After Hours

Geek Gifts 2012: The Elder Scrolls V - Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is one of the most remarkable open-world RPGs ever produced and is destined to become a landmark game.

With the preponderance of massively multiplayer games, followed by the mobile device revolution, the single-player role playing game (RPG) has spent about a decade simmering on the back burner of the gaming public's collective minds. For many, the single-payer RPG was just not a genre worth paying attention too.

But all that has changed with the release of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Using the wisdom gathered from years of RPG game development, the team at Bethesda has put together one of the most remarkable open-world RPGs ever produced. It is on the short list for 2011 game of the year on just about any list that matters and is destined to be remembered fondly long after its best days have passed.

Requirements

  • Minimum PC requirements (Retail box):
    • PC Processor Type: Dual Core processor
    • PC Processor Speed: 2GHz
    • PC Operating System: Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7
    • PC System Memory: 2GB RAM
    • PC Hard Drive Space: 7GB
    • PC Video: 512MB DirectX 9.0c-compatible video card
    • PC Drive Type and Speed: DVD
    • PC Additional Requirements: Acceptance of the Steam Subscriber Account (SSA) and Internet connection required for activation, Internet service required to access online features
    • PC Optional Requirements: Supports Xbox 360 controller for Windows
  • Platforms:
    • PC retail box
    • PC download
    • Xbox 360
    • PlayStation 3
  • ESRB: Mature - there is violence and lots of mead drinking
  • Cost: $50 to $60 - watch for sales

Story

I don't want to give too much away, but your character starts the game with his/her head on the chopping block. You are saved when a very big and very angry dragon interrupts the proceedings. From that point on, you know that your character's overall destiny is tied to that event and to the "dragon problem." However, how you choose to unravel the mystery is entirely up to you.

Courtesy of Bethesda

What I like

  • Open-world: There are very few restrictions in how you play Skyrim. After your escape from the executioner's axe you are free to pick a direction and just see where it leads you. The primary epic quest, which you know right away involves you saving Skyrim from marauding dragons, is completely optional. The secondary epic involving a civil war, you can skip that too if you want. You can play your way - there is no correct way to play.
  • Open character development: After some tweaking of the character skills and development mechanics from the previous games of the Elder Scrolls series, the developers have given you what essentially amounts to a blank slate for your character. The general character styles are mage, warrior, and thief, but you are not limited to skills that only enhance those styles. If you want to be a mage that can pickpocket, go for it.
  • Graphics: When it comes to the environmental landscape, Skyrim is full of diversity, ranging from the cold, snowy northern regions, to high mountain bluffs, to raging rivers, to lush forests in the south. At night there is a beautiful star filled sky with northern lights and a moon so large you can almost reach out and touch it.
  • Storytelling: Besides the two epic quests, there are thousands of smaller quests, each with a story to tell. They range from the simple delivery quest to the help my son fight his way out of prison quests. In one of my favorite early quests, the demon demigod of mischief tricks you into a night of drunken debauchery involving a prize-winning goat, a giant, a woman, a ring, and a marriage proposal - none of which you can remember.
  • Vastness: The province of Skyrim is huge - it takes about a full game day to travel from one end to the other, assuming you don't get side-tracked by a random dragon attack.
  • Mods: One of my favorite things about the Elder Scroll series is the sanctioned ability of players to make modifications to the game. With the help of the Creation Kit and Skyrim Workshop, players can add quests, create new playing areas and NPCs, and even change the environment.

What I don't like

  • Interface: No game is perfect, including an otherwise polished game like Skyrim. The user interface in the PC version suffers because Bethesda chose to make it compatible with consoles. For a mouse user, this means that sometimes your mouse click does not hit its mark with frustrating consequences like accidently attacking a character you shouldn't be attacking.
  • NPC quirks: No matter what anyone tells you otherwise, the fact is, artificial intelligence is hard. Sometimes NPCs will find it difficult to negotiate the slightest of stairs or they will walk right into you while you are talking to a different NPC distorting your view. For the most part it is more comical than frustrating, but it does take away from the game emersion everyone would like to maintain.

