am very far in the main story arc, but as this review states, that seems to only be there to frame why you are roaming the lands in the first place. The game is just pure immersion. You might leave a town on the way to collect something from a tomb, only to have a group of bandits waylsay you on the road, leading you to thier hideout and starting a new quest. The best part is, it all flows so elegantly from one moment to the next, that the quests don't seem disjointed, and you really get the feeling that you are part of an evolving world.

    The scope of what Bethesda has accomplised in this game is just jaw dropping. Dues Ex: HR was my GOTY choice until I played Skyrim, but I can't remember the last time anything in this medium has had me this immersed in its world.

    Excellent review. This game is incredible on it's own merit, but playing it blazed on a 55" tv with a surround sound setup takes it to the next level ;) pure, unadulterated escapism.

    Im sorry if my comment earlier this morning 'ruined' it for people, but If you have ever played an Elder Scrolls game you expect there to Vampirism and Lycanthropy in it. And I did try to tell my experience in a way that didnt spoil things for people. The what bad thing about this game is that its hard to tell your story without some sort of spoiler.

    I had an awesome moment in the game today already, where I was walking along and I heard a bear roar, I turned to aim my bow at it and just before I let loose my arrow out of nowhere a dragon landed next to the bear and they started to duke it out. So i decided to turn my bow on the dragon while it was pre-occupied with the dragon to then be surprised again as a traveling merchant and his bodyguards decided to join in on the fight.

      There are bears in this game? Stop spoiling things for the rest of us!

      Actually, before the game was released they were being very mum on the whole "is there going to be werewolves?" thing. They wanted it to be a surprise, because they refused to confirm it. I was not expecting it, and then it happened and I was like zomg.

    Ive already put about 60 hours into this game and have barely scratched the surface! and thats with juggling my full time job and my girlfriends state of happiness. no seriously, angry girlfriends do not help to make an enjoyable Skyrim experience. I could not wait for this game, and it has not dissapointed. And i completely agree about the community, after i read the "tell us your skyrim story" article on Kotaku US i went and wrote my own short story, showing a snapshot in time in the life of my Dovahkin

    this is my contender for GOTY
    Long live Skyrim, all Hair Ulfric Stormcloak! True high King of Skyrim!!

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