“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” is one of the best games ever made

By Glenn Battishill

Welcome back to Tamriel, the land of “Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind” and “Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivon.” It’s been 200 years since the champion of Cyrodiil closed the gates to the Hellish Oblivion once and for all. Now, the emperor-less empire is at war with the northern province of Skyrim, a cold and harsh land that doesn’t want to be part of the empire anymore.

You have no particular bearing in the war other than the fact you are being executed as a traitor by the empire for trying to leave Skyrim. However, before your head can be lopped off, a dragon shows up and burninates the village.

Now a free man (or woman), you gaze out onto the tundra that is Skyrim and strike out to make your own destiny.

That is the set up of “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” a game for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC developed by Bethesda Game Studios. Bethesda, which has always had a knack for crafting excellent action role-playing games, has created their best work yet.

The game is a fantasy action role-playing game that can be played in first or third person, and sets the player free in the land of Skyrim with the goal of destroying dragons that have come back to wreak havoc and destroy the world.

The player takes the role of the Dragonborn, a mortal with the soul of a dragon, allowing him the unique ability to speak in the dragon tongue and harness the magic energy of dragons.

From the very beginning, players can choose everything from race, species, ability and skills. Each species and race has its own special powers and abilities, and will be treated differently by other people in the game.

For example, I choose to play as a Nord, the Viking-like residents of Skyrim who are well rounded in many regards. I was greeted in many towns as “brother” or “friend,” but a friend of mine played as an elf, who are discriminated against in Skyrim, and he was greeted with hostility.

Once again, Bethesda invites players to a rich fantasy setting with a world that is genuinely deep with an interesting culture and very interesting interactions between races and countries. The civil war in Skyrim between the Imperials and the Stormcloaks, residents of Skyrim, adds another layer to the already complex national rivalries in Tamriel.

There are many things that set “Skyrim” apart from its predecessors and I’d like to discuss a few of them at length.

Combat’s sexy facelift

Combat is now more fluid than it has ever been. In “Morrowind,” players had to switch modes in order to go from casting magic to melee combat, and it wasn’t very fluid. In “Oblivion,” the combat system put the magic button on the shoulder button and allowed players to use magic while using melee combat, and the flow of battle was much nicer. Finally, in “Skyrim” players have the ability to assign different things to different hands, giving much variety to a system that can become stale over time.

Players can use two different magic spells by assigning them to different hands or players can mismatch magic and melee depending on which hand they prefer. For example, for a battle against a group of zombies, I put a fire spell on my right hand and a magic sword on my left so that I could be versatile during the fight.

The hotkey system from the previous games is gone and has been replaced by a “favorites” system, wherein players can choose a large number of items, spells or dragon shouts and have them one click away, rather than having to navigate through the menu just to find one spell or sword. While the favorites menu requires a little bit of practice to use, it becomes second nature after a while.

One of the most welcome additions to combat is the duel wielding melee weapon ability, giving players who favor charging into a situation swinging away to nearly double their damage output.

Overall the fluidity of the combat has increased many fold and has never been this fun. The camera also snaps to a slow motion cinematic camera when killing the final enemy of a group much like the system in “Fallout: New Vegas,” and while very fun and interesting, it can sometimes be confusing when both you and your opponent have low health.


The Most Immersive Sound I’ve Ever Heard

Usually when I play video games, I play through my television set and listen to the game at medium volume. But with “Skyrim” I planned on staying up all night to play the game and at some point my roommates would want to sleep, so I plugged in the headphones and ramped up the volume. What followed was one of the most involving experiences I’ve ever heard.

First, the ambience of the outdoors is beautiful with the sounds of the wind, forests and tundra making the game feel like a walk in the woods. The echoes of combat differ between indoor and outdoor, and the sound of using the dragon shouts FEELS powerful. The fights between keep the dragon language intense at a high volume and often had me jumping at the powerful sounds used in the game.

Another excellent element of the sound design is the immense voice cast. Larger than the cast for “Oblivion” which often had computer characters talking to each other using the same voice and jarring changes in inflection between lines, the voices in “Skyrim” are much more natural and the dialogue is excellently written.

The contributions made by the star studded voice cast are wonderful. Christopher Plummer (Captain von Trapp from “The Sound of Music” and Mr. Muntz from “Up”) gives voice to the leader of the Greybeards and the power behind his voice is real and emotional.

By far though, the best part of the sound of the game is how the actual dragons sound. Standing in a clearing and hearing a dragon’s roar in the distance is chilling and the sound of their wings is scary. Every step they take shakes and thunders, and the sound of their elemental breath is genuinely amazing, especially on full volume.

Dragon Battles Are Exhilarating and Challenging

The biggest and most note worthy change in “Skyrim” is the addition of dragons as the game’s primary villains. Dragons spawn randomly throughout the world but can be tracked down, and will attack players without warning. Each fight is different and usually without warning which makes the whole fight pulse-pounding fun.

The animation for the dragons and their movement is lifelike and impressive; a dragon flying is an awesome sight to behold simply because of how cool it looks.

The random fights are what make the game so much fun simply because you don’t expect it. I was walking through the woods stalking a bear and a dragon swooped down and grabbed the bear, flinging it into a lake. It then proceeded to circle me and attempt to cook me with its fire breath. The dragon decided it wanted to eat me and landed on the ground, barreling toward me. I retreated, shooting bolts of lightning into it as I backed up. Finally, right as the dragon had me cornered, the bear reentered the fray and started clawing at the dragon’s wings. I seized this opportunity to cast a massive ice storm spell, killing them both.

The game didn’t plan on that happening, and no one else will have that fight. It was just for me. And THAT’S why these battles are amazing.

In conclusion, “Skyrim” stands as one of the most visually impressive games on the market and puts the character in the most complex fantasy world since Azeroth.

“Skyrim” is definitely for role playing game fans but can easily be mastered by anyone. It’s so easy to pick up but impossible to put down.

For this gamer, “Skyrim” is a masterpiece; a perfect game; the best the medium has to offer and sets the standard for all future fantasy games.