||The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim PC Review
November 25, 2011 Jacob Vandy VanDerWerf
Summary: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is Bethesda Softworks’ latest offering in their series of epic fantasy RPGs, as well as one of the most highly-anticipated PC titles of 2011. As the Dovahkiin, or Dragonborn, prepare to take the fight to the mythical beasts that have returned to the realm after centuries of slumber, all the while exploring a huge and highly-detailed open world.
The PC version of the game promises enhanced graphical fidelity, standard RPG trimmings such as hotkeys and quick-save, as well as unbridled mod support, something we’ll all be thankful for once they release that SDK. Skyrim has already sold millions of copies and set records for play-time on Steam... Find out why in today's review, which happens to be one of the biggest and most in-depth articles on the subject out there!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 10 )|
We should have acted. They’re already here. The Elder Scrolls told of their return. Their defeat was merely a delay, to the time after Oblivion opened, when the sons of Skyrim would spill their own blood. But no one wanted to believe… believe they even existed. And when the truth finally dawns, it dawns in fire! But there’s one they fear. In their tongue, he’s Dovahkiin, DRAGONBORN!
|<% print_image("01"); %>||<% print_image("02"); %>||<% print_image("03"); %>|
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is Bethesda Softworks’ latest offering in their series of single-player epic fantasy RPGs, and one of the most highly-anticipated PC titles of recent memory, let alone 2011. As the game’s subtitle suggests, this time we venture into the homeland province of the Nords, a hardy and proud warrior people that make up one of the franchise’s four human races. This region of Tamriel, located just north of the realm’s capitol in Cyrodiil and west of Morrowind, is poised precariously on the brink of civil war, as a local force of dissenters gear up for full-on rebellion against the foreign and overbearing Empire. The PC version promises enhanced graphical fidelity, standard RPG trimmings such as hotkeys and quick-save, as well as unbridled mod support, something we’ll all be thankful for once they release that SDK. Skyrim has already sold millions of copies and set records for play-time on Steam, so read on to find out why!
Fus Ro Dah!
Like every other TES game I can remember, Skyrim begins by putting you in the torn rags and shackles of an anonymous prisoner. This time, you’re riding a horse-drawn carriage to the border town of Helgen, where the Imperial Legion has made a stronghold. Upon arrival, you’re in line to be executed, along with a few other common criminals and Ulfric Stormcloak, the leader of the rebels who they say killed the High King of Skyrim with naught but his voice. Perhaps it was sorcery of some kind, no one really knows for sure. The guard is calling out names and dead men are stepping forward to await their turn at the headsman’s axe, but soon it’s found that your name is not on the list. They ask, “Who are you?”
|<% print_image("04"); %>||<% print_image("05"); %>||<% print_image("06"); %>|
Character creation in Skyrim is far simpler than it was in previous games. They’ve done away with most of the attributes -- such as strength, agility, and intelligence -- leaving you only health, stamina, and magicka to increase when you level up. As such, the only real choice you need to make at the beginning of the game has to do with which of the ten races you will play as, determining your starting skills, as well as a unique bonus and/or ability. Each race now has a much more distinct appearance as compared to Oblivion, where most characters had only skin color and ear pointiness to separate them. More importantly, all characters look more realistic and believable overall, which was a huge problem before (just count how many mods were created dedicated to making NPCs look better!). I chose Redguard for the weapon proficiency bonuses, but didn’t spend much time customizing the way he looks beyond one of the presets.
Once you tell them your name, you’re told to fall in with the other prisoners waiting in front of the chopping block. Here you witness the beheading of one of the men you rode in with, as well as his head falling and rolling on the ground. That surprised me, thinking it was pretty cool that they implemented bodily dismemberment (which you can actually achieve in combat if you have the right specialization). Ulfric was called up after that, but the proceedings are so rudely interrupted when a great big dragon pokes his head over an adjacent tower and roars; Helgen is under attack!
|<% print_image("07"); %>||<% print_image("08"); %>||<% print_image("09"); %>|
The ensuing chaos provides the perfect opportunity for you, and the other prisoners, to high-tail it out of there. Your standard-issue tutorial sequence follows, to teach you the basic movement controls, introduce you to different types of combat and magic, give you some basic equipment, etc. After making your escape through an underground tunnel and emerging out onto a gorgeous snow-covered mountainside, you’re left free to explore the wide and wonderful world of Skyrim.
| Setting, combat||Page:: ( 2 / 10 )|
What a wonderful world…
Skyrim is packed to the brim with far more detail and things to see and do than any TES game that’s come before it. Sure, the size of the map is still about the same as it was in Oblivion, but there are far more cities, villages, dungeons, and other points of interest scattered about its many acres, as well as perched atop the higher elevations that punctuate the landscape.
|<% print_image("10"); %>||<% print_image("11"); %>||<% print_image("12"); %>|
Despite the province being primarily one of harsh cold, wind, rain, and snow, there is surprising variety to the environments, which range from hilly grasslands and steaming marshes to dense forests, river valleys, and, of course, white-blanketed mountains. The entire outdoors is filled with wildlife that you can hunt and gather -- including birds, fish, deer, rabbits, foxes, goats, insects, bears, wolves, and saber-cats -- gaining you meat to cook up and eat, hides to sell or turn into leather, and if you’re lucky, some coin or other items the animal managed to swallow before meeting his demise.
