Skyrim is the latest entry in the venerable Elder Scrolls series and the follow-up to 2008’s Oblivion. As with its predecessor, Skyrim presents a sandbox-style fantasy world of laudable size and scope.You have an immense amount of choice in how you conduct yourself in Skyrim, with options for playing as a muscle-bound warrior, surreptitious assassin, sagely magician or anything in between.
Often the problem with these games is that the strength of any individual experience is diluted by the vast amount of ground that needs to be covered by the game designers; quests, locations, NPCs and items all need to be fun in and of themselves as well as meshing with the world as a whole.
Thankfully, the development team at Bethesda performed excellently in this regard; each microcosm is detailed and unique. Dungeons, which felt rather stale in Oblivion, seem rather more varied here. This is helped in part through more unique dungeon designs, but also through the upgraded graphics. Like Oblivion before it, the game features a range of styles corresponding to the race of the dungeon’s builders, with Dwemer dungons having a vastly different look and feel to creepy barrows or rocky caves inhabited by other races.
Outside, there is even more variation, with the Scandinavian-inspired countryside containing beautiful mountain meadows, treacherous snow-covered peaks and roaring rivers. The joy that you gain from these encounters is doubled when you realise that you could climb that mountain you see in the distance, if you wanted to. Where first person shooters revel in the immediacy of their action, Skyrim appeals because of the consistent believability of its world and the smorgasbord of opportunities that lie in a great tableau before you.
Of course, Skyrim suffers the same kind of inevitable flaws that its predecessors in the series do, but these only add to the game’s charm. From Yahtzee’s famous encounter with an old lady who floated twenty feet in the air before sinking sadly through the floor to my own exploration of outer space courtesy of a troll’s club, the game’s glitches are amusing conversation pieces rather than game-breaking nightmares.
Perhaps the only genuine flaw I found with Skyrim was with its dungeon-based enemies. In each dungeon or area you encounter, there are a host of easy-to-kill monsters that can be dispatched with no effort or strategy, and a single boss monster which is vastly harder to kill. These boss battles can be enjoyable, but the vast chasm in difficulty interrupts the game’s flow; instead of a gradual ramp up in difficulty as you progress into a dungeon, you instead race to the very end, then start thinking about the boss.
Often, the winning strategy is to take advantage of a peculiarity in the enemy’s AI, such as attacking with ranged weapons from a point they cannot reach. This cheapens the whole encounter, but can be necessary to advance as otherwise the bosses are needlessly difficult to defeat. A redressing of the game’s balance, by making bosses slightly easier and normal enemies increasingly harder, would do a lot to make dungeon crawling more enjoyable.
Otherwise, there is little to complain about in Skyrim. It’s easy to see why it has been given universally excellent reviews; it is certainly one of the greatest sandbox worlds ever presented. Like the best open world games before it, there is a such a multitude of choice that there’ll be something to suit any palette — if you are a fan of finely made video games, Skyrim is worth your time.