The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

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Kipi
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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Postby Kipi » Tue Dec 20, 2011 2:41 am

Skyrim is the fifth game in the legendary The Elder Scrolls series released by Bethesda 11th November 2011 in western world and 8th December 2011 in Japan. The game is available both as disc version as well as from Steam. It is available for PC, PlayStation 3 and XBox 360. This review is based on the PC version of the game.


[SIZE="3"]Graphics[/size]

The graphics of Skyrim can be described by only one word: fantastic! Compared to the previous game of the series called Oblivion the graphics have taken huge steps towards realism. Unlike the Oblivion, in which everything were shown as bright and full of colors, in Skyrim the graphics use more different shades of grey though it still is colorful. The landscape looks stunning even with moderate setting, the one I used as I was playing with my laptop. And when the graphic settings are turned to full it's just beautiful.

Unlike Oblivion, which in doesn't run too well with my laptop, the graphics of Skyrim doesn't put too much pressure to hardware. Of course, when I tried with full settings, the game was a bit laggish, but after I changed to moderate settings I got constant FPS of 25. This was actually a big surprise for me as I was sure a game like Skyrim wouldn't run even with lowest settings in my laptop, which isn't designed for gaming.


[SIZE="3"]Audio[/size]

The music of the game is fantastic, which I was kind of expecting. Not once during the nearly one hundred hours of playing I though of turning the music off. The tracks are varied enough and each one fits perfectly of the given situation while not trying to get your attention away from the actual game.

The general sounds are done well. The sound of casting spells are good and well synchronized , the noise caused by animals or enemies makes it possible to determine the general direction they are coming from and different ground and floor types give a slightly different sound while walking or running.

The voice acting is generally done well, this time there are a lot of different accents used. Unfortunately I have two complains regarding voicing; first, few times I noticed that the voice changed a bit in the middle of conversation. The second problem, which is hilarious at first but gets more annoying, is with certain accents used; most of the female guards sound like Russian people, which doesn't fit too well among other accents, and most of the male guards sound like imitation of Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is especially annoying after several hours of playing.


[SIZE="3"]Controls[/size]

While PC the player has basically two options; they can either use the combination of mouse and keyboard or use XBox 360 controller connected to PC. After trying out both I ended up using mouse and keyboard even though both have pros and cons.

Mouse and keyboard offers more precision especially with spells and bows, which makes it far superior in ranged combat. This control method also gives the ability to use hotkeys. On the other hand the default button configuration is a bit confusing at times, especially when dealing with inventory. The problem comes with the confusing use of both "E" and "R" keys; it's always depending on situation and the logic isn't always the same. Due this, before one gets used to it, it's quite common to press wrong key, which may result something not wanted. A good example is when selling. When selling items you sell the selected item with "R" key and use or equip the item with "E" key. Fine so far but if the stack is big enough the player must confirm the amount of items sold by pressing "E" key. This is especially irritating when dealing with alchemy ingredients, as pressing "E" will make the character to eat the item, not sell it.

Another problem with mouse and keyboard is with the menu system. There is no key to change between different menu categories (system, inventory and journal) and the mouse is required for this. The pressing of keys doesn't also always work well enough, especially arrow keys and mouse clicks may not always be recognized by the game at the first time.

The XBox 360 controller works in every way more smoothly than mouse and keyboard. In fact the controller makes it far easier to manage the speed of the character while walking and running as the game recognize how much you moved the stick. On the other hand the ranged combat is more difficult with controller as it's not as precise compared to mouse. The controller also doesn't offer the hotkeys like keyboard does.

There is also one serious problem which affects both control methods; the "Favorite" item system. Basically the game allows player to mark different spells and items as favorite and the list of those can be accessed with one key or button. The problem is that the game doesn't always want to follow the logic of player. Lets say that player has equipped sword in right hand (main hand) and mace in left hand (off hand). The swapping of left hand, which can be used by using either right mouse button or left trigger, works well enough, but when player wants to change the main hand weapon the problems arise. Most of the time the game thinks that the player should keep the main hand weapon and swap the off hand instead, though not always. The same thing happens with spells as well so it's not restricted on weapons alone. The only sure way to get around this is either to equip a weapon that uses both hands or remove both weapons or spells and then equip the main hand and then the off hand. Very annoying problem.


