I know, I am little late in revieing a game that is now over ten years old. However back in December I decided that I was going to play through the base game and all of the DLC. Fast forward to 25th January and I finally finished the last of the DLC content. So with my experience fresh in my mind, I thought I would share my thoughts on Skyrim and see if it is still one of the best RPGs that you can play.
One of Skyrim’s strongest aspects is its world and the way it encourages exploration. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Skyrim is a fantastic open world game. After the tutorial-like area of Helgen, you are pretty much left to your own devices. In fact, you can completely ignore the main story and instead set off on your own to discover your own destiny. It was this freedom, in fact, that resulted in me taking years to actually see the main story to its conclusion. It is clear that the land of Skyrim has been lovingly crafted. Each location seems to have its own history, even if it doesn’t have a quest tied to it; which encourages you to just delve into a cave or enter a seemingly abandoned fort. The environment is varied from the open grasslands around Whiterun to the frozen wasteland of Wintehold. In fact, each of the cities has its own look and character, my favourites were the medieval feeling Windhelm and shady Riften where everyone seems out to con you. I can easily say that each time I played skyrim, I played longer than I planned to just because I wanted to explore just one more tomb.
I should also point out that for a ten year old game, Skyrim doesn’t look that bad. Yes, it shows its age when comparing to the latest releases on PS5 and Xbox but it certainly doesn’t look as old as some other games that were released around the same time. I particularly loved the use of lighting, such as in the Bleak Falls Barrow when you reach the cavern with the word wall or the Eldergleam Sanctuary. I also loved Skyrim’s night sky, asit wasn’t just black or dark blue but instead was a bend of different colours that reminded me of the northern lights. The visual design definitely helps to encourage players to explore the land of Skyrim.
Like with the visuals, the music and use of sound is also well executed. To this day, I still think Dragonborn is one of the best pieces of menu music used in a video game. It just feels epic and will get any player excited to jump into a fantasy world. I also love the inclusion of bards in the inns, who will also perform a small selection of songs. This just helps bring the cities to life, as well as further the worldbuilding. In fact, I often listen to the soundtrack on Spotify and it is one of my favourite fantasy themed soundtracks.
So, I have talked about the environment and music, now let’s talk about the story. Your character is the Dragonborn- an individual who is able to slay dragons and absorb their souls. Your arrival to Skyrim couldn’t have been at a better time, as dragons have also returned, after centuries of absence. The dragon leader, Alduin, is determined to suppress humanity and make the dragons the dominant sp[ecies in Skyrim and it is up to you to stop him. Initially, the story is quite epic, as you will travel across the length and breadth of Skyrim as you try to find a way to stop Alduin. However, the story is let down by the final quest. I won’t spoil it here but the final battle felt a little anticlimactic after such a build up.
It is not just the main storyline that suffers from this. There are a number of factions that you can join from the Thieves Guild to the heroic Companions. I would say that the Dark Brotherhood, a group of assassins, has the best story but even that felt a little cliche; whilst the Mages College was quite boring and repetitive. The storyline that had so much potential but did not live up to my expectation was the civil war storyline. Not long into the game, you will discover that Skyrim is divided by two forces competing to rule it. You can choose to get involved in this conflict and pick a side to support. You would think that a civil war would have battles, sieges and moral dilemmas. Unfortunately, there are two ‘sieges’ and a couple of forts you will fight to take over. Again, it just feels anticlimactic. It is a shame but in some ways the story is the weakest part and it is easy to see how some players will choose to make their own stories and find their own adventure in Skyrim.
Another aspect of Skyrim is the combat. If you are going to be a melee fighter, be prepared for hours of just running around and wildly swinging your weapon in the direction of the enemy. Magic users do have a bit more complexity, as there are plenty of different spells to use but ultimately you will be holding down a couple of buttons to whittle the enemy’s health bar down. As for stealthy archers… there isn’t much combat to speak of if you hit the enemy. Admittedly combat has always been one of the weakest elements of The Elder Scrolls games but hopefully we will see an improvement in this in future releases.
Skyrim does tend to divide RPG fans with its skill trees and levelling up system. Unlike traditional RPGs, in which your character will have a class and statistics, Skyrim is much more streamlined. There are no classes- your character can be a mage wearing heavy armour or warrior that uses fire magic and summons weapons. Any character can learn and use any skill. I personally don’t mind this. It offers a lot of freedom and replayability. I also think that it is a great system for someone new to the RPG genre.
Finally, the DLC I have to be honest, the three DLCs are not that great when compared to the base game. The first DLC released was Dawnguard, which delves into a conflict between vampires and vampire hunters. It sounds interesting but soon enough you will be delving into familiar looking tombs and dwemer ruins. Then there was Dragonborn which takes you to the island of Solstheim, which mixes Nord and Dunmer culture. This was actually my favourite out of the three DLCs just because you got to explore a completely new location. It did have a strange difficulty spike, so I would advise players to leave it until after finishing the main game. Finally, there was Hearthfire, a DLC that allowed you to build three houses. Unfortunately, there was little customisation, so you were essentially building the same house three times. Oh and you could adopt two children for some reason. The best way to sum up the DLCs: the developers had some great ideas but didn’t really expand those ideas to realise their full potential.
Overall, I love Skyrim. Yes, its story is not the strongest and some of its mechanics feel simple. However, Skyrim’s strength and charm lies in the world it created. It is truly a game that offers the player a feeling of escape and wonder. In Skyrim you can feel like a hero straight from your favourite fantasy story. It is also a great entry point into the RPG genre. If you have never played Skyrim I highly recommend you do, it is an experience you won’t easily forget.