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Skyrim (PC)

Following up on the success of the previous games in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim has a tall order to live up to. While being connected in many ways, each game of the Elder Scrolls series has been a significant release with its own subtitle that allows it to stand on its own identifiably even without needing the series to connect them. Oblivion. Morrowind. And even going further back to Daggerfall and Arena, each of the Elder Scrolls games has marked the progression of time, bringing in both people new to the series, interested in just that game, as well as those who have been fans of the series for years.

Upon purchasing the PC version of this game, the first thing one will find is, despite having a box and holding a physical CD, it's just part of the process of guiding you to Steam, forcing you to register there, and going through all sorts of hassle on that end. Even if one has purchased a physical version of the game, it's still tied to the creation that is Steam, with no permanent meaning beyond what Steam will allow it to have.

Once getting through that hurdle and allowing this game to set itself up, a number of options are available for customization of the experience. Options are given for various graphical settings, allowing the game to be run on a wide variety of computers, meaning it's not necessary to have a powerhouse of a computer to experience this game, but that the options are there to make things a bit clearer and prettier if the possibility exists. Beyond that, some tweaking would be necessary, but is of course possible, to create an experience which is more desirable and in line with what the computer is able to do. It's also worth noting that the game will not run without a sound playback device installed/enabled. Not that this would matter to most, but just another small technical note.

On the topic of tweaking, as with previous Elder Scrolls games, there are a couple of aspects which may be familiar. The first is that the game is full of glitches and problems. That's not necessarily unexpected, and official patches have already started to follow, but is always disappointing to see. The fact remains that, if one encounters some difficulty progressing through a quest, it may not be anything that the player is doing wrong, but a problem with the game, which will require either waiting for it to be fixed, or doing research online about how to fix it or work around it. Related to that, another familiarity is that looking around online will instantly open up a wide variety of fan-created modifications which will alter or impact various aspects about the game, from how it looks to how it plays,

All of this is without even getting into the actual game itself. And, unfortunately, are all things that needed to be discussed prior to getting into examining the game itself, since they are all things which are going to be impacting the game, for better or worse, before even getting into playing it.

Once getting over these various matters, comes the task of creating a character. There are a wide variety options available regarding what race and class the character will be, and a myriad set of appearances which can be given to the character. While the default game view is first-person, making how a character looks a bit less important, there is the option to play in third-person as well, with the camera at various amounts of zoom, and the third-person play performing adequately if not without its issues.

The character that has been created then finds itself on a cart, being taken to an occasion which is a bit less than desirable. A set of events will take place, and, at the completion of them, the player will be left to themselves, with some areas of guidance, but with a world open before them, waiting for them to explore. And so begins the journey into the world of Skyrim.

Skyrim, as with the games in the Elder Scrolls series before it, is what has come to commonly be referred to as an "open world Role Playing Game." That is, many aspects of typical RPGs are present - there are enemies to kill, experience to be gained, skills to be learned, and a quest to unfurl. The main aspect differentiating them from the standard of many RPGs is, while there are quests and tasks to be accomplished, it is largely up to the player how they want to go about that, and if they want to do that at all, or if they would rather spend some time exploring, gathering herbs and food to mix, talking to people, furnishing a house, or slaughtering everyone who looks at them wrong.

In a sense, Skyrim aspires to be a single-player version of what is common in MMORPGs. There is, ostensibly, a main task to be completed in the game toward which the player is working. However, working on that task isn't always the main focus, and completion of that task isn't significantly different than any of the various other side-tasks that are available in the game. And, once the main task has been completed, an undertaking that can be managed in around 40 hours or less, it is up to the player's dedication to completing all of the other available side-tasks to make the game become more meaningful than the slight feeling of disappointment that comes after completing the main task and left with a feeling of, "That's it?"

Beyond the standard completion of the main task, however, this is the situation to which Skyrim attempts to excel. The world is not merely something which is presented as a surrounding for completing the main task, but as a living, breathing world full of story and history, people and places, things to do and to discover. Set in a world modeled after a Scandinavian setting, Skyrim contains a world in which the player is able to become immersed, if it is so desired. But, with completion of the main task a relative drop in the bucket compared to what the game has to offer, it is up to the player to decide it's worthwhile to continue that adventure beyond that point.