[SIZE="3"]The world and plot[/size]

Skyrim takes place in the land of Skyrim, the northern part of the known world, and thus also the homeland of nords. 200 years has passed since the events of Oblivion. The game begins from a situation where the Imperials are transporting the player among other prisoners to small fortress. It is clear right away that the only thing waiting is the execution as most of the other prisoners are members of Stormcloaks, a rebel army led by Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak, who had murdered the High King of Skyrim. Just when the player is going to be executed a dragon attacks, causing chaos in the fortress, allowing the player to escape.

The main plot of Skyrim deals with the appearance of dragons, while the war between Stormcloaks and Imperials. While the main plot is rather straight forward, not giving much choices for player, the major sub-plot of civil war gives more freedom of choose for the player. In fact, without revealing too much, the first opportunity to choose the side comes right at the beginning of the game as the player is escaping.

Besides the main plot and the major sub-plot there are lots of things to do; factions to join, side quests, general tasks like hunting down bandits, and so on. There is never a moment when player doesn't have anything to do. And if, by some kind of miracle, there is no unfinished tasks or side quests, the player can always travel to new town or city and the problem gets fixed almost by itself.

The land of Skyrim is big. Big in good way. Travelling never become a chore even if it may take some time to actually travel across the land by foot as there is always new things to see and new places to explore. And if player wants to safe time they can hire a wagon to travel between the few main cities for a small price or fast travel to the nearest location of their target destination which has already been visited once.

The world itself feels like it's actually alive; in wilderness there are lots of small random animals running around, only part of those being actually aggressive. In cities and towns the citizens have their daily routines and they may stop to chat with each other. And here comes the special thing in Skyrim; the discussions between two NPCs have actually logic and topic, not just some random lines chosen for random topics. Basically player can stop nearby and listen to these conversations, which may reveal parts of the lore or give a player a hint of place to visit next. No other game I have seen thus far has a such realistic banter between two random NPC.

What made Oblivion terrible was the dungeons and level scaling in them. Basically in Oblivion there was no need to visit more than one dungeon, which then could be raided infinitely for better equipment. In Skyrim each dungeon gets a relative level assigned to it when player visits it the first time. Visit it later and the enemies left inside are still in same level as they were last time. And when a cavern or other place gets cleared it will stay cleared. The only exception to this rule is if a new quest gets assigned to cleared location. In this case the location gets repopulated and the enemies are assigned new level relative to character's level. And the dungeons are different from each other so it's always a new experience to explore a dungeon for the first time.

The only problem I have with the world is that certain characters, namely those who are related to quests, are basically immortal. This means no quest can be broken due death of NPC. While this is very good thing when dealing with dragons, which may change their target without warning and concentrate on NPC instead of player, it also makes the game feel more unrealistic as certain characters just won't die whatever happens.
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Postby Kipi » Tue Dec 20, 2011 2:41 am

[SIZE="3"]Character and leveling[/size]

One of the biggest change made to Skyrim deals with skills and leveling. All the traces of major and minor skills have been removed and now each and every skill works like major skill in previous games. This means that there is no planning of which skills should be chose as major or minor for more controlled leveling. Also the star signs have been removed and replaced with huge stones spreading all over the land. Each stone represent more or less one of the star signs, with only one stone being active at time. Which stone is active affects the learning rate of associated skills, making those skills raise faster.

Now, at first this may sound like possible game-breaker. This isn't the case for two reasons. First of all the world doesn't scale in level as drastically as in Oblivion, which means that it's quite more difficult to actually make a character which can't survive. Secondly it's actually possible to get every skill to the cap, which is 100 points.

The new skills system makes it easier to choose and make a character the player wants and make changes if the skill combination is not what player wants. on the other hand, would this mean all the characters end up the same? No, the perk system takes care of that. Each skill contains several perks, which can be unlocked when certain level of that skill has been reached. Each new level character gains gives one point which can be spend on perks. It's just that there is far more perks than possible levels and thus some kind of specialization is going to take place.

The last interesting change regarding character development is the lack of different stats. Strength, luck, agility and so on have been removed, replaced by noting. Instead, when leveling up, the player may choose to get a boost to stamina, health or magicka. While at first this may sound like the game has been streamlined too much in the end it works pretty well, the only thing I'm still missing is the possibility of affecting the maximum weight which can be carried.


[SIZE="3"]Something Else?[/size]

There are few balance problems in Skyrim. At higher level mages aren't as powerful due imbalance in spells while warriors are almost immortal.

There are few bugs, nothing game breaking though. Few times I noticed a NPC being "melted" inside an object like chair or table and once I fell through the floor, ending up in the tunnel which had no way out. Otherwise I haven't seen any bugs.

