By Josh Galvin ’13
“Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” – Xbox 360, PS3, PC
9.5 out of 10
A gentle snow begins to fall just before the steel clad guard kicks you to your knees and forcibly shoves your head against the chopping block—the moment of truth has arrived.
However, just before the executioner can bring down his axe, an inhuman shriek splits the air. “Dragon!” someone shouts, and in an instant the scene spirals into mass chaos.
Such is the beginning of “Skyrim,” the long awaited fifth installment in Bethesda Game Studios’s medieval fantasy series “The Elder Scrolls.”
Your adventure opens with your character crossing the border into the tumultuous tundra known as Skyrim in the midst of a bloody civil war.
On one side is the Imperial Legion: once noble guardians of the realm of Cyrodiil who, after losing their last heir, have slowly died off and lost authority in the far reaches of their empire.
These soldiers invaded the frozen land after a revolutionary, Jarl Ulfric of Windhelm, murdered the High King and declared himself the ruler of an independent Skryim.
Each side’s morals remain ambiguous, yet you are forced to choose sides almost immediately—something I wish would have presented itself much later.
Ultimately, as the last Dovahkiin (dragonborn) your objective is to vanquish Alduin the World Eater and end Skyrim’s power struggle.
“Skryim” was released Nov. 11, nearly six years after its predecessor “Oblivion.” According to Bethesda’s website, the game sold 7 million copies within the first two weeks.
During the dry spell, the Bethesda team – led by director Todd Howard – made many improvements in “Skyrim” in response to players’ feedback.
For example, the developers abandoned the Havok graphics engine used in the previous title and developed a completely original Creation engine.
The end result is a much more engaging fantasy world; the lush environment feels more like a dynamic interaction with the player than just a pretty background.
When my character finally escaped from the dragon and I could truly take in my surroundings, I was very impressed with the subtle yet realistic touches. Grass and tree branches swayed in the wind, and in the distance a huge Gothic fort loomed menacingly.
Unfortunately, the peace didn’t last for long as I inadvertently stumbled into a highwayman’s camp on the side of the path. However, I dispatched him without much trouble due to the new ability to wield both a weapon and a spell—or two weapons/two spells—at the same time.
Combat plays out fairly fluidly with this addition, but like in “Oblivion,” hit-detection can be spotty. There were times when I questioned an enemy’s inexplicably long reach with a dagger as I whiffed away with a two-handed, 40-pound warhammer.
Another disappointment occasionally arose when I confronted the game’s highly-touted dragons; after hours of in-game buildup, I found that (spoiler alert) these beasts were sluggish and quite easy to kill.
Thankfully, most other aspects of the game remain positive. As your character fights, completes quests and trains skills like destruction magic and alchemy, he/she will gain levels to become more adept and learn new abilities. For example, since my character uses a bow almost exclusively, the perk that it zooms in on enemies when the bow is drawn is an awesome thing to have.
The quests and various side missions you complete in your trek through Skyrim’s mountains and forests never grow monotonous, and Bethesda’s attention to detail astounds every time.
“Skyrim” focuses only on the single-player experience, so don’t expect to jump on your game console and explore with a friend. Even so, I predict the game will be a serious contender for countless publications’ Game of the Year award.
What it lacks in versatility it makes up for in sheer content; “Skryim” has enough quests, locations and dragons to keep players entertained for well more 200 hours. Yes, it’s that big. And yes friends, I will be occupied until graduation.