Posted November 14th 2011 by Anthony DiPalma.
Unless you've lived under a rock for the past 9 months, you've undoubtedly heard of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The newest installment to the acclaimed Elder Scrolls series is said to be bigger and better than its predecessor, Oblivion, a game that had over 100 hours of gameplay by itself. Gamers know that Bethesda puts a ton of time and energy into making their games the best they can be, and Skyrim is no exception. As fans of the series, Frankie & I decided to team up and see if Bethesda stayed true to their motto of "you are what you play." We wanted to know if, given our different styles of playing, Bethesda could create a different experience for everyone. We spent a few early hours in Skyrim wondering if we'd leave with a bad taste in our mouths or if we'd be craving for more.
I imagine that this is what having a child is like to someone on MTV's Teen Mom. After a long, grueling year of waiting with aches and pains, I finally got my hands on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The sweet, innocent child that had been plaguing my thoughts and kicking my insides had finally been delivered. The wait was finally over, and at 12:07 AM on November 11, I raced home to show this baby the new home. With a Mountain Dew in one hand and a 360 controller in the other, my journey to the dragon inhabited lands of Skyrim was about to begin.
Like previous Elder Scrolls games, the main character (that's you) is a prisoner awaiting execution. As I was making my way to the Headsman's ax, my captors asked a simple question: Who are you? Who would have thought that a question so simple would cause me to panic in such a way that one would think my grandmother was eaten by a savage boar and I was forced to watch at gunpoint? Who am I? In Oblivion I was primarily a dark elf who focused on magic, but it hit me that the best armor, weapons, and spells certainly don't come cheap. I would need a class that could specialize in magic without breaking the bank. Thus, my Imperial mage was ready to conquer a world filled with high mountain peaks, soaring dragons, and skooma addicts.
Once I finished going through the exciting introduction that allowed me to test out all the controls, I knew I'd be embarking on a journey like no other. Initially my first goal was to fight a dragon because, well, it's a dragon. Not only are dragons a first in the series, but they're DRAGONS. WITH WINGS AND FIRE. I'm not sure about you, but dragons are awesome and if you disagree then you should just stop reading this and go back to your sad life where dreams are always broken. Second on my to-do list: Seek out the Dark Brotherhood and pay homage to Sithis, the unholy Dread Father.
Before readying my fire spells and committing to the black sacrament however, I knew I had to explore this beautifully crafted world and level up to gain experience. The dragons would be relentless and unforgiving, so I had to be just as merciless as I leveled up. Unlike Oblivion, leveling up comes naturally to the player. Not once was I asked which skills I wanted to specialize in, instead I was given a few basic spells and weapons. How I wanted to use them was entirely up to me. Rather than using magic and switching to a melee weapon, I'm now able to cast a powerful spell from one hand and keep a sword in the other. Or I can put a sword in each hand and focus on offensive combat. It's entirely up to the player and this is what makes Skyrim great. Not only are players rewarded just from playing the game, but the combat flows just as naturally as the world around them.
When my companion from the tutorial asked me to meet him in his hometown of Riverwood, I agreed. Then I went in the total opposite direction. I'm not a follower, okay? I'm a spellcasting, dragon slaying assassin. I don't take orders from some chump who came *THIS* close to getting his head removed. So I went west and decided to climb up a mountain. Anyone who plays The Elder Scrolls should know that the environments aren't mere backdrops, so I decided to make that mountain my bitch. On my way up I saw a fairly large treasure chest. Oh, a piece of candy I thought. I went closer to claim my prize when the chest opened itself and a zombie wielding a massive two-handed battle ax chased after me. In a frenzy, I squeezed both triggers and watched as my mage turned this undead freak into a pile of ashes.
Once this was done, I noticed a small village. I wandered into the town of Falkreath and was not greeted the way a new adventurer/future savior would be treated. No "hi, welcome to our backwards town in the middle of nowhere!" No "we've got hot beds and food if you've got coin!" Nope. Instead I was told to make my visit short since the Empire was full of murders that disrespected Nordic traditions. Well excuse me!
I decided to go back there when I had made a name for myself and learned more about the world I was in. Rather than stick around a village with a bunch of oafs, I headed to Riverwood to see how my companion from the intro was doing. Onward I traveled and in the woods I saw a secluded alter far from the main road. As I went to investigate, an angry Necromancer jumped out and tried to kill me. No way would I be his next experiment. He began to throw some low level spells in my direction. Bitch, please. I wouldn't be disrespected, so I equipped lightning spells in both hands and gave this chump the Emperor Palpatine treatment.