The companion AI works somewhat annoyingly at times. Either the company starts chasing up some random wild animals even if you don't pay any attention to it, or it may refuse following you if you jump down from a ledge, even if the actual fall isn't high.


[SIZE="3"]Scoring[/size]

Is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a good game? Definitely! After being disappointed for Skyrim I was quite sure Skyrim would follow the same "dump everything down for graphics!" route. But I can honestly say that I'm happy to be wrong in this case. It's not a perfect game, if it was I wouldn't have mentioned all those annoying things and problems. But it's really enjoyable game while offering hundreds of hours gaming time.

My Score System: 9/10
GameBanshee Score System: 4,5/5
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TAKR86
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Postby TAKR86 » Tue Dec 20, 2011 4:20 am

A very good review! I agree with most of the things you've written in the review and your general positive assessment of the game.

But I do have a couple of things to add:

"While the main plot is rather straight forward, not giving much choices for player, the major sub-plot of civil war gives more freedom of choose for the player."

Remember that the Elder Scrolls series isn't about choice and consequence a la Bioware games with a moral compass etc., but rather in different solutions to different quests and in role-playing in a huge open world. On the other hand Skyrim definitely hints at choice and consequence quite a few times (especially related to the civil war), but never really delivers on the aspect and that is a big flaw.

"It's just that there is far more perks than possible levels and thus some kind of specialization is going to take place.".

Also to be effective, especially at early levels (up to at least lvl 20), specialization or at least a clear goal for your skill progression is often needed.


"...[I]the only thing I'm still missing is the possibility of affecting the maximum weight which can be carried[/i]".

Stamina affects the total amount of weight you can carry.


"There are few balance problems in Skyrim. At higher level mages aren't as powerful due imbalance in spells while warriors are almost immortal."

This is not true, you need to learn how to use proper tactics and then there are no problems. If you rely solely on Destruction spells you might have problems in certain situations at higher lvls, but with dual cast and impact perks I find that all situations are quite manageable. Also with use of a combination of Conjuration (1 or 2 daedra allies) and Illusion (fx calm and fury spells) to supplement your Destruction spells is extremely effective = total victory! Furthermore it's important to establish a good balance between total amount of magicka and magicka regeneration rate of which the latter quickly becomes the most important. Finally, if you have 100 in enchanting and the needed perks, you can enchant your gear so that one or maybe two of your magic schools can be cast at drastically reduced cost! Mages are not underpowered, peoples' abilities to play them is probably what's wrong. With good lvl planning mages can become overwhelmingly powerfull at higher levels!

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Postby Kipi » Tue Dec 20, 2011 2:52 pm

TAKR86 wrote:"While the main plot is rather straight forward, not giving much choices for player, the major sub-plot of civil war gives more freedom of choose for the player."

Remember that the Elder Scrolls series isn't about choice and consequence a la Bioware games with a moral compass etc., but rather in different solutions to different quests and in role-playing in a huge open world. On the other hand Skyrim definitely hints at choice and consequence quite a few times (especially related to the civil war), but never really delivers on the aspect and that is a big flaw.

In a sense you are correct. But when compared to the trend going on today the ability to make a choice that matters is preferred. While the major sub-plot (civil war) and most of the bigger side quests gives this freedom I would have liked to see such possibility in the main plot as well.
SPOILER WARNING!
[SPOILER]For example, when you are supposed to look for the old blade member in Riften you are forced to deal with thief guild. And this means effectively stealing at least once, which in my opinion is not so good thing to be forced in RPG. I wouldn't have minded if it had occurred in side quests but in main quests I would was expecting to have alternatives.[/SPOILER]

"It's just that there is far more perks than possible levels and thus some kind of specialization is going to take place.".

Also to be effective, especially at early levels (up to at least lvl 20), specialization or at least a clear goal for your skill progression is often needed.


Basing on personal experience I disagree with this. For example, the character which ended up maxing all the skills, had used only half of the perk points, divided into three different skills (archery, two handed weapons, heavy armor). Never had problems with default difficulty before I had decided the actual build I was going to make. Sure, some situations probably would had easier, but not being effective was never a problem for me.

"...[I]the only thing I'm still missing is the possibility of affecting the maximum weight which can be carried[/i]".

Stamina affects the total amount of weight you can carry.


Mistake in my part but on the other hand the game is not too clear about that. For me it always felt like health is for warrior, magicka is for mages and stamina is for thieves. Should have read the manual more carefully.

"There are few balance problems in Skyrim. At higher level mages aren't as powerful due imbalance in spells while warriors are almost immortal."

