Skyrim: A Breakdown and Review

Recently, a game called Skyrim was remastered; with the Special Edition having come out recently, and with the announcement only months before; I had a number of people ask me: What the heck is Skyrim?

Now don’t freak out, there are people who don’t know Skyrim exists; mainly non-gamers… and kids who were a little too young to be rocking a game like Skyrim back when it first came out.

Now before you go and play it (and get addicted to it) and then say you “can’t wait for the next Skyrim game”, I need you to stop and wait a minute, hold your horses for just one minute and hear me out.

There is no such thing as a “Skyrim game”, Skyrim is not a franchise, it is a game in a much larger franchise that started way before today’s teens were even born. Members of the Elder Scrolls fandom are vicious (just like members of any other fandom) and like members of any other fandom, they will tear you to pieces if you say something like that. So for those planning on joining the fandom (and who would like to live to see the sun again), just a heads up: it’s an Elder Scrolls game, it may only be the fifth and latest instalment in The Elder Scrolls franchise but it is actually one of many.

Now then, onto the game itself.

Skyrim is set in the fantasy world of Tamriel (that’s the name of the continent, Skyrim is a province in Tamriel), on the planet of Nirn, in the realm of Mundus. There are giants, elves, orcs, dwarves (technically, they went extinct by the time the events in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim took place) and even dragons; everything a fantasy setting needs… oh, and magic.

This is one of those games where you are spoiled for choice, there is so much to do and so much to see; it isn’t for no reason that Skyrim is called the “Mother of All Open World Games”.

When you start the game, you are presented with a choice of ten races; Nord, Breton, Imperial, Redguard, Orc (Orsimer), High Elf (Altmer), Wood Elf (Bosmer), Dark Elf (Dumner), Argonian and Khajiit. While the first four are human, the last two count as ‘beast races’, those in between the two groups are all elves (yes, this includes the Orcs).

Each race has it’s own special ability and each starts with different boosts to their stats. As the game goes, you level up by doing things. You don’t earn points to make your skills better, if you want to be a better blacksmith, you have to get out there and smith some weapons and armour; you can’t just run around killing things and then throw all your points into smithing or another skill, you have to actually use that skill to get better at it. Every time you level up, you are awarded a perk point, you can use this point to unlock a perk for any skill tree (provided your level with that skill is high enough for the perk you want and that you’ve unlocked the prerequisite perks; you can’t become a fencing master before you know how to swing a sword properly, etc).

Then there is combat and magic, I’ll ignore combat for now and talk about the magic for a moment.

There are six different ‘schools’ (types) of magic to make use of, each has it’s own skill tree. There is Alteration, Illusion, Conjuration, Destruction, Restoration and Enchanting.

Alteration affects the world around you, in this school you will find spells that create light (for seeing in those dark places and at night), along with spells like Telekinesis – which allows you to lift and throw things to and from quite a distance.

Illusion affects those around you and how they perceive you and each other. Here you will find spells like Fury (which causes those targeted to attack anyone and everyone for a certain amount of time), Fear (which makes enemies run away from you for a short time) and Calm (to calm everyone down).

Conjuration is all about summoning creatures from other realms to do your bidding (most just taunt and fight) and is useful for temporarily bringing something (or someone) to life (but then they’ll act like a follower and will do what any other follower would do: taunt and fight).

Destruction is where the powerful stuff is, this is the school of magic that allows you to rain down hell on your enemies; with spells like Firebolt and Lightning Storm.

Enchanting is exactly what it sounds like: the higher your enchanting skill is, the more powerful the enchantments you can put on your weapons and armour are. To learn an enchantment, you have to find something that is already enchanted and disenchant it (which then destroys the item, but you learn the enchantment in the process). You can now finally get that fiery sword, or that helmet that lets you breathe underwater.

Then there is Restoration… nothing fancy but this school is really useful in a bind because this is where the healing magic is.

Then there is a little something only the player and certain NPCs have access to: Shouts. Shouts are a form of magic which is incredibly useful. It is what it sounds like though; your character shouting his/her lungs out. But with an all important twist: special effects. All shouts are made up of three Words of Power from the language of dragons (in the lore, dragons taught people how to Shout), these words can be found all across Skyrim, written in the Dragon Tongue on Word Walls (which are usually guarded by a dragon or boss of some sort).

Ever wanted to effortlessly throw your enemies across the room? Ever thought of what it would be like to breathe fire or ice? Shouts allow you to do that and more. Ethereal Form turns you into something of a ghost, but you can’t attack or be attacked, giving you a few moments to regenerate health; Storm Call quite literally calls a storm, the lightning from which generally kills most enemies in one or two hits.

The actual combat is something Bethesda really should have improved on before releasing the game, though. Lets just say that if you’re a history geek or are part of a fencing team or a member of a medieval battle reenactment group, you’ll find the sword combat to be lacking. If, however, you prefer the bow and arrow, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Crafting is fairly simple and comes in two forms: blacksmithing and alchemy.

Blacksmithing: get the parts, forge the weapon or armour piece you want.

Alchemy: get ingredients (each ingredient has four effects, only one of which will be factored in when crafting a potion, it depends on which ingredients you’re using together) and mix them, different combinations will yield different results for your collection of potions and poisons.

Then, of course, there are the DLCs; Dragonborn, Dawnguard and Hearthfire.

The Dragonborn DLC takes you to the island of Solstheim (which is as close to Morrowind as we’ll get without jumping back to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind; not counting Elder Scrolls Online). You, the Last Dragonborn, are given the opportunity to face off against the First Dragonborn, a dragon priest named Miraak; who is planning on taking over Solstheim and then the rest of Tamriel. A new land (an entirely new area to explore, separate from the main map of Skyrim), new spells, Shouts, armours and weapons.

