The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has arrived, delivering a brand new epic world to explore. How does this entry compare to Bethesda's past RPG efforts? Read our review.

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It's easy to get lost in the fantasy lands of Skyrim. The northern realm on the continent of Tamriel, home to all the Elder Scrolls games, offers a majestic setting for this fifth installment in the series. I wandered through its wilderness, hiked around crystal lakes, and climbed snow-peaked mountaintops oftentimes simply because I could. Seeing it all in first-person, as if through my own eyes, made my adventures an intensely personal experience. And though the occasional technical issue might momentarily break its spell, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim kept calling me back, long after I'd finished it for review. My tale started with all the epic trappings befitting of a high-fantasy classic. The main quest centered on my fate as a Dragonborn, a legendary figure with the soul of a dragon. The game is light on hand-holding, though. Early on I thought a civil war between the Empire and rebellious Stormcloaks must surely be the overarching plot of the game. As I learned over the next several hours, it would be but one of the obstacles I'd face. Skyrim never particularly pushed me down the story's path. Instead, I slowly uncovered the most serious threat facing Skyrim, and then made a personal decision of when to deal with it. Being Dragonborn had its perks. Once my identity was known, NPCs spoke with a kind of wonder and respect. It somewhat strained credulity when townsfolk would ask such a legendary figure to fetch a tusk or deliver a letter, but the title lent matters the necessary sense of great import during key story moments, when even royalty deferred to my authority. My choices at those moments carried weight, and could have serious impacts on the world. Skyrim, though, bucks the trend in modern RPGs of labeling my actions as "good" or "bad." It left the interpretation of any consequences up to me. Similarly, most characters aren't defined as purely noble or selfish. The game contently let me live with my decisions, and their impact on those around me, without either patting me on the head or wagging a disdainful finger at me. Bethesda's new game engine feels more iterative than completely fresh, but a few smart tweaks breathe new life into it. A revised menu system makes accessing quests, maps, and items much easier, and I constantly found myself using the new "Favorites" menu (accessible with the D-pad) for easy swapping among my best spells and weapons. The skill tree received an especially welcome revamp, separating skills into clearly-defined sets of constellations. It’s an elegant, visual solution that side-steps the confusion from traditional, obfuscating flow charts.

Do you like fighting dragons? Skyrim has a lot of dragons

I created my hero as a mage from the reptilian race known as the Argonian. Experimenting with different combinations of spells never got old but the spell casting afforded me a healthy range advantage. Most of the enemies in the game ran directly at me, forcing me to fight a retreating battle, backing away while burning them with fire. Stronger enemies required a little more tactical approach, but in a game full of melee-wielding foes, being able to back away while chipping away with ranged spells felt almost unfair. To even the odds, I experimented with melee weapons to get a feel for blocking and attacking. I was pleased with the results. Experience levels, which grant stat boosts and perks, rely on leveling up individual skills through frequent use. So when, after tens of hours, my Destruction ability was so overused it took a long time to reach the next level, I received better experience by changing things up. Only a casting or two of an Illusion or Conjuration spell, or switching to a one-handed sword would increase my proficiency with them. This system smartly incentivizes variety, breaking the easy to fall into habit of getting stuck in a rut using one set of combat skills throughout the entire game. As well-realized as the world is, and as satisfying as it may be to burn and freeze enemies one at a time, poor AI decisions and the occasional bug disrupt the illusion. For example, once, when following a woman for a quest, she stepped off the path and straight into a waterfall. And during a few of the larger-scale combat moments with lots of moving parts, the game outright froze. These kinds of issues only happened a handful of times over the course of the entire game, but it was jarring to be pulled out of the experience so suddenly. A patch seemed to ease these troubles, but didn't quite eliminate them. It's a testament to Skyrim, though; that when those problems occurred I would always feel compelled to immediately pick up where I left off. The game offers an almost overwhelming amount to do and see, and the conversations I had with its residents ranged from funny to harrowing, and some were even downright creepy. Skyrim manages to be simultaneously both massive and dense. Running out of interesting things to do is never a problem. It may hew a bit closely to its ancestors -- including some of their technical hiccups -- but The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim easily takes its place as the best iteration of Bethesda's modern RPG style to date. The characters are smartly written, the combat is rewarding and varied, and the story feels appropriately majestic. But none of those factors compare to how much the setting itself impacted me. I simply fell in love with the world of Skyrim, and I plan to lose myself in it for some time to come.
[The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review is based on a retail box copy of the Xbox 360 version, provided by the publisher, Bethesda Softworks.]
Editor-In-Chief

