The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

30 Dec 2011

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Bethesda Softworks
Developer:Bethesda Softworks
Release Date:2011-11-11
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person,First-Person
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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the latest release from Bethesda Softworks, following up The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002), The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006), and a detour to Fallout 3 (2008). As with their previous efforts, Bethesda used their long production cycle to create a huge world where you're given plenty of things to do -- or not do, as you see fit. I spent well over 100 hours playing the PC version of Skyrim, and what you'll find in the following pages are my (somewhat critical) thoughts about the game.

Character Development

As with all of Bethesda's games, you're not forced to choose a class when you create your character. Instead, you're just asked to select a race, a name, a gender, and an appearance. The race gives you some minor bonuses plus an ability, but the name, gender and appearance are all cosmetic. I played a Redguard in the game. This gave me a 50% resistance to poison plus the Adrenaline Rush ability, which allowed me to quickly restore my stamina.

As you play through Skyrim, you're allowed to use any of the game's 18 skills, which span magic, combat, thievery and crafting. The more you use a skill, the more ranks you gain in it, and the more experience points you earn for your character. Interestingly, skill use is the only way to gain experience and levels in the game, and so it pays to be well-rounded and try out different things. My character focused on One-Handed weapons, Heavy Armor, Blacksmithing and Enchanting, and he eventually reached level 57. There isn't really a level cap in the game, but if you max out all of the skills then you'll reach level 81.

Each time you gain a level, you'll get to increase your magicka (needed for spells), health (needed for combat), or stamina (needed for skills). You'll also get to choose a perk. Each skill has a "constellation" of perks available, where each perk acts as a bonus for the skill. For example, the One-Handed skill has perks that increase the damage you do with one-handed weapons, reduce the stamina needed to perform power attacks, and give you a paralyzing attack. There are 251 perks total, but chances are you'll only be able to select about 50 of them when you play through the game. Since there aren't any attributes (like strength or intelligence), your choices with perks pretty much define your character.

Overall, the character system works well enough. It's better than Oblivion's odd system (where I frequently didn't want to gain levels), but it's not as much fun as Fallout 3's SPECIAL system. Bethesda likes to allow characters to learn everything and become godlike by the end of the game, and I prefer that not to happen. For me, games are more fun (and replayable) when you have to make choices for your character, and when you face limitations. Skyrim doesn't have either of those things (even with the perks you can cherry pick the best ones). My guess is that the game would have worked better with a level cap around 30.


When the game opens up, you'll find yourself bound in a cart being taken to an Imperial keep for your execution. Luckily for you, a dragon will show up and disrupt the proceedings, and you'll escape into the countryside. From there you'll get to do the usual Bethesda thing -- explore the world, join factions, complete quests, and defeat lots of enemies, including skeletons, bandits and spiders.

During your explorations, you'll also encounter more dragons, and you'll learn that you're "dragonborn," which means you possess the soul of a dragon and can perform special "shouts." These shouts are sort of like signs from The Witcher, and include effects like breathing fire, slowing time, and charming animals. Your status as dragonborn and your dealings with dragons make up the main questline for the game, but that's only a small fraction of what you'll be able to do. Skyrim is mostly a game of side quests and random exploration.

As an example, when you reach the city of Riften you'll find the Thieves Guild, and you'll discover that it has fallen on hard times. If you join up with the guild (which doesn't actually require much in the way of thief skills), then you'll trigger a series of quests to restore it to power, and you'll eventually become its guildmaster. This is all optional, of course -- you can completely ignore the Thieves Guild if you want -- but completing its quests will supply you with some nice rogue gear and also put you into contact with a bunch of fences, which will make it easier for you to sell your excess items.