Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

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For over sixteen years, the Elder Scrolls series of games have made their mark in the role playing landscape with expansive worlds and non-linear gameplay.  There were some spin-off games in the series that were more focused in their scope, but the main, numbered titles have all been structurally the same.  You’re an adventurer, get out there and adventure in this world Bethesda made.  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is no different.  If you, like me, remember fondly running all over the place in the first game, Arena, stealing rich people’s fancy things and killing horrible monsters in crypts and caves, then this might be a game for you.  If, on the other hand, you were hoping for a Bethesda Game Studios role-playing title that was not an open world, “follow the main quest if you want, or not, whatever”, unfocused game, perhaps something with an engrossing narrative, then this is not for you.  Also, at the outset a warning should be given: if you’re the kind of person that can’t stand buggy games, give this a pass.  But people who can look past the many flaws of Skyrim will find a fully realized fantasy world with more content than any one person is ever likely to see.

Set two hundred years after the events of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Skyrim tells the story of a prisoner slated for execution who grows up to save all of Tamriel, or at least an appreciable portion thereof.  The prisoner, the main character, it is discovered if the main quest line is followed, is a Dragonborn.  Dragons have never played a key role in the Elder Scrolls games in the past for no good reason.  In a series that has just about everything else one would expect in a Tolkien/Gygax inspired world (i.e. liches, orcs, giant rats and spiders, ancient ruins filled with treasure, magic potions, and more varieties of elves than you could waggle a +5 stick of shaking at), you’d think it would have a dragon or two.  Sure the fiction says they died out a long time ago, but I had always thought that the reason for this was due to technical limitations.  The first two games had fairly enclosed camera perspectives with sprite characters.  A moving, giant sprite with wings would have looked pretty silly.  The engines in three and four just might not have allowed for epic battles that one thinks of when thinking of dragons.  They’re back in a big way now and play heavily into the main storyline.  Watching dragons fly around mountainsides and rain fiery doom upon local bandits or militia from the air is very impressive.  As the world in Skyrim is one large area, it’s up to the player to determine whether he or she wants to go over there and tackle the great wyrm to help save whoever he’s roasting; or decide to slink away like a coward and fight giant spiders in caves for a few more hours.  If nothing else, there is a lot of freedom in the game.

As has been the tradition for the last two Elder Scrolls games, the perspective of the player is locked for the first bit of the game until someone asks “Who are you?”  At that point you’ll be dumped into the character creator.  As many options as there are, most of the choices you make here make little difference in the long run.  There are sliders galore, but most of the time, the game is going to be viewed from the first-person perspective, and usually the character is going to be covered from head to toe in gear, covering all said, slid features.  This is not Saints Row or The Sims, where playing dress up is half the fun.  It is probably a good thing that none of this stuff matters because I never saw a way to change any of the choices made.  Didn’t like that hair you gave your guy?  Restarting the game appears to be the solution.  (I played this game on the Xbox 360, there might be some way on the PC to modify your save file, and risk screwing everything else up, to change appearance values.  The point is, there is no in-game way to do this that I ever saw, which is odd.)

Aesthetic choices aside, the main decisions to be made in the character creator are race and gender.  Gender only determines whether or not the armor found magically becomes molded for a certain plumpness in the chest upon equipping it, and whether NPCs say “my lady” or “my lord”.   Race makes a bit more difference in the story insofar as everything takes place in the province called Skyrim which is occupied by the blond north men, the Nords.  Players can choose to be a Nord if they want or any of the other human, elf or beast races.  While these other foreign races are not prevented from joining the Stormcloaks, a faction dedicated to defeating the forces of the Empire and restoring Nordish tradition, it’s weird to play a Dark Elf and hear “Skyrim belongs to the Nords!” over and over again and still want to help out.  In some games past, the beast races could not equip certain armor pieces due to their oddly shaped bodies, but there are no such restrictions here.  All of the races have inherent abilities and bonuses that are spelled out fairly clearly.  Some have a Berserker ability that raises damage output and increases resistances once per day, while others must naturally have more magika (read:mana).  I went with an Argonian, a lizard folk, because they can breathe under water and I hate drowning in video games (might like it in real life, haven’t tried it.)  Like in the US Supreme Court, here race matters more than gender.