While there is that veneer of an entire world to explore and discover, the reality of it is a bit less enticing. Taking another piece from what has become common in many recent MMORPGs, once a player has selected a quest or task to begin on, progressing through that quest is often not much more than following an arrow on a compass to a destination which has been marked on a map. This process has been made even quicker by the ability to travel instantly to any of the variety of landmarks on the map which have already been visited. So, while there is some exploring involved initially, after that it's often just a matter of selecting whichever location on the map is closest to the set arrow, and then hiking the little bit of distance in between.

Further making exploring less enjoyable than it might otherwise have been, is the setting of the game. While there can be the appeal in a bleak, snow-covered landscape, Skyrim often takes that to the extreme, with a surrounding often consisting of not much more than snow, rocks and mountains. At times the color and surroundings can become so drab it's as if the game is being played in black and white. This is especially disappointing given the contrast to the few areas which are available, mostly towns, which are full of life and color. And, when encountering an outdoor environment which provides more life beyond the snow and rocks, it can leave a feeling of wishing more of the game could be like that, once surrounded again by a sea of snow.

Touched upon earlier is another issue, which is that, although the default view is to play the game in first-person, the option is present to zoom out and play in third person. Which the third person gameplay has been improved over previous Elder Scrolls games, it's not without its issues. One of the defining features of Skyrim is battles with dragons which roam the sky. Unfortunately, when playing in a third person view, looking up to the sky typically causes the view to be largely blocked by blades of grass and leaves lying around, as the camera view is placed near the ground and obscured by the objects which lay there.

Also regarding control, while the game plays well enough, it is rather apparent that the interactions were crafted with specific mind being paid toward what would work well with a standard gamepad. While the game plays fine with a keyboard and mouse, and options are of course available for customizing buttons and such, things do feel a bit awkward as the game often gives the feeling as if it would prefer you to be playing with a controller.

While these are independently not major issues, they are, unfortunately, compounded throughout the massive amounts of time it is possible to spend in this game, and issues which may prevent a player from choosing to spend as much time in the world as is possible. Beyond the outline covering all of this, however, there is so much more to be discovered which can provide those reasons beyond the issues.

One reason that a player may choose to invest time in this game beyond what is needed to "beat" it is the sheer amount of options that are available. Playing through the game as a fearsome warrior able to smash anything that lies in its path presents a significantly different experience than as a spellcaster flinging fireballs from a hill. Then, the choices that are presented to make in the game can again create an entirely different experience, as one chooses to play through on the side of the empire, of a rebel force, or ignoring them both and forcing their own way through, creating entire portions of the game that one would never see on an initial play through.

At the same time, the possibilities offered by multiple playthroughs and trying different combinations are weighted by the other option of continuing to develop a single character. Even though completing the main task isn't as long or complex, going through all the different possibilities that are possible with a single character can be quite the undertaking. There are numerous quests, tasks and experiences which aren't necessary to complete the main task at all, but which can not only make for some interesting side challenges, but can also reveal more about the world and the people. One can develop a range of skills, find books, uncover recipes, and many other interesting things. It is possible to buy houses, marry, and essentially become a permanent part of the world. This is, again, something that would seem more of a fit in an MMORPG, and, how important a player finds it to continue to become immersed and involved in a single-player world is going to vary from person to person.

At the end of the day, this is the main takeaway from Skyrim. It's not perfect, there are many issues which keep the game from being ideal either way, but, this game is a massive world, filled with a variety of possibilities and opportunities, and what a player takes away from this game is largely dependent on what the player puts into the game. If the only goal is to "beat" the game in the form of completing the main task, one will find a decently long, fairly enjoyable game, which will leave one feeling a bit disappointed at the end. If one is the sort of person, however, who enjoys not just following the main trail, but doing all of the side things and finding out everything a game has to offer, there is a rich world in here to discover. It may very well keep one busy until the next Elder Scrolls game eventually comes along.