From The Chatty

  • reply
    November 10, 2011 5:01 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review.

    The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has arrived, delivering a brand new epic world to explore. How does this entry compare to Bethesda's past RPG efforts? Read our review.

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 5:05 AM

      Giantbomb's review is up as well:
      http://www.giantbomb.com/the-elder-scrolls-v-skyrim/61-33394/reviews/

      5/5

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 5:23 AM

        Goddamn Eurogamer is a picky bitch too.

        • reply
          November 10, 2011 6:44 AM

          Seriously. I'm generally really skeptical about negative and ambivalent Eurogamer reviews as a result. The Skyrim reviewer sounded practically giddy, though.

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 5:26 AM

        lol, the subtitle. Mine. Craft.

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 5:50 AM

        What a great review

      • gmd
        reply
        November 10, 2011 5:51 AM

        I was expecting them to say best game ever made, amazing, stupendous, 7/10.

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 5:35 AM

      I've been playing for an hour, and the world of Skyrim is just beautiful.. Goodbye life, it was nice knowing ya!

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 5:39 AM

      I must not buy another game. I must not buy another game. I must not buy another game. I must not buy another game. I must not buy another game. I must not buy another game.

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 5:42 AM

        but this one would actually be worth it!

        • reply
          November 10, 2011 5:48 AM

          I have Dark souls, Battefield 3 and DOTA 2 right now. :(

          The ps3 is dead again though so that leaves only BF3 and DOTA 2.

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 6:16 AM

        We should start a support group.

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 5:39 AM

      Holy shit I am so excited for this game!

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 5:42 AM

      Fucking combat system. I really enjoy melee characters and I want to get into this game but the melee combat doesn't seem to have improved much since Oblivion. And Oblivion's melee combat was TERRIBLE.

      BUT, everything else sounds awesome. Maybe I'll roll with Dark Souls for melee and I'll roll an archer or something in Skyrim. I really want to explore that world.

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 6:18 AM

        Deadly Reflex mod!

        • reply
          November 10, 2011 6:39 AM

          What the hell is that?

          • reply
            November 10, 2011 8:34 AM

            The mod that fixes oblivion combat, of course

          • reply
            November 10, 2011 9:43 AM

            It expands the melee combat system. It adds proper dodging, more complex power movies, decapitation and mounted combat.

            • reply
              November 10, 2011 11:44 AM

              mounted combat should have been default in skyrim.

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 5:50 AM

      I'll add Gametrailers' review to the pile. http://www.gametrailers.com/video/review-elder-scrolls/723800

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 6:26 AM

      wh0a O_O

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 6:31 AM

      How the fuck am I ever going to play this, Gears 3, Deus Ex, Uncharted 3, Batman and continue to play a couple of hours of BF3 a night. :(

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 6:52 AM

        Gaming is ridiculous right now. The good news is if you don't have to buy now, a lot of these awesome games will go down in price by the time you're able to get to them. Let's hear it for Steam holiday sales.

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 6:34 AM

      Here's the Shacknews review: http://www.shacknews.com/article/71017/the-elder-scrolls-v-skyrim-review

      Just saying.

      • Zek
        reply
        November 10, 2011 6:41 AM

        you say review but i don't see a score anywhere

        • reply
          November 10, 2011 6:42 AM

          And that's the way it should be.