Rivers and streams look amazing, glistening with a realistic foaming effect that glides fluidly around rocks. They actually flow with a current, too, which will carry you or any other objects floating in it along for the ride, even over a waterfall. Dozens upon dozens of different kinds of plant life litter the landscape, looking quite pretty until you harvest them for alchemy ingredients, causing the flowers or what have you to disappear and leave just the stems (something they copied from a popular Oblivion mod). You’ll see other travelers along the roads going about their business; some are friendly, like patrolling guards, huntsmen, or caravan traders, but more nefarious folk will attack you on sight, perhaps attempting to rob you beforehand.
|<% print_image("13"); %>||<% print_image("14"); %>||<% print_image("15"); %>|
In addition to the 9 major cities and towns that serve as the capital of each hold, or county within the province of Skyrim, there are even more small towns and villages in between, not to mention self-contained Orc strongholds and remote, individual dwellings. There are more than 150 hand-crafted caves, tombs, castles, ruins (including Dwemer ones!), and other dungeons to explore, ranging from shallow enemy hide-outs to sprawling networks of tunnels and chambers, some of which contain their own unique side quests. Many of the most treacherous ones contain any number of deadly traps that are certainly capable of killing you instantly if you’re not careful, though that usually indicates some decent treasure will be waiting on the other side of them.
Combat in Skyrim is very similar to that of its predecessor, but with one major exception: dual-wielding. Where before you could only pair a shield or torch with a one-handed weapon, now you can combine any two one-handed implements, whether they be blade, blunt, staff, or even spell! This allows you to sacrifice blocking for DPS if you want to swing two swords, or cast double the spells by equipping one in each hand. It can also result in some really interesting combinations, such as using both spell and shield for defensive casting, being able to heal an ally or yourself while simultaneously slinging lightning bolts, or using a sword to deal your damage and an enchanted dagger in your offhand to apply a utility effect like drain magicka or absorb health.
If you’re skilled enough in a school of magic, you can also equip two of the same spell and combine them into a supercharged version for better results than if you cast both of them individually. The only downside to this system is you can no longer cast spells while your hands are full with weaponry (probably my favorite aspect of Oblivion’s combat); perhaps they felt being able to cast fireballs out of your sword arm was overpowered?
|<% print_image("16"); %>||<% print_image("17"); %>||<% print_image("18"); %>|
If you’re using melee weapons, having a lot of stamina is important, because that’s what fuels your power attacks. However, unlike in previous TES games, running out of stamina does not reduce the power of your regular swings, so you can bang away with those while waiting for it to regenerate. Otherwise, the only things that will drain stamina are sprinting, blocking, and zooming in with a bow (not jumping, anymore). A point of contention for some people will be the fact that health now regenerates, albeit at a much slower rate than your magicka and stamina. It’s not enough to keep you alive in the midst of combat unless you crank it way up using potions and enchanted items, so you will still need to be gulping down health pots or liberally applying Restoration spells during tough fights.
Stealth is my personal favorite way to play, though, combined with the deadly ranged force of a bow and arrow. It can be little rough to make that your primary way of dealing damage in the beginning, as you’re slower to draw and you can’t kite enemies very well (backward movement speed was reduced overall, and readying an arrow slows you even more). Fortunately, a secondary shove attack was added so that you can push enemies back and stagger them to allow you enough time to get off a shot at close range.
