Game Review: The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim

Skyrim logo

I mentioned this in another review, but The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim makes my list of top three games of all time, the order being Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Speaking of which, you can check out my reviews of San Andreas and VTMB by clicking here and here respectively.

Anyway, Skyrim as I will be calling it from this point on is an action role-playing video game developed by Bethesda Game Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. It is the fifth main installment of The Elder Scrolls series, with their being 18 installments of the franchise as a whole including spin-offs, DLC and the online version. Skyrim was released worldwide for Microsoft Windows, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 on November 11th 2011. 

Now even though the statute of limitations for this game has surely passed by now considering it is nearly ten years old, and has sold over 30,000,000 copies across multiple platforms I will still endeavour to avoid direct spoilers to the plot. So regarding the core premise of Skyrim, all I will say is that it is set 200 years after the previous main game in the series, Oblivion, and it takes place in Skyrim, which is located in a northern province of Tamriel.

You play as an unnamed character who is a Dragonborn (a rare individual born in the form of a mortal but with the blood and spirit of a dragon) and the game opens, with you being put to death for being suspected of being a Stormcloak, a group I will talk about later. Your execution is interrupted by the appearance of Alduin, the World Eater, a dragon prophesied to destroy the world. He appeared in Skyrim, specifically Helgen (where the Dragonborn is scheduled to be executed) having been catapulted through time, from the height of the legendary Dragon War to modern day Tamriel, having been sent their by Three Nord heroes, Felldir the Old, Hakon One-Eye and Gormlaith Golden-Hilt who created a unique shout (shouts, also known as dragon shouts or Thu’um are ‘words of power’ which grant the user, a variety of unique powers, Dragonborn are able to use these intuitively but others such as The Greybeards can learn and use them with practice and training) called Dragonrend, designed to incapacitate him long enough to use an Elder Scroll to send him forward in time. The core game revolves around your character attempting to defeat Alduin, although much like previous games in the series you can ignore the main plot for as long as you can like, particularly since there are numerous distractions, side plots and adventures you can do without even touching on the main plot. 

So that’s all I want to say right now regarding plot, and I feel that while I presented you with a lot of information above I don’t feel that any of it can be considered spoilers, either way I hope it was comprehensive and more so, interesting.

Anyway, after avoiding your own execution you are treated to a surprisingly compact and helpful introductory mission which quickly informs you of the core mechanics of the game in a fluid and intuitive way. You make your way through learning how to communicate, how to acquire items, how to pick locks and how combat works and make your way through the ruins of Helgen, which is being destroyed by the rampaging Alduin, and make your way into a nearby cave system, emerging on the other side having completed the first quest and been shown in an altogether very brief and organic way, how to do Skyrim.

It’s at this point you first realise something, and it’s one of the things that makes this game so appealing, the sheer scale and beauty of it, you stare out at the mountains and the landscape, and are, or at least I was, just blown away by it. Every inch of Skyrim is exquisitely designed, a genuine and obvious labor of love, and it feels alive, a world populated by wildlife (such as bears, wolves, sabre cats and Mudcrabs, just to name a few) and NPCs (or non player characters) most of whom have dialogue or some interaction with the Dragonborn, and some of whom may initiate or lead to side quests. What’s even more impressive than the scale of Skyrim or its beauty, is the broad diversity, it’s not one homogenous landmass, but different unique cities with their own appeal, their own feel and a distinct look. My personal favourite locations are Markarth, Riften, Winterhold and Whiterun, with each place having its own vibrant energy and community. 

Even more impressively, in October 2016, they released the Special Edition for Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 which amongst other things, further enhanced the graphical quality, making Skyrim even more visually appealing. 

Now the massive expanse that is Skyrim is a blessing and a curse, firstly a blessing, because within that space are many quests, adventures and distractions, giving you literally hours and hours of entertainment. However, it’s also a curse because you actually have to actually travel across it, and you can easily spend a lot of those hours just wandering, which I’ll admit can be fun, but can easily become tedious as well. You are free to roam through the many cities, towns, villages and dungeons but so to are you obligated to do so to an extent. 

