Skyrim is perhaps the most widely played game among my gaming friends. I’m pretty sure 90% of my Steam friend’s list own it, and I know 100% of my XBL friends do. Released in 2011, the game has sold around 20 million copies (I can admit to owning 3 copies myself) and overall was and still is a hit amongst reviewers, both of the general populous and more official sources.
I feel the need to start this review off with a little look into my Elder Scrolls history- don’t worry, it’s brief. I had never even heard of the series until my now-boyfriend showed me Oblivion. I didn’t play it until I purchased the GOTY edition on the PS3. I never finished the main story in that game… I ran around, played with the character creator, and got myself into lots of trouble, as usual. I pre-ordered Skyrim on the PS3 after hearing about all the hype and, honestly, I was disappointed. It was a horrible, crashing mess- I mean, seriously. I don’t have much time in my PS3 copy, but I didn’t wait long before I purchased it on Steam.
As with most Bethesda games, I feel that the PC version is the superior release. Ignoring modding (which I will talk about later), it has been my experience that these editions are simply more stable. The 360 versions are definite second, though I haven’t had many issues with Fallout: New Vegas after the hiccups at launch and Fallout 3 was only a minor headache. Regardless, the PC versions always seem best supported and most stable. And, besides… Steam Sales. I purchased my copy during the Holiday sale in the year of its release, and have purchased or been gifted the DLC during sales, as well. But that’s enough history.
Skyrim starts out with a pretty attention-grabbing introduction, which I quite enjoy. The cart ride is a little slow, but, come on… what beats a good ol’ beheading interrupted by a fucking dragon? I can’t deny that I enjoyed, and still do enjoy, running through Helgen as the dragon rips it apart… in an extremely scripted fashion. The tutorial introduction to the game with either your Empire or Stormcloak ambassador was slow even the first time, but it is quick enough completion- and then the fun can really begin. Or, so I hoped.
Unfortunately, I am in the minority that finds the vanilla game of Skyrim to be a close, but no cigar sort of tale. It isn’t terrible, or even bad- however, I would not call it excellent, and a very meh-good. I suppose I was easily seduced by the high-fantasy, magical quality of Oblivion, but I did not enjoy the more ‘down to Earth’, as much as a game about dragons can be, story. The combination of the very ‘real’, but gorgeous, environments (save a few exception), the mundane story, and the simplified and dumbed-down mechanics just made it, to me, a very simple experience.
The combat system is clunky and rather horrible on the mouse/keyboard. Magic has been dumbed down, simplified, and bitch slapped into an eventually useless focus that relies so heavily on Enchanting, it is impossible to run a very limited focus class. Playing a one-handed sword and shield character makes the came a cake walk and often times, the ‘random’ dragon fights are more of a chore and an NPC-slaughter than anything. The DLC is overpriced and was not much more exciting, though the Dragonborn DLC is the better of the two story DLC. I’m quite fond of Hearthfire myself, but I am a sucker for home-building and family-adopting.
Thankfully, this is a Bethesda game we’re talking about- so there are mods! Thousands of mods. The Steam Workshop support makes it easy even for the laziest of modders (I’m looking at you Zerby) to add more features to their game and, in my opinion, it is the mods that give me a reason to keep playing this game. Now, don’t get me wrong- without a solid foundation, the mods wouldn’t do anything. You can only shine a turd so much. Skyrim, in its vanilla and unmodded state, is ‘fine’. However, that’s it… just fine. They had so many possibility and opportunities to do something fantastic, but I feel they fell short time and time again.
My major disappointment has to be the simplification of the mechanics. Yes, the birth signs, minor and major skills, and many of the other mechanics of Oblivion were complex- I cannot deny that they confused the living fuck out of me when I first popped the game in -however, I feel Skyrim went far too far in the opposite direction. The Skill Trees are a bit of a grind, though I do enjoy the concept, but I do not feel removing many of the skills was the way to go. It is too easy in Skyrim to make a Jack of All Trades type character, and while I enjoy freedom, I think it is the reason why some character types (read: pure mages) were horrifically nerfed. Most of the spells leave me uninspired, and the Shouts, while cool, tend to be extremely redundant especially for Mages of any degree. Naturally, there are mods to fix these issues… but I feel that Bethesda relied on it’s community to pump some life into their game to a certain degree.
Despite all its shortcomings, I do whole-heartedly recommend The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, especially on the PC. Downloading mods and expanding your game is simple and easy, and adds so much to the experience that you would be crazy (or a purist… nothin’ wrong with that) not to. Mods are some of the best features of Bethesda games, and the Skyrim modding community certainly hasn’t disappointed.