Eventually, it’s possible to become skilled enough that a single, swiftly-loosed arrow will be enough to bring down most enemies, especially if you take advantage of the sneak attack bonus. Sneaking still relies on keeping to the shadows and avoiding making noise, whether from your armor, moving quickly, or bumping into things. The sneak ‘eye’ icon has been greatly improved, slowly transitioning from a flat line when hidden, to a partially-open eye when enemies are suspicious and a fully-open eye when you’ve been detected.
|<% print_image("19"); %>||<% print_image("20"); %>||<% print_image("21"); %>|
| Leveling up||Page:: ( 3 / 10 )|
You should rest and meditate on what you’ve learned
Despite further simplifying things by cutting several skills and the 8 primary character attributes, I think Skyrim’s leveling system is an overall improvement from previous games. You don’t have to worry about being efficient and getting the maximum multipliers for the attributes you want to increase for fear of becoming underpowered, you just play however you want and become more effective at whatever that is over time. After a certain number of skill increases (that threshold is raised each subsequent time), you will level up, at which point you choose whether to increase your magicka, health, or stamina (also raises your carry limit) and get rewarded with one perk point. You can do this at any time; no more having to find a bed and sleeping to become stronger.
|<% print_image("22"); %>||<% print_image("23"); %>||<% print_image("24"); %>|
If you’re wondering, the skills that were done away with since Oblivion include:
- Athletics -- all characters move at the same speed now, except when burdened by armor to varying degrees (Heavy is more sluggish than Light, etc.), sprinting has been added to allow you to move faster than the normal run speed
- Acrobatics -- no more super-jumping, surviving long falls, or doing backflips, though a high-level Sneak perk grants you a stealthy forward tumble
- Blade and Blunt -- weapons are split into One-handed and Two-handed categories now, but each skill has perks that allow you to specialize in swords, hammers, or axes
- Hand to Hand -- unarmed combat is still possible and is used mainly in non-lethal brawls with NPCs, Khajiit can attack with claws and a Heavy Armor perk give you a bonus for punching while wearing gauntlets, it does damage to health instead of stamina
- Mysticism -- some spells from that discipline, such as Detect Life, Soul Trap, and Telekinesis, were simply mixed in to the Alteration and Illusion skills
- Mercantile -- this was combined with Speechcraft to create the new Speech skill, which affects buying and selling prices at vendors, as well as your ability to successfully persuade, intimidate, or bribe people
Like in Fallout 3 and New Vegas, perks grant you bonuses or abilities that are useful in activities related to each skill, like being able to zoom in while using a bow reducing the magicka cost of a type of spell, increasing the effectiveness of armor, etc. Each skill has its own tree of perks, with the more helpful ones higher up requiring that you’ve reached a certain level of proficiency and unlocked the perk(s) before it. If you don’t know which one to pick, or you don’t quite meet the skill requirement for the one you want, you can save the point and choose a perk at a later time. You should consider carefully, as there’s no way to undo the choices you make here. That is, unless you want to get the console involved…
|<% print_image("25"); %>||<% print_image("26"); %>||<% print_image("27"); %>|
Since you don’t choose a class at the beginning of the game, and thus do not choose to specialize in Magic, Combat, or Stealth, there are no major or minor skills; everything levels at the same rate for everyone. However, you can receive bonuses to that rate for certain skills (or all of them) by choosing the Mage, Warrior, Thief, or Lover constellations. Indeed, these guiding stars still exist, but instead of picking one and being stuck with it for the whole game, you can switch between them at any time by visiting one of the 13 standing stones scattered about Skyrim. This, along with the ability to train any skill equally well means that your “class” is only as rigid as you want it to be. Just because you’re a warrior, that doesn’t mean you can’t don your robe and wizard hat to start casting spells, instead. Or does it? It’s up to you.
Another major addition to Skyrim is the potential for the player to wield the mystical Voice, or Thu’um, utterances of the ancient language of the dragons. As the Dovahkiin, Dragonborn, you have the ability to speak words of power that invoke various effects to help you on your quest. Some have use in combat as damage dealers (fire breath, lightning storm) or utilities (force push, disarm), while others can aid you in stealth (throw voice), navigation (whirlwind sprint), survivability (become ethereal), and more. There are 20 shouts in all, and each of them become stronger as you learn up to three words for each phrase. You’ll need to defeat dragons and absorb their souls in order to unlock each word, though, so this power does not come so easily or quickly. Still, such powers are particularly useful for combat or stealth classes as an alternative to spell-casting.
|<% print_image("28"); %>||<% print_image("29"); %>||<% print_image("30"); %>|
| Questing||Page:: ( 4 / 10 )|
”Let me guess, somebody stole your sweet roll?”
|<% print_image("31"); %>||<% print_image("32"); %>||<% print_image("33"); %>|
Adventuring hasn’t evolved much since Oblivion; most of the quests are more than interesting enough to keep your attention, but they don’t exactly push the envelope in terms of mission scripting or compelling writing for the most part. However, there are just so many things of such a wide variety to do in Skyrim that that’s really not a big deal. With five major quest lines dealing with the main story, Nordic civil war, Companions (fighters guild), College of Winterhold (mages guild), Thieves Guild, and the Dark Brotherhood, as well as dozens of other side quests and scores of miscellaneous objectives (fetch quests, etc.), you’ll be kept busy for a good long while. Let’s not forget about the Daedric lords, either! Among their demands are some of the most unique and entertaining quests in the whole game, not to mention the really cool artifacts you can receive as rewards.