If you are able to get a horse then you can navigate a lot more quickly than just travelling by foot, but to acquire a horse, you either need to buy or steal one and stealing always runs the risk that you will gain a bounty. 

So here’s my tip, first get yourself some money, I think roughly 300 gold (also called Septims) should be enough and then find a carriage driver, and if you follow the main story line, then one of the easiest to reach early on in the game will be the carriage driver in Whiterun Stables, as you head to Whiterun pretty soon after completing the introductory mission. Once you’ve engaged his services he will take you to one of the nine main locations on the map. You can find the other carriage drivers respectively in Markarth Stables, Katla’s Farm (in Solitude), Windhelm Stable and Riften Stables and between them and for the total price of the 300 gold coins they’ll have taken you to the main locations on the game, unlocking them for fast travel from that point on and saves you a lot of time in the long run. 

Now on to fast travel, it can be an incredibly useful feature, but unfortunately you can only fast travel to locations you’ve previous visited/discovered, hence my tip above, you can’t use the carriage to visit smaller towns and locations, so there is still plenty to discover, but you can always return to them once you’ve been once, so if you need to go back it’s a matter of quick travelling as opposed to slogging your way across the miles and miles of simulated landscape. Here’s another tip that’s useful for when you start raiding dungeons and collecting loot, if you are like me at least once or twice you’ll be overloaded with items and be forced to dump some stuff, but fear that inevitably no longer, because all you need is a potion of strength to temporarily increase your carry limit, then you can fast travel to wherever you happen to dump your loot, without losing anything. This is especially useful once you progress past a certain point in the game and dragons are roaming the wild, because if/when you defeat the dragon you can collect its bones with are both super heavy and sell for a lot of gold, so you don’t want to leave them. 

So far, you know two things, the world of Skyrim is big and it is beautiful, now I want to cover a little more about what you can do. First some of the obvious things and then some of the more fun things, which you might not know you could do or wouldn’t have thought to do. So first, the mundane, or at least the expected gameplay. If you like a good fight you can brawl, this is repeatable minigame, you can do across multiple taverns and Orc Strongholds in Skyrim including The Bannered Mare in Whiterun and Candlehearth Hall in Windhelm for taverns and Dushnikh Yal and Mor Khazgur for Orc Strongholds. You need to have at least 100 gold to wager for the brawl, but if you win you gain an additional 100 gold, so it can be a decent and fun way to earn money, especially early on. Also some brawls net you followers as well as gold, meaning you can call upon them for assistance in quests, making it worth at least brawling in a few locations just to get yourself a loyal sidekick, although personally I don’t like having followers as even in a fictional world I hate someone being reliant on me, and having them with me reminds me too much of escort missions, which is by far my least favourite gaming convention. 

Keeping with the theme of violence, you can collect bounties either from the jarls’ stewards or from Innkeepers for either dragons or bandits. This not only gets you significant loot from either enemy, but you are paid for the bounty, and can build up your reputation with a specific hold as well. Early on, it can be good for levelling up as well, which becomes more difficult as the game progresses. 

If you are a lover rather than a fighter you do have the option to get married, to do this though you first need to obtain the Amulet of Mara (which can be found in several locations including the Lover’s Tent on a beach near Dawnstar, or from a priest called Maramal for 200 gold, and he can be located either at the Bee and Barb or the Temple of Mara in Riften and then you just need to find a suitable partner, as not every NPC is an option. Something that’s quite good is that you can marry any character regardless of race or gender as long as they are eligible for marriage. Also, your partner regardless of their previous status can buy and sell goods, and you can collect a portion of their profits daily. Also once a day you can ask your spouse to make you a meal, which once consumed will boost your overall stats temporarily. Sleeping in the same bed as your spouse also boosts your overall stats as well, making it well worth it to take the detour to marriage. If you have the Hearthfire DLC installed and I recommend that you get all the Skyrim DLC (namely Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn) because not only does it add a lot to the game but enhances the replayability, you can also adopt children, which provides a whole new dynamic to the game and it makes it worth coming home. 