          • Zek
            reply
            November 10, 2011 6:54 AM

            so basically the game is 10 paragraphs out of 10?

            • reply
              November 10, 2011 7:11 AM

              Are you seriously incapable of comprehending a review if it doesn't have a score? I'm interested in whether the game is good, it's pros and cons, and you get all of that from the Shacknews review. You do have to actually read it, though.

        • reply
          November 10, 2011 7:15 AM

          That's because it's a review, not a rating.

          • reply
            November 10, 2011 7:58 AM

            Exactly. Down with numerical rankings! the shack rules!

        • reply
          November 10, 2011 7:21 AM

          Would you give less than 9/10 to your advertisers?

        • reply
          November 10, 2011 7:49 AM

          It's rare that I actually do a real life facepalm but you just made it happen. Nice job.

        • reply
          November 10, 2011 9:09 AM

          I'm sure you used pretty yellow stars with pink and silver glitter on your book reports, but that's not actually necessary out here in the "real world".

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 6:46 AM

        Nothing wrong with having multiple sources confirm how fucking awesome Skyrim is!

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 7:28 AM

        I read it the Shack review and thought it was well written and informative. I'm just enjoying picking through all the reviews so I can continue living vicariously through you media types until I can get the game. ;)

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 9:07 AM

        Nice to see a well written and informative review based on tens of hours of playing a game, rather than a phoned-in BF3 review based on less than ten hours of play.

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 9:44 AM

        Xav, I only read the Shacknews review. I liked it. It gave enough detail in a short read to make a nice concise review.

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 11:47 AM

        PSA: You can also check out Xav's Skyrim thoughts on Totally Rad Show

        http://revision3.com/trs/elder-scrolls-skyrim?hp

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 6:47 AM

      I would be calling in sick tomorrow if it wasn't my coworkers last day.

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 7:42 AM

      I'm trying to level up in BF3 and now this comes along.

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 9:12 AM

      The menus are so consolized on PC. You have to use arrow keys and enter a lot of times. Mouse look feels less floaty then Oblivion. Probably going to play with a controller since the menus suck though.

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 9:18 AM

        damn..

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 9:45 AM

        That sucks. :(

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 11:24 AM

        Well this was the 3rd game this year I did a wait and see on. I guess I wont be getting this for PC either.

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 11:48 AM

        You can't use the mouse to navigate the menus, is that what you mean? One review I read said you can use WASD at least.

      • reply
        November 10, 2011 11:49 AM

        PC + gamepad then. It's not like this game will require precision aiming and snap-reflexes anyway.

      • reply
        November 11, 2011 1:11 PM

        The graphics are not up to the level I expect of a 2011 PC release either, though I didn't realize I can probably run it on ultra settings until looking at the Tom's Hardware benchmark. It took me a couple hours to stop fighting the controls/menu's, but once it clicked I started having tons of fun. Can't wait to get home and spend all night with it.

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 9:43 AM

      And yet another 360-only review. Meh.

    • reply
      November 10, 2011 1:25 PM

      Any reason to avoid getting this for PS3? My XBox is super loud and I don't have play-and-charge controllers, so I'd rather go with PS3...

    • reply
      November 11, 2011 5:39 AM

      Waiting for the UPS man now! He's got my Skyrim and new mech keyboard in the back of his truck! Super giddy right now lol =)

    • reply
      November 23, 2011 12:50 PM

      Skyrim has been getting stellar reviews, but I went back and looked at the reviews for Oblivion. Turns out they were very nearly the same. On metacritic Skyrim is the #4 Xbox game of all time:
      http://www.metacritic.com/browse/games/score/metascore/all/xbox360?sort=desc&view=condensed

      But Oblivion is right there at all time #10!!! It even has a higher user score.

      We all know Skyrim is 10 times better than Oblivion was, so I though that was pretty interesting. It shows that review scores pretty much max out at 95% or so. User scores appear to max out lower, around 85-90%.