After all of that, you’ll still have an infinite number of randomly-generated quests to keep you busy, such rescuing kidnapped NPCs for the Companions, various robbery and other mischievous deeds for the Thieves Guild, plain assassination contracts for the Brotherhood, and bounties for bandit leaders, giants, or dragons issued by Jarls in each hold. Not that you necessarily need the direction of a quest objective to enjoy your time in Skyrim anyway… The Elder Scrolls is all about getting lost in the exploration of an immense open world, and part V is no exception.
Just wandering the countryside and taking in the sights will put you in a wide-eyed, dropped-jaw stupor, particularly during the first several hours. I remember I took a two-hour detour through the forest and a sizeable bandit stronghold before meandering my way over to the first village of Riverwood (at least, that’s where it’s suggested you go after the tutorial). They say that it’s the journey, not the destination, and that is exactly the philosophy you should have when you set out to play this game, for it will serve you well. Although whoever came up with that probably wasn’t expecting dragons to ambush them on the road…
|<% print_image("34"); %>||<% print_image("35"); %>||<% print_image("36"); %>|
For all the ‘streamlining’ Bethesda has done to the set of skills we’ve come to know from TES games, there is one pursuit whose role has been quite awesomely expanded in Skyrim: Smithing (formerly known as Armorer). Since items no longer degrade, you won’t be repairing anything, but you will be doing something much more interesting. If you remember, the concept of creating usable equipment from raw materials you collect was touched on in the Shivering Isles expansion for Oblivion (and the Tribunal expansion for Morrowind before that), and that’s something I really enjoyed. This time around, though, you don’t have to bring the materials to an NPC to craft things for you -- you can do it yourself!
All standard weapons and armors can be created from scratch, provided you have the sufficient skill and can get your hands on the materials. That goes for iron, leather, and steel items, all the way up through elven, dwarven, and orcish, even glass, ebony, daedric, and the new dragon variety. Each has their own type of ore that can be bought, found, or mined from rock deposits and smelted into ingots, but you must have the corresponding perk to be able to work the more advanced materials. (On a somewhat related note, there are now only 4 pieces of armor: helmet, gauntlets, boots, and “armor,” a combination of cuirass and greaves.)
Conveniently, the Smithing perk tree is split between light and heavy armor types, converging at the top with dragon armor, which can be made for either class. Every major city has a blacksmith that won’t mind if you use his equipment, but you’ll also find the proper implements in various other locations throughout the world. Along with the forge used for creating new items, there are grinding wheels and workbenches for improving weapons and armor, respectively. As you might expect, upgrading a weapon will increase its damage, while armors can be made to offer more protection from damage.
|<% print_image("37"); %>||<% print_image("38"); %>||<% print_image("39"); %>|
As it is now, maxing out your Smithing skill and boosting your ability to improve items with potions and enchantments is a pretty easy way to fashion some very powerful equipment, almost excessively so. I imagine this might be a potential target for nerfing in future updates, at least in regard to how relatively quick and cheap it is to train the skill to 100 by churning out iron daggers; despite being the simplest and most inexpensive recipe, it will contribute as much to increasing your Smithing proficiency as crafting any other item, even the highest quality stuff like dragon armor and daedric weapons. At least there’s a trade-off in that crappy daggers don’t sell for much afterward... Fashioning jewelry from silver or gold and optional gemstones, on the other hand, is quite lucrative.
| Crafting (cont.)||Page:: ( 5 / 10 )|
”Some might call this junk, but me, I call them treasures.”
|<% print_image("40"); %>||<% print_image("41"); %>||<% print_image("42"); %>|
Of course, Alchemy makes its return in Skyrim, and in a more user-friendly form, to boot. You no longer have to carry around up to four pieces of equipment to use in formulating your concoctions, only find and use one of the many alchemy tables that are spread across the land. They’re more common than a blacksmith’s forge, though it’s still not as convenient as being able to alchemize anywhere at any time (not that that was very realistic in the first place).
Interestingly, you don’t magically know what the effects of each ingredient are based on your level of skill -- you taste them to discover the first effect (or the first two, with a perk), but experimentation is required to work out the rest. It’s a process that will result in a lot of wasted ingredients, as the reagents are lost when a match (and therefore viable potion) is not made, but you do get the experience toward increasing your skill with each attempt.
