The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Review


review The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is Bethesda’s fifth plunge into its expansive, fictional role playing world of Tamriel. This time we’re in Skyrim, a province covering an area similar to Cyrodiil, the setting of the previous game in the series, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. At 41km², you’d assume no real limit exists on what you can find, do and explore. And there isn’t, as long as you’re willing to exercise self-restraint.

The setting in Skyrim will feel familiar to those who’ve played prior Elder Scrolls games. Once again, you start off as a fairly unskilled character adrift in a vast world rich with personalities to meet, landscapes to marvel at and fascinating locations to visit. Once again, you have complete freedom in how to develop your character: Wizard or warrior, thief or herbalist. And once again, you’ll be thrown into a dramatic central plot arch containing thrilling moments.

However, two hundred years have passed since the events of Oblivion, and the world of Tamriel has certainly changed in that time. No more trans-dimensional rifts threaten to tear the world apart. Many of the figures and societal structures you met in the prior game have been transformed. And the mythical and monstrous creatures known as dragons have returned to the land. There’s also a new big bad — this time round the great evil is Alduin, the first child of the god Akatosh. Out to ravage the world, it’s up to you as the only Dragonborn of the current generation, to put him in his place.

Yes, Dragonborn. We’ll get to that in a moment.

If saving the world sounds passé, Skyrim has no shortage of locations to explore, quests to embark on and hapless shopkeepers to loot. The so-called Radiant Quest system, a new feature of the game which randomises small details of miscellaneous tasks – the destination or the person involved, say – goes largely unnoticed, unless you’re prepared to play the game several times.

Not to worry, there are plenty of hand-made major quests to keep you from burning out on the frivolous ones, though I wouldn’t count the main storyline in the former’s ranks. I’ll be honest — the main quest is little more than the prerequisite MacGuffin; a reason for the player to exist in the game’s massive world. Fortunately, this Dragonborn business has a tangible gameplay benefit.

As a result of a dragon (or dragons – depending on how your ancestors swung) making a physics-defying mess of your genealogy, your character has the ability to “shout”. 20 shouts can be discovered, allowing you to freeze enemies, slow time or reveal life signs. Once a shout is found, you must first activate it using a dragon’s soul. The only way to secure a soul is to – you guessed it – slay its sentimental owner. This is a monumental task at the start of the game, but an almost trivial one by level 30.

This leads us to the game’s – and perhaps, the The Elder Scrolls’ – major weakness: Balance. Via perks, enchantments and crafting, it’s possible to trivialise even the most challenging content on the game’s hardest difficulty setting. Magic-users can stun-lock giants and elder dragons into their graves, while melee players can forge weapons that deal in excess of a thousand points of damage … per hit.

It can be argued that, given time, the player should be able to ascend the throne of threats and laugh in the face of Bethesda’s inexhaustible content designers. Sure, but it’s the speed and ease at which this transition occurs that’s astonishing. To enjoy Skyrim beyond the 20-hour mark, one must exercise restraint. Denying your character access to the enchanting and crafting skills goes a long way, as does neglecting the more imbalanced perks.

On the other hand, getting a solid day of total play time out of any game these days is commendable, so it’s hard to heavily penalise Skyrim for committing itself to the sanatorium beyond this point. How long your enjoyment lasts past this stage depends entirely on how well you can temper your desire for mastery. It also means that less hardcore gamers will still find themselves able to enjoy exploring Skyrim — unlike some more gruelling role playing games released this year, such as Dark Souls.

One of the highlights of the game is its music, which earnt the game’s soundtrack of the year award. Some of Skyrim’s music is soft and ethereal, suiting itself to your wanderings through the wide landscapes of the Nordic countryside, while more stirring battle drums and heroic chords can be heard when you march into battle against a major foe such as a dragon. And the graphics, while not always quite as polished as some other top-end titles (perhaps due to Skyrim’s sheer scale), match the experience. It’s hard not to be awed at the majestic nature of the landscapes you’ll visit and the foes you’ll face.

