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November 22, 2011

Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Posted by on Nov 22, 2011

I play a fair number of video games. I’m pretty selective about the ones I actually want to bother spending money on, so while some are bad, most are good. However, it’s rare that I’d actually classify a game as dangerous. Skyrim might just fit the bill.

How can a game be dangerous, you ask? Well, I would classify playing a video game for over 10 hours straight a level of addicting that borders on dangerous. That’s what Skyrim does to you – you play and you play and you play until you just can’t any more. Then you decide you’ll just go to town one last time then quit, and along the way you run into a cave and go exploring. Pretty soon you’ve been playing for another hour in the blink of the eye. This happens repeatedly.

The Elder Scrolls have always been known for their immersive worlds. In Oblivion, the main quest wasn’t particularly interesting to me, but there were other things you could do that made you feel like you were part of the world, from joining the Mages Guild or becoming a thief. Skyrim has taken this to the next level, because I have no idea what the ‘main quest’ is. Literally everything you do feels like it’s the most important thing in the world. Part of this is due to a general improvement in the level of effort put into the quests. Where Oblivion had the generically named “Fighters Guild” whose quests involved chasing down rats in caves, Skyrim has The Companions, whose headquarters is a mead hall and who feel like warriors fighting for their equivalent of Valhalla. It’s just more detailed, better thought out, and better.

That’s not the only thing that’s better, either. Playing Oblivion eventually got tiring because, quite honestly, the gameplay wasn’t that good. Being a magic user blew. Being an archer consisted of trundling backwards endlessly to avoid being hit, and you spent all of your time jumping so that it would raise a mindless skill called Acrobatics.

Skyrim has fixed all that through an excellent dose of simplification. There are now 3 core stats, instead of 7, and they’re the ones that matter: Health, Magic power, and Stamina. The only skills that exist are the useful ones, and now they actually matter because there are perks associated with each one that you can select each time you level up. I’m suddenly a whole lot more interested in leveling up my sneaking ability if it means I can select a skill that makes my daggers do 15x the damage. All of a sudden I feel like an assassin for real.

They’ve also fixed being a magic user. It’s now a viable (and fun as hell) way to play through the game, instead of a tedious and nigh-on impossible frustration-fest. Since mana now recharges naturally rather than requiring either potions or sleep to recharge, it’s actually possible to complete a fight entirely using spells. It’s a huge fix, but in the same way that most Skyrim changes have been made: it works because it’s simple.

These, and a couple of other minor changes have made a game that’s wholly addicting to the level that I think it might actually qualify as dangerous. So, to everyone out there, a public service announcement: If you don’t go buy Skyrim you’re a complete idiot. But be warned – you might get hooked.