Special notes

On a personal note, Skyrim's popularity is somewhat remarkable. The RPG-genre is typically relegated to the more hard-core variety of gamers, but Skyrim has seemingly transcended those boundaries to reach a wider ranging audience. I am a little surprised by this broader acceptance and I wonder if resurgence in the RPG genre reflects fatigue with the massively multiplayer games that have drawn the most attention from gamers in recent years.

That being said, it should be understood that Skyrim is a true RPG in that events unfold at a relaxed pace. This is a welcome respite from the frenetic demands of MMORPG high-level raiding and FPS deathmatches, so prepare yourself and learn to stop and smell the roses, or the trolls, or the wolves, or the whatever you come across in your travels across Skyrim.

For a glimpse at some of the visuals you will see in the game, check out the Skyrim Desktop Wallpaper Photo Gallery.

Bottom line

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the prototypical modern RPG and it seems destined to be regarded as one of the best games of the year and perhaps the decade. By concentrating on story and establishing a living and active environment, the game has tapped into a gaming need that has been largely unfulfilled in recent years. It has developed a large following in a relatively short period of time and with expansions and a mod crazy player-base, Skyrim is likely to be popular for a long time to come.

Geek Gift Score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: *****
  • Value: ****
  • Overall: *****

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About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

8 comments
Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

agreed. I usually do fine with stock user interfaces on games but items menus should show sorted items.. why are arrows in multiple places not all together. I've also had to learn to click in the middle of a menu column not on the left-justified word which is actually outside the click spot. I can't tell you how often I saw the menus close up because it didn't register my click as within the item area. Here is hoping SkyUI continues to do great work. They have redone pretty much all the menus with the Favourits menu being worked on when I checked a few days ago. It overhauls the UI to provide more screen space for what you want to see and icons for things that don't need to waste space with a word (eg. item categories). I'd also have liked to see a better camera possition. I like 3rd person views but Skyrims seems to always have the character in the way of what your trying to see or your zoomed out so far everything is too small to see. Tonight I'll be mucking with some skyrim.ini settings to reposition the incombant/outofcombate camera positions. Speaking of which, the key to toggle 1st/3rd perspectives needs to be far more responsive. Sometimes I find myeslf pressing it several times with a long pause between and no response from the game engine. When one is walking around it's less important but I've had to reload more than a few times because quickly the game did not bother to register my keypress to quickly change view perspective. Ranged weapons, you want 1st person so the player character does not get in the way and 3rd person view also places your camera back further so you don't have the proper visibility for ranged targetting. Melee weapons, you want 3rd person so you can see where attackers move around you rather than an attacker slipping left out of view when you really need to get that hit in on them. Scrool wheel is not fast enough for this either; the keyboard key press needs to be registered and reacted to promptly. Several key presses without response is a problem. The other bugs in game I've run into, I can mostly accept. Dealth with the hagraven in that tower over there yet the map still says "go kill hagraven".. well, she's down.. I can't put her down a second time now can I? And why did the hagraven I made the deal with stop half way down a hallway and decide to move no further even though the one we where going to deal with was down? I suspect it will be like the other quest where pointers remained on the map but the quest cleaned itself up and resolved when I collected the bounty. These are anoying and Bathesda has done an amazing job of cleaning up a tone of bugs with the v1.4 update so I'm not trying to cause grief with these bits. The things that affect my interaction and visibility are much higher priorities; when I need 3rd person.. I NEED 3rd person.. and that's when the game decides not to recognize the view toggle key. Don't get me wrong.. still the best money spent on a video game in years (probably since Janes Longbow2 infact) and that includes contenders like Neverwinter 1/2, Dragon Age and Shogun Total War.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

This is going to be freaking madness for the modders.. give it a few days and see what updates apear for the existing mods then a few more days and see what new stuff is coming out of the collective creative mind.

