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Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Gamingheap Review - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3)

Written by Oliver

A Gamingheap Review...

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I have been avoiding this review for a while, mainly because I knew it would take me a heck of a long time to plan, think about and ultimately type up... but, here it is! Read, and enjoy...
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I had been eagerly anticipating the fifth installment of Bethesda Softworks' epic RPG series since I first heard it was in development about a year ago. I thoroughly enjoyed Oblivion and the charm of Cyrodiil and was excited about finally getting out and exploring Skyrim's snowy mountains and deep caves. So, when I finally got my hands on this game and started to play it I was already thinking what I would put in this review...



Presentation:

Oblivion, let's face it was not a pretty game (although I must say, that added to the charm!). Skyrim however, looks fantastic! Sure it's nothing like Crysis 2 or L.A. Noire, both of which have outstanding visuals, but I'm not going to compare it to them. Skyrim is a massive game and it's breathtaking how much detail has been put in to making this game look the part. Whether it be the mushrooms on tree trunks, the snow-topped mountains or even the citizens of Skyrim itself, it's obvious that Bethesda have really pulled their weight here to create the best-looking and realistic Elder Scrolls games to date.

The inventory screens allow you to view items you have on your character and even zoom in on them. There are literally thousands of items in the game and each and every one of them is rendered brilliantly. Books, swords, helmets; even cheese it's all viewable and can be turned 360 degrees to see every side of it! Also, the amount of detail you can use to customise your character at the beginning of the game is impressive too.

Yes, the game looks really nice overall, but, with such a big game there has to be some flaws and it's clear that you will find the odd floating plant or flashing wall pop-up here and there. But these are, from what I've experienced, rare and not a problem when they do arise.





Story:

Frequent readers of my blog will know that - apart from fun and addictive gameplay - a good story is what I love the most about video games. Skyrim delivers that,
... and more! You play as Dovakiin, the Dragonborn, who has the soul of a dragon. The dragons have returned and Alduin the world-eater threatens to destroy the whole world of Nirn. Only you, Dragonborn, can stop him with the power of the thu'um, the voice of the dragons! To top all of that, there is a civil war occurring in Skyrim between the rebel Nord Stormcloaks who want their country back from the Empire and the Imperial Legion who want to tame the ruthless region of Skyrim for the Aldmeri Dominion.

As you can tell the story is top-notch, but as well as the main quest-line comes hundreds of side-quests including the Thieves Guild, College of Winterhold, the Dark Brotherhood, The Companions Guild and The Bard's College. To be fair, some of these side-quests have better story-lines than others however they all deliver an engrossing experience.

Adding to this there is an unbelievable amount of lore behind Skyrim adding to the gargantuan amount compiled in the previous games. Players can find books that will tell many stories and legends commonly associated with the different races, info on the history of the different regions of Nirn as well as recipe books for alchemy and even a create-your-own-adventure book called Kolb and the Dragon! This budding compilation of lore is what makes the Elder Scrolls games for me as you can read in this post I wrote earlier on in the year.

Gameplay:

Anybody that has played an RPG before will know that the main goal is usually to level-up your character, kill monsters and get the best weapons and armour you can. Skyrim has so much more than your average 'standard' RPG. There are 18 skills that can all be leveled to 100. Each skill has its own 'perk tree'. Players can pick one perk to purchase after every level they increase by. Some perks require you to be a specific level or higher before you can purchase them though. They are usually helpful in that they make it easier to use the skill by allowing you to deal more damage or regenerate magicka faster etc.

Combat is obviously a necessity in Skyrim and you will not make it far without coming across some sort of beast. These are both numerous and varied. Trolls, giant spiders, saber-toothed cats, bears, Draugrs (practically zombies), Wisps, Wolves and Elk are just a few of the many beasts that roam Skyrim's vast Tundras, Forests and Mountainous regions. Some are obviously harder than others and depending on where you go in the world you will find it easier or harder to best these foes in battle. All of them drop loot which can be sold, used to make weapons and armour or even used in alchemy to concoct potions and poisons. These ingredients are vast and there are a lot of them. For example, you can kill a bear and loot its pelt. You can then take this bear pelt and tan it into leather strips and leather. These can be used on a workbench to forge leather armour for use in combat. Doing so will level up your Smithing skill, although you must be a certain level and have certain perks before you can forge some armours and weapons.

