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Skyrim review

AT A GLANCE
  • Bigger, prettier, deeper in nearly every way
  • Dual wielding adds so much
  • Surprisingly polished
  • Favorites system could have been better
  • No more spell creation
  • Still has a few annoying bugs

Five years. The length of an average console generation. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion ushered in the current generation and let everyone know what the tech was capable of, and it also ate many gamers’ lives, where being eaten never felt so great. Five years of anticipation is, as they say, a lot to live up to. So The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim comes marching along with its massive ad campaign, making sure everyone knows of its imminent release. Does Skyrim have the clout to back up its swagger?

Yes. Yes it does.

Note: We’ve been careful to make what we believe to be a spoiler-free review.

Update: Some PS3 users have experienced a serious problem where after roughly 25 hours of play time, the game loses performance until it becomes very choppy, and for some people it's unplayable. Since it doesn't affect all users, it doesn't change our score, but beware if you're planning on playing on PS3.


A warm (and cold) welcome

Stepping into Skyrim’s world is like wrapping yourself in a furry, Nordic cloak that smells like your childhood blanket. Yes, the Oblivion you remember fondly is back – everything that made the last Elder Scrolls so lovable has returned. Yet now it’s a bit wilder, a bit rougher, and a bit more dangerous, and boy is the game better for it. Whereas Cyrodiil, the province from Oblivion, was a fairly typical temperate climate with deciduous forests and gentle rolling hills, Skyrim is a bitter, cold northern region (remember those impassable mountains in the north of Cyrodiil? Skyrim is just beyond them). This doesn’t mean the game world is a monotonous frozen waste: the land is diverse, but it has a wonderful “tone” to it that is very much Viking Axe Clanking and Visible Frosty Breaths Huddled Around Crackling Fires. It’s forbidding, slightly bleak, and yet also incredibly cozy when you come in from the cold.

Perhaps never before has a game world so perfectly balanced a feeling of a completely inviting attitude with intimidating danger. Oblivion could scare you with its bears and trolls. Pfft. Skyrim has freaking giants that will kill you in one thwomp of their mighty clubs, and of course, here there be dragons. Every battle with a dragon is epic, from the first sound of a distant roar, to the glimpse of a soaring beast through the treeline, to the fantastic swoop and crash as the monster lands and unleashes its fiery breath. The art, animation and sound design for the dragons is stupendous across the board. At first the dragons look generic, but closer inspection reveals fantastic subtle details in their anatomy. Our favorite aspect, though, is the sound of their breath attacks, which isn’t just the whoosh of flames, but also has a secondary sound like a giant flute, providing musical character and power to these mighty beasts.

Oblivion was a beautiful game for its time, and Skyrim has only so many resources to work with (on consoles at least), but Bethesda has squeezed every drop of beauty it could out of simple attention to detail and imaginative art design. Note how cold winds visibly kick up off rocks, how salmon leap up small waterfalls, how the towns are built on majestic cliffs and have the coziest hearths you’ve ever seen. Make sure to go out on a clear night in the northern part of the land and just watch the sky. Skyrim will inspire awe at many turns, and when you think you’ve seen it all, it will surprise you yet again.


Dual wielding is more than just flashy style

It seems like an innocuous addition – whoop de do, we can have a weapon or spell in either hand. It changes a lot. Let’s say you go for dual wielding weapons. Nothing special, since you just slash faster, right? But wait: consider magic weapons. Now you could wield a paralyzing weapon in one hand and a magicka-draining one in the other. The combinations become endless. We focused on a mage-type character, so we barely ever used weapons at all. Instead, we dual-wielded spells. To give an idea of combat depth, we’ll break down a typical fight.

We start with Summon Ice Atronach in one hand, Ironflesh in another. While summoning our elemental tank, we reinforce our defenses. Next we swap to Wall of Ice in one hand and Lightning Bolt in the other. While spraying defensive damage-over-time ice all over the floor, we’re simultaneously damaging and destroying the magicka of our target with lightning. Once our ice field is properly laid down, we swap that hand to Lightning Bolt so that we have Bolt in both hands. Normally, firing the same spell with both hands results in two bolts, but since we purchased the Dual Casting perk, we get a different animation where both hands create a single, super-powerful bolt. Since we also spent a perk point on another dual-casting related perk, our dual-cast bolts additionally stagger the opponent. If we get in danger, we swap to dual-cast healing for super-mega recovery. Or we could refresh our defensive spells while also healing. Getting crazy enough for you?


Shout at the d… ragon

You probably know by now that Skyrim features a new system where you slay dragons, absorb their souls, and then use those souls to unlock Shouts in the dragon language. We don’t want to give any of the mystery away, so we won’t go into details. Just know that the Shouts are friggen’ awesome and you’ll be shouting the crap out of your enemies and greedily hunting down dragons and the Word Walls that unlock pieces of Shouts. Know that some important Shouts are unlocked during the main story quest, so you might not want to ignore the story (more reasons on that below).