The nitty gritty
Skyrim is available for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but our preference is the PC version, as it gives you the best access to modifications and visual/performance tweaking. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was reviewed for Delimiter on a Core i5-750 running at 3.8GHz with 8GB RAM and a GeForce GTX 560 Ti, running Windows 7 Ultimate. The game’s minimum specifications call for a dual-core CPU running at 2GHz, 2GB of RAM and a DirectX 9.0c video card with 512MB of RAM, but the recommended specs are a bit beefier, and as with the previous game in the series, Oblivion, the higher powered your PC is, the better the performance you’ll get from Skyrim.

Performance-wise, if you’re playing on the PC, you’ll want to grab SkyBoost. This mod optimises often-used routines in the game’s executable and can increase performance in CPU-bound areas, such as cities.

If improved visuals are your thing, you can’t go past the SMAA (Subpixel Morphological Anti-Aliasing) injector. The injector provides Skyrim with an alternative Direct3D 9 library that injects new shader code into the engine. This code performs anti-aliasing on the final image using intelligent edge-detection algorithms. The end result is anti-aliasing of a quality that rivals Multi-sampling Anti-Aliasing (MSAA), minus the performance hit. At the time of writing, Bethesda’s Creation Kit for Skyrim had yet to be released. For now, your cravings can be satiated by SkyEdit, an unofficial editor styled like Bethesda’s own.

If you hit up Valve’s digital games platform Steam, expect to fork out $89.99 for the game. Alternatively, Green Man Gaming has it for $53.79, while OzGameShop is selling the PC version for $49.99.

If you’re at all interested in role playing games, Skyrim should be pretty close to the top of your list of 2011 titles to check out. With a huge and detailed world to explore, majestic landscapes, infinite options to develop your character to match your own individual style and an atmosphere which lingers on in your imagination, there are many reasons why many gamers spent their Christmas holidays lost in Bethesda’s all-encompassing vision.

Logan Booker is the weekend editor for Kotaku Australia. From Monday to Friday, Logan operates a two-man indie game studio based in Melbourne. He’s previously worked as a game designer at Tantalus Media, writer for Firemint and editor of Atomic. Renai LeMay also contributed to this article. Image credits: Screenshots of Skyrim.


  1. Hey everyone, this is the first time we’ve done a game review on Delimiter, so we’re still working out precisely what should be in these reviews, the format, and what games we should look at, so please let us know what content you’d like to see in this area — criticism welcome. We’re especially going to focus on any Australian angle with respect to reviews — for example, if there is local server support, what the local multiplayer scene is like etc. Currently we’re planning to do one review per week.

    And please be gentle with Logan as it’s his first review for Delimiter! :) He’s known as one of the best and most experienced gaming journalists in Australia, however, so he knows his stuff :)

  2. You’re JUST reviewing this?

    I look forward to your Super Mario Brothers for the Nintendo Entertainment System, review.

    • Actually, now that I think about it, a review of Super Mario Bros 3 for Delimiter would be awesome and likely quite a popular article. I may investigate that — thanks for the suggestion!

    • Good review and timely since I have just finished “being” Batman in Arkham City (and I have only gotten 340 or so Riddler trophies *damn it all*) and am about to start Skyrim probably as a rogue (thief/Sneak) with the hope of joining the Dark Brotherhood *evil laugh*

      What would be interesting instead of the same old AAA rating game reviews but reviews of older games that are still playable (and obtainable) comparing them to their equivalent genre nowadays. Say Ultima/Zork compared to Skyrim/Witcher/DragonsAge on not the UI/Graphics but the underlying stories and ability of the gameplay to get you thinking “what if I do this instead…” just before you sleep and as you awaken. The only game that has done that for me since the Ultima, Zork, and even Sierra’s Space/King/Police Quest games has been Demon Souls.

      Then again I still pine for the days of Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy on my old Apple IIe ;)

  3. I agree, this is a tad late to be being reviewed in any seriousness. I haven’t read the review at all, because well I’ve been playing the game and don’t need a review to tell me about it. All the reviews I needed for the game were read when the game first came out.

