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The Elder Scrolls V:
Skyrim

By now you've probably heard about Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, or as most people call it, simply Skyrim. Like the Elder Scrolls entry Oblivion before it, Skyrim is one of the most popular games on the market right now.

Skyrim takes place in a northern region of the Elder Scrolls universe,inspired by Nordic culture and regions. As such you can expect lots of snow and mountains with a few forests now and then, generally harsh living. Currently a Civil War rages between the Storm-Cloaks and the Imperial Empire. The Storm-Cloaks are the natives of Skyrim, known as Nords, and they believe the Imperials to be suppressing their rights, pecifically the right to worship one of the gods or divines. The Imperials just lost a war with the Elves must now bow down to the wishes of these elves.

While this is all well and good you can mostly ignore it unless you really want to get involved in that part of the story. At the beginning of the game, your character has been arrested along with the leader of the Storm-Cloaks. You are on your way to your execution. Once your turn comes around, your head is literally on the chopping block, and the executioner raises his ax to take off your head.

That's when a dragon attacks the town and the game gets exciting. The dragons were believed to be extinct so it comes as a surprise when a dragon swoops in and starts burning everything that moves. In the ensuing chaos you escape.

At this point, you start to have choices. You might run off and just start randomly encountering things. However, if you continue the main story you discover that you are a "dragon-born"; you have the soul of a dragon within you and upon killing dragons you absorb their souls to increase your own power. This power takes the form of Thoms or shouts in the dragon language with various effects such as pushing back your enemies, breathing fire, or simply making them run in fear.
I could talk more about the main story… except despite playing over 60 hours I didn't get that far into it. Because, quite frankly, there are so many wonderful distractions.

Skyrim is an open world game allowing you to go wherever you want. You can go fight some bandits or find some ancient treasure; there are so many other quests that you can just get distracted from the main quest. If your only goal is to finish the main quest you can probably do it in about 20 hours.

But that would be boring! Don't you want to go join the Companions, whom are basically this games version of the fighter's guild, perhaps learn to be a better spell caster at the wizard's college, or maybe you want to join the Thieves' Guild or become an assassin for the Dark Brotherhood? Or for some reason there is a Bard's college if that's more your thing.

All of these have very in depth storylines and various quests to undertake. And of course you could play the game through multiple times, choosing different paths each visit. The possibilities are awe inspiring.

The game is so massive I have found myself overwhelmed, standing there just asking myself "What am I supposed to do NOW!?"

As far as problems go, having too many interesting things to do is a fairly good one. Even without all these quests you may find yourself simply going off and exploring this gorgeous world by wandering in a random direction.

"I'm going to go North today, oops mountain in my way to the east now, cool a river wonder what's along it, oooh awesome waterfall. Oh look a bear… that's trying to kill me! RUN!"

This can go on for hours, and it stays interesting and involving. However even if you try to ignore the main story, it still has a way of reminding you it exists. In case you forgot, dragons wander the world again, and they attack at random.

Entering a new location you may find a dragon is flying overhead, or perhaps two! That gets a bit hectic, fun as you end up thinking "Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, I am going to die!" But instead you turn and fight.

Which of course brings me to combat.
The combat in Skyrim is solid. You can use any number of tactics; sword and shield, bow and arrow, you can sneak up on an enemy quietly or charge them! There are any number of ways to approach it. New for Elder Scrolls is that you can now dual wield weapons. Each hand can carry or attack separately. Take two swords, sword and a spell, two spells with drastically different effects or the same spell in both hands for an enhanced version.

Of course, what's a role playing game without individuality and personal improvement? Leveling is also improved upon in Skyrim. In most fantasy RPGs you start the game by selecting your race, and Skyrim is no different. Next you decide on your appearance because it's your character. You get to decide this, and you can burn up quite a bit of time now and throughout the game looking in the mirror to see how pretty you've become.

In most Fantasy RPGs you would then select a class such as fighter, wizard, or rogue. You don't in Skyrim; instead you just choose which skills to train as you go along. Your class is based on what you improve as you move through the story, deciding what your character needs to do.

This allows you to experiment with how your character develops instead of being locked in from the beginning. In most RPGs when you level up you decide on a few stats to increase such as strength, intelligence, or dexterity. All of these are gone in Skyrim; instead you choose to have more magic, more health, or more stamina.

Each level you'll acquire a perk point. These can be spent in any of your skills for a number of effects such as increased damage, zooming in with your bow, added effects to you spells, better stealth, better potions... way too many variations to cover here.
Loading screens may seem a strange topic for a review but they're actually quite innovative. Skyrim's loading screens have hints and quotes from the game, but also display a 3D model of a character or monster from the game that you can rotate for viewing. A neat way to spend a little time without it feeling totally wasted.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of negatives to consider. Your allies will more often get in your way than be meaningfully helpful. This is because they will often simply charge the enemy. This can cause problems, for example, when you are fighting in a tight corridor and don't have room to get around them.

There are also a few glitches. Most of these involve collision detection. This includes characters walking into and eventually through a wall, enemies flying off in to the distance after you have killed them, and mammoths appearing far up in the air falling to their deaths. Any number of YouTube videos depict Giants hitting a character and launching him 10 stories in the air.
Go watch them, they're hilarious.

It's worth noting that while these problems do occur fairly regularly, they are not a major annoyance. They simply distract you from the game for a moment.

I heartily recommend Skyrim for anyone that likes a good fantasy experience or that likes a well written story or twenty. You'll find lots of stories in Skyrim, including your own.

Justin Breschneider

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