Review: Skyrim (PC): A Grand Tale of Adventure Where Anything Goes

Odds are that, if you are interested at all, then you’ve already read a half-dozen reviews or so and soaked up at least some of the past two years worth of prerelease hype about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I chose to present something a little different: An after action report (AAR). We all know Skyrim is a vast, open, unscripted world with seemingly limitless possibilities (which made replaying this encounter for screenshots rather problematic as it was always different). For this review I want to tell you what most reviews are not: What it is like to play Skyrim.

TESV 2011-11-14 02-19-38-37I blinked in the bright afternoon sun after emerging from the bloody, reeking hole in the ground that had been my adventure for the past night. The Skinner was finally dead and my baptism as a werewolf complete. Checking my map, I realized I was nowhere close to home. The city of Windhelm was nearby. I had never been there before and it looked like a quick, uneventful jaunt over a couple hills. Seemed like a good opportunity to stop in and see what this side of the world might offer. I had grown weary of the Whiterun’s Jarl and his half-arsed administration anyways.


Trudging through the snow I was vaguely aware of being alone in the land for the first time in quite a while. Since my appointment as Thane I had grown used to having my attendant Lydia around. I briefly wondered if I should drop the difficulty level back off of expert while I was on my own. The game had been far too easy, but that was several levels and a companion ago. Such thoughts were forgotten as I spied a beautiful little lake tucked away in this particular corner of nowhere. The Elder Scrolls games are always good for sidetracking your thoughts with shiny things. Enticed by the small, hopefully treasure laden, island in the middle and emboldened by the sight of a handful of mudcrabs on the opposite shore, I waded in.

TESV 2011-11-14 02-20-54-15A two fisted storm of lightning from my fingertips was more than enough to flash fry the pathetic little critters and secure the lake. Normally I fancy myself a member of the Tamriel Mudcrab Preservation Society™, but, being alone, I took no chances. Well, fewer chances. I found the remains of a dilapidated rowboat upon the lake’s central island. Hmm, no treasure. Seemed strange for such an obvious landmark. Maybe there were some rare herbs here for use in making potions.
There were no herbs either. What there was, however, was a curious little trap door right in the middle of this island. I had to know what was inside. Crouching into stealth mode, I ventured inside.

The entrance cave was surprisingly short. It soon opened up to a huge two-story chamber. I could just barely make out the figure of a woman making some sort of motions at the bottom near the water. I crept closer, feeling secure on my perch so far above. I froze when I heard her call out if anyone was there. She began to move around to the westward side of the chamber, out of my range of vision. Oh, yeah, someone was here. Someone whose hands were capable of acting like flamethrowers. Come see.

TESV 2011-11-14 02-20-14-94I held my position as the woman began to investigate. I noted the black robes she was wearing. Mage. I hadn’t much of a chance to scout of the rest of the chamber and wasn’t anxious to start a bob-and-weave style wizard duel without knowing the lay of the land. I’ve ended up in some pretty bad places like that before. Maybe she’d give up the search and head back down.

No such luck. She spotted me from a good deal further away than I expected. Her ice bots were answered with an overcharged jet of my own fire. I caught the flash of her name and health bar at the top of the screen: Vampire Adept. I let up on the fire button (pun!) and called up the menu to ready my summoning spells. Through the half transparent list of my arcane arts I saw three more black robed figures rushing up the stairs to my overlook. Ask not for whom the bone bones; It bones for thee. Even with my arcane arts and the fall back of transforming into a seven foot tall fuzzy killing machine, I wasn’t going to take down four vampires. I summoned a fire elemental to tie up the bloodsucking cadre and bolted back out the trap door.
I hit the water of the lake at full sprint. I didn’t stop until I reached the other shore. Once there, I glanced back and saw my elemental pop out of the bloodsucker’s cave in a misguided attempt to follow its master. Daylight or no, I wasn’t waiting around to see if the vamps were going to follow as well. I turned and ran again.

