by Corey Murtha
Losers like me have little to look forward to on any given day, which is why I napped three and half hours yesterday in order to play Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim from midnight until it was time for me to join the living and go to work the following morning. Blame the hype, but the truth is that I managed to avoid any gameplay trailers, any reviews and most of the preview banter gaming circles have been kicking around for the last several months. Granted, I could not resist watching the live-action trailer from this past week, but let’s face it: my intentions were set in stone. The Elder Scrolls series is simply that good, and to sum up my thoughts right here, Skyrim is no exception. It’s a gamer’s game.
A fantasy/action RPG of this magnitude, the type that delivers a full-scale epic narrative wrought with political intrigue, three dimensional characters, an immersive setting and of course dragons, deserves an equally epic introduction. Skyrim delivers that with its opening menu music, laying an enchanting vocal swell over the traditional theme, an adventure inducing masterpiece in its own right. Pressing the button to start a new game has never felt so bound by a sense of duty.
Once things settle down, the story and lore start to take focus. Adept writing makes for an engaging story that allows players to delve as deeply into the fiction as they choose. Crucial dialog is supplemented by dialog trees, which are in turn supplemented by readable “books.” This is typical in the Elder Scrolls series, but worth noting here because it feels more manageable. You never get more information than you can handle at any given time.
Though I’ve only played through a couple, dungeons introduce a few simple puzzle elements making for a more rewarding dungeon crawl. One, for instance, has the player searching for symbols on the architecture in the game in order to match corresponding symbols on a door to open it.
Of course, it would not be an Elder Scrolls game without all the side-show freakery that has become the cornerstone of the open-world series. In one of my experiences, I convinced a farmer to help fix the broken wagon of an aspiring courtroom jester. In another, I paid a wandering bard to sing to me in an enchanting section of the forest. Sounds suspicious, but I assure you, it was purely platonic.
I put five hours in and I still have yet to witness the full scope of the game. At this point, crafting seems almost useless, boosting the armor rating of my equipment by only one point, when that equipment will quickly be replaced anyway. I also haven’t had much of an opportunity to explore the ability trees with any kind of strategy in mind. You do not pick a class in Skyrim. Instead, you form your own by using the abilities you want to level up and by putting points into “perks,” a term Bethesda’s other series, Fallout, coined. Each ability has its own tree of perks that boosts certain aspects of that ability. My character focuses on destruction magic. The first perk of the destruction tree allows my character to cast destruction spells at half the magicka cost. Since I haven’t been able to messwith this system further, I’m unable to comment on it more fully.
But the gameplay, the story, characters and lore, though cumulatively fantastic, are not what push Skyrim beyond fantastic. It’s the zeitgeist. Skyrim is a game that breathes. The world is alive with personalities and dynamics that have a visceral impact on you as a player. Wandering the frozen peaks outside Whiterun or trudging through frozen creeks and streams chills your bones. Just as finding an inn somewhere off the beaten path, overgrown with wilderness warms you by providing a refuge from the chaos and cold outside.
It’s a game that for a brief instant, while outside maintaining the grounds of the golf course I work at, inspires me to brandish my rake like a long sword and breath the crisp, icy air of Skyrim.