Gone from this game are stats.  Usually every RPG has abstract numbers that represent how strong, intelligent or quick someone is.  No where to be found here.  So there are no points to worry about distributing at the start, or really, ever.  Instead of this traditional approach, players are given three meters: red, blue and green.  Red represents health, how much damage a hero can take before dying; blue the amount of spells he/she can cast; and green is stamina which governs how much he/she can run, how much he/she can carry and the amount of power attacks he/she can use.  Every time they level, players choose to increase one bar by ten points, a very modest increase.  This streamlined approach does minimize the chances that someone will develop a character that is not fully prepared for the rough and tumble world of fantasy adventuring.  But, as with most of the development choices made in the game, there is no way to change one’s progression.  So if someone were to put everything into magika, only to find out they will die in one hit every battle when facing stronger opponents eight levels later, there is no way to fix this other than to sacrifice ten or more hours of progress and reload an earlier save.

The character progression system has been streamlined significantly from past games, but the same philosophy of the Elder Scrolls character system remains the same as it ever was.  The way to understand the system is to try to answer the rhetorical question, “Why would a thief only get better at picking locks and sneaking around by killing trolls?”  To put it more directly, this RPG has no experience points.  Usually RPGs define killing a goblin as worth 50 xp, level three is 5000xp, so kill 100 of them and one advances to the third level.  With Skyrim, in order to level up players must level up enough skills to increase in level.  Skills are increased by doing the skill successfully.  So, our hypothetical thief who sneaks past every enemy and picks the locks on treasure chests will level up the Sneak and Lock Picking skills.  Done enough times and he will level up his character level and get to increase Health/Stamina/Magika.  It is possible to level up by doing only one skill over and over again, say forging dozens of iron daggers, but eventually the skill will be mastered and any further activity in that skill will not result in more character progression.

Skill level appears to contribute to how well something can be done. I say “appears to” because it is never made very clear in the game whether or not this is the case. But after playing a whole lot of this game, I can say that better things happen when a character’s numbers are higher.  It would have been nice to not have to go online to read a dozen FAQs, or play the game for over eighty hours, to be able to definitively state this.  New to the series are Perks that are associated with each skill.  As long as the appropriate prerequisite perks and skills are met, passive benefits can be gained through a perk selected at a rate of one per level.  Spells can cost less to cast, backstabs can do more damage and crafting can be more effective.  The character system allows for a great amount of customization and character progression determined by how someone actually plays.  The skill menu looks like a group of constellations and the star patterns are in the shape of their skill (lock picking looks like a key).  The inventory menus are intuitively done in a series of cascading displays based upon pushing a directional button one way or the other.  They are easy to navigate on the console and the text is fairly simple to read.

While starting out as a person slated for execution, it’s probably no spoiler to say that everyone’s custom hero does not get executed.  It would make a poor investment in entertainment dollars if you only got to create a character to get beheaded.  Instead a dragon flies out of no where and interrupts the proceeding and attacks the nearby garrison.  Since dragons have not been seen in living memory, or indeed are not contained in most of recorded history, this appearance causes enough shock to allow the hero to escape.  Or perhaps more than the shock it’s all the fire the dragon spreads with its vile breath.  After a short tutorial sequence jumping over small gaps and crawling under fallen support beam and learning to attack, the Dragonborn is set loose and told to go tell the local lord about the dragon attack.  Or not.

One of the great strengths of all the main Elder Scrolls games is on naked display in this installment: an expansive world.  It is possible to wander from place to place having adventures, completely free of the storyline for dozens of hours.  When not in a city, if one just picks a direction and walks for sixty seconds, and turns around in a circle at the top of the screen there is a compass that will show a bunch of icons indicating nearby landmarks.  Usually these are fortresses or dungeons that promise action and treasure.  Eventually you might want some context or story to justify all this bandit and skeleton killing, but you don’t need it to enjoy the game.  For those that do want context, there are plenty of factions that can be joined, while all have their own quest lines to follow and optional side missions as well as townsfolk and supernatural creatures in trouble.  Everything that is not in sign or letter form is fully voiced, and some of the stories are good with some genuine surprises.  As a bit of a tip, what the game calls a “quest” is usually something unique or entertaining.  The miscellaneous tasks, found at the bottom of the quest log, are usually fairly dull fetch quests.  After discovering enough locations, it is possible to just Fast Travel, effectively teleporting from place to place while the in-game clock advances, but doing so saves time at the expense of finding locations and secrets one wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

The world of Skyrim is a good looking place.  The low lands look impressive enough with streams and grasses, but the real show pieces are the mountains.  Impassible, these towers of rock jut upwards and create a sense of wonder and stab the adventurer’s spirit with the question, “I wonder what’s up there?”  Actually going up there is never as much fun as wondering about it as mountain climbing means finding the one or two set paths that go up or jumping around, trying to find the parts of the landscape that are not too arbitrarily steep for characters to climb.  The towns all have a distinct look, which makes up for the fact that they are not very big.  In some of the earlier Elder Scrolls games, towns were massive areas filled with people, which seemed like believable cities.  Theses towns usually have about twenty people in them.  All twenty have something to say, and some even give quests, but the world does seem a bit empty.