The combat is definitely the best it has ever been in an Elder Scrolls game. You can use swords, war axes, warhammers, daggers, bows and arrows, staffs and different types of magic and of course the thu'um to combat enemies. I personally specialised in marksmanship allowing me to take down foes from afar rather than engage them in close-combat. From what I have experienced, close-combat is generally acceptable but it can be really clunky at times - an obvious sign that combat in the Elder Scrolls games still has a long way to come before it is perfected. One cool aspect of this part of the gameplay is that you can sometimes execute special kills where the camera pans out and goes into slow-motion as you watch your character jump on top of a dragons head and stab it through the neck or decapitate a bandit. A nice fresh touch from the seemingly repetitive gameplay of previous installments. One complaint however is the AI can sometimes be oh' so dumb. Mammoths shouldn't be hindered by a river and dragons should be able to move around the rock your hiding behind instead of blindly roaring at it whilst you pelt them with arrows. This is actually rather funny most of the time but it still should not be happening!

A major downside to the game however is the glitches of which there are many. Being honest, glitches are not uncommonly found in Skyrim and some of them can be frustrating. Not to mention that the game has been known to completely crash on occasion although I myself have experienced this a trio of times over 110+ hours of gameplay. Yes, I have to say these various glitches and bugs do ruin the game for me. One of the major bugs is that I cannot display any weapons on plaques in my houses because they literally disappear when I place them there, never to return to Tamriel again! Other bugs include dragons with frozen animation (they fly without moving their wings etc.) and being shot really high into the air when hit by a giant's club.

Another issue I have is with loading screens, this is unfortunately unavoidable but it still continues to frustrate me how you can traverse from one side of the map without a pause but as soon as you enter a town, building, cave or any other type of dungeon you have to wait over a minute in most cases. It seems to get more severe with the increasing size of my game file. But, as I say it is unavoidable.

Over 300 hours of gameplay are said to be packed into this game and alongside the massive open-world, hundreds of quests and dungeons and the 18 skills to level it has to be one of the most expansive games of the decade.

Sound:

In a game which includes dragons and many other beasts you'd probably want the sound to be top-notch. I have to say I don't have many complaints here! The sound effects are great: dragons roaring, bears roaring, saber-tooth cats roaring, Mudcrabs... err... scuttling? Anyway, it sounds awesome, especially with my gaming chair's sweet sound quality and sub-woofer. A main part of Skyrim is of course the NPCs and human enemies and what they sound like. Oblivion had, what, 12 voice actors? It was poor. Skyrim has over 60 as far as I know so it definitely sounds a lot better and less annoying than Oblivion. However this voice acting differs quite a lot! The voice actors that play the likes of Esburn (Max Von Sydow) one of the Blades, Arngeir (Christopher Plummer) a old and wise graybeard and Ulfric Stormcloak (Vladimir Kulich) the leader of the Stormcloak rebellion are all outstanding and add depth and emotion to the game making it more and more realistic. The actor line-up is pretty good too with the likes of Joan Allen, Lynda Carter and a handful of other famous people who had their voices recorded for Skyrim. However a fair bit of the VA is cringe-worthy, and I really mean it! A lot of people droll in a really wooden voice whereas others make really overemphasized battle cries. Overall it's okay but unfortunately the bad voice acting is more memorable than the good!

The music soundtrack however is too good! The main theme 'Sons of Skyrim' really gets the blood running with the barbarian chanting, especially when it plays behind a dragon battle in-game. I even noticed one song from Oblivion remixed slightly! The soundtrack fits the game perfectly creating just the right atmosphere for the right moments. This is the best soundtrack for an Elder Scrolls game yet I personally think. It beats Oblivion by a smidgen, primarily because 'The Sons of Skyrim' is just too good a theme.

Overview:

You can probably tell that I adore this game. The gameplay is fun and addictive when your not taking the glitches into account, the visuals are impressive for such a large scale game, the sound is great and the voice actors are good where they need to be. It's such an amazing masterpiece, painted into creation by the great team at Bethesda Softworks. If you haven't played this game yet, you need to - rent it or buy it, you need to get around to playing this some time in your life - I promise you, you'll like it!

+ Great Visuals
+ Engrossing Story & amazing amount of lore
+ Gameplay is lengthy, fun and addictive
+ Best Elder Scrolls game yet
- Bugs and glitches ruin the feeling
- Voice Acting can be very poor in places


My Rating: 9.5/10




5 comments:

Anonymous said...
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GamesAndBiz said...

Haha, I just knew this review would be this glowing :)

Well writen! It's great to find a game that proves to be such an engaging experience. It'll be a long time before the next Elder Scrolls game though :(

(Still prefer Morrowind though! ;))

Jeff said...

I must say I agree! My Skyrim review pretty much emulated your points, the only difference being I contested it as game of the year. Still a glowing franchise, and I bet Bethesda is working hard toward the next Elder Scrolls.

Chalgyr Vokel said...

Excellent review - you had opinions but backed them up quite nicely. I'm still plugging away on my adventure, meaning your review will be MUCH more timely here than mine, lol.

@Jeff - they are probably working hard on their DLC first :)

Parko said...

I really need to try Skyrim, I've heard so many good things and read another glowing review. Looks like I'm missing out on this one.

Great review!