After meeting up with my former companion, I was told to visit the city of Whiterun and see if I could help out in any way. The people of Riverwood kept talking about seeing a dragon fly towards Whiterun, so maybe this would be my chance to finally slay a winged beast? Judging from the map, the trip to Whiterun would only take about five minutes of walking on a road, but the freedom to do whatever you want can be awfully tempting. I noticed some elk running peacefully. It was a beautiful sight, really. So I hunted them down and brutally slaughtered them. It is easy to get sidetracked in Skyrim and it is an incredible journey so far. I've barely done anything extraordinary in the first day of playing, but I'm still having a blast.
WOW. Ladies and gentlemen, I really could just leave it at that. I've been waiting 200 (in game) years for this adventure and finally wrapping my hands around that XBOX controller, ready to embody a whole new hero of the Nine, the possibilities seemed endless. The Elder Scrolls has long been known for its might and magic gameplay, branching non-linear storyline, and a vast, open world to explore. None of these games however featured dragons. Yes folks, freaking dragons, and it doesn't take long for you to find one of these gigantic, frightening mothers. Just like every game before it, you start out as a prisoner. Because I'm a huge fantasy nerd, I decided to play as a Dark Elf named Drizzt. Much like my avatar's namesake, I was planning on picking a lithe, offensive character with a little bit of magic tucked in somewhere.
As I finished up my near ten minute (my choice) character makeover, I readied myself to rifle through the different classes on constellations... And then the dragon came. The immersion that comes from the character creation process in Skyrim is much less forward and more successful for it. I was thrown into the action, immediately making choices that could shape my in-game future based solely on my gut reactions. Should I follow the Imperial guard or the prisoner I was brought to the executioner with? My good guy tendencies lead me down the first path, but what is great overall is that I could, and can, always change my ways.
After the initial action packed opening sequence, a beautiful mix of scripted sequences and free play, I entered this brand new world. After the fantastically overbearing handholding of Oblivion, Skyrim felt totally free. I wanted to find my first dungeon, delve in, find some gold and start outfitting myself like a true hero. All the while, however, I couldn't help but think, there are dragons out there, man. I gotta kick their asses. I'm a duel wielding Dark Elf and I wanna stab a dragon in the face. So after following my Imperial guard friend to his uncle's house, mostly to hear about the surrounding area and make a hub for myself, I set out on my quest for dragons.
Running around the countryside, a few key differences make themselves apparent. Obviously this game is gorgeous, and I know some people think that throughout the series the character modeling is a little homely and that the world is repetitive, but Skyrim really is beautiful. What's most important though is the gameplay, and the changes made here are great. Replacing the hotkey system is a favorites bar, which houses your choice of weapons and magic that can be mapped to either your left or right hand. There is also a revamped leveling system which replaces the page style navigation from previous installments with a constellation style setup. Everything looks smooth and sleek, and there is not a lot of emphasis on anything other than simply playing the game.
One of the first dungeons I stumbled across was Bone Chill Pass. Leading up to it was a whole pack of wolves scattered along the hillside, so I assumed the pass would follow suit. I scampered into the cave brimming with confidence and saw a lone wolf perched on a stone ramp between me and the exit. As soon as I got close enough to see his name and his health bar, I noticed this dude was an Ice Wolf so I loaded up a fire spell and ran in headfirst.
There is only one word for this: OWNED. Unfortunately it wasn't the wolf's lifeless body that fell into the chasm. I really enjoyed the rapid change of pace in difficulty. Nobody likes an easy game, and it brings an element of strategy into what at times can be hack n' slash gameplay. After I conquered the wolf I exited the pass into what would become one of the coolest unscripted sequences of any game I've played. I walked up the hill outside Bone Chill Pass, slaying two more wolves on my way towards a lone, bleak ruin standing stoically on a snowy ledge. I dropped into a crouch, worried that this may be a place where I could get ambushed or overrun, but as I got closer to the obelisk, a portion of it started to glow. An ancient language presented itself to me and a strange energy surrounded me.
I had just learned a shout, a big new component of the dragon focused gameplay in Skyrim. And this was just one tiny, unassuming dungeon that ended up being an integral piece in the tapestry of this game. Early on, Skyrim has delivered. It has really let me craft a character the way I want to and is really letting me revel in this new world I've been given. I look forward to exploring the hell out of Skyrim and I hope it continues to impress me the way it has so far.
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