This is not true, you need to learn how to use proper tactics and then there are no problems. If you rely solely on Destruction spells you might have problems in certain situations at higher lvls, but with dual cast and impact perks I find that all situations are quite manageable. Also with use of a combination of Conjuration (1 or 2 daedra allies) and Illusion (fx calm and fury spells) to supplement your Destruction spells is extremely effective = total victory! Furthermore it's important to establish a good balance between total amount of magicka and magicka regeneration rate of which the latter quickly becomes the most important. Finally, if you have 100 in enchanting and the needed perks, you can enchant your gear so that one or maybe two of your magic schools can be cast at drastically reduced cost! Mages are not underpowered, peoples' abilities to play them is probably what's wrong. With good lvl planning mages can become overwhelmingly powerfull at higher levels!


That is true when characters are in very high levels and if you know beforehand which skills you are going to need for mages. But lets break this down a bit for more clarity:

Warrior needs only one skill to be effective. All perks can be assigned to that skill. For armor you don't have to worry too much as it tends to increase automatically.

Mage needs, just like you said, several skills to be effective. And the player needs to know these skills and the associated spells beforehand to make a effective character. For example, when I started my mage character I didn't know that I would need to keep improving regularly other skills besides destruction as well. For few levels I was doing okay, then the problems begun. When I reached the point where I got the second, and thus better versions of the spells, things got easier again until the same balance problems occurred.

Now, at the level 26, when I ended up ditching my mage character, I had some serious problems of staying alive against more than one opponent. At this point I also learned that I would have needed to raise my illusion to actually survive in normal combat. At that point it was rather pointless as it would have required too much work for me (I wanted to pure spellcaster so weapons were no-no for me).

Now, about the magicka. Warriors can still kill things even if stamina has been depleted but a mage can not run without magicka. Sure, like you said, I could have used enchanting to make items that cause the casting cost to be reduced but that would have required both an item with such enchantment to get access to it as well as raising another skill purposely. Another possibility would have been using alchemy but on the other hand finding the proper ingredients would have been pain in some unholy place if you don't know what you should be looking for. Or you could pay yourself sick just to get enough potions from shops but still you would be drinking potions like water all the time.

I'm not stating that it's impossible to run a mage, in fact it's far more interesting to use either mage or thief, but when compared to the easiness of being a warrior I call it imbalanced. It feels like the game is directing you to have a fighter type of character which may be using thieving or spells as support due the way the game treats leveling of warrior.

But yeah, all of these are just my opinions basing on the things I observed while playing. You are free to disagree and it's always nice to hear different opinions.
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Postby Crenshinibon » Tue Dec 20, 2011 3:50 pm

1. Spoiler: [SPOILER]You are not required to join or even aid the Thieves' Guild at all in order to complete this quest. [/SPOILER]

2. I feel that you don't need to take every perk in a tree, as some of them are useless to you, depending on how you play, so the way I see it, you can usually invest around six or seven perks in a tree and be done with it, but it of course depends on the skill tree.

3. In my experience, a warrior needs not only his respective weapon skill but the armor skill as well. While you do get bonus armor for leveling the skill, the perks take your armor from say a 200 to a 425. I personally leveled Smithing on mine as well, but having gone through the game, I found armor useless against mages. Dealing with dragons while having no ranged skills aside from shouts and fighting high level mages (and dragon priests) was sometimes problematic or annoying (as in I had to use shouts as either gap closers or spell/action disruptors).

I'm currently running a mage, level thirty at this time and I've had no problems thus far. My most used skills are Destruction, Enchantment and Conjuration. The summons are fairly hardy, given that you throw them against their own element, and do a good job of taking your opponents' attention off you. The destruction spells are pretty ridiculous in that almost anything is a one or two hit kill and you can pretty much snipe your enemies from far away.

As for Illusion, it doesn't really seem as a defensive school to me, and doesn't really help protect you, rather, it gives you more options in combat by focusing in crowd-control. The two defensive schools would be Alteration and Restoration, providing spells that grant armor, reduce damage and perks that allow you to absorb spells and convert them into Magicka.

Before I started enchanting, I never really had many issues with my Magicka, granted, I invested all of my points in it, but them, if you complete the mage quest line, you are granted some pretty powerful equipment that heavily boost your magicka regeneration rate (and even then, you find robes that increase it by a hefty amount on every single mage you encounter).

I personally feel that the mage is stronger than a warrior once we depart the "early game" and that any non-pacifist character can finish the game.
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