Product Type: Bethesda Xbox 360 games
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The Next RPG Precedent
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360)
Member Name: Lions
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360)
Advantages: Sucks you right in, so much content you will probably never see or do everything
Disadvantages: Bit buggy
Developer Bethesda really likes to take their time with games. Contrary to other big companies like Activision or EA, who pump out their annual Maddens and Call of Duties like clockwork in order to cash in on the yearly November video game market, Bethesda will spend years on a project, making in as detailed and immersible as they can, as well as continually innovating new features that push the boundaries of the genre they are working in. In the case of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it had literally been 5 years since the drop of its Game of the Year predecessor, Oblivion, so with that kind of time for improvement there are going to be some very high expectations. Yet again, Bethesda manages to push the boundaries for action RPGs, as well as clearly push the power of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles to their limits with a game that will suck you in for hundreds of hours before you have even scratched the surface of it.
If I had to sum up Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in a few words they would be "immerse", "freedom", and "adaptability".
The "immerse" part is obvious and expected, as its essentially what has given The Elder Scrolls such a huge and popular gaming following. Skyrim however, at least in my opinion, does this even better than any previous titles. Whether you loved Morrowind, Dagerfall, or Oblivion, you still can't argue the epic graphics and beautiful landscapes that the northern mountainous regions offer. Not that that should matter, graphics should be a non factor, but still, it's hard to ignore them even if it is on the Xbox 360 as opposed to a beast PC. Regardless, it's important to note that Skyrim still has what made prior games of its kind special in terms of gameplay as well. The storyline wraps you up, the quests inter-relate, and your decisions really matter. The only real complain I have to offer here, is that the game doesn't allow you to work up your reputation as it did in Morrowind or Oblivion. With your ability to use Shouts as the Dragonbourne, you are instantly known as the famous savior wherever you go in the land. It does detract a bit from that fulfilling buildup that Oblivion played off with so well, though some may actually prefer it like this.
The "freedom" part has grown more and more as each entry into the Elder Scrolls series progresses. Skyrim is no exception. As always, the massive playground of a world provided to you right out of the gate to explore is... well, massive. There are hundreds of locations to discover and mark on your map, and probably only 10% of them actually incorporate the main quest into them. The rest are side quests, miscellaneous quests, or just little things brought into the game to further enhance your character and his or her experience. The really cool thing about this, as well as the general free feeling that the game gives you is the ability to get lost in the middle of EVERYTHING. Sure, there is always the impeding pressure of dragons coming back from the dead and flying around terrorizing the land of Skyrim, but you can get to that main quest later, as soon you'll be sidetracked by all kinds of things like guild quests. And while you're in the middle of a burglary job as you attempt to bring the Thieves Guild back to its former glory, you'll find some ingredient that will make you realize you've really been regarding your Alchemy skills. While training up those Alchemy skills, the odds are pretty good that you'll have some random encounter that involves you roughing someone up in a tavern, which may just be the same tavern you were supposed to meet someone in relating to the main quest 100 hours ago, at which point you recall the original purpose and goal you set out to fulfill such a long time ago. Furthermore, the "freedom" part of the game is in your play style. Skyrim can really be played at whatever pace you would like depending on your character and their skills. If you don't want high action big battles, then you are perfectly free to level up your Sneak skills and take out enemies slowly, one at a time, with nothing more than a small dagger. The game allows you to do this by giving you all kinds of unlockable advantages like x15 damage for sneak attacks involving daggers. Likewise, if you'd prefer to rush headfirst into battle and take on 4 enemies at once with your two-handed weapon like a big blunt axe or warhammer, the brute force and power of that weapon will be a comparable way of defeating the same enemies in a completely different manner.
The "adaptability" is what makes Skyrim a role-playing game, as opposed to an action game with role-playing elements (I am looking strongly in your direction, Assassin's Creed: Revelations.) Decisions that you make, even ones early on in the heat of the moment like choosing whether to escape a dragon attack with a guard or a fellow prisoner, that may not seem influential there, can end up deciding things like the success of the epic civil war going on within the kingdom. It's not just quest decisions either. Choosing to wear Stormcloak in a city that is very much so anti-empire will help you out tremendously, and will open up all kinds of opportunities to you that would not have been there previously if you had simply donned that shiny Imperial armor. Another cool unique aspect that Bethesda has really incorporated into Skyrim is its "local" feel. All the different holds of the city have very different feels in ways that vary far more than scenery like they did in Oblivion. Visit the city of Solitude right after spending lots of time in Riften and it's easy to see what I mean. Different cities have different levels of corruption and what they stand for, as well as different people you'll want to influence to help yourself out with new opportunities for personal gain, as opposed to a general negative notoriety which will result in a lot more dangerous fights and bounties on your head.
There's one more thing I have yet to specify in this review so far that some seemed to be quite excited about in Skyrim.. that whole "dragons" thing. And I'm here to say that while Skyrim has certainly not re-invented the fantasy dragon video game action RPG deal, they have created a standard that many games will try to copy, but few, if any, will ever be able to implement. Battles with dragons in Skyrim are just so much more epic than anything else I had ever experienced before that was even remotely similar. I truly don't know what helps set it apart the most, it could be the mountain setting, for few things are cooler than standing on top of a snowy mountain and roaring fire with a Shout right back at a dragon. Or maybe it's the flow and animations, for the dragons move fluidly, and although all of them are doing essentially the same thing, that's a hard complain to keep track of when you're busy attempting to shoot these mythical beasts out of the sky with arrows or magic.
One thing that has continually plagued Bethesda titles over the years has been bugs. Whether it's Fallout 3, TES: Oblivion, or New Vegas (oh wait, New Vegas froze so much you probably never played it long enough to experience any bugs.) It really should be expected in a way, when you have a game so massive it's kind of difficult to catch everything. Now the good thing about Skyrim is that at least bugs seem to be exempt from the main storyline, so there is never anything stopping you from finishing something up there. However, bugs unfortunately still are found everywhere in these norther winter lands. Some of them are actually rather amusing, such as when I walked out of a cabin in the middle of some deserted plains and saw three huge mammoths crash out of the sky to their rather random yet still unfortunate deaths. Other bugs can be very frustrating, such as when characters in Riverwood randomly decided they didn't like me, forcing me to fight back and kill them, which in turn made the other people of the town paint my character in a very negative light.
It would be ridiculous to say that Skyrim is 100% perfect. It does not however seem unreasonable to say that the good in this game resembles something the size of a dragon, while the bad resembles something like a Skeever. And if you aren't a dork to get that reference, Skeevers are small. Really small. The few things that do bring Skyrim down still do nothing in terms of affecting the overall product. It's sort of like if someone forgot to dust the Mona Lisa. It might be a bit unpolished, but underneath it is still a masterpiece. And from now on, Skyrim is going to be considered the Mona Lisa of action RPG games, and will have to be the game that developers strive to live up to. Unfortunately for competitors though, the only one that has ever shown to consistently best Bethesda, is Bethesda.
Summary: Skyrim is the new standard in action RPG gaming, and will probably be so for a long time.