The Dawnguard DLC has you join the ranks of the newly reformed Dawnguard, a group of dedicated vampire hunters (you are soon given the option to betray them and side with the vampires). You discover an ancient prophecy (involving an Elder Scroll), and if it came to be, vampires might just be able to destroy all of civilisation as we know it. Possibly the best part of this DLC is the crossbows, forget the new followers, spells and armour, the crossbows are where the fun is really at. Dawnguard also improved upon Werewolf gameplay (yes, Skyrim has werewolves, and you can become one in the vanilla game), by adding a skill tree for werewolves; the newly added Vampire Lord (you can become one depending on how you play the Dawnguard questline) also has it’s own skill tree with specialised perks.

The Hearthfire DLC allows you to buy and build on a few select tracts of land in certain areas. The homes you build were originally marketed as “fully customisable” but they aren’t all that customisable at all; you can choose from six wings to build onto your manor, certain wings have to be on a certain side of the manor, what goes into each of those wings is also set; whether or not you choose to craft everything for each wing is entirely up to you, where static items go is also set. But this DLC does have a few perks, you can adopt up to two children (there is generally one child in each major city that you can adopt), you can ask your housecarl to become your steward (if they say yes, then they will stay there until they die, they will protect the house from threats, and, if asked, will also craft upgrades and purchase crafting materials).

The great thing about Skyrim, is that there are many who don’t play for the gameplay, some of us play for the story. And while the main story needs a bit of work (OK, a lot of work), the lore is incredibly in depth. That and there are tons of quests to do. Just think of it: you’re walking down the street, on the way to go kill some bandits for a little bit of gold when someone nearby starts talking to you; *quest*; you hear two people arguing and ask one of them what they’re arguing about; *quest*; a courier runs up to you and gives you a letter; *quest*.

There are tons of main quests that actually have nothing to do with the main story, then there are miscellaneous quests (which randomly generate as the game goes on, so you’ll never actually run out of things to do).

One problem Skyrim does have is the load screens, there are tons of them. Wanna walk into a city? Loading screen. Want to walk into your new house? Loading screen. Entering a crypt? Loading screen.

But it is actually all open world; outside the cities (excluding when you enter a crypt), there are no loading screens at all.

Skyrim’s biggest redeeming quality, though, is the mod support. Soon after Skyrim first came out, Bethesda released the Skyrim Creation Kit, which allowed modders full control over what they did to their Skyrim. Want a mod that reduces Shout cooldowns to zero? There is a mod for that. Want new, awesome spells for that epic mage build you’ve been wanting to try out? There are tons of mods for that. How about strolling into a city without going through a loading screen? There is a mod for that too. Or maybe you want to stick it out in the wilds of Skyrim, survive the cold, hunt for food, turn it into a real fight for survival? There are a couple of mods that can help with that.

Skyrim’s other redeeming quality is the console commands (only available to those playing on PC). Oh, the fun you can have with console commands. Is a particular, pretentious and arrogant NPC bothering you? (Get to the Cloud District very often?) Open the console, click on said NPC, type in “pushactoraway” and set a variable; press Enter and watch as he flies into the invisible wall that is at the edge of the city. Or maybe you just can’t find that last piece of armour to complete the set? Type “player.additem” along with the object ID and a variable (in this case, how many of that particular item you want to have added to your inventory) and viola!

Now, onto the remaster, also known as Skyrim: Special Edition.

Skyrim: Special Edition is just like any other remaster; its a graphical update, a big one. Were there any major bug fixes? No, only a couple of bugs were fixed, other than that, we’re still stuck with those endearing glitches we know Bethesda Game Studios loves to give out so magnanimously. Was it a total do-over? I wish, but I am happy with what we got. Special Edition updated the graphics to 4k, which is quite a big thing, now that upcoming consoles like the XBox Scorpio and PS4 Pro boast native 4k resolutions; of course, this is something PC gamers have had for a while now, but it’s still a pretty big development for the gaming industry.

The biggest update, though, was to the game engine. When Skyrim first came out, it was run on a slightly outdated 32bit engine, Special Edition boasts a 64bit engine, which is heaven for modders (the updated engine allows for longer scripts and bigger in-game events).

One problem people have run into, with regards to the Special Edition, is that Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE for short) isn’t compatible with it, as many of the better mods actually require SKSE to work properly (including SkyUI, a UI mod that includes a mod management menu, allowing you to change settings within certain mods while you play); but, modders being modders, many have already created work-arounds. Sadly the Skyrim modding community will be split; as Bethesda.net does impose a size limit on the mods that can be ported over to consoles, whereas PC players can just use Nexus Mod Manager and continue to use the larger mods (as long as they’ve been made compatible for Special Edition). Then, of course, Sony came along and imposed their own size limit for mods on the PS4 and PS4 Pro, limiting their players even further than what Bethesda had already done.

Overall, Skyrim isn’t the best when it comes to gameplay, but the lore and story has a way of sucking you in for hours at a time. This isn’t Candy Crush where you can just play for a few minutes at a moments notice; Skyrim is one of those games where you have to sit down and play for hours at a time (and I do mean that in the greatest degree, Skyrim can easily suck over a hundred hours of your time like it was nothing, this is exactly why some people have logged more than four thousand hours playing it).

So if you’re new to the Elder Scrolls fandom, “I hope we keep you, this can be a rough life” (notice the Skyrim reference).

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