View from the top the world: thoughts on Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Exiting the dwemer ruin, laden with pieces of dwarven metal, I quickly dispatched two wolves before they could charge me. Creeping forward I noticed a large tower like structure in the distance and below a cliff to my right the prowling form a snowy sabre-cat. I should know better. Really, past experience should have showed me by now but with an inexplicable compulsion I nock and draw an arrow. I feel regret and dread as soon as I loose the string With a snarl the cat charges. I loose arrows but to little effect. After a brief hesitation I turn and run. I head towards the tower I saw earlier.The cat nips at my heels during the brief chase to the tower’s front door but eventually I burst through the door of the tower, a lighthouse, and slam it behind me. My sigh of relief is cut short as I note the scene revealed in the tower’s dim light: blood spatters the walls and floor, debris is everywhere, in the center of the room the mutilated form of a woman’s body, and near the fireplace the severed body of an insect-like creature. I pause hearing now the faint scuttling sounds from somewhere beneath me. Vicious snow-cat outside, unknown horrors beneath me…at least there were no dragons flying around. Welcome to life in Skyrim.

The narrative above should be the only endorsement one needs to buy Skyrim. Even when I’m avoiding the main plot, because there is so much to do not because I’m not interested, there is a background narrative dictated by my own experience. Everywhere you go you interrupt conversations that can embroil in the lives and trials of Skyrim’s diverse population. Popping into a dwarven ruin, more for curiosity than for any real intent to explore, I was greeted by the sound of a voice and soon found myself helping a mage recover a relic from an entombed dragon priest. Twice, I have accidentally involved myself in the affairs of Daedric lords. More than once I have had to hold myself back from randomly attacking envoys of the Thalmor. The world of Skyrim is one that seeps quietly but inexorably into your system and it’s one where even 40 hours in I am still greeted by new wonders and surprises.

40 hours into Skyrim and have barely scratched any of the main plots. Having played Skyrim’s predecessor Oblivion for quite some time the above incident is important to note because it was so rare that anything in Oblivion was so tough that you had to run away. Not so much in Skyrim. There are things that will absolutely destroy you. Giants that can kill you with one hit. Snow Cats, oh the damned snow cats, huge, fast, clawed, roving machines of death. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Sneak is my highest skill. The joy of discovery in Skyrim is tinged, I would say enhanced, by the actual threat of real danger.

Thankfully I’m a werewolf. It actually isn’t that hard to become a werewolf and despite the restless nights caused by my feral blood having that option has been quite useful. It’s sort of like having an easy button for when running isn’t an option. Sure you don’t get to increase any of your skills by transforming but there is a certain job in watching your enemy flee in terror before you. When push comes to shove I’d much prefer to do things with spell, steel, or bow. However, in those instances where I find myself backed into a corner it sure is nice to unleash the inner beast.

Is it a perfect game? Not by any means but it improves on nearly everything from Oblivion. Random quests aid in exploration, the environment from the golden browns of the tundras to the frigid white of the distant mountains are varied and gorgeous, the characters are memorable (if only slightly), and the voice acting is a step above Oblivion. I’m actually interested in the main plot since absorbing the souls of dragon’s actually benefits me. The Guild quests are interesting excursions that I want to complete and this is the first Elder Scrolls game where actually want to do a little breaking and entering (it uses the Fallout lock mini-game as opposed to the one seen in Oblivion).

There are some downside mostly do to the now expected bugginess of a Bethesda release. It seems that the longer I play the more bugs that crop up. My first 20 hours were mostly pain free but as I’ve continued I’ve hit a rather frustrating crash-to-desktop bug (mostly when fast traveling) and some problems with textures loading. The game is a beast to run and even on my computer (fairly up there in terms of specs: i7 2600k, 8 gb DDR3, Radeon 6850) but I still get quite a bit of stuttering and chop in some areas (Winterhold!) but never so much as to be unplayable. I eagerly await a patch to see if that will improve things.

Between the variety of skills that Skyrim offers up to players, the loads of quests from the miscellaneous quests to the big scripted quests, future DLC, and the mods likely to come my 40 hours in Skyrim will barely scratch the surface of what this game has to offer. I very much looking forward to what future adventures this game has to offer. Highly recommended for fans of expansive open ended RPGs where player choice trumps scripted events.

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