If you consider yourself to be a sociable creature, you can join various groups in the game, or all of them if you are feeling up to it. For those who don’t mind a bit of bloodshed, you can join the assassins in the Dark Brotherhood. If you want to be a competent magic user, then you can join the college of Winterhold, if bravery, comradery and adventure are the name of the game for you (and you would also like the opportunity to be a werewolf) you could join The Companions. Perhaps stealth and crime are your raison d’etre then maybe the Thieves Guild is for you, and lastly if you are a creative and/or patron of the arts, you could visit the bards college. Whatever you prefer, Skyrim has it, and you can join it, make your way up the ranks and eventually become someone important, as befitting the main character and the Dragonborn.

So those were the regular things, that make up Skyrim, now before I begin to wrap things up, I’d like to talk about some more fun things, for a start, you could rack up a bounty in all nine holds, and see how long you can escape pursuit, feel like Jean Valjean in a medieval/viking analogue. Hunt Mammoths for sport while trying to avoid being pulverised by Giants, this one is particularly difficult early on when you are low levelled. Steal everything, if you play like me, with a focus on stealth and subtlety, then you’ll pump a lot of skill points into stats that compliment that style of gameplay, so why not take advantage of this and try to steal the clothes right off people’s backs, bonus points for shopkeepers and guards. Climb up seemingly unclimbable cliffs and mountains, bonus points if you do this on foot, because counterintuitively it’s actually easier on a horse. Okay so this next one isn’t necessarily fun, but it appeals to the completionist in me, you can become well read, so what you need to do it travel all across Skyrim reading every book you come across (you can obviously skip one’s you’ve already read) but this will take a lot of time and dedication, with roughly 820 pieces of unique readable material, including those which over skill points, add quests or share the rich lore of Elder Scrolls with you. Also keep an eye out for the book ‘Kolb & the Dragon: An Adventure for Nord Boys’ which is a classic choose your own adventure book, it’s a fun little way to pass a few minutes, the last time I played it was when I’d paused because I was stuck in a death loop, and just needed a break before trying to find a save where I didn’t lose a lot of progress but escaped the death loop. And that is as perfect a time to say that Skyrim is great, but I would advise saving regularly because you can easily find hours of progress lost because of something stupid. 

As well as all of that there are countless random encounters, easter eggs and side quests you can engage in. But i’ve talked around it enough, onto the main story line, which is made up of 17 required quests and three optional quests. During the main quests you will discover that you are Dragonborn (also known as Dovahkiin, in the language of the dragons) and will find a way to deal with the threat of dragons returning to Tamriel.

Alongside handling the whole dragons situation you have to deal with a civil war between the Stormcloaks (see I told you I would get to them eventually) and the Imperials. The first time I played through Skyrim, I oddly enough played as an Imperial but sided with the Stormcloaks, and sure they have a point, the stormcloaks are mostly Nords, and they oppose the Empire, which they feel is just a puppet of the Thalmor, and disagreed with the Empire surrendering to the Aldmeri Dominion. They disagreed with the Thalmor imposing their own religious beliefs upon the native population of Skyrim, including the banning of Talos Worship because they felt Talos, a man who had attained the status of a god, was tantamount to heresy. However despite fighting for their independence and their right to run their own country as they see fit, and even fighting for religious freedom, or at least their own freedom to worship their own gods, I still can’t help but feel that they are racist, very Skyrim for the Nords, and actively subjugating or ostracising the Mer (also called Elvenkind or just Elves) and the beastfolk (such as the Argonians and Khajiit), so each playthrough since that point I’ve sided with the imperials. Although there are legitimate reasons for supporting both sides, and I would suggest you do play through the game once sided with each of the two factions. I also suggest while you are at it that you play through the full game as an Argonian or a  Khajiit at least once because it does change the gameplay up, making certain parts more difficult and certain parts more fun.

Okay so I think I’ve covered a lot of the game, I didn’t really touch on the DLC or mods, or some of the more extraneous stuff, but I feel like I’ve given you a real flavour of the game, so with all said and done, I think that Skyrim is a wonderful game, that was hampered by glitches and issues upon release, but over nine years of development has fixed most of them, or at least made us aware of them, and it’s a truly beautiful engrossing experience with multiple replay options. So I think I will give Skyrim an 8/10.


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