- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 3, 2011

For the role-playing gamer in the family, nothing short of complete submission to the events presented in the magical lands of Skyrim will suffice to fully appreciate the complexities of this latest Elder Scrolls epic.

The action in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios and Bethesda Softworks, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99) demands a single player micromanage his alter ego through a first- or third-person perspective and survive a rugged world filled with massive Frostbite spiders, trolls, wraiths, bloodthirsty wolves, dragons and, most ghastly of the bunch, villagers babbling in Scandinavian accents.

A civil war and the return of those massive fire-breathing creatures spearhead the actual story. Only a fool, however, will rush to the game’s conclusion — after all, there’s an open-ended universe infused with the richness of Middle Earth and the bravado of “Braveheart” staring him in the horned helmet.

I’ll admit that the patience required for this genre of game often eludes me, and my reticence usually starts in the decision-making process required just to get my avatar off into the gorgeously designed realms.

Here, roughly five minutes after watching a fellow prisoner beheaded in the game, an Imperial Captain sternly grumbles, “Who are you?” That loaded query leads to an avatar customization process that, in other games, can last hours, depending on the indecisiveness of the player.

Well, hurrah, this time it’s a breeze as once I choose from 10 species that range from the cat humanoid Khajiit to Wood Elf (each with roughly two dozen numerically scaled attributes), I’m only left with some gender, face and body tweaking.

So as the reptilian Argonian (wearing purple and red war paint) with a penchant for picking locks and able to breathe underwater, I christened my virtual self Zadzoodicus and escaped Helgen to begin a desperate quest to save the world from Alduin, the Nordic god of destruction.

Besides talking to a wide variety of nonplayable characters (the voice acting never annoys) and mixing weapons- and magic-based combat, a player buys, builds, scavenges and steals a limited amount of items (around 300 pounds worth before losing the ability to run) that includes weapons, apparel, potions, food, ingredients, keys and miscellaneous junk.

Yes, I officially am one of the Hoarders.

While exploring more than 300 spaces featuring terrain often requiring me to scale enormous mountain landscapes, delve into intricate dungeon catacombs, and fight occasional snowstorms, the depth of actions never disappointed.

The player might entertain getting married (don’t forget to talk to Maramal the priest in Riften), unlock a chamber (via a golden claw and matching icons in a circular chamber seal) to retrieve the Dragonstone of Bleak Falls Barrow or become a member of the Companions guild and kill vampires in the Broken Fang Cave.

How about the day-to-day mundane tasks of using a grindstone to sharpen a weapon, securing a house to store swag, riding a horse, making a potion using Blue Butterfly Wings or simply chowing down on dog meat, venison, mammoth snout and goat cheese, washed down with a bottle of Alto wine.

Although the combat throughout is never as difficult as in the unwieldy Dark Souls, I still died often in Skyrim through my incompetence, but always, eventually, persevered.

For those patient enough to accumulate experience through constant battle and spell casting, knowledge from uncovering literature (heavy reading of ancient tomes is optional, but very enjoyable) and powers by upgrading discipline and resources, it’s a deeply enjoyable consumption of time.

I’ll also touch on a cultural system that finds a player who might steal a horse, pilfer some iron ingots, pick locks to sneak into cottages of innocents or outright kill good guys in huge trouble. He is basically hunted with a bounty on his head and it will take jail time or a bribe to clear his name.

My favorite new feature to the Elder Scrolls world is wielding the power of Dragon Shouts. While exploring, look to walls to collect parts of the vocabulary. Now, absorb the souls of some recently slain dragons (piece of cake … not) and appreciate your new linguistic powers.

Obviously, it’s not as easy as it sounds, but this component of the game delivers a new language to the fingertips as a player combines three-word phrases (via taps on the controller’s shoulder button) to unleash effects such as a flash lightning storm, breathing fire at an enemy or summoning nearby beasts to help in combat.

After around 25 hours of play I barely have scratched the surface of a world so beautifully crafted that I have little time to segment my senses to appreciate the beauty of the cosmic Skills menu or an orchestral score that subtlety yet fully complements the on-screen drama.

The only frustration from my session with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is that I may never watch a fantasy/action movie again. Why waste two hours of my life immersed in someone else’s vision when I can obsess in a fantastical world dictated by my triumphs and failures.



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