Confession time: I haven’t played enough of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to justify writing a poetic review of its virtues and flaws. I’m only at the 25-hour mark, which in most games would be sufficient, but in Skyrim is barely enough to time to get to the meat of the main plot while indulging in the game’s many side quests. But over the last week, I’ve played enough to learn a thing or two about this epic fantasy RPG. Here’s what wisdom I’ve come up with so far:
Atronachs Are Awesome
I don’t care what kind of character you are. Learn some basic Conjuring so you can summon a Flame Atronach to fight by your side. Then tell me you don’t really, really wish you could give it a high five after it clears a room full of enemies on your behalf. Atronach, you’re my only friend–until you vaporize 60 seconds later.
Battles Have Heft
Fighting hand-to-hand in the previous Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, felt like slapping two pieces of cardboard against each other. The experience didn’t convey a strong sense of physical depth and weight. Skyrim’s battles are different. Enemies stagger when you strike them, and you’ll feel it when they strike back. The sound effects are spot-on, too, making combat feel just right.
Simple Is Good
Unlike Oblivion, Skyrim doesn’t ask you to level up through a complex system of numeric stats. Instead, each time you gain a level, you’re given three choices for a stat boost–Magicka, Health or Stamina–plus one new perk from a list of branching skill trees. As a result, leveling up creates a noticeable difference in your character. It’s a simple system that allows for plenty of complexity through the perks you choose.
The Economy Stinks
My avatar’s pockets are lined with treasures galore–rubies, emeralds, amethysts and jewelry–not to mention the valuable bones and scales collected from slain dragons, and the expensive weapons that are of no use to my character. If only cashing in on these valuables wasn’t such a hassle. Most merchants only accept certain types of goods, and all of them have limits on how much they’ll take from you in one sitting. That means you’ll spend a lot of time going door to door, and town to town, looking for places to offload your wares. Where’s the wealthy hoarder who will buy anything and everything when you need him?
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If you’re on an Xbox 360, as I am, you may become frustrated by loading times, especially for trivial things like walking out of one building and into another. Any PC gamers out there? I can feel your smug satisfaction from here.
You Can Be a Two-Face
Although Skyrim presents you with a game-changing decision every now and then, for the most part you’re free to play both sides against the middle. You can join the Thieves Guild and turn its hub city into a den of crime, while at the same time receiving accolades from the city leadership for helping them with other matters. Does this make sense? No, but at least it lets you experience more of the game.
Eating Is Overrated
Skyrim tries to emulate the minutia of ordinary life, such as working, eating, sleeping and drinking yourself stupid. Fortunately, none of that stuff is really necessary. Sure, you can make elaborate stews from the right ingredients, but in most cases you’re better off consuming potions instead of food and booze. You can sleep, too, and if you get a solid 10 hours the game will tell you that you “awake feeling well-rested,” but the benefits are intangible. Who has time for basic human needs when there’s questing to do?
RPGs Are Fundamentally Great
Okay, I knew that already. But one Skyrim moment in particular drove the point home: I was walking through the forest, minding my own business, when a bandit demanded payment for safe passage. Now, at this point I was already an adept mage who could cast gigantic fireballs and summon those aforementioned Atronachs. So I made a counter-offer: Let me pass, and I’ll let you live. Foolishly, this bandit refused to be intimidated–and it was the last mistake he made. Unlike linear action games, whose enemies always grow fiercer, RPGs can stop and remind you how far your character has come. Skyrim nails the feeling.