By Mike Mahardy
A serene waterfall gives way to raging river rapids. A bleak, ice-covered mountain rises above a calm village. It is hard not to stare in awe at the world Bethesda Game Studios has created in the new “Elder Scrolls” installment.
Immersing yourself in a virtual world has never been more possible, and the countless hours spent exploring the province of “Skyrim” are a testament to this.
After an unorthodox linear introduction scene, the familiar vastness of “Elder Scrolls” games was then presented on a level that outshines the previous “Elder Scrolls” titles. Due to previous experience with said games, it sent chills up my spine to view a gargantuan mountain rising in the distance only to know that I would be able to travel there and farther. After only 20 minutes into the story, I was already being lured into the open world that is just as much a character as the inhabitants themselves.
The character creation system has always been a huge component of the “Elder Scrolls,” and the newest game is no exception. The character class selection has been removed, allowing any character to learn whatever skills they choose throughout the game. The individual character races return from “Oblivion,” along with their unique powers. The Nord’s Battle Cry ability will send foes fleeing from the fight, while the Wood Elf’s Control Animal ability allows commanding of any wild creature. Each race begins with certain skills higher than others, allowing any player to find a race that caters to his or her own style.
The quests available in the game are extensive providing an ever-lengthening checklist of tasks to complete. I even began avoiding towns for a while in order to accomplish as many tasks as I could before being assigned more. The main quest reveals that you are Dragonborn. Being the only one capable of slaying Dragons, it is your main duty to kill the Dragon God Alduin. Being Dragonborn also allows the protagonist to learn dragon shouts, which imbue the player with another form of magic. Speaking the ancient language of the dragons, area effect spells can be used to attack enemies. With this addition to the combat, the variety of fighting possibilities is expanded even more. While being Dragonborn does not allow the player to control Dragons (aside from being the only one with the potential to kill them), it always delivers a rush to turn a corner and see one of these mythical behemoths staring at you. After a certain point in the main quest, these beasts begin wandering the open world arbitrarily, adding another attractive facet to exploration.
The dungeon designs are vastly improved upon than in “Oblivion,” varying greatly in both aesthetics and layout. While one cave may have tropical foliage growing along the walls, another contains shimmering iron ore deposits. Backtracking is eliminated via back doors and shortcuts to the exit, allowing less arduous exploration of caves, mines, dungeons, and architecture. With the vast array of different enemy types, it will be difficult to find dungeons that are too similar. With interior areas that differ just as much as the environments of the world that encompasses them, exploration has never been so appealing.
As each individual skill is ranked up, so too does the player. Health, magicka, or stamina is increased in addition to one perk per level. The perks are grouped according to the skill they affect and range from improving damage done to actual new attack maneuvers. The combat controls are easier to learn than ever, and the menu systems are easily navigable, with a favorites menu that streamlines the item system even more.
With such a colossal world to explore, there also come sacrifices. Because the game is so massive, there are occasional glitches. In several cases my objective could not be completed due to quest characters being stuck on a table or not responding to my conversational choices. Animals ran up walls or galloped in place multiple times throughout my travels. The surface details and textures are not too impressive either, especially when viewed up close. Trees appear too pixilated and rocks look far too smooth. These minor flaws are forgivable considering the sense of a living, breathing world that this game imparts. A calm stream inhabited by fireflies, a barren land of snow and ice, and the sunken ruins of an old fort are a few of the many environments you will experience throughout the game.
With the multitude of open-world games on the market, none come as close as the “Elder Scrolls” do in terms of addictive gameplay. Customizing one’s character and exploring the world of “Skyrim” will entrance “Elder Scrolls” fans and those new to video games alike. Explore, grow, fall in love.