The new favorites system

We’re still not sure how we feel about the new system for managing all your items and spells, as it has advantages and disadvantages over Oblivion’s. Oblivion had the favorites wheel, which limited what you could have quick access to. Skyrim simply has a favorites list, which you can add anything you want to. It seems super handy at first, but depending on what you want to do, it becomes unwieldy. Since we played a mage, we purchased a lot of spells. Eventually our favorites list became so long that it was no longer convenient. We ended up balancing usage of quick slots (of which you have only two on consoles; PC users get ten), favorites, and then actually going into the main spell list to juggle all the spells we wanted to cast. It’s not intuitive, but if you get used to it you can be pretty fast – but no matter what, you’ll be plunging through multiple layers of menus or scrolling through long lists a lot if you want to make use of every tool at your disposal.

We imagine if your focus is on melee combat the system won’t grow out of control, since you’ll just swap between a few spells and items. However we should note that the quickslot system is one of the strangest, most unintuitive systems we’ve ever encountered. You can assign one thing to Left on the d-pad and one thing to Right (again, PC players get to use all the number keys, making things much easier). We figured that pressing left would equip that thing in our left hand, and then pressing left again would swap back to whatever we were originally holding. Instead, it equips the item to both hands. It’s hard to explain, but prepare to be baffled when you first start playing with quickslots. This system could have been much better, but it works well enough after you get used to it.

On the next page we'll look at some non-combat systems...

More Info

Release date: Nov 11 2011 - Xbox 360, PC, PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, PS3
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Bethesda
Franchise: The Elder Scrolls
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol
PEGI Rating:
18+

138 comments

  • rballa2 - November 10, 2011 8:16 a.m.

    It begins
  • inkyspot - November 10, 2011 8:16 a.m.

    My only issue aside from the fact that I won't be getting this until Sunday or Monday is the fact that all the races have same body types, very humanish. Like a lizard man dude with a weird head and a human body. As a character designer I find that not cool. But I can't wait for this game and most of my life will be gone with this and Saints. I'm already getting tired of COD
  • IAmJohnGalt - November 10, 2011 8:51 a.m.

    Of all the games coming out this and last month I also chose to buy this and Saints. Open worlds full of fun things to do.
  • inkyspot - November 10, 2011 10:01 a.m.

    More bang for your buck, in this economy that is very important to me.
  • HeavyTank - November 10, 2011 8:17 a.m.

    OH MAH GAWD
  • Squander - November 10, 2011 8:26 a.m.

    what a bloody, wallet-raping month....and its far from being over yet
  • db1331 - November 10, 2011 8:26 a.m.

    I can't wait to see what the modders do with this one. I'd be willing to bet that the first well made texture pack mod makes this look even better than BF3. I'm also pleased that multiple reviews have stated that load times are almost non-existent on PC. At 5:00 today, I'm off work until Wednesday. I can't wait to sit down with a giant mug of coffee tomorrow morning and get lost in the game.
  • Gene - November 10, 2011 9:02 a.m.

    I wonder: is Xarl (I think that's his name) still working? The chap behind the texture packs in Oblivion.
  • db1331 - November 10, 2011 10:03 a.m.

    Qarl. I'm sure he is. His tex pack from Oblivion was amazing. I'm more looking forward to the first UI mod than anything else.
  • rabidpotatochip - November 10, 2011 10:14 a.m.

    Mods are why I keep buying every TES game that comes out. I probably logged another 100 hours in Oblivion on mods alone. Picking this game up tomorrow, grabbing some chips and locking myself in my room. lol
  • jmcgrotty - November 11, 2011 10:32 a.m.

    You do realize why they allow people to make mods of games, right? It's basically an online IQ test. Only the most brain-dead retard would ever use them. By finding out who does use the mods, it helps profile the scum of the earth better.
  • G0D - November 10, 2011 8:29 a.m.

    I loved this review! Every other review I began to read I had to shield my eyes and close the page cause ALL of them ventured into spoiler territory. When I play I want to be completely surprised :) Thanks!
  • AltairFoggz - November 10, 2011 8:31 a.m.

    NEED IT
  • MeabhieD - November 10, 2011 8:32 a.m.

    AGH! Not gettin Skyrim 'til Christmas... Incredibly jealous of everyone who gets it at launch...
  • Logic - November 10, 2011 2:52 p.m.

    I'm not getting it until Christmas either. ;-;
  • larkan - November 10, 2011 8:32 a.m.

    Great review, this is why I stopped looking to IGN a long, long time ago. You guys address what we really want to know from a game review in terms of whether or not it's worth the money and how it performs from a normal gamer's standpoint.
  • NatDaGamer - November 10, 2011 8:42 a.m.

    the second school ends tomorrow, i'm literally gonna sprint to the bus stop, go to town, run to GAME and collect my pre order... :D
  • Yaro - November 10, 2011 8:44 a.m.

    I'm a giant Dark Souls fan and I agree totally with the comparison. I'll see which game will provide me more satisfaction...bottom line I'm happy these games exist.
  • sirdilznik - November 10, 2011 8:44 a.m.

    Man, it's been a great year for western RPGs. Between The Witcher 2, Dark Souls, and now Skyrim, it's been an overload of incredibly high quality RPGs. I can't wait for tomorrow.
  • sirdilznik - November 10, 2011 8:47 a.m.

    I feel weird replying to myself but I feel I should clarify. I know Dark Souls was made in Japan, but it plays a lot more like a western RPG than a jRPG.

Showing 1-20 of 138 comments

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