Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve most likely been unable to escape the epic presence of Bethesda‘s title, Skyrim. For gamers who haven’t had a chance to play the game I’d like to take this opportunity to describe what it is that makes Skyrim such a fantastic experience.
From climbing the tallest mountains and delving into the darkest caverns, you’re constantly seeing something fresh, yet somehow nothing is too overwhelming. When I tried to get into Skyrim’s precursor, Oblivion, I found myself stupidly wandering around picking foliage, only to look up and see that I wasted eight hours doing mostly nothing at all–I couldn’t help but feel insignificant. It reminded me of some older titles that gave me the same issues back in the day. The ones that truly stand out are the Ultima series of games. My brother loved Ultima, but for the life of me I just couldn’t get into them. I felt like a drop in the bucket, unable to believe that my character was actually accomplishing anything worthwhile. In Skyrim, this is never the case.
Skyrim’s countryside has a cold, gritty, Game of Thrones feel to it while remaining stunningly beautiful and realistic. Players are free to explore almost anywhere without that feeling of being boxed-in. The enemies permeating the area aren’t all at a certain level catered to the player’s current skill set (who just happens to be right where they need to be to progress the story) as found in games like Knights of the Old Republic. The game does a good job of keeping the grind at bay, completely opposite of the JRPG style. Sure, the option to grind skills or farm certain enemies to harvest items for potions is available, but Skyrim never really forces it upon the player and if it ever does it’s minimal. You honestly find yourself wanting to crush that creature standing in your way because it’s there, and because it’s fun.
As you gain experience and skills you’re rewarded with more visceral combat. After a few hours of play you slowly start seeing your character’s evolution from slapping a crab with a rusty dagger 15 times to lighting it on fire with one charged, flaming hand and smashing it’s brains in using a hammer in the other à la Bioshock. Sneaking around eventually has you nearly invisible, zinging a poisoned arrow from the shadows into a bandit’s face 30 yards away, dealing insane critical damage and dropping him in one shot. You’re granted a small dash of euphoria every time you pull off a tactic successfully, while those times where Murphy’s Law rules against you and everything goes wrong will have you challenged, panicked, and scrambling to stay alive–feelings I haven’t had in years.
Skyrim is a single-player RPG, a genre I’ve had a difficult time getting into after playing MMOs such as World of Warcraft. Just knowing there are no real people to interact with was a stumbling block I couldn’t seem to overcome. Instead, Skyrim’s dialogue, story, and quests are all constructed very well. The NPCs don’t feel overly hollow, even if they can be prone to some repetitive filler phrases at times.
It’s true, I said it. I used to play WoW…until I took an arrow to the knee. All things considered, there’s a reason Skyrim has barely dropped in price since its debut a year ago. It’s that good.