This trial-and-error process also means you’re able to stumble upon certain combinations that would have been locked away for higher skill levels in previous games. That makes sense, since there’s not much reason why two ingredients should behave very differently depending on the knowledge of the person mixing them together. If you don’t care to throw everything against the wall, trying to see what sticks, alchemy shops located in cities around Skyrim usually have a selection of recipes to sell you. The process of cooking food is a lot more straightforward, at least, which is this time wholly separate from that of making potions.
Meats, vegetables, and the like no longer act as alchemy ingredients, but will restore small amounts of health and/or stamina when eaten. Prepared dishes are more beneficial than their raw counterparts or individual components, and it requires no special skill to use a cookfire, so even those with no inclination toward alchemy can whip themselves up something nice. You’ll also find a decent variety of alcoholic beverages including wines and meads, but the inebriation effect has been replaced by a penalty to stamina regeneration that lasts a short while. Note that food and drink is still no replacement for potions or healing spells, however, and you will eventually outgrow their usefulness.
|<% print_image("43"); %>||<% print_image("44"); %>||<% print_image("45"); %>|
The last form of crafting in Skyrim is Enchanting, another pursuit of the would-be wizard. Much like in previous games, you use a filled soul gem to provide the power source for binding a magical effect to an item. You can add elemental damage to a weapon, create a necklace that fortifies a skill or attribute of its wearer, or infuse a piece of armor with resistance to magic or disease. However, unlike before when you had to know a spell with the effect you wanted to use, you will first need to “learn” each effect by disenchanting an item with those properties, destroying it in the process.
You do get experience from this, too, so it’s not that bad; just make sure you don’t destroy anything important (unique items generally cannot be dismantled, and so their properties not replicated). Enchantments become more powerful as your proficiency increases and you collect relevant perks, so if you combine that with strong base items and improve them with a high Smithing skill, you will eventually be able to create some truly epic equipment that will best anything you might find in random loot.
Hold on! You might be thinking, “What about spell-making?” Well, that doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe Bethesda thought that so few people even bothered with it that it wasn’t worth carrying over from Oblivion, or that the crazy ways people figured out to exploit the system were potentially detrimental to the balance of magic in gameplay, who knows? Regardless of the reason, the only spells that exist in the game are ones you learn from books you can either buy or find out in the wild. Still, there must be near 100 of them across the five remaining schools in all, containing effects both old and new. One of my favorites is Transmute, an Alteration spell that turns iron ore into silver and silver into gold!
|<% print_image("46"); %>||<% print_image("47"); %>||<% print_image("48"); %>|
| UI, controls||Page:: ( 6 / 10 )|
”Never should have come here!”
|<% print_image("49"); %>||<% print_image("50"); %>||<% print_image("51"); %>|
We may have differing opinions over the changes to gameplay mechanics in The Elder Scrolls V, but even beyond that, not all is well in the world of Skyrim. Like all Bethesda titles, it has its fair share of issues, though most are relatively minor considering the scope of content we’re dealing with here. Chief among them, as complained about by most who have played the game so far, has naught to do with bugs, glitches, or other technical issues, but design… Skyrim’s user interface and menu systems are pretty slick. They’re pleasing to the eye, straightforward to navigate, and they have that really cool thing where you can zoom in and examine every inventory item from all angles. But one problem overshadows all of this: they’re exceedingly, entirely unnecessarily, cumbersome.
You see, everything is a list that must be scrolled through, from the inventory and the quest journal to the dialogue options and “convenient” favorite items menu. Like all console-oriented titles, the font size of the text is oversized to be easier to see on a TV screen, but that only makes it worse when you have dozens of items in an alphabetical list that you can only browse sequentially. Yes, the inventory is split into categories, but most of them are easily overfilled, especially if you’re a compulsive looter.
Then you have the level up screen with the perk trees laid out horizontally, which takes FOREVER to cycle through. It’s actually a bit better with the mouse, as you have the scroll wheel for vertical lists and you can click on any item currently displayed, rather than just the center ‘selected’ one. However, the hover-to-select functionality often breaks down for no discernable reason, something that can be particularly bothersome when it causes you to choose the wrong dialogue option or accidentally sell an item you didn’t mean to. Thankfully, the UI is something that will surely be fixed by mods in the near future.
|<% print_image("52"); %>||<% print_image("53"); %>||<% print_image("54"); %>|
Other than that, there are some quirks with the controls in Skyrim, specifically with some oddly-variable mouse sensitivity, the favorites menu being a precursor to assigning items to hotkeys, and several keys having hard-coded functions that might conflict with custom key bindings. The former can be mostly resolved by forcing V-sync off and disabling mouse acceleration in the game’s config file, but there are still some nuances that will probably need to be patched (such as vertical look speed seeming to be tied to FPS). The latter involves keys like Tab, F, E, and C performing specific functions throughout the game’s menus, as well as other ones during normal gameplay. The problem is, going into the controls menu and binding them to something else will work fine for gameplay, but won’t be reflected in the menus, resulting in confusion when it displays the wrong key or some things just plain not working.
