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Oblivion was one of my favorite games of all time. When I ranked the top five games I’ve reviewed since starting AAGH, Oblivion was #1 by a long shot. There was no question. If I listed my favorite games ever, it would sit near the top with games such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Ocarina of Time. With that in mind, can it’s successor even hope to reach such lofty heights?
In my mind, yes. I didn’t like Skyrim all that much for the first hour or so. Seriously, I was feeling let down. The introductory tutorial is not real good and if the rest of the game resembled it and it’s highly railroaded and stiff feel I would be failing this game in this review. Fortunately, this is an Elder Scrolls game and you knew that the game was going to open up eventually. The question remained; what would the game be like once it did? The answer turned out to be, “freaking awesome.”
The class-free character development was hard on me at first. You don’t pick a class at any point in the game. Instead you play however you want and develop your character organically. My problem was finding my niche. Without a predefined set of skills I didn’t know what I wanted to do and just dabbled in everything. It turns out that that system works really well. I got to try everything in the game and by my characters level was in the mid-teens, he had a defined style that had come about naturally. The game didn’t force me into a mold of any kind; I just fell into a style that I liked as I played. The best part is that this same system allows me to change my style at any time. Don’t like going sword-and-board? Pick up a two-hander or start learning spells. You won’t be penalized for it like you would be in Oblivion, where your extremely low skill in those fields would make it almost impossible pick up non-major skills later in the game. In fact, there are no major/minor skills in Skyrim. Everything is open to you at any time. What happens when you train a skill is two fold. For one, leveling higher level skills furthers your overall experience towards the next level more then a low level skill. Secondly, you get to pick a ‘perk’ every level and each ability has it’s own skill tree that you can specialize in. However, the later perks are level dependant. For example, you can’t get the unbreakable lock pick perk in the lock picking tree unless you’re rated 100 in that skill, so get busy cracking locks. You also have to invest in that tree’s lower rung perks to get it. Fortunately there are next to no useless perks.
Skyrim’s quests seem more involved then Oblivion’s but they are in no way perfect. Symbol puzzles are over-abundant and there are repeated gimmicks like the ‘golden claw’ from the preview videos. The dungeons on the other hand are not cookie-cutter repeats. Each dungeon seems to have not only a unique design but what you do in them seems to change each time (aside from the aforementioned symbol puzzles).
The combat in Skyrim is allot of fun and seems to be more kinetic and dynamic then Oblivion’s, especially the magic. Sword play is fun enough but a double fireball blast is great. Even better, the magic is much more creative then in Oblivion. Ice spears that stick in your enemy, explosive runes that you can place on the floor, streams of flame that can place walls of fire on the floor and more make being a mage much more fun then before. Dual wielding is a great feature as well since you can wield one two-handed weapon, a spell in one hand and weapon in the other, a weapon and a shield, two weapons, or two spells; whatever fits your style.
The graphics of Skyrim look good but they could be so much better. They’re held back by the current gen console’s limitations. No DirectX 11 goodies and the models and textures could be better. On the other hand, this lowers the system requirements which means that more people can play and still have decent performance and good graphics. The game scales down well, too. When I was first playing I had to make do with a 512 MB Radeon 6450 and the game played reasonably well. I’ve since picked up a 1GB 6770 and it plays much better on higher settings but the game doesn’t look allot different.
Sound-wise Skyrim isn’t incrediblly impressive. The music is the best part as it weaves in and out of the game based on what you’re doing. The voice acting could be better but if could also be a whole lot worse.
The dragons themselves, the big feature of the game, are fun to fight but are allot harder to defeat as a melee fighter. They also drop dragon scales and bones, which both sell for a high price and can be used in armor, but they weigh a whole hell of a lot. I was once trying to walk from Whiterun to Markarth and every time I started to approach Rorikstead (about halfway between the two) I got attacked by a dragon. I’d kill them, carry their bones and scales back to my house in Whiterun, fast-travel back, walk a few minutes, get attacked by a dragon, kill them and carry their bones and scales back to my house; repeat ad nauseum. It took me almost a half-dozen tries just to get to Rorikstead, and when I got there, a dragon attacked Rorikstead. Really, God?
Skyrim, in summarization, is a success. I honestly loved Morrowind, Oblivion’s predecessor, for it’s unique, almost alien atmosphere and missed that in Oblivion. You were always a foreigner (an outlander, to be more specific) in Morrowind, the enviroment was always unique and the whole culture was alien. Skyrim doesn’t quite reach Morrowind’s level in that regard, but it’s better then the nigh-generic fantasy world of Oblivion. I think Skyrim is now my favorite Elder Scrolls game ever. Sorry, Oblivion. It was a good run.