I had cleared one hill to Winterhelm. The second would prove an even more eventful distraction: A fort.
I stopped just outside of the structure and crouched into the stealth position to weigh my options. Seeing as no guards had poured out to, again, berate me about that unfortunate little incident back in Riverwood involving a newly purchased frost spell and a local chicken, I knew there was no one civilized inside. I crept closer to the archway. Usually just bandits or undead. Nothing that was going to give me much trouble. I slinked into the entryway to the courtyard. That’s when the flame jets went off.

TESV 2011-11-14 03-13-24-96Befuddled and on fire, I backpedaled faster than a politician after the election. What the heck was that?! I had seen traps before, sure. I remember that barrow where I learned the power word of the animals that was nothing but death traps: Landslide traps, pit traps, tempting treasure on pressure plate traps, spring loaded wall of spike traps, but never out in the open. Who in the name of Oblivion lived here?

A male voice called out over the battlement asking if anyone was there. I flattened myself up against the outer wall and again accessed the menu to equip a healing spell in each hand. I pulled both triggers to dual cast and restore my health as fast as possible. How Bethesda can create a highly detailed virtual world that allows for unimaginable freedom and still not figure out how to let me use the frigging mouse wheel to quickly scroll through my favorite loadouts without forcing me to pause the game and fumble through a menu is beyond me. Health restored, I peeked around the corner and back into the Flaming Entryway of Death. Sure enough, the entrance was lined with small nozzles. I scanned for a tripwire or pressure plate that severed as the trap’s trigger, but could find nothing. Forget it. I was just going to slip around the side and sneak along the back wall. I don’t need this crap. I’m alone, far from home, and carrying a backpack full of treasure to sell.

That was when I heard the dragon’s roar.

Before I had time to finish uttering my string of obscenities, the great beast was upon me. The ground shook from the beating of its mighty wings. It opened its maw and…
skyrim dragon attackBreathed frost down upon the shocked inhabitants of the fort. This was my chance! I ran for the back wall of the fort, electing not to take the side precariously close to the edge of the cliff the fortress was perched upon. It was yet another misstep in what was to have been an casual stroll into town. I didn’t even notice the subtle incline until I had run out of wall to hide behind. The bloody fort had been built into the side of the hill and I was now looking down on a courtyard full of black robed mages and a giant, flying, ice breathing lizard. I had been safer with the damn vampires!

In an instant, a ghostly wolf was at my throat; A familiar conjured by one of the mages. Switching to my fire enchanted mace, I felled that supernatural hound in one blow. The ground again shook as the dragon beat its wings to gain altitude. I had seen this before. It was going to circle around for a strafing run with its breath weapon. I was going to need cover. Ice shards rang around me as the mages took this opportunity to pick on the new guy. I summoned a fire Antronach to draw their fire (of ice) and continued on course along where the back wall should have been. There was a partially ruined tower at the corner of the fort, if I could make it there I’d have at least some cover from-

TESV 2011-11-14 02-34-08-93The dragon crashed to the ground behind me. It hadn’t been circling around at all! It soared up and plopped itself down on the hillside at my backside. I turned around just in time to get snapped with a face full of giant teeth. I spun back towards the courtyard and jumped. The frosty dragon’s breath surged overhead as I hit the dirt. Two black robed mages closed in on me, elemental storms flaring from their fingertips. I hit the tab key. Even if there was proper mouse wheel support, it wasn’t going to help me now. It was time to go nuclear.
I began quaffing enough potions to turn Geralt of Riva green. Restore and fortify health, restore and fortify magicka, resistance to frost, fire, and magic, skill boost for light armor and one handed weapons. I readied a shield spell in one hand. In the other, my special little friend, Vox Knot.