When I first started playing, I wanted to swap F (camera switch by default) with the Shouts/Powers key. Everything was fine until I wanted to use the number keys for quick access to weapons and spells; because I had changed F, the key hard-coded to “favoriting” an item, it just wouldn’t work. And because you HAVE to favorite something before you can assign a hotkey to it, I had stumbled upon a pretty big issue. Fortunately, there is already a mod to remove some of the hard-coded bindings, which you can download from the Skyrim Nexus. Sadly, that doesn’t affect the two biggest culprits, like the F key I struggled with, as it’s just not possible yet. Here’s hoping they address it in the upcoming patch…
|<% print_image("55"); %>||<% print_image("56"); %>||<% print_image("57"); %>|
| Graphics, engine troubles||Page:: ( 7 / 10 )|
”I am sworn to carry your burdens…”
|<% print_image("58"); %>||<% print_image("59"); %>||<% print_image("60"); %>|
First of all, Skyrim is absolutely beautiful, a real sight to behold. You need not look any further than the dozens of screenshots that accompany this review to see that. But anyone who’s spent a few hours playing the game can tell you that all of Bethesda’s talk about a “brand new engine” was pretty much a load of crap. This is still Gamebryo, even if they were able to start calling it the Creation Engine because the company that originally developed it has all but folded. I’m sure they’ve made plenty of improvements and additions since Oblivion -- the lighting and shadows are particularly impressive and the particle effects look better than ever -- but all the usual failings and limitations remain.
For instance, the draw distance leaves a lot to be desired, and the low-detail terrain and placeholder trees beyond that limit are as ugly as ever. Lip syncing has been improved only marginally in the past 5 years, and you still can’t actually climb ladders, only use them as a portal like transitional doors. Character animations are still pretty stiff and jerky, though a lot of them have been redone, at least. Most of the major cities remain walled off and isolated from the world at large, but they’ve done a better job creating the illusion that they’re not, by letting you see some of the surrounding area on the other side of walls that aren’t all uniformly 50 feet tall. I do like that other (albeit smaller) hold capitols don’t have walls with gates, and thus don’t require you hit a loading screen to enter or exit them.
|<% print_image("61"); %>||<% print_image("62"); %>||<% print_image("63"); %>|
The dated engine wouldn’t bother me so much if they had managed to polish it well, but I’ve been quite disappointed to discover that they seem to have created all new types of major glitches. Besides our old friend the crash-to-desktop dropping by more than he’s welcome, the most irksome of these has to do with some really wonky physics behavior. Literally any and all movable objects, usually in an interior area like a house or store, will bounce all over the place at speeds high enough to do damage if they hit you. Aside from leaving a gigantic mess everywhere, the sound of these objects colliding with the walls, floor, and each other is enough to drive you mad; the constant racket of clanging and banging to remind you that something’s wrong equates to what must be the exact opposite of immersion…
Strangely, I’ve only experienced that problem on an NVIDIA GeForce graphics card, whereas something from AMD is just fine. At least in that regard -- on a Radeon GPU, I’ve noticed textures failing to load, as well as NPC faces and/or interior walls disappearing. Both brands of cards have issues with what I like to call phantom water, which is a glitch that often occurs in dungeons that contain one or more pools, lakes, or streams. Sometimes it’s pretty innocuous, producing little more than a flash of blue/green on the screen and a small splashing sound from time to time.
In rare cases, however, it can make said pools of water impossible to swim in, as each time it glitches, the liquid effectively disappears, causing you to fall toward the bottom. On a few occasions, I’ve had to noclip myself up and out of a pond because of this. At its worst, however, the flashes of phantom water last long enough for your character to behave as if he were briefly swimming, even while on land, which interrupts your actions by forcing you to sheathe your weapon. I can think of a couple of caves in particular that are nigh on insufferable because of this bizarre issue.
|<% print_image("64"); %>||<% print_image("65"); %>||<% print_image("66"); %>|
All that, and I still haven’t mentioned the bugs that have to do with actual gameplay, such as shoddy scripting, leftover quest items, or broken objectives. The biggest instance of this I’ve seen is a pretty major side quest in the city of Windhelm failing to start, which prevents you from purchasing the home there and thus meeting a requisite of becoming Thane, a position of respect and privilege in the Jarl’s court. Keep in mind that I’ve played a LOT of Skyrim, so I’ve seen so many little issues that it left an impression on me, but in the overall scheme of things, the trouble they cause is very brief in comparison to the duration of the rest of my adventures. Luckily, most of them can be sorted with a couple of console commands.