Or at least the world doesn’t have a lot of people in it.  Instead of bodies, what the game has is a lot of clutter.  Inside every mess hall, peasant’s house or mage’s lab are a host of objects associated with everyday living.  To imagine the game world, go into a restaurant’s kitchen, write down every fork, knife, pot, pan and food ingredient you see, then think about a game where all of that junk is modeled and in the game.  It makes for a believable world, but it is important to remember that virtually all of that stuff is not worth anything, so you don’t need to pick it up.  Rather unlike most games where it is a good idea to gather everything.  In addition to cooking knives and cloths in dressers, there are also thousands of pages of books to read.  Some increase skills upon reading them, but all are worth reading even if they have no in game effect.  These tomes offer fiction set in the world of Tamriel, competing views of histories, or describe the religion and beasts of the world.  There are even fun books like a book of riddles and a Choose Your Own Adventure style book.  The best texts lead to treasure and describe the ways to bypass or find new dungeons.  It is a thrill to read about something in a book on a shelf and then actually find that thing in the world.  It is a rich world.

The new graphics engine mostly looks nice, from a distance.  Looking at the ground, the textures are a bit obvious and if the game is installed on the 360, there can be an error where nearby textures will not load and everything looks like Ultima Underworld.  Like in Oblivion, the townspeople still look a little strange.  There are certainly more voice actors in this game than there were in the last one, but the people still look like unemotive dolls.  That they are all generic looking dolls does not help.  The dungeons feel believable,  places filled with traps and the long dead with wind moaning through them.  The baddies are richly detailed and have distinct noises.  The load screens display these characters, so it can be seen just how detailed they are (it is hard to appreciate detail in the heat of combat).  I wish you could talk to them and get quests from them as they are actually memorable looking, unlike the human NPCs.

But, by and large, you won’t be talking to giant spiders and bandits, you’ll be killing them and looting their corpses for treasure.  The basic AI is the same for every creature — run at player, attack player.  The fun comes in how the enemy is stopped.  A hero could wield a two-handed axe, doing massive damage with a few hits.  Summon demons or raise fallen enemies as zombies to combat the living, or blast foes with pure magical energy.  Or, instead, paralyze a foe and turn invisible to wait for the perfect chance to strike with a newly notched arrow.  The game is action oriented in that if the spell misses, it does no damage.  Similarly, if a shield is not being used to block, it will not do much good.  Since there is no reason not to, other than preference, I always switched combat styles in combat, doing all of the above, depending on what the situation warranted.  The game allows for preferred spells and weapons to be put on a list of favorites for quick selection.  In practice, this pauses the action and brings up an alphabetical list of tiny text to scroll through to select said ability or sword.  This should have been a radial menu as it really slows combat down when more than six or so abilities are considered “favorite”.  I suppose one could just stick with one given thing, but it is great fun to dual wield different spells and weapons, trying to find what works best.  And one kind of attack might be ineffective on certain foes. Undead don’t care about mental effects and ice golems seem to not care about cold damage.  It is not fun to have to go though a cumbersome menu to deal with the foes that might pop out of a nearby crypt.

In addition to the above, the Dragonborn is a hero that has the ability to not only kill dragons efficiently, but can also absorb their powers like Mega Man.  According to the fiction, when dragons appear to breath fire, what they’re actually doing is speaking in their ancient tongue to form their will.  The player gains the ability to use these powers, provided the cool down time as elapsed, by slapping one of the bumpers.  As the Dragonborn kills dragons and explores dusty Nordish ruins to find words of power, new Shout abilities are gained.  These abilities do things as simple as cause fire damage like a dragon’s breath or as dramatic as putting everything into bullet time.  The one I kept coming back to again and again was a power that through a wave of force out to knock everything and everyone down.  At the lowest level it knocks human beings down for a second, effectively stunning them.  At the highest, after more words are found and dragons killed, it will blow back every giant bear and troll in the area, maybe even off a cliff.  Some dungeons in the game have puzzles related to these powers, but they are few and far between.  They are more of a supplement to damage output or a way to gain some additional time or tactical advantage in battle.

