By Bryan Coullahan
You walk out of a general store in Dragonsreach, having just sold off some valuables to clear some weight in your inventory. Suddenly, the sky opens up and a loud roar is heard as the guards rush towards an unseen beast. You equip your bow and run over to see what it is when a giant Frost Dragon appears. The guards all fire their arrows simultaneously until the dragon is damaged enough to attempt to land, giving you an opportunity to run up with a sword to finish it off. The finishing move is performed as you jump on top of its head and slice away.
This represents one of the random encounters that can happen at any time in Skyrim, the best-selling fifth installment of the Elder Scrolls series from Bethesda Softworks. Since it was released just over a year ago on 11/11/11, this review will serve as a reflection of how the game has help up now that the hype has passed. The first thing I noticed was the sheer size of the map, containing literally hundreds of places to explore across miles of rendered landscape. Bethesda once again pushed the limit in terms of render distance on the current generation consoles. However, the plethora of things to explore also leads to one of the game’s drawbacks.
As is the case with their earlier releases, Skyrim is held back by its lack of an engaging storyline. It’s very easy to get distracted upon entering a new city and it could be hours before you remember what quest you were attempting in the first place. The story itself is also especially generic, with your character being saved from execution at the last moment and later learning that you are the “chosen one” of sorts. There is full customization of the character, but it makes no difference in the main story apart from uses of his or her.
After the original creation, you are left to your own devices to shape your abilities. This marks a big improvement over Oblivion, the previous chapter of the series, where you had to choose main skills in the beginning that were essential for leveling up. You were forced to lock in exactly how you thought you were going to play before you even had a chance to get your feet wet. Another issue fixed from the previous chapter is the new menu system. Items were previously separated onto different pages within the inventory and hiccups could cause this process to take minutes at a time. That isn’t to say that Skyrim is free of glitches.
Even a year later, some particularly frustrating bugs still remain. The most frequent problem occurs while navigating the inventory, where you can’t move the cursor at all until you reopen it. This can be quite infuriating when you’re in the middle of combat and you can’t change weapons or fill up on health. Another problem is frequent freezes during load times after only a couple hours of play. Luckily, the game autosaves every time you leave a location and this could just be an issue on individual consoles. Still, it can really tune you out of the experience when you have to reset the system in the middle of a quest. These do very little to dampen the overall experience though.
Despite its flaws, Skyrim remains one of the greatest titles in this console generation. There are seemingly endless quests to complete in each city and hundreds of hours can be spent on the same character without reaching the maximum level. One big factor in recommending this game would be its replay value. This is featured heavily in Bethesda’s other long-running Fallout series. A subplot of the story involves two factions fighting for control of the region and you choose your allegiance in the first quest. Just by walking one direction from the start, you embark on a completely different journey than any previous attempts. Amidst a mountain of hype, Skyrim still delivers months after the original release and deserves at least a try from anyone who knows a great role-playing game when they see it, if for some reason they haven’t already.