Bethesda hired many more voice actors for Skyrim than they did Oblivion (around 70, in fact), but in my experience, that is still too few for a game of this size. Only the most important characters have a talent dedicated to them alone, and over time you’ll inevitably come to recognize the same handful of voices coming from common NPCs all over the place. It doesn’t help that many of them have very distinct voices that you might even know from cartoons or other video games; even though they may try to sound different for each character, you can’t help but pick up on the similarities. Worst of all is how many corners they cut in writing dialogue for NPCs. Apparently they came up with a few different lines for merchants, a few for beggars, a few for guards, etc., so you wind up hearing the same exact phrase read a dozen different ways and played back for you countless times. I’ve used some such quotes as sub-headings for pages in this article.
|<% print_image("67"); %>||<% print_image("68"); %>||<% print_image("69"); %>|
| Modding and tweaks||Page:: ( 8 / 10 )|
”Oh, a bit of this, and a bit of that.”
|<% print_image("70"); %>||<% print_image("71"); %>||<% print_image("72"); %>|
Various mods for the latest Elder Scrolls title have already begun cropping up online, with a dedicated website launched by the same people who ran the most popular mod sites for Morrowind, Oblivion, and Fallout 3: Skyrim Nexus. I’ve already mentioned one mod that attempts to straighten out the mess with hard-coded key bindings, but there are various graphical enhancements in the form of higher-resolution textures and post-processing effect adjustments, custom items, crafting expansions, obligatory nude mods, and the like. There’s not a whole lot going on right now, as the official Creation Engine tool set has yet to be released, but once it has, you can bet we’ll be seeing a flood of more useful changes and additions than you could shake a stick at.
In the meantime, there are plenty of alterations you can make to the game’s configuration files to improve things without downloading anything extra. You can change the FOV, eliminate mouse lag, improve the quality of shadows and water reflections, increase the draw distances for grass, trees, and well, everything, plus a whole lot more. I won’t be attempting to conjure up a full-blown Skyrim tweaks guide on top of this behemoth review, but I have taken the liberty of compiling a list of some of the most common adjustments people are making. As always, it’s a good idea to back up any files you’re going to change, so you can restore them if something goes awry. The configuration files in question are located at “Documents/My Games/Skyrim/,” so head there now if you’d like to partake.
|<% print_image("73"); %>||<% print_image("74"); %>||<% print_image("75"); %>|
The following tweaks are made in SkyrimPrefs.ini:
- Disable mouse smoothing -- Change bMouseAcceleration in the [Controls] section from 1 to 0
- Disable V-sync -- Change iPresentInterval in the [Display] section from 1 to 0
(Note that this is mainly for AMD cards; NVIDIA users can force V-sync off in the control panel.)
- Disable depth of field -- Change bDoDepthOfField in the [Imagespace] section from 1 to 0
- Make shadows less blurry -- Change iBlurDeferredShadowMask in the [Display] section from 3 to 1
- Enable tree self-shadowing -- Change bTreesReceiveShadows in the [Display] section from 0 to 1
- Enable ground self-shadowing -- Change bDrawLandShadows in the [Display] section from 0 to 1
- Enhance water reflections -- Add the following lines to the [Water] section:
These next tweaks are made in Skyrim.ini:
- Adjust Field of View -- Add the following lines to the [General] section, where xx is your desired value (I use 80 for 16:10, you might want to go as high as 90 for 16:9)
- Increase full detail draw distance radius -- This one can have a big impact on performance, so only try it if you have FPS to spare, credit goes to DHJudas on the official forums for all his work figuring this stuff out.
WARNING: Trying to go from a large uGridsToLoad to a smaller one can break your save game; see the afore-linked forum thread to read about how to save it if that happens. The higher you set it, the farther your draw distance will be, but the lower performance will be, so choose between 7, 9, and 11 (the default is 5).
Add one group to the [General] section:
uExterior Cell Buffer=64
uExterior Cell Buffer=100
uExterior Cell Buffer=144
|<% print_image("76"); %>||<% print_image("77"); %>||<% print_image("78"); %>|
A tweak that allows the game to use more than 2GB of memory has also become popular, much as it did for other games using this engine like Oblivion and Fallout: New Vegas. It’s called being “Large Address Aware,” and all it does is set a flag on the .exe to tell it, hey, you can use more memory than the traditional 32-bit application limit allows. The benefit to using this tweak is debatable, but some people have sworn it’s solved myriad crashes and glitches for them. Anyhow, there was a bit of a hub-bub a few days ago when Steam stealthily patched Skyrim to disallow it running without going through Steam in what was essentially a DRM strengthening measure.
