written by Melissa Shaw
I’m not a patient gamer. When I sit down with a new game, I want to dive into the action, run around the world taking in the sights, learn (and use) some skills, and get introduced to and led through a compelling story that doesn’t make me sit still for too long at a time. Which is why I have often avoided RPGs in the past.
Skyrim, the fifth entry in the Elder Scrolls RPG game series, has a lot to offer: it’s an enormous game with a breathtaking variety of weapons, abilities, loot, side quests, and strong visuals.
It also has its share of dull, lengthy, in-game exposition scenes, in which you have to sit still and listen to talking heads. And you have to pay attention and press buttons at the right moment — if you leave to find a red-hot poker to gouge your eyes out with, the dialog will repeat, unskippably, until you hit those buttons. At least cut-scenes are staged for dramatic impact, and, in many games, are skippable.
In between those annoying infodumps, however, lies the meat of the game, and it is strong. It’s also surprisingly well gender-balanced; many of the soldiers, thieves, mages, friends, and enemies are female, and their attire matches the men’s, instead of being a stripper’s titillating version of it. After picking your race, gender, and other visual details, you get into the action pretty quickly, and, if the controls aren’t what you’re used to, you can customize them to be more familiar.
One of the game’s strongest sections doesn’t even take place on the surface of the already large map. Blackreach, an enormous cave system underneath much of the continent, is luminous and otherworldly, with half-submerged ruins of the buildings of ancient cities. The attention to detail in this game is impressive; entire rooms exist just to add ambience and robustness, which makes the world feel rich and convincing.
It does take a while to level up sufficiently to successfully take on your earliest opponents, but once you’ve attained level 15 or so, the game progresses smoothly, even if all you do is hack and slash. You can also adjust the difficulty of the game, without being penalized in your ability to get achievements.
Like other Elder Scrolls games, this one tends towards glitches and bugs, which can dramatically affect enjoyability. But the game itself is so expansive and fun that it more than compensates for those irritations. (Also, any issue you encounter is something someone else has probably already encountered, so a quick Google search may reveal an unexpected solution to your bug-based conundrum.)
Overall, while it has a few drawbacks, Skyrim is a long and varied adventure, with a world that grows on you. After you finish the main storyline, you may find yourself dipping back in to pick up the side quests and extend your stay in this compelling land.
Skyrim is available for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.
Melissa Shaw’s short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Realms of Fantasy, Analog, and several anthologies. Melissa is a Clarion West graduate and a “Writers of the Future” contest winner. She is currently writing for an as-yet-unreleased video game.