Review: 'The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' brings fantasy world to life

Fend off dragons and use magical powers while exploring beautiful landscapes that make you feel like you are in a real world.

Story highlights

  • Everything in the game is designed to make you feel like you are in a real world
  • There are hundreds of quests for players to explore the beautiful landscapes
  • The game allows you to "Be who you want to be and do what you want to do"
  • Glitches with personal interactions in the game are annoying but can be overlooked
"The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim," the sweeping, epic fantasy game set for release Friday, presents a beautiful landscape with hundreds of quests for players to explore. But there are limits to how detailed it gets before some parts break down.
The game builds off of lessons learned from the older titles in the franchise, and developers worked hard to make this new region of Skyrim come alive. Players get to start as one of 10 different races -- from Argonians (lizard men) and Khajiit (cat men) to the more typical humans, elves or orcs.
You don't choose a class for your character as in previous games. Developers at Bethesda Game Studios wanted gamers to have more flexibility to play however they wanted. There are still skills to be learned and enhanced, but the player could potentially become skilled at wielding a sword and shield before deciding they want to learn to use magic spells.
"Be who you want to be and do what you want to do," game director Todd Howard said. "You can choose your abilities as the game goes on and get rewarded for your choices."
Obviously, focusing on one discipline will increase your power faster than if you tried to learn to be a thief, then a mage, then a fighter. However, the options are there to let you change your mind if you are so inclined.
The environments are amazing and not just for show. Climb to any of the tall mountaintops and look around. If you can see it, you can walk to it. Everything in the game is designed to make you feel like you are in a real world.
Moving around in such an open environment can be done on foot, via carriage or on horseback. Once you visit a place, you can then return using a fast travel mode that gets you there without incident, but it does use up the same in-game time as if you had walked there.
Cities have their own unique style, and certain creatures can only be found in what could be called their natural habitats. Nearly everything can be picked up, examined and possibly sold later to someone else. But you'll get weighted down in a hurry if you grab every plate and cup you come across.
Non-player characters also have their own look and feel. But it's this person-to-person interaction where some of the detail breaks down.
When your character walks into a room, everyone turns to face you. On one quest, I entered a party and all the party-goers kept looking at me while they were walking around the room -- or even into each other. Even while talking to someone else, their eyes were locked on my position. It was creepy.
The animation of the non-player characters also seems stiff and repetitive when compared to the rest of the richly detailed and free-flowing environment. They will also occasionally walk themselves into corners and not be able to figure a way out. Poor things.
Enemies also occasionally suffer from the same bug. Creatures pursuing you will get hung up on a pot or doorway and not be able to move. The player is then able to attack repeatedly with ranged weapons or spells with impunity.
Combat controls differ between the console and PC versions, but the premise is the same. Each of the character's hands can hold a weapon or cast a spell. Changing weapons or spells, even in mid-combat, simply requires a pause to reassign new items.
Potions, poisons and other items are accessed in a similar manner. The trick is to not get so involved in the fight that you lose track of your health when there are 15 healing potions in your inventory.
Not everything is out to kill you and, indeed, some creatures you come across will actually help you battle your foes. Finding out who is inherently going to stab you as opposed to shake your hand is usually a trial-and-error proposition, but one that can quickly be spun to your advantage.
Oh, and there are dragons.
Dragons are key to many of the stories told in the game, but there are also random dragons that swoop over towns while you are trying to sell some loot. The choice then becomes whether to battle the dragon right away (and damage the town) or track him back to his lair.
Hundreds of quests, including 180 specific storyline quests, will keep players interested for many hours. Some of the quests are very specific.
"Other quests are random or can change depending on the outcomes of previous missions," Howard said. "It is a game for people who play a lot of games."
"The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" is truly a wide-open game with many possibilities and visually stunning places to explore. There are many "wow" moments to discover, and those personal interaction bugs are a mere annoyance that can be overlooked.
Players will feel like they truly are in Skyrim. Just keep an eye on the sky.