TESV 2011-11-14 16-04-31-88I had conceived of Vox Knot a couple of days ago and assigned myself a quest to build it. I mined my own iron ore, smelted it into ingots, and forged it into a dagger with my own hands. I spent time practicing the skills of enchanting by creating crappy little  +1% illusion magic rings. I sold the practice rings off to pay for the spellbook to learn Soul Trap. I used the Soul Trap spell to capture the spirit of a powerful bandit leader into a gem. I then used the soul gem to enchant the dagger I forged with a magicka draining effect. Finally, I coated the dagger with a poison I brewed made from insects and berries I collected that added additional, lingering magicka reducing effects. Vox Knot was perfectly designed to do one thing: Shut down mages. One hit would deprive any moderate level caster of their powers for a solid five seconds. Skyrim offers a wealth of such tactical opportunities and gadgets for those willing to look for them. Multiple difficulty settings ensure that people who don’t want to be bothered can be just as successful hitting things in the head with the biggest hammer they can find. There are no restrictions. No preselected classes or stereotypes to be trapped into following. All options are open at all times. A stealthy knight is just as possible, and viable, as a heavily armored wizard. This game truly lets you play on your terms.

Preparations complete, I took a deep breath and resumed the fight in earnest.

I let out a Shout, a power granted to me as Dragonborn, and knocked the magi to their knees. I surged forward, madly slashing Vox Knot before me. I heard the weapon make contact and continued running to the other side of the courtyard. I heard the dragon take flight behind me. I spun around, shield spell already active. One of the mage lay dead on the ground. Having been weakened fighting the dragon, the blow from my pointy little friend was enough to kill him outright. Shut down mages indeed! His buddy was still standing. And throwing fire. I threw two fistfuls of lightning back and he flew off his feet and into the far tower, dead. I conjured another flame elemental and surveyed the scene.

TESV 2011-11-14 02-30-22-22It was quiet. Black robed bodies littered the fortress. I heard the dragon’s cry again. It was far enough away that I had a moment to catch my breath. I searched the closest bodies for potions and trinkets before making my way up to the fortress rampart to get the lay of the land.

The dragon had landed on the side of the first hill I had ventured across and was happily snacking on a pack of wolves. It would be back. I would be ready. I had a whole fort to dance around in with plenty of cover from the guard towers and a hidey-hole in the form of a nearly enclosed stairwell at the back of the fort. The courtyard wasn’t big enough for the beast to land in. It would have already done so if it could have. I was ready.

TESV 2011-11-14 03-12-02-67The dragon did come back. Several times. It was a protracted battle of attrition as the beast and I traded long distance blows with each other. Eventually, it could seemingly fly no more and landed just outside the far wall of my fortress. Three poisoned orc arrows later, it was dead. Its skin burned off as I absorbed its soul.

Just a quick jaunt to town…

The sky turned red as night came. It began to snow. For the third time, I headed for Windhelm. The snowfall steadily increased until I was stumbling nearly blind through a blizzard. I could barely make out what I desperately hoped was the entrance to the walled city. That’s when I noticed the icons on my desktop.

Skyrim had crashed without so much as the decency of an error message. Boom! CTD. Crash To Desktop. Third time today.

TESV 2011-11-14 15-21-38-94As with all Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim offers an experience unparalleled by any other. Its emergent gameplay experiences coupled with vast customization options give you a fantasy experience few titles can rival. As I stated in the beginning, every time I replayed this encounter it was different. One time a wandering Ice Troll joined the fray, once the dragon breathed fire (and killed all the mages in the fort before I got to it), etc. It is also a massive batch of code with untold variables at play under the hood. It will take time to get things sorted out, but Bethesda Software has a fairly good record of getting things under control. Remember the F5 key is for quick saving.

While I’m disappointed with the technical issues, there is no doubt that The Elder Scrolls is still one of the biggest and brightest achievements in the art of electronic gaming.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is now available for Windows , Xbox 360 , and Playstation 3 for $59.99.

Reviewer Rating: 5/5 Stars: Unparalleled5star

Want more Skyrim? Be sure to check out Growing Up Otaku’s Tribute to the Epic Beards of Skyrim!

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