One of the biggest problems I had with Skyrim’s immediate predecessor was the leveling system of the enemies.  As characters in Oblivion got stronger, so too did the foes.  Where once there were little goblins, then there were big orcs.  While this was fine for most of the game, towards the end, when characters were near the highest level, this meant that there were ancient demons of legend walking around every ten steps.  This made it difficult for anything other than a strictly combat focused character to survive the world.  2011’s Elder Scrolls game seems to have ditched this old leveling system in favor of a world populated by enemies of a certain level.  As I traveled and gained more and more skill with a blade, I noticed that some foes were becoming easier to kill while harder ones started to appear.  Whether this was because I found darker tombs or the game was randomly populating them with harder foes is not very clear. 

There are multiple difficulty settings and I found the game fairly challenging one notch below the highest difficulty setting.  The only problem is that with dragons and spiders, it’s pretty easy to tell what is going to be a hard fight.  Dragons are pretty hard in general, and the bigger the spider the worse the bite.  But with human opponents, it’s impossible to tell how powerful they are until they hit you or you hit them and see their title.  It would be nice to be able to “con the mob”.  A bandit chief, demigods of nigh-unstoppable power, pretty much looks the same as his cannon fodder minions.  It makes it exceedingly difficult to plan encounters or tell whether it’d be better to exercise the better part of valor and not attack that guy because you don’t know if he has the word “lord” in his title before you hit him.

In addition to combat, it is possible to get engrossed in the various crafting systems in the game.  The realm of Skyrim is populated by all sorts of flora and fauna that can be used in brewing magical potions.  Berries grow on shrubs, butterflies flutter, and some defeated foes will have alchemical components.  Alchemy encourages experimentation to master and find all the properties of an item.  Armor and weapons can be improved and crafted with smiting if you have the proper ingots.  Enchanting allows items to be improved with magical properties and increase their value.  There is probably “the grand Poobah item of awesome”  in the game somewhere but I found that most of the items made with smiting and enchanting only in the 70s were better than virtually all items found in the world, including daedric artifacts of yore.  Enchantment can also be used to break the game’s economy as vendor trash enchanted is worth a lot.  And while it might make sense in the narrative, it is a pain to have to find workbenches and alchemy labs in the world to use crafting skills.  This limitation serves no purpose.  There is also the ability to cook food and chop wood using meat and wood piles lying around.  There’s an achievement for doing these kind of things, but beyond that there was no reason to perform these actions more than once.  Food recovers health, but at a miniscule fraction of the amount of even the weakest potions.  Maybe a dozen wood nymphs will carry you off to the pleasure realm of the arbor if you chop a thousand pieces of wood as a tribute, but I never saw the use for cuttin’ up firewood.  It is probably telling that cooking and wood chopping are not levelable skills.  Bethesda must, rightly, think that a hero is not made by frying up some taters. 

There are supposed to be over 150 custom, handmade dungeons in the province of Skyrim for you to explore.  At least that is what the marketing materials said. I didn’t see them all, but I’d believe it as there are still a lot of empty patches on my world map.  Certainly it would be easy to get overwhelmed with all of these locations on the map once discovered, but luckily dungeons that have already been delved bear the legend “Cleared”.  It is not obvious what causes a dungeon to be “Cleared”, but every area that showed up for me as complete is not one that I would have felt any need to return to unless it happened to be required for a quest and I didn’t know to grab some bauble.  It is possible to clear a dungeon and not have to repeat it after you get the actual quest, although some locations do seem to repopulate with foes after time.  I do not know if this is an isolated incident, but there was one main quest mission where some court wizard wanted me to go get some dragon paraphernalia at the bottom of a hole.  As a wandering adventurer, I just so happened to have already picked up the doodad.  The wizard complemented me on my initiative after I chose the dialogue option “I already have it”.  This is way better than spawning the object in only after you get the mission or resetting the dungeon after the quest is given.

