I was going to wait until I’d finished Skyrim before delivering my verdict, but I started playing Morrowind in 2002 and can’t really say I’ve finished that, either.
Skyrim is the best game of 2011. I think that goes without saying. The ever-reliable Adam Sessler at G4TV – one of those rare critics whose opinion you can pretty much take as gospel – put it this way: “Skyrim … is the apotheosis, not only of the open-world format, but of what games can accomplish. It is perhaps the finest experience ever made available in the medium.”
That’s not even exaggerating.
How to even begin? OK. I’ll put it this way. After spending quite some time exploring the realm of the Nords, I worried that I wasn’t “feeling the love”. I couldn’t find anything to dislike, or criticise, or anything that wasn’t absolutely as it should be (and, no, I’m not going to count the occasional minor glitch – such as an overlapping texture – in a game with 300 hours of gameplay). It was just that I didn’t have that jaw-to-the-floor astonishment that I had been anticipating in the many-years wait for the fifth Elder Scrolls adventure.
Then it occurred to me that I was simply taking everything for granted. The world was so fully realised, so whole and so real that I had become entirely immersed in it and was taking everything at face value. Of course I didn’t find anything outstanding because everything did exactly what I expected it to do rather than jolting me out of the moment by doing something wrong.
After 20 hours, I reached the north coast and had my first sharp-intake-of-breath. I was watching the Northern Lights over Solitude and standing, awestruck, at that shimmering curtain of green. A mundane sort of magic.
Later, there was a time when I was in a ruin and there was some jaw-dropping flashy magic of the more ethereal variety – pure end-of-Ghostbusters don’t-cross-the-streams stuff, and it was beautiful. It also reminded me of Morrowind, which is always a good thing.
Bethesda have really hammer(fell)ed home the Morrowind reference, even reusing parts of its score. Every inch of Skyrim is like a love letter to those oh-so-demanding Morrowind fans, and there really is no option but to love it back. Almost every oft-mentioned point about what made Morrowind such an incredible experience is faithfully and lovingly recreated. It might lack the “alien” quality that made Morrowind so entirely unique, but if you felt that expansion Bloodmoon would have held up as a standalone game, Skyrim is that with bells on.
Skyrim goes for a more Conan feel (Barbarian, not O’Brien) – call it “low” fantasy or “hard” fantasy, but while there are elves and giants and dragons, it’s gritty and dark and somehow believable. Like Morrowind, everything is matter-of-fact, in a world that feels like it isn’t much interested whether you’re there or not (in contrast to The Truman Show feeling you got in Oblivion).
The interweaving quests are engaging and the characters intriguing, but the best part of the game is the dungeons. Each of them that I’ve seen so far is a work of art in itself. They’re as elaborate as Fallout 3‘s various vaults, but breathtakingly beautiful – filled with waterfalls and ancient treasures. Oh, and traps and puzzles and undead hordes.
If you have a choice between buying the game on the 360 or the PC, I’d recommend the console version as the interface does handle better – but you’ll need an HD TV or the text is annoyingly small. Luckily I’d done the bulk of my playing on the PC beforehand so didn’t need to read much when I switched to the console version.
I can’t say too much more without just retreading what’s been said many times better by other people. It just does everything so well, and makes it look effortless.
I didn’t know how Bethesda could top Fallout 3, but Skyrim makes it look almost shoddy in comparison.
I’m with Sessler on this one.