Saturday, November 26, 2011

Video Game Review: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Hey boys and girls, have you ever played a truly great game? I mean the kind of game that you could actually say, in perfect honesty, is one of the best games of all time? I have. It had an excellent story, a fun and functional combat system, and a fully open and immersive world that made me feel as if I was really a part of it.

I can still remember the first day I played it. I spent that entire day almost in a daze, completely captivated by the scope of the game. I can still recall the moment I realized that I didn't have to do some special quest or defeat an evil wizard before I could leave the first town. I could just go whenever I felt like it. I had total freedom, for the first time in any game I'd ever played. If there was a plate sitting on a table I could take it. If there was a man on a street corner, I could kill him. If there was a book on a shelf I could read it, and not just a one-sentence excerpt either but the entire thing. The game I'm referring to is, of course, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

Sadly, I can't quite say the same thing about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Allow me to explain why not. By this point you might have heard of a little controversy surrounding the children of Skyrim, or more specifically the fact that they can't be killed or even damaged in any way. Granted "I want to kill kids!" is a weak argument to make against the game, as Bethesda Softworks has so condescendingly pointed out time and again, but the thing is it's just the tip of the iceberg. A sizable percentage of NPCs in Skyrim are considered "essential" to the story and therefore invincible. Unlike Oblivion -the fourth game in the series for those who've been under a rock- this extends beyond just main quest NPCs, to basically every NPC who is involved in any quest at all, no matter how minor. It gets to the point that evil characters will find themselves having to save the game before attacking any NPC because of the relatively high chance that the NPC (or another nearby NPC) will be unkillable.

And that's pretty much The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in a nutshell. Skyrim is beautiful, expertly written and designed, and set in an interesting world with a rich history and culture. Every dungeon has been handcrafted, often with its own hook, story, and special reward. I could praise the game until I'm blue in the face, because it's easily one of the best games I've played in years.

But that's just the thing: that word, "game." Like most video games, it keeps reminding you that you're only playing a game. Every time you try to murder an annoying NPC only to have them jump back up from 0 HP and call the guards on you, every time you want to pick up an item off a table only to discover you can't because it's only decorative; every time, it just serves to remind you again that you're only playing a video game.

KR Rating: [4] GOOD

This was actually a fairly hard rating to give. Yes, the various questlines are much shorter in Skyrim then they were in the older games, but that seems like a hollow argument when you can beat Morrowind in less than 15 minutes without cheating. Also, yes, this game has more bugs in it than an anthill, but at worst that just puts it on par with basically every other game to come out in the last few years, and at least in Skyrim's case it can be justified thanks to the game's massive scale.

Judged all on its own, Skyrim deserves a rating of 5, but I just can't in good conscience give it one when I know that it could be so much better. Not every game has to measure up to the bar set by Morrowind. I wouldn't hold, say, Final Fantasy up to that standard, for example. The difference is that in this case the company that made the game is the same company that set that standard in the first place. We know what they can do. Yet, rather than expand, they choose instead to make each new game smaller and more limited than the last, with less content and less customization, and instead more arbitrary restrictions and more invisible walls.

And that's the story of how the best game of 2011 only earned a 4 out of 5.

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