The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim takes place two hundred years after Oblivion. Instead of portals to the underworld opening up, dragons are suddenly appearing and are laying waste to helpless towns not equipped to handle their attacks. That’s where you, the Dragonborn, come into this epic story. As a Dragonborn, you can absorb a dragon’s soul after defeating it. These souls can be used to unlock words of power from their language granting you the ability to use their shouts as attacks. These shouts will be essential in defeating the dragon lord Alduin whose sole purpose is to destroy the world. It’s your destiny to stop him.
As if dragon attacks are not a big enough of a problem, there’s a civil war dividing Skyrim. The Empire is fighting against a Nord rebel named Ulfric. Ulfric killed the high king of Skyrim for agreeing to the peace treaty between the Empire and the High Elves that bans the worship of Talos. With violence, war, false religions, and racism, Skyrim is just as messed up as our world.
While you can choose a side and help unite Skyim, it’s not required to complete the main story. You will, however, earn a couple of Steam achievements for doing so. Besides the main quest, there are side quests and miscellaneous quests. Every town and guild has work or quests for you to do. Many times I willingly accepted them, but other times they were completely random and were added to my quest log, regardless.
Most of the quests are rather involved and unique. I enjoyed solving a couple of murder mysteries and locating powerful relics in dungeon crypts. Some of the dungeons/caves are rather small with a couple of rooms, while other areas, such as the Dwemmer ruins, took me a whole night to clear. Some other quests are the typical deliver-a-letter/ bottle of rum/ axe (or some other item) to someone half way across the map.
Each town, ruin, and cave are unique and intricately designed. My hat goes off to the creators of these wonderful and massive maps. Since this game feels like a tweaked Oblivion engine, I was not blown away by the graphics. I was, however, impressed by the gorgeous landscapes and ancient ruins with waterfalls and unique puzzles to solve within. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie at times.
The music adds to the experience and wonder of this game. Veterans of the Elder Scrolls series will recognize some of the tunes from Morrowind and Oblivion. The main theme is pretty much the Oblivion theme song with chanting (in the dragon language) slipped in. While I’m not a big fan of the chanting, I do like it in the boss battle music.
Speaking of boss battles, Skyrim has some serious balancing issues. I like how the cave and dungeon difficulties are calculated by your current level upon entering them. The dragons, on the other hand - I hate to say it - are pushovers. My housecarl and I can take down dragons with ease, but throw an ice troll or a drauger lord at us and we have to constantly backpedal our way out to replenish our health and magaicka.
The housecarl is a great addition and it’s nice to have a helping hand in battle and a mule to carry extra armor and weapons for me. As you do side quests, people will befriend you and are willing to follow you if you request for them to do so. If you decide to marry, your spouse can fight with you as well.
Getting married in Skyrim is not what you might expect. If you wish to get married in this game, you'll have to speak with a priest of Mara to buy an amulet. This amulet lets the world know that you're single and ready to mingle. Not everybody is interested, so don't get your hopes set too high. If you find a person interested in you, speak with the priest to set your wedding date. There is no courtship and no mushy talk until after you're married. Sweet talk is as far as it goes in this game. There are no love scenes but I did hear the "Lusty Argonian Maid" book mentioned so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s floating around Skyrim somewhere. I'm glad they kept the game clean in that respect, but the developers did leave the option to marry whatever race or gender you wish. My wedding was rather interesting since my virtual spouse said "I do" and walked away before we were handed our rings. Once I found him again, we agreed on a place to live (my house) and I was able to get him to cook for me. It's not very exciting, but that's how marriage works in this game.
While the marriage aspect is new to Skyrim, many things carry over from the previous Elder Scrolls games. The Mages' College is worth checking out if you want to train and learn about the various magic classes. Necromancy is one of them. The Companions are similar to the fighter's guild of previous games, but they harbor a secret. The Thieves' Guild is heavily persecuted and not as prominent as they once were, while the Dark Brotherhood assassin’s guild is alive and well. Each of these guilds offers quests/jobs to work your way up their ranks.
The main story line takes about twenty hours to complete. Fortunately you can still play after you defeat Alduin. I have spent over fifty hours playing Skyrim and have become the leader of the Mages, Companions, became a war hero, and have single handedly wiped out the Dark Brotherhood. There are so many choices and quests that you can easily spend eighty or more hours in Skyrim.
As fun as this game is, it does have its downfalls. This review is based on version 1.1 so some of these issues may be addressed in future patches. The menu system on the PC version of the game is not very responsive for mouse users. I’m sure it works great for controllers with d-pads but I refuse to use a console controller for a PC game. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the same dialogue over and over again because the dialogue menu did not register my selection correctly.
The interface and leveling system is completely revamped (some say dumbed down) from Morrowind and Oblivion. When your character levels up, you have to choose to increase your Health, Magic, or Stamina. You’ll also earn a skill point to spend on various perks. This perk system is very similar to the ones used in Fallout 3 or New Vegas. The slow motion critical hits, and some of the sound effects, are also taken from the Fallout games as well. To put it bluntly, if you combine Oblivion with Fallout 3 and add dragons, you get Skyrim.
The dragons have their fair share of bugs too. I have a habit of saving often, especially in boss battles. My battle with Alduin has a glitch that appeared in two different game saves. The glitch I experienced is Alduin being stuck in the sky. The only solution was for me to reload and try again. I wonder how such an important battle could have a bug like this overlooked in beta testing.
Spiritually speaking, this game earns its mature rating for several reasons. The violence is intense, bloody, and drawn out in slow motion. There’s no disabling or avoiding it. The same goes for foul language with the occasional d*mn and b**tard. Magic use is optional, but it will be used on you regardless. I have already discussed how marriage works and that you can marry the same gender. Some of the tribal NPC's wear skimpy outfits, but there is no nudity. There are some guilds that are dark in nature including the Dark Brotherhood and a coven of cannibals that eat human corpses. I was not forced to join any of these guilds. I felt I was in charge of my game play experience, and how good or evil you want to be. The religious system is clearly based on the Norse beliefs, and I did not find any references to Christ anywhere. The main quest did have me visit Sovengarde (Skyrim's version of Valhalla).
The references to the afterlife got me thinking a bit. One of the NPC’s is concerned about his soul, and asks for your help in curing him so that he may have eternal rest. Sadly, when you return from this quest, he is killed. The way I felt was similar to knowing someone that isn't saved passing away. In this game, you can still redeem their soul. In Skyrim you may get a happy ending, but real life doesn’t work that way.
While Skyrim has its moral and game flaws, it’s still an epic adventure and a great addition to the Elder Scrolls series. Dumbed down or not, I liked the new leveling system and the added abilities to craft armor and weapons from scratch, and the changes to the enchantment system. Although the game wasn't as ground breaking as I would have hoped, I did find it refreshing. Those that love role playing games will enjoy this game, but make sure the moral content doesn't bother you before parting with $60.