Many of these largely underground complexes are incorporated into a quest, but a lot of them you’ll just happen upon randomly. It is amazing just how many gobs and oodles of quests there are to complete, but on your way to those locations, there will be numerous locals that pull with their allure of new adventures.  Given how many of them there are, I do not feel this is a spoiler to detail one of these random dungeons.  It could be possible for someone to achieve the maximum level, get all the achievements and never complete this quest/map or even find it without a wiki, FAQ or game guide.  But if you want no content revealed before you discover it first, skip the next five paragraphs.

I’m walking along from one fast travel location, on my way to a Bard’s College quest destination where some gal had an ancient flute taken from her by a cabal of necromancers, when I see a light house.  It might be worth checking out as there are a couple of these dotted along the province’s coast, and usually they don’t have anything substantial in them. Maybe just a new book on the watcher’s nightstand, some gold, and a light-tender annoyed at the unannounced trespasser.  If nothing else, going inside the unlocked front door should put it on the map and give me another warp point.

Upon entering, it is obvious that things are not OK.  Sprawled across the floor is a dead woman with an axe in her chest.  I draw the sword I got for joining the Companions, an old group of warrior brothers, and had improved with my own Smiting skill, and look around, tensing for combat.  Nothing happens.  Only the sound of faint clicking can be heard, it’s either people playing dice or hungry mandibles anticipating a feast of adventurer.  Nothing is amiss, except for the bloodstains and corpse, and all the doors being locked.  A search of the premises produced several journals that describe a family of sailors that had retired to a lighthouse.  Some of the family was bored with the locale. That does not seem important to anyone now, but it is the kind of frustration you would expect to be vented into a diary.  One longer journal describes a noise coming from the basement, and the discovery of a horror lurking below.  The author ultimately planed to seal himself in the basement in the hopes of preventing further blood shed.

This would explain why there was a Master lock on the basement door.  Now, normally, I ignore these locks as they take anywhere between 10 to 20 lock picks to open, and there is usually a key to the lock on some Big Boss Baddy.  Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see a key.  I had about fifty picks, so rather than come back later (read: forget about this lighthouse due to all the other things going on in the game, and never actually return) I decided to risk breaking every pick I had.  Maybe I could raise my lock picking skill.  Fortunately, it only took six picks to open the door to the basement.  The clicking noise was louder, so I buffed up, summoned an elemental and began to sneak downstairs.  Someone had placed a bunch of bear traps on the stairs, so I deactivated them and continued.  Upon reaching the bottom, the source of the clicking presented itself. It was a pair of dog-sized, demonic insects that looked like a cross between an earwig and a centipede.  The dead cry for vengeance, skills cry for leveling, combat ensued.  In addition to poison bites, these enemies could spit poison to temporarily blind.  Eventually, the pair took enough damage to die and I looked through the basement.  The body of the husband was nowhere to be seen, just some blood and regular basement bric-a-brac.  End of random encounter, I thought.  The bugs did it.  But just as I was about to leave I saw a crack in the wall where the stone gave way to ice and earth.  The source of the foes, a new area to explore.

Going through the crack gave way to a series of underground caves populated by more of the insects, as well as a group of disgusting looking subhumans with twisted faces and sharp axes.  Slaying as I went, eventually I came upon a corpse in a crude pen.  By her were two notes, one that describes how she and someone else were being kept, perhaps for food.  The other, too bloodstained to read, clearly indicated that the other person was taken away.  At the end of all the tunnels was a huge chamber crawling with the regular earwigs as well as one the size of a house.  While it took some time, as well as a fair number of potions, all in the room perished, save me.  It did not seem that there would be any great treasure, expect perhaps some gold and the dozens of the creature’s eggs I had harvested to use in the creation of potions and poisons, but the head sailor who tried to protect his family was in the stomach of the gigantic varmint.  Kind of gross, but I hit “take all” because the pack-rat mentality can sometimes payoff in the Elder Scrolls games.  Particularly when it is not something commonplace like a clothes iron that dot Skyrim’s homes.

The only place I had not looked was the top of the lighthouse.  With the man’s remains I was able to light the lighthouse and put his soul to rest.  This granted the Sailor’s Respite bonus, increasing the effectiveness of my healing spells, and put a close to this chapter.  Off in the distance from the top of the now illuminated tower, I could see an as of yet undiscovered fortress built into a nearby mountain side.  My next destination.  My next adventure.

