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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Score: 96%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Given the fact that beauty is more than just skin deep, I've never seen a more beautiful game than The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The graphics are, generally, highly detailed and beautifully done. They're not typically vibrant, as the game is set in an arctic setting full of frozen tundras and snow-capped mountains. However, the game looks astounding, in part, due to the excellent use of physics and spot-on lip synching on the character animations. Actually, it goes beyond physics and into a myriad of little touches that really bring Skyrim alive. Wolves hunt deer. Salmon swim upstream. Day gives way to night and the huge, full moon is breathtaking. Clouds form and move across the sky. Wind whips small vegetation back and forth by its might. Shop owners lock up and walk home at the end of the day. Skyrim lives.

Of course, not everything is perfect. There are small things here or there to complain about, if you seek them out. Shadows can be pixelated. A character may talk to you without turning to face you, occasionally. These don't happen all the time, nor do they detract much from the game, but they're there.

The sounds of Skyrim are fantastic. The positional sound works well, so you can base your actions on where you're hearing a strange sound from without too many surprises. The weapons sound believable, and you'll know when you're nearing a fire, a stream or a waterfall, by their distinctive sounds. There's also the voice work, which is extensive and plentiful... and based on what's going on in-game. I have had soldiers warn me about walking about town with my weapons drawn... having them specifically warn me to "mind that fire" when I had a Fire spell readied in my left hand. They have also complimented me on my fine armor, specifying that it was iron or steel. Sometimes, they'll even let out an "I know you." Awesome stuff.

The musical score is no less impressive, with music that can be very soft or build to a rousing orchestral score, depending on the mood of the environment and the impending action. Sometimes the building of the music is the first warning you'll have of an upcoming attack. Even when left paused for quite some time, the soundtrack has never annoyed me; I could actually let it run in the background while doing things around the house and just enjoy listening to the music.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim opens on you waking up as you're being transported to be executed for treason. Off to a good start, so far. Just when you're about to get the axe and you're fairly certain they you're almost done playing the shortest video game ever made, a dragon attacks everyone, and someone helps you to escape. After some brief tutorial-esque sort of actions, you and your new best friend step out of the dungeon and into freedom. He gives you a location to go to, in a city, where someone can help you. But, from this point forward, your choices are yours. You can choose to seek that location out... or you can kill your new "friend" and take his goodies. You can venture off in the direction of your choosing, where you may find a city... or the underground dwelling of bandits... or dwarves... or vampires. Or, if you're not careful, you may be attacked and killed by wild animals in the woods. The world is a big, beautiful, dangerous place, just waiting for you to make your mark - whether it be for the good of all Skyrim, or for the good of yourself.

In one way, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim reminded me a bit of playing GTA; the game provides a world with excellent physics... and then wanted me to go perform missions. With GTA, I found that I wanted to see if I could get a motorcycle on top of a building or try to see how many cars I could launch off the top of a parking structure down to the street below. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has a more dynamic world with better physics, leading me to run off on all sorts of tangents, from trying to clean out the underground lair of a Vampire to make it my own, to chopping butterflies in half with my sword, to use their wings to make powerful potions... and hunting for Salmon "bear-style" - simply catching them with my bare hands.

The leveling system in Skyrim is interesting and works quite well. There are skills for pretty much anything you could do in Skyrim, from Alchemy to Two-Handed Weapons... and from Sneaking and Pick-pocketing to the different schools of magic in the game. You can pay experts to train you, as you might expect, but the primary way of increasing your skills in something is by doing it. Use your bow for a bit and you'll find you're increasing your Archery skill level. Sneak around a lot and your Sneak increases. These contribute to your overall experience, as well, as does any action you take. Then, when you level up, you can select one Perk to unlock, if you have enough skill points to do so. If you find yourself Sneaking around a lot, you can use your skill points to unlock Backstab and greatly increase the amount of damage you can do when attacking undetected from behind.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a completely off-line game (well, except for possible updates and the like). There is no multiplayer aspect and there aren't even leaderboards. This is not a complaint, by any means, but simply a statement of fact. The reason I point that out is because, with the many different paths you can take - from killing dragons to attempting to personally wipe out the inhabitants of a town to spending all your days hunting or mining... you have nothing to prove to anyone. Your Skyrim experience is your own, and you can play this game the way you want, simply to enjoy the experience, if you like.