While it probably wasn’t their intent, they broke the easiest way to implement the tweak by prohibiting any modification of the executable. Reverting back to the old version works to enable the tweak again, but that would also mean you’ll have to avoid future updates, which is really not a smart thing to do. On the bright side, there is a work-around to enable the tweak that comes in the form of a custom launcher, which you can download here. The way it works should make it compatible with any and all updates Bethesda releases from now on, so you might as well give it a try and see if it helps at all. Provided you have more than 2GB of RAM in your computer, of course.
|<% print_image("79"); %>||<% print_image("80"); %>||<% print_image("81"); %>|
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 9 / 10 )|
Fun, emergent gameplay. Teaming up with random NPCs to fight a dragon is epic.
Combat is further improved. Dual-wielding FTW.
Explore a vast open world. Skyrim will swallow you whole.
Bursting at the seams with content. It takes 100 hours to see and do everything, minimum.
Refined, simplified leveling system. Don’t concern yourself too much with numbers, just play.
Gorgeous environments. A few tweaks make them even more so.
Complete freedom to play as you wish. Questing is more of a suggestion.
Thoroughly moddable. Or at least it will be, once they release the tool set.
UI, controls not optimized for keyboard/mouse. Or even a controller, really. So instead of consolitis, it’s just plain bad design.
Underwhelming conclusion to main storyline. The Dark Brotherhood quests take the cake again.
Many bugs, glitches, technical issues. They’re not nearly enough to blemish the overall experience, though.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 10 / 10 )|
With a game as huge and engrossing as Skyrim, it’s easy to get caught up in discussing the negatives as the overwhelming positives are taken for granted. Considering a couple pages of this article are made up mostly of complaints about the game’s various issues, you might think they’re a bigger deal than they really are. Let me clear things up by assuring you that none of the quest bugs, graphical issues, gameplay glitches, or unexplained crashes I’ve encountered can change the fact that I played this amazing RPG for well over 100 hours in the past couple weeks and absolutely loved it. It is for that reason that I wound up rambling on more than twice as long as I usually do, and awarded The Elder Scrolls V the highest score of any game I've ever reviewed. What Bethesda’s created here is not perfect, but it’s pretty damn close.
|<% print_image("82"); %>||<% print_image("83"); %>||<% print_image("84"); %>|
While we’re on that topic, and I’m trying to get out any leftover thoughts I might have, I figured I’d mention my annoyance with Skyrim’s leveled loot. While enemies no longer scale directly to your level, the quality of a merchant’s stock still relies on that figure. I think it would be a lot better if they had some really uber items and equipment right from the start, which would be out of reach for the newbie due to really high price tags. You deserve to be able to buy overpowered stuff if you can scrape together 10,000 gold by the time you’re level 10; it’s not like you could just steal any of it, either, since the best of their stock is hidden in an inaccessible underground chest (something I also detest).
I have a similar bone to pick with the quality of random loot you find in locked chests. While I understand a developer’s hesitation to give the player too much good stuff too easily, I really think I deserve more than a handful of gold or a gemstone or a Potion of Healing for picking open an Expert-level chest... I’m sure the implementation of such randomized leveled lists saves them a lot of time and effort in manually placing loot in the hundreds of chests around Skyrim, but it just sucks to get the short end of the stick like that, especially when it's not exactly a rare occurrence.
On a different note, I would acknowledge that there are those that will deride Skyrim for continuing Bethesda’s tradition of dumbing down established franchises’ RPG elements to make things more “accessible” to a wider audience. While I can’t argue that that’s exactly what they’ve done by moving away from character attributes and defined classes in The Elder Scrolls, I will ask this: how is having restrictions on your play style any more RPG-y than not? Does the spirit of role-playing truly lie in these little numbers that determine what your character can and cannot do, or can it involve the player freely making all manner of his own decisions? Just some food for thought.
|<% print_image("85"); %>||<% print_image("86"); %>||<% print_image("87"); %>|
Without a doubt, experiencing the depth and scale of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s expansive virtual world is worth every penny of the full asking price of $60, and then some. This is one of those rare masterpieces of the art form that isn’t just a game, but a lifestyle. It’s so easy to get sucked in, you’ll be struck with bewilderment when you come up for air and see just how many hours passed without you even realizing it. Such is the nature of a blissful gaming experience that isn’t particularly well-suited for anyone with any kind of pressing obligations to friends, family, work, or school, so beware! It’s kept me away from several other recent releases but, while I’m looking forward to playing them, too, they’re going to have a hell of a time competing with this for the title of Game of the Year. Needless to say, buy it ASAP!
Have you already been playing Skyrim? Be sure to share your thoughts and stories in the comments section!