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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

The folks over at Bethesda Game Studios have become synonymous with the Western, open-world role-playing game. Regardless of which series you prefer - the fantasy-inspired Elder Scrolls or post-apocalyptic Fallout - their place atop the genre is undeniable. Now, over five years since Oblivion ushered in the modern, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim looks to push the team's signature formula further than ever before. Is it successful? Absolutely. Skyrim takes the Elder Scrolls template - a wide variety of skills, a world begging to be explored and a series of interconnected quests - and builds on it with an incredibly detailed, vast and stunning setting, more intuitive and organic role-playing elements, and dragons... lots of them. Simply put: Skyrim is the best Bethesda offering to date in every conceivable way. However, the comfortable refinement of its established formula likely means that Skyrim won't convert those who have shied away in the past.

For those who are new to the series, the Elder Scrolls games, on a fundamental level, strive to offer players as much variety and freedom as possible within a fantasy setting. Everything from choosing your character's race and physical appearance, determining whether to focus on magic, melee or stealth combat (or a combination of the three), aligning yourself with vying factions and progressing through the main story is left entirely open. Skyrim's refinements, additions and subtle changes to this formula have lead to an Elder Scrolls game that has never been better at encouraging the player to be creative and shape their own experience.

Before getting into the specifics, let's take a moment to set the stage. It has been approximately 200 years since the Oblivion crisis of The Elder Scrolls IV, and a weakened and restless Empire has lead to instability throughout the land. Territory has been ceded to Elven nations known as the Dominion, and the Nords have begun a secession struggle against the Empire in the wake of the assassination of the High King of Skyrim. You begin as a prisoner on their way to execution for alleged collaboration with the rebellion, only to be saved when a dragon attacks, and subsequently devastates, the Imperial base. Skyrim's main plot arch revolves around the return of the dragons - led by Alduin, the Nordic God of Destruction - and what that means for the fate of the world.

Of course, being an open-world game, players are free to largely ignore or postpone progressing through the main story arch if they so choose. Beyond that, there's an abundance of intriguing factions and side stories to discover. Picking sides in the civil war between the Empire and Stormcloaks is particularly interesting because there's a great deal of ambiguity to it. Your choices are the seemingly oppressive Empire or the Nords who have added a few not-so-subtle doses of fascism to their quest for independence. Your choice of race at the beginning of Skyrim may very well impact where you fall in this struggle, something that permeates much of the game. Casual or overt racism will frequently influence how you are viewed. It's a great example of how the politics of Skyrim are thoughtfully integrated into the various side quests and factions you can pursue. That being said, some of the optional dungeons and missions can get a little repetitive, but not nearly enough to sour the experience.

The world of Skyrim, quests included, is the game's greatest asset and biggest accomplishment. Everything about it - from the gorgeous vistas, crippling quests, dynamic interactions with wildlife and compulsion to collect loot - encourages exploration. You can fast travel to places previously discovered or take carriage rides into new areas, but doing so will cause you to miss all of the wonderfully surprising moments that occur while wandering the unknown. Whether it's aiding a group of hunters in their quest to take down the combined force of mammoths and giants, stumbling across a cage-match between bear and seal or simply reaching the top of a massive mountain and gazing upon your path, there's always something to discover.

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