Skyrim makes other games pale in comparison

Album and film covers used fair use exception to copyright laws

Album and film covers used fair use exception to copyright laws

Adam Schoelz

Album and film covers used under fair use exception to copyright laws

It’s November again, and the Great Video Game Release Season of 2011 is upon us.  Among the many, many blockbuster shooters that flood the marketplace every time the word ‘Christmas’ is mentioned, there is one game five years in the making.

 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Bethesda Game Studio’s latest open world RPG, has been long in coming.

The game basically revolves around you (no wonder it’s so popular), as a prophesied warrior who will both resolve the civil war that has claimed Skyrim—a northern world with some obvious Nordic influences—and lay waste to the dragon scrounge that threatens to destroy the entire world.

In short, this is the best game I’ve ever played—period.
At length, it beats out Halo: Combat Evolved, Fallout 3, Heroes of Might and Magic III, and even Baldur’s Gate 2 to claim the top spot on my ‘favorite games’ list, and it’s only been out for a couple of days.
For those who aren’t familiar with Bethesda or the Elder Scrolls games, they’re colossal efforts, open worlds filled with characters, side quests, and cool artifacts.  In the question of ‘bang for your buck’, Bethesda is the nuclear option.  However, previous efforts, the The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion had significant problems, namely terrible combat and faces ugly to the point of frightening.
But after developing Fallout 3 in 2007, Bethesda seems to have learned its lessons, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim shows it.
Combat finally has gotten past some of the floaty feeling that has plagued their games in the past.  Hits with swords feel like they actually land, and blocking with a shield feels solid and dare I say fun.  That’s right, the combat in an Elder Scrolls game is downright enjoyable!  Sure, some opponents still feel like giant hit sponges (looking at you, Dwemer Sphere), but for the most part, enemies react and strike realistically, stumbling after heavier blows and eventually falling to their knees, ripe for a french haircut.
Magic is even more improved and makes Skyrim feel like a different series than earlier gamesI was never able to play a magic user in those, as acquiring and using effective spells was to difficult compared to the floaty slashing, but in Skyrim even the starting spell, lightning, makes one feel like Emperor Palpatine.  Upper level spells just get cooler, what with the giant fireballs, magical landmines and frenzies that can be cast on my numerous foes.
And numerous they are.  Skyrim has something like 12 bajillion sidequests in addition to the two(!) main quests and the ever-popular guild quests, so there are plenty of things to kill.  What’s strange is how effective the game is in motivating me on these quests, which vary from fetch quest to awesome.  This game has the best voice acting in any Bethesda game yet, and although some of the canned story animations are still awkwardly stiff, the inspiring speeches, mysterious mysteries, and villainous betrayals are still more than enough to keep me saying ‘just five more minutes,’ even after I’ve realized it’s three o’clock in the morning.
In addition to the ‘real’ quests, there are the Radiant Story quests, generated procedurally, that is, during the game, depending on what your character specializes in.  These are excellently done to the point that I’m not sure that they aren’t just really tiny pre-canned quests.  While the quests invariably involve exploring some dungeon in the spirit of finding a lost family heirloom, the game is well made enough that this is fun, even the tenth, twelfth and thirteenth time.
And this game is pretty.  While it’s not the most beautiful game in the textural sense—they’re around Call of Duty 4—the scale and attention to detail is truly staggering.  This is a game where the woods actually feeling like woods, with running streams, wild deer and tree stumps.  Tree stumps!  How long in the gaming world have we endured without the joy of tree stumps!  One can stand on top of a mountain on one end of the world an see all the way to the city of Solitude clear across the map, giving an awesome sense of scale to the whole game world, where the size of mountains is rapidly approaching 1:1 to real life.
In this giant world, there are nearly infinite things to do.  I touched upon this with the point about twelve bajillion quests, but only covers about half of what you can do in this game.  There was a team dedicated to creating dungeons in this game, and it shows.  Skyrim is the first game I’ve played where I actually wanted to explore the ancient mine I just found.  While Oblivion suffered from generic fantasy syndrome, and Morrowind had the irritating difficulty, the dungeons of Skyrim are personal and challenging without being impossible.  Other then Morokei.  Without spoiling anything, you’ll drop the difficulty at that part.  Really, all you need to know about the scale of Skyrim is that I’ve been playing this game for around 30 hours, and I haven’t made significant progress in any quests or quest lines other than the Mage’s Guild.
In short, if you like games and you don’t own Skyrim, go buy it.  It’s the best game to be released in at least in the last ten years, a game that is more then the sum of it’s parts when the sum of the parts is amazing.
By Adam Schoelz