While the above may have been a fun and memorable forty-five minute experience, if looked at mechanically, the actual playing of the game was not as romantic.  For some reason, the bugs do a lot of damage with their poison, they do not seem to take very much damage, and there are usually two of them together at once.  It can be very easy to get overwhelmed and fleeing is required a lot of the time.  Also, the big queen bee earwig was set up in such a way that the creature could be gamed fairly easily.  Its lair has a ledge on it which can keep the player character out of its melee range.  Sure it can spit easily dodged poison that does a fair amount of damage, but it is clear that jumping down with it is suicide.  It’s a better plan to stay on the ledge and absorb the relatively small amount of poison damage.  The creature did so much damage and took so much to down, that there was no good reason to actually jump into the pit for an epic encounter, if that is what the developers intended.  Instead, I just summoned elementals into its pit to bait and attack it while I peppered it with arrows until eventually it died.  While this might be in keeping with the skills I had been using mostly at that point, Conjuration and Archery, this was an anti-climatic battle with a big bug that was the same as the little ones — same model, but super-sized.  It seemed lazy.

Also, it’s possible that some players might totally miss the lower levels of the lighthouse, the real substance of this area, even if they found the lighthouse itself, because they are behind a locked door that is very difficult to pick.  The most difficult kind of lock in fact.  On a technical level, several of the bug corpses clipped through the environment and, when it was alive, a few times the big version of the little enemies’ head became insubstantial for a second and tried to bite at its prey through the ledge’s geometry.  The exact same bug – zing – appeared in Bethesda’s Fallout 3, when a giant ant was fought inside an underground cave.  Clearly the engines this developer makes do not like large creatures, particularly creepy crawlies, and their interaction with level geometry.  In a similar vein, all creatures, everywhere in the game, friendly summons or naturally appearing in-level foes, have path finding issues.  Whenever there is any kind of obstacle in an NPC’s way, it runs up against it for a few moments and then either slides along its edges or just runs in place until killed.  These flaws destroy whatever sense of immersion there might have been.  When enough of them are seen together, it makes you realize that you’re not an adventurer — there is no Skyrim, it’s just a game and a single player only one at that.  So there isn’t even the incentive of showing off cool loot to other people to make you want to go forward with a such a buggy game.  I know computer science majors will say that there is no such thing as bug-free software, but the amount of problems in this game is truly unacceptable.

Now, to be fair, usually technical problems do not plague the game.  It’s possible to play for half an hour and not have any issue as you raid vaults and kill cave bears.  And Bethesda does say that all versions of the game are going to have major patches coming in the New Year that should fix a lot of these things.  Time will tell if that’s true.  But this game was in development for a long time and it’s not 1994 and Skyrim is not going to ever be considered a “cult hit”.  So the amount of jank present in this game is inexcusable.  I found it a smoother experience than Oblivion and Fallout 3, but that is a pretty low bar.  Skyrim only hard locked – where the system must be manually powered off before it will respond – my 360 five times while playing it.  Any game that does that, particularly a so called AAA game, should not have made it to store shelves.  And these problems are just on the Xbox, I don’t even want to think about all the things that could go wrong on the PC.  Especially when people start throwing mods at the game.

Despite the technical limitations and flaws, I find myself, as I am writing this, being drawn back to the province of Skyrim.  Since the game has no classes and anyone can eventually do everything, there is always a new way to play (provided one hasn’t done it before).  There are at least ten incomplete quests that I can do in my quest log and at least half as many miscellaneous tasks.  After a while, I am sure, I will complete everything I can and then look on the internet to see if there is some crazy quest or encounter I missed (like the lighthouse adventure I had) and then I’ll go do that.  For the type of person that looks at a list of classes and says “I wish I could be a master thief, arch mage and the best fighter in the land”, this game lets you do all of that and is addicting.  The fiction of the world and stories to absorb and participate in are high in quality and genuinely entertaining.  It is engrossing enough for me to look past the many, many times where the seams of the game show.  Anyone else needs to ask themselves if they’re prepared for a substantial amount of code-related frustration, falling through levels, and general brokenness.  For those with lower tolerance for such things, wait until the game of the year edition – you know there will be one – where there should be even more content and as many of these issues hammered out as possible.

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Pros:
+ Streamlined leveling system that allows you to play how you want
+ Good looking world filled with believable content
+ More content than any one player is going to see even after hundreds of hours

Cons:
– Too many bugs to count
– AI of opponents is poor
– Possible to make bad character decisions that cannot be changed later

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Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360; also available for PC and PS3
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Release Date: 11/11/2011
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.