I finally feel like I am at a point where I can say I’ve adequately played through the majority of Skyrim and present a true idea as to its good points and bad. As you can probably tell by the title of this post, there are far more of the good. Skyrim represents true value when thinking of a $60 video game. Beyond Skyrim’s near-perfect blend of exploration, strategic battle, and RPG elements lies a game that is more than a game: it’s an experience. I am 28-years-old, a husband and father, college-educated and gainfully employed, and I am playing an experience in Skyrim that is a true escape from reality, one that I feel a part of. Most would say that is lame, sad even. Maybe they’re right, but haven’t you ever read that one book, saw that one movie, played that one game that took you from your current standing on Earth and completely transported your thoughts and actions, your emotions and perceptions, to some fictional place where your fantasy resides? I haven’t felt this way about a video game since ’95 when I first played Chrono Trigger. So with that in mind, here is my article on why I think Skyrim is the best game of the year and could very well end up being the best game of this decade.
An elf of many pointed hats…
Like my experience with Oblivion, I have been bouncing through the various guilds and allegiances, completing the various missions in no real order. If I find I am tired of playing through the Dark Brotherhood, I move on to the main quest. Ready for something besides all this dragon hunting and I move to the Companions missions. Thieves Guild has me down? I tackle the College of Winterhold (Mages).
To be sure, at this point I have only completed the main quests for the Companions (Fighter’s Guild), Dark Brotherhood and College of Winterhold, and I am on the final main mission of the Thieves Guild. Even after achieving leadership of an association, though, there are still quests I can undertake, so they aren’t necessarily over and done with. The Dark Brotherhood, as was true in Oblivion, was wildly fun and rewarding; the Night Mother speaks only to me once more, giving me new contracts to kill random PCIs. I became Arch Mage of Winterhold (a little faster than I expected to) but still have plenty of missions to accomplish within the college.
I took up arms with the Stormcloaks to fight the evil empire. As an agent of imperial power in Oblivion I thought it only fair to see to their undoing in Skyrim. After all, Patrick Stewart didn’t talk to me in this game, so what allegiance should I show the emperor? I’ve completed a few Daedric missions, also. I find these to be a great change-of-pace, often leading to skill improvements or rare items. Beyond these groupings, other side quests have been undertaken, usually resulting in small amounts of gold with the occasional Word of Power found in the meantime.
The Word of Power, when absorbed, allows a Shout to be unlocked. If you read my initial reactions article on Skyrim you may have noted that I wasn’t too worried about the Shouts, only using on rare occasions. Since I wrote that I made a point to use them much more. After all, they are a resounding power unique to this game and exploring new experiences is what Skyrim is all about. I now Shout til my voice is rendered hoarse, often tossing approaching Falmer and Forsworn off the nearest ledge, seeing their ragdoll bodies flail uncontrollably towards their own pathetic demise. I’ve found the Marked for Death Shout to be extremely useful when fighting dragons. It makes an arrow to the side much more potent. Speaking of fighting dragons…
Dragons! Who knew?! These guys (and gals, I guess) can be seen flying all over Skyrim’s parts. If they spot you plan on a battle. The dragon fights are excellent because they are a perfect blend of difficulty while not being overly difficult. It is exactly as a boss battle should be. You shouldn’t sweat seeing a dragon head towards you, but you also shouldn’t laugh it off.
It’s a vast, Vast, VAST world….vast.
An example of this game’s scope: The week after Christmas I was sick, and therefore, received a temporary reprieve from any fatherly or husbandly responsibilities. I feel I utilized that time well by simply wandering the Skyrim landscape, finding new locations with my trusty steed, Shadowmere. I wouldn’t even enter these locations yet, I was too obsessed with finding more and more of them. I got the Explorer achievement, for finding 100 locations, at least 30 locations ago. There are at least 350 locations in the game. Do you understand what I am saying?
Bethesda also expanded on the kinds of locations one can find from Oblivion to Skyrim. Beyond finding the new Standing Stones which grant the worshipper a special power (one at a time), there are also Orc strongholds, canyons, groves, dragon nests (for lack of a better term), sunken ships, enshrinements, bridges…a shit-ton of newness, basically.
All that glitters is not gold…
Problems? Sure there are. My game has frozen up on numerous occasions, forcing me to turn off the auto-save, which in turn led to a few instances of being killed without a save for 30-minutes-plus. And, yes goddammit, that is very frustrating. I’ve also been “trapped” in graphical glitches on multiple occasions without escape; at one point in Blackreach I was teetering on the edge of a waterfall, unable to break free from this mystical force that kept me from succumbing to the intense force of the surging water as well as Tamriel’s gravity. Occasionally the game’s immensity causing pretty significant slow-down–we’re talking the Mega Man 2 variety.
But guess what, I don’t care. These are annoyances, at best. The only thing these two problems forced me to do was save more frequently. The load times on the 360 are a bit of a bear, but when you think of the scope this game has it is understandable. And in the last week I have been able to load the game directly off my newly-purchased 120gb hard drive, expediting the load times to some extent. All of these factors don’t necessarily give Bethesda a free pass, but then again Bethesda is a company that will go back and fix their mistakes, which is a quality that shouldn’t be overlooked.
I write this love letter having played through 88+ hours in Bethesda’s newest gem. Over 88 hours later, I still feel like there is so much left to do. I’m still surprised every time I turn this game on; I always find something new, like joining the Bard’s College and burning an ancient king in effigy. I willingly contracted lycanthropy and became a fucking werewolf. These are things that I was completely unaware of going into the game but was pleasantly surprised to find. The eagerly-awaited DLC expansions for Skyrim are sure to add an additional 15-20 hours (if anything like Shivering Isles). That’s, easily, 120 hours I can spend on a game that I purchased for $60 in November.
This is why Skyrim is my game of the year. This is why, 8 years from now, Skyrim will be a serious contender for best of the decade. Best all time? What game in existence can claim that? Link to the Past is up there, but is it too short to be considered numero uno? Chrono Trigger was terrific, but is the pacing of a mid-90s JRPG something that could hold it back? Mario 64 was amazing, but it has not aged well graphics-wise. Skyrim falls in this same grey area. It’s wonderful and I can promise I’ll love this game forever, but when will the biggest, prettiest, lengthiest game hereafter be released and make me think twice about whether or not Skyrim is better? Elder Scrolls VI?
I’ve been so enamored with Skyrim that all other video gaming has been put on hold. Gears of War 3 has been played a total of 30 minutes in my 360; I’ve yet to get Arkham City, a game I was very eagerly awaiting. Mass Effect 3 comes out in a couple of months, but will I be ready for it or will I still be traipsing through the wilderness of Tamriel’s northern continent? Halo 4 should be released later this year, but will I have started a new quest with a different character class?
To the fine folks at Bethesda, I say congratulations. You’ve concocted an experience, mixed with equal parts action, role playing, wonderment and awe. For 2011, the Gilded Cask shall be filled to its lustrous brim with the most vintage of Nord Meads due to your masterpiece, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.