Even though the game is, technically, one player, it can be entertaining enough for a friend to watch - and advise - if you have friends interested in this type of game. While Psibabe can't get "into" RPGs, J.R.Nip rode "shotgun" for a good bit of my gameplay, advising me on ways to try to get past certain situations and keeping me mindful of good times to save. And The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim may not have a built-in feature for comparing your progress or experiences to others, but Skyrim has become the topic of conversation with my gaming friends and I; conversations eventually wind up centering on quests we completed, interesting plot twists or strange occurrences that occurred in dungeons. We sit around like fishermen discussing the whale (or, in this case, Mammoth) that got away, much to our spouses' chagrin.

There are five difficulty settings, and you can switch between them on-the-fly. That's right - on the fly. That means you can start a dungeon and, when you realize you're not going to make it through, you can change the settings to make it a bit easier. Or, if you find you're breezing through something and you want a bit more challenge, you can bump the difficulty up a bit.

Further, you can bring one person with you to assist you on your quests. There are some that are story-based and can be pledged to your service, while others will join you after you've earned their respect or paid their fee. You'll still need to do your fair share of the work, of course, and bear in mind that with someone assisting you, you're missing out on some experience. These helping hands can, at times, get stuck in one place and they're not great at stealth, but if you're more of a run-and-gun type player, they can be some much needed help... even if it's just for lugging some of your adventuring gear and spoils around. Which actually is a valid point, since you will have a weight limit and, once you're carrying more than that, you will move. very. very. slow...ly.

My personal approach for alleviating difficulty was the old creep-and-save method. This works excellently in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, as you can save your game at any point. I find I will save my game right after clearing an area or solving a puzzle. Or finding a new area. Or leveling up. The fact is, I find myself saving fairly frequently, every now and then creating a new save when I would like to be able to see the results of a different course of action, and I've had regrets a few times about not having saved, but I've never been sad about saving. As I said above, you've got nothing to prove to anyone, so save when you feel like it.

Game Mechanics:
While The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is certainly not without any issues, it handles itself quite nicely. One thing in particular which not only delighted me, but was the talk of many of my friends when discussing Skyrim, was the fact that it does an excellent job of handling out-of-sequence quests. The first quest I was given was to go recover a Golden Claw from a thief. Since the game is far from linear, as it happened, I had stumbled upon the dungeon that contained the Golden Claw and actually had it on my person when the NPC game me the quest. I was thrilled to see an option that allowed me to, essentially, say, "What, this old thing?" ...a truly ingenious way to work the quest into the ongoing storyline. Other games would - at best - require that you accept the quest, then immediately talk to the NPC again, at which point they will usually announce their surprise that you're "back" - which destroys the suspension of disbelief, since you hadn't actually gone anywhere.

There are, of course, some small glitches, but more often than not, these tend to be more of the comical variety than the really-hurts-the-game sort. I have found places that enemies refuse to advance on me, leaving them standing there for me to shoot full of arrows. I have dropped a lot of items at the same time in my house and ended up with intertwined baskets or books that seem to fight each other, sort of jumping around a bit. I have closed a gate through a fallen enemy, and watched as his body spun around as if I had just invented a new form of motor. These were all, primarily, entertaining.

There are also small, annoying bugs. Take, for example, my bookshelf that, apparently, eats books. It doesn't work correctly, and now there are eleven books that are supposed to be on the shelf, but only one of them is visible, and none of them are accessible. To understand how annoying this is, you have to know that the character I was playing had taken on herself to attempt to collect all of the texts of Skyrim, to create a library of every book in the land.

A larger bug would be when I was in a dungeon filled with Dwarven-built automatons and I squeezed myself up into an area that was a tight fit and then I jumped, but clipped through the ceiling and ended up being reset as if I had just entered the dungeon. That was a bit jarring, but, if you can't fix the hole, resetting my location to the entrance is probably the most acceptable option.

Another problem I've heard about is corrupted saves. I, personally, never experienced this problem, although I made sure to take care when saving and shutting down the system. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has an autosave feature that saves quite often, so the hard drive is busy a lot of the time. You don't want to turn the PS3 off while the system is in the middle of saving your game, or you can end up with corrupted data. When I go to shut down my system, I save my game, then go back into the game's System menu (where you select save) and choose the Quit to Title Screen option. Once the game is on the Title Screen, I can use the PlayStation button to either quit the game or shut off the system. Shutting down this way seems to avoid any issues with corrupted saves.

There are those who don't like role-playing games. That's fine. This game is not for them. However, if you're the sort that likes role-playing games and enjoy going on quests, making armor, enchanting things, mixing potions or simply shooting fire from your hands, this game is what you will lovingly be referring to later as your Christmas vacation of 2011.

All-in-all, the presentation is quite well done, the quests are unending and the world breathes life, beckoning you to lose countless hours playing Skyrim. And you will. Yes, you will...

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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