A fantastical world where people can do whatever they please — that’s the classic concept many video games are built on. Unfortunately, game development has been stuck in a one-step-forward, two-steps-back situation as far as actually achieving that fantasy. But “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” is a solid step in the right direction.
“Skyrim” is the fifth main installment in the Elder Scrolls series from Bethesda. It’s the most recent heir to a millions-selling dynasty of open-world games that share their basic structure with the
recent “Fallout” games by the same company. Those who haven’t played the previous games in either series should know that “The Elder Scrolls” typifies a “go anywhere and do anything” style of play.
In terms of narrative, it would be disingenuous to say that there is a main story that makes up the primary chunk of the game. Sure, there is a main quest line and it is suitably epic, but it barely touches upon what is actually going on in the game world. The story focuses on the player being a chosen dragon slayer who must rid the world of the scaly, fire-breathing menaces. There are some twists and turns as the plot moves forward, and the dragons never cease to be a terrifying and imposing threat. Then throw in the fact that the continent of Skyrim is currently in the throes of a civil war, which forces the player to pick sides — that’s when things really get exciting. But these elements merely scratch the surface. The detailing is superb, especially with the dragons, and the interactive lighting also plays a huge part in the game.
“Oblivion,” the previous game in the Elder Scrolls series, was a deeply flawed game that still managed to garner a devout following, due mostly to the presence of strong exploration hidden behind the broken gameplay. Playing “Skyrim” makes it obvious that the developers understood what was wrong with the previous game. The game feels like the final draft of the sketched-out notes that made up “Oblivion.”
The biggest failing of “Oblivion” was the broken leveling system, and in “Skyrim,” the developers have rebuilt the system from the ground up. The game has done away with attributes such as Strength and Intelligence. Removing such long-standing role playing game mainstays would seem to be sacrilege. However, it turns out that melding those statistics into the skills of “Two-handed Weapons” and “Destruction Magic” makes the game more immersive as it allows the player to grow into his or her character and spend less time fretting over the numbers.
Building a character opens up into a wonderful adventure. The game offers no end of fantasy archetypes to play as. A Wood-elf who harvests berries to brew into fine elixirs — one option. A Bloodthirsty orc who forges giant war hammers to slaughter his enemies — absolutely. A sellsword who uses a mixture of magic, blades, and trickery to tackle the challenges at hand no matter what — the game not only offers, but fully supports these options.
And that’s what separates “Skyrim” from other open-world games — the player isn’t railroaded down the same path whether they like it or not. The choices for who a character becomes is completely in the player’s hands. Ditch the main quest to join the wizard’s guild. Halfway there, change it up, and instead explore an ancient cave full of dwarven artifacts. The world of “Skyrim” is full of distractions, and every one of them is just as captivating as what other games consider the “main story.” After playing Skyrim for more than 30 hours, the game doesn’t lose its luster. Every minute invested into the game reveals yet another magic sword to covet or giant monster in need of slaying.