Originally published on GameInformer.com November 20, 2017, at 07:00 AM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 12/8/11.
Selected for Game Informer Newsletter, 12/9/11.
9,523 views as of June 4, 2018.
Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
Oh, sure, technically you can, but speaking figuratively is so much more interesting. Indeed, to fully appreciate The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim one needs to play it. The animations, particle effects, score, ambient sounds, dialog, voice acting, combat, main and side quests, characters, etc. -- even the attributes menu -- all contribute to an immersive feast for the senses. Without gameplay videos to otherwise convey those elements, I'm left to hope that my usual pictorial can do justice to such a deep title (I'll try to avoid any significant spoilers, though by its nature I can't avoid visual ones).
Watching from a safe distance never looked so good (note the frost troll in the upper right).
At about level 8 and even with a companion I had to reduce the difficulty from Adept to Apprentice before I could prevail against this health-regenerating foe.
Milestones along some paths add interesting background details both graphically and storywise.
Architecture is varied and appropriately scaled, fitting well within the fantasy motif while also establishing its own unique design.
Animations such as flags whipping in the wind and particle effects such as falling snow or driving snow drifts help anchor the story and locales in a believable world.
Interiors benefit from excellent design whether contextual materials and furnishings, detailed textures, map layout or intuitive application of lighting that incorporates animation, heat distortion and shadows as appropriate.
Dungeons, caves, catacombs, tombs, etc. all demonstrate imaginate concepts while still adhering to fantasy RPG themes. Consider the green hues of the above interior, which reminded me of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion despite originality in other design elements.
Weapons make appropriate sounds when in combat, including the swoosh of an arrow in flight. Of course that doesn't account for the occasional invisible wall, in this case right after I released this arrow. My intended victim never knew how fortunate he was, for a few more seconds anyway.
Elevations are convincingly rendered as they progress from more fertile river foliage to forested terrain and eventually rocky snowswept climes.
Animals appropriately reflect local fauna as the crabs and fish of foothill waterways give way to big game like moose and deer or higher elevation wolves and bears to say nothing of frost trolls in colder regions. This fox takes impressive steps to protect his terrain.
One unfortunate consequence of a game that relies on various elevations is the propensity for characters -- even wildlife -- to get stuck on their environment. This slow moving fox could only stare at us while floating on the mountainside. We tried to adopt him but the papers never came through.
Even now few games can properly render water effects, but I was duly impressed with Bethesda's ability in this area. Last gen's Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is still a milestone for me and these animations reminded me of it (and surpassed them).
Some textures appear ordinary for a video game, but there are examples of very detailed artistry such as this scene of rock, foliage and tree trunk, each appearing satisfyingly three dimensional.
Draw distance in an open world game of this sort is well implemented and easily meets -- or exceeds -- expectations. On occasion, however, certain elements like trees or water appear more one dimensional or otherwise improperly rendered; indeed distant waterfalls here were static and blurry.
This sunset was a dramatic vision of bright red/orange that appeared momentarily at dusk and evolved convincingly. Unfortunately just as in real life, this screenshot of the virtual sunset does not do it justice.
The night/day cycle in Skyrim likewise is convincingly portrayed, and elements in the sky whether mist, clouds, stars or other celestial bodies are beautifully realized. Indeed, they sometimes capture the fantasy motif too well and appear more like an impressive matte painting.
Character variety is well conceived and contributes to the sense of a large world community. These hunters were met on a hillside and though they regretably speak the same few lines over and over, I was impressed when they broke off our awkward meeting to pursue game that wandered past.
Character animation is well done and lends credibility to this world, that is until they sometimes fall in peculiar positions. This bandit, for instance, fell in combat only to rest in this otherwise peaceful repose. Creepy, unless you have a picnic basket and a weird sense of humor.
This is only the second dragon I've fought but their appearance is a welcome change of pace. Their superlative animation whether in flight or on the ground, as well as the sound of their wings and roar, all remind me of convincing cinematic dragons such as from Dragonheart or Reign of Fire.
I've written before about the capable combat but poor navigation skills of my follower Uthgerd the Unbroken. Recently she became stuck on the environment and the only means of freeing her was attacking till she flew into a homicidal rage. She literally said "I. Will. Destroy. You!" as she chased me.
Yes, I ran away. Because I'd grown fond of her I was loathe to kill her myself so just turned tail in the best heroic tradition of Holy Grail's brave, brave, brave Sir Robin. Indeed, I lost her but found she eventually materialized inside a fort I was assaulting. So it seems followers do follow. Eventually.
I'm often pleasantly surprised by things that happen in this game. Whether giants that flee a safe distance when you have an advantage, horses that protect their owners, or in this case, a tribe that reacts with surprise and disapproval at my entrance in an otherwise impenetrable settlement.
Indeed, their walled settlement was built against a mountainside but I managed to climb the cliff face then somehow traverse the sheer wall till I could fall inside their fortress. I expected to be attacked as a foe so was impressed with their acknowledgement of my trespassing and veiled threats.
Hagravens are up there with frost trolls in my book as far as being tough enemies to crack. With two allies down and myself in flames, this fight does not bode well. But here too the variety of foes requires a greater breadth of combat tactics, deepening gameplay and the overall experience.
For someone who neglected to use potions, often to my own detriment, the hagraven forced me to experiment with various items in my inventory. Unfortunately, some proved useless though I had no way of knowing until I implemented them in combat (wasting their potential).
To some it might cheapen the experience but I'm always grateful to have allies. One might argue there are franchises such as Dragon Age for which squad combat is duly suited and that The Elder Scrolls is not one of them. However, I'll take what I can get, especially if it helps me survive awhile longer.
Illia the witch proved very adept at dispatching foes whether spiders, skeevers or other witches. So much so in fact that I was compelled to let my longtime follower Uthgerd go despite my intent of marrying her in nearby Riften.
It's a testament to a game like this that I agonize over even seemingly trivial decisions like who to retain as a follower or even wife when there otherwise is little backstory or development. Indeed, what Illia had done made me question the wisdom of bringing her, but ultimately it proved the more practical choice. So far.
For some reason that I have difficulty identifying, Skyrim has proven a more addictive experience then its predecessor, Oblivion. Perhaps being able to dual wield a spell and weapon, or use a favorite feature in combat, or fight a dragon, or retain a follower.
Regardless, it's a deep, compelling and satisfying title whose artistry in every facet of game design elevates it above most other video games, carving a rewarding niche at a time when several other titles nonetheless offer superb experiences. And that is the biggest praise I can think of.
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