  4. This review is not too late. Not everyone is a first-in, first-out gamer (often just to be the FIFO). As Blizzard has learned (and to their credit have adapted), casual gamers are where the money is. Wish I had 8-10 hours at a time to play, but alas RL gets in the way. I’ve just finished Arkham City, and reviews like this (with a balanced view) only help me decide where my next (limited) gaming dollar will be spent.

    So, thanks Delimiter, this kind of review is exactly what I need and will have me coming back to see what you think.

    • Cheers! Yeah, the same with me. Over the holidays I finished Arkham Asylum (again), Rage and Crysis 2. So I’m a bit behind the eight-ball as well. I just don’t have enough time to finish all the latest stuff just yet.

      Having said that, this review was only a bit late because it’s our first gaming review — I anticipate we’ll have more timely stuff as it’s released ;)

  5. I’m with Nerill. Don’t sweat the haters Renai.

    I just started playing MW3… Have to say multiplayer on it is disappointing compared to black ops.

    • Cheers!

      Interesting re: MW3. I have Black Ops but haven’t played it yet … finished MW1 and MW2, but haven’t gotten around to BO yet. I don’t play multiplayer on Call of Duty though — I get killed way too much for my liking. I have StarCraft II for multiplayer ;)

      I’ll probably eventually buy MW3 just to finish the single player campaign. There have been some incredible set piece moments in the series that really took my breath away.

      Personally, however, I’m really waiting this year for what I think will be an absolutely incredible game: BioShock Infinite. That will likely be my game of the year. Of course I will also play a great deal of Heart of the Swarm as well :)

      • I also agree: great review.
        The sad reality is that I don’t have the time to play all the allegedly “hot” games around. My way of solving the problem is to wait things out for the prices to come down and for the true classics to surface. Both my needs are addressed by this review, and further credit goes to Delimiter for informing us where to get the game for less.

        P.S. I’m in the exact same Modern Warfare boat as Renai. Wouldn’t mind more emphasis on the single player mode there.

  6. Enjoyed the review. It’s actually quite a refreshing format as opposed to the (insert massive text here) x/10 approach which I find very misleading.

    ‘The Nitty Gritty’ is a good little section but could probably have a little more detail with regards to animation, physics, audio etc but that could just be me being a little picky. Then again, that’s where my interests lie.

    I know it’s an Elder Scrolls game and replay value is where these games really excel, but it would have been nice to know if the reviewer actually wanted to play the game through a second time or not.

    Otherwise I really enjoyed the review. Nicely done for a first game review.

  7. We can find a review of a game from the consumer/gamer point of view pretty much anywhere. Game reviews from the business and developer’s perspective are much less common and I think better match Delimiter’s angle.

    On Delimiter I’d like to see game reviews that explain the business side of the game. Why the developers / publishers / writers / artists did X. How they tweaked available tech to do something different (that Nitty Gritty section is great). Then feature what they came up with.

    Some attention to the Aussie e-Sports scene would also be great. I know what a huge SC2 fan you are – Heart of the Swarm is coming soon :-)

  8. suggestions? something about the late release (here) of the old republic and the continuing price differences australian gamers put up with. get an interview with gabe newell about his thoughts on customers using workarounds to buy games on steam by either pretending to be american or using sites that sell codes, is this something they’re paying much attention to, also would steam ever consider moving into other areas (music/movies).

    perhaps some kind of that was then this is now article about the lan parties we used to go to in the 90s and the hilarious problems that plagued them.

  9. I like the game review idea, nice way to mix up some of the content on the site so it’s not all business..
    I especially loved the mentions of Skyboost and SMAA in the nitty gritty section; didn’t come across them in any other review I’ve read, and I’ve read a few to keep myself psyched since I bought the game before Christmas and still havent had the time to play it!

  10. Renai,

    You so need to review Syndicate when it comes out then send the URL of the review to the Attorney General, Minister for Home Affairs, Prime Minister’s Office, Class Board and Class Rev Board :)

    This would make me happy.

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