sharprsoft
sharprsoft

Hi, I have been playing elder scroll games for a very long time. The games include DaggerFall, Morrowind, Oblivion and now Skyrim. I am amazed at Skyrims developmental efforts put in. I do find similar NPC behaviors from Morrowind. Many NPCs are brought back from Morrowind with better polish. The level up is now very simple ;)

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

A number of hours played that I'd rather not admit too and I'm still discovering new things about the game world and mechanics. I think the "easily sidtracked" achievement was the first one I got. I'd recommend hitting up the modding community to personalize your game for maximum enjoyment. My personal mod picks: Skyrim Community Uncapper - "The default settings of this plugin will unlock the skill level caps of 100 and push them to 300. This allows you character to potentially reach level 252. You will also get benefits from skills above level 100, up to level 400 including enchantement bonuses. You may also tweaks the settings of this plugin to set your own caps, to modify the ex ..." Because I don't want it to end when I max out at lvl81. Categorized Favourites - how Favourites should have been done in the first place. Realistic Lighting - dark places should be dark not dim-yet-still-fully-visible-detail. With vanilla skyrim, details where fully visible even in the darkest corners of the darkest crypts; no more. You'll need to use night-vision, hold a torch or cast a light spell. Night under the trees will not be like noon on a cloudy day but with stars. (edited to add) Deadly Dragons - Not all dragons look the same and you'll get different dragons based on Player's level. Elder Fire Dragons suck when you've a weakness towards fire but with a resistance to cold, all Frost Dragons are on notice. Skyrim Wars - more NPC spawn points, chance for competing factions spawning (vigilant tracking a werewolf, Mammoth's stomping bandits, villagers preparing to fight a troll). Weapons of the 3rd Era - When folks migrated to skyrim after the [whatever happened in Scrolls IV] they braught there weapons and forging knowledge. Blades sword is clearly a katana however it's now hung in one of my homes; I've recently forged my own silver nodachi, katana, wakizashi and tonto.. not to mention being hit with some pretty mean looking clubs and plucking some gorgeous swords from follen fows. PISE - Seporate AI - improvements over the vanilla NPC AI; party members should heal each other during combat even if it's an inconvenience for Player. Advanced Vampires and Werewolves - I know Bethesda has there own Vampire and Werewolf mythology but I just can't accept vampires that get stronger as they starve and weaker as they feed. This mod, among others, retools the two prestige classes (thankfully, no *sparkle-sparkle* crap). Right now I'm doing some work for the two colledges then I really need to find that cook, deal with the emperor and learn a few more words. The Thalmar gotta go too, every time I have to talk to one of them all I can think is; "five seconds alone in a shadow with my dagger, that's all I need.. just five seconds you misserable arrogant ...". Skyrim needs it's indepenence but Ulfric isn't the man for the throne; what's a revelutionary to do? lvl45 Katana wielding Vampire Kajiit Theif-master, Assassin, and home owner. Sneak just hit 104, Pickpocket 102, archery and one-handed going up steadily, more smithing and enchantment training needed and that silver nodachi is going to need some two-handed practice time.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What skill concentrations does your Skyrim character have?

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

As someone put it in one of the game reviews; every city guard got hit in the knee with an arrow that one time. In the beginning it wasn't noticable but now several hours in, I could really due with an update that increased NPC speaking content and perhaps provided seporate random speach sets for different map areas. But, that complaint isn't keeping me from pondering what tonight's adventuring will include. Also, if you liked Morrowind, check out the 3rd Era weapons pack mod. I'm told it brings alot of the morrowind stuff forward into the 4th era.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Two options: 1) Take it all for yourself (mwahahahaaa) 2) Assassinate all pretenders until either a) Someone Ok-ish comes around or b) the Anarchist Utopia is achieved... or c) there's no-one left (converges with 1, above). Damn, I can't play that game. Can you fly to the moons in V? I wanted to fly to the moon in IV, but I just couldn't get enough speed going :)

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

No flying to the moons but they do look very pretty against the arrora of a clear northern sky.

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