Skyrim or "See you next year"

Dear reader,
I am sorry to announce that I will enter a state of hibernation over the coming weeks. Not that I will be totally inactive, but you know, I will retreat from this plane to dwell more and more deeply into the marvelous world of The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim.

I am assuming you are not playing the game already (silly me), so if you already grabbed it, this article might be of little interest to you :)

As a fan of the series since The Elder Scrolls III : Morrowind, I expected a lot from this episode released on 11/11/11. Less than 20 hours into the game (which is nothing for most Elder Scroll titles), Skyrim is actually surpassing my expectations --and I am playing it on Xbox360, not on a high end PC.

Skyrim is a world so vivid that you might enjoy touring it just for the beauty of the sceneries.
I read that the Skyrim province is smaller than Cyrodil (TES 4: Oblivion) and Morrowind, but since it is obviously more mountainous, you're out for a good walk if you want to travel it all on foot. Besides, there seem to be so many dungeons that it is probably not going to matter anyway.

If the game tastes so good, it's because Bethesda used even better ingredients!
All crafting skills are much more elaborate than in previous installments.
Smithing, for example, is no longer for repairing your equipments (which no longer have durability stats). Instead, it focuses on actually creating new weapons and sharpening existing ones.
I cannot tell much about Enchanting yet because I usually can find better items than I can craft myself, but I like the fact that players learn new enchantments through disassembling existing items instead of applying whatever spell you learned.
I like the new cooking function too. You gather ingredients and cook them in cooking pots you can find throughout the game. It is not a specific skill, and doesn't provide overkill effects but it's fun to use all the same.

That's actually one of the traits of this game: most things could be skipped to focus solely on the main quest, which is fun enough. And yet, I feel compelled to explore the most remote corners of the game world, purchase and customize my home, gather rare books to fill the shelves of my library, create potions, harvest crops or chop some wood to make some pocket money. The more I indulge in those unessential activities, the more I feel like a part of the game world.

For those who played Oblivion, you might remember the nice looking but all similarly designed dungeons, with a few exceptions.
In Skyrim, the dungeons all feel unique and different from the next one.

The new skill system will probably make some fans of the earlier games tick a bit but overall, it is better balanced and enables players to truly enjoy playing and building the character they want rather than some hybrid designed to maximize the stats.
No more Acrobatics Talent that would have players jump around like crazy rabbits in order to level up faster.
Also, you no longer have to worry about leveling up your Endurance Stat (for the matter, there is no more stats like Strength, Agility, Intelligence, etc.) as fast as possible to maximize your Health cap. Instead, when you level up, you get to choose to increase your Stamina, Magicka, or Health.
So where are a the Destruction, Alteration, Lockpicking, Smithing, etc. talents coming from?
Simply, when playing, the Talents will level up by themselves. If you wield a greatsword, your Two-Handed Talent will level up as you cut down enemies. If you kill them with Firebolts, you will level up your Destruction Talent, and so on.
After a few talent increases, your character levels up.
When you level up you also get one Perk point to use now or save for later. Those who played Fallout 3 will remember the Perk system. Here it is similar, except Perks are organized by Talent and in trees. For example, magic Talents trees all feature perks that enable you to cast spells of increasing level (Novice to Master) for half their magicka cost. In addition, specific bonuses can also be unlocked with Perks, such as the ability to invest money in shops (Speechcraft tree) or regenerate your magicka faster (Restoration tree). Last, all Perks are submitted to Talent level conditions, with the Perks at the base of the trees open to any level, and those at the top recquiring max (100) Talent level.

I am realizing that I have listed mainly technical features of game so far. So what about the story? Or should I say stories?
The main plot revolves around the fact that you are a Dragonborn, basically a guy able to kill dragons and by doing so, absorb their powers. How did the dragons reappear after hundred of year of absence, and how you are connected to their reappearance is up to you to find out.
The main plot, however, is just a small fraction of what the game has to offer, and I will be hard pressed to tell you what side quests stories and missions I have enjoyed the most so far, since there are so many. There are many anecdotes, though, and without totally giving into Monty Python and the Holy Grail's style of humor,  there are many funny moments. I can remember for example storming an abandoned fort squatted by a bunch of bandits and after killing them all, come face to face with a good grandma living there and just caring about making enough food for everyone.As well, you might be in for some funny magic lessons with the teachers of the College of Winterhold.
The fun of the game may at times come from unexpected situations: getting beat up by a Giant might send you comically high in the sky, triggering probably more laughter than rage at the sight of your flying (and for the matter, dead) character.

The downside of the game's openness and almost total freedom of action is that it creates so many possibilities that the possibilities of bug occurrences are consequently quite high. Many gamers have already experienced more or less serious bugs. 
Personally, I got a bug where I cleared a dungeon (Geirmund's Hall to be precise) way before receiving a quest to gather fragments of an amulet (one fragment being in possession of a boss character haunting Geirmund's Hall). The problem is that I killed the boss and then it disappeared through the ground. Later, when trying the complete the aforementioned quest, I was not able to retrieve the fragment of amulet, having a market pointing at the ground (presumably where the boss died long before). This is a known bug obviously, since looking it up on the Internet returned many results with players who got the same issue. It's not game breaking, but when a game is so enjoyable, any glitch is all the more annoying.
At the time of this writing, a patch (version 1.2) has been submitted by Bethesda and should be rolled out within this week. 
However, in spite of all this, Skyrim is still awesome and a serious contender for Game Of The Year.


Happy New Year

GSTAR 2011