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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim 360 Review - -
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Reviewed by
Shael Millheim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim 360 Review. I could write all day about all of the finer aspects about improved races, cultures, things you could do like cooking and other jobs, alchemy, and other fun things, but I'd rather keep playing! So go play it yourself to learn even more!

Gameplay 9.7
Graphics 10
Sound 10
Value 9.9
Developer: Bethesda Softwares
Review Date:
Nov 2011
Shael Millheim


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review &
Interview with Ray Lederer (Concept Artist)

PS3, XBox 360 & Windows PC

After drooling over the collector's edition strategy guide, I open up my copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and dive into it headfirst. I quickly learn in the beginning of the game that I'm a prisoner that's been sentenced to death and before being executed, an exciting and terrifying scene takes place, really showcasing early on the true magnitude of pure awesomeness that is this game. Before I know it, I'm jumping down into a burning building, swinging swords, and looting bodies during all of this chaos. I won't spoil the fun introduction for you, so allow me to dig elsewhere in this vast world of vivid scenery and seamless game play.

I literally had to just stop and just look around for quite some time at random points in my first few hours of playing Skyrim. Simple things like water and trees amused me to no end and are complete works of finely detailed art in this game, as is everything else. Shadows are cast everywhere, the sky is a beautiful thing to behold, and you could even see the stars peeking through the clouds at some times. While I decided to do some hardcore mountain climbing, I looked over at the sky and saw one of the most stunning things in my early experience with Skyrim – the Aurora Borealis.

So many things catch my attention as I wander around the map – different climates in the various sections, wind picking up particles on the ground and blowing them away, random animal skulls in the middle of nowhere, and countless other things that make this game just feel as massive as it really is. The only minor downside I came across was while mountain climbing; I got stuck every so often and would have to re-load if I absolutely could not get out. Other than that, the mountain climbing is a lot better in that you can climb much more steeply, and so you have a lot more freedom on where you can go.

On the fighting side of things, I find the more creatures I come across the more I want to play with different weapon combinations that are now at my disposal. In Skyrim you can dual-wield weapons, dual-wield magic to make more powerful versions of it, use sword and shield, single- and double-handed weapons, and so on.

Now one thing that I have yet to feature in my reviews, for a bit more insight into the game being discussed and as a bit of a real treat, is an interview! I asked concept artist Ray Lederer some questions about this pure monstrosity of absolute colossal proportions, his involvement in the project and how he was lucky enough to be a part of it, fun little things about the art work for this game, and some differences between Skyrim and Oblivion. Here are those lovely questions and answers:

Shael: Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get your start on doing artwork, where did you progress from there?

Ray: I've been drawing for as long as I can remember. My first credited professional work was with FASA and WEST END GAMES doing Mechwarrior and Star Wars interior illustrations for pen and paper RPGs. After that I worked at a CG start up a school friend of mine began. When that imploded a couple of years later, I managed to land a job in the video games industry in Boulder, Colorado of all places. Not exactly the Mecca of game development to be sure but the most gorgeous, inspiring, and fun place I've lived. I stayed local there for a good 8 years jumping from studio to studio as a generalist artist who could animate, model, texture, and of course draw. I began to seriously burn out and considered leaving the video game industry all together because I simply wasn't happy as a generalist production artist. I'm an illustrator, designer, storyboard, and comic book artist at heart and concept art is a perfect way to scratch that itch. In 2006 I landed my first full time concept art position at Gas Powered Games in Redmond, WA. A couple of years later I landed here at Bethesda Game Studios.

S: How did you land a job at Bethesda Softworks, and what have you been working on with the company?

R: It was a bit of good timing and luck. I was looking for work in late 2008 when my friend Adam Adamowicz who I knew from my Colorado days and was the sole concept artist here at Bethesda, said I should apply. He's the one who did all of the brilliant work on Fallout 3. With a good recommendation from Adam and my friend Chandana Ekanayake who was my AD at GPG and a former BGS employee I got an interview. I was a little nervous at first since there are not too many studios to fall back on out here if this didn't work out. My fears went out the window when I met Todd, Matt, Istvan, and the rest of the crew. I knew this was a great crew and a well-run studio as I'd seen some pretty glaring examples of how not to run a studio in my past. I haven't looked back since and don't regret it for a second.

S: Around how many people were involved in the artwork alone for Skyrim, and roughly how much of what we see in the game is a result of your work?

R: If you're talking the entire art team I think it's around 25-30 people. I'm not actually sure to be honest but it's a decent sized team of truly gifted art ninjas we have here. As for the concept art team it was just me and Adam for 98% of the stuff. We'd also contracted Massive Black to help us out with a few things in which the brilliant Wes Burt contributed some designs. I got here about a year into development so I'd guess around 40%(?) is mine. We've got the walls filled with art in our pit and it only scratches the surface of what we've done. Between the 2 of us we've got enough to fill 3 Art of Skyrim books!

S: What are some of the major differences between Skyrim and Oblivion? What are some new things people can do in-game?

R: In my opinion the difference between them is night and day. Mechanically it's similar, because it is after all an Elder Scrolls game, but the similarities end there. It's a little less Renn-Faire and a little more Motorhead. Right away you'll notice the world is far more lush and varied. Walking into the night and seeing the 2 moons partially obscured by drifting clouds and shimmering aurora borealis stretching all the way across the sky, while low dense fog slowly creeps through craggy mountain peaks and dragons roar in the distance, it's just breathtaking. I want to just camp out there and enjoy the view. My screenshot folder is filled with beautiful snapshots of the world like that. It's everything I love about Colorado and the Cascades turned up to 11. With monsters! The level of detail is insane. I'm helping to test the PC version of the game and with the settings all cranked up it is the most epic and beautiful game I've ever played. I'm pinching myself. I have never been so proud of a project I've worked on in my life.

S: Would you like to share any other fun tidbits about Skyrim that people may not know about?

R: I cannot share anything new about the game but I will say this: To anyone who thinks the Art of Skyrim book will not worth the price of the CE you may be in for a surprise. We saw the prototype of the book the other day and it is big, beautiful, and PACKED with as much as they could cram in there. Not only is there concept art but there are beautifully rendered character models, props, and world art. There's something for everyone and it's a stunningly produced book. The layout and design is second to none. The Alduin statue is absolutely stunning as well. I think anyone who picks up the CE will be really happy they did. It's beautifully produced and the highest quality CE I've ever seen. My only hope is that eventually we do a retail version of the art book to sell.

And there you have it! I, like Ray, also hope that there will be a retail version of the art book. The mind-boggling amount of detail that went into the game could then be fully appreciated by many more by seeing the original art work that went behind it.

Moving on to some other fun aspects of the game itself, one thing that I do love is the new way that lock picking works. Instead of the frustration of dealing with the tumblers, you now literally feel around the lock using two your picks, moving each individually carefully until the lock rotates and opens. If you rotate them more and more to where they won't open, the controller also vibrates more and more until the tension results in the picks breaking. Another change in Skyrim that I really like is the fact that the music doesn't seem to abruptly change when danger is near.

I feel that element of surprise when coming up on something like a snow bear is more fun than hearing that moment of silence then the music change going, “Alright, there's something around here somewhere, where is it… Oh, there it is.” Now instead of that it's “OMFG there's a big freaking bear charging down this mountain at me!” The music does end up changing, but it's a lot smoother of a transition between ambient sound and the dramatic battle soundtrack than the very obvious change. And even if it does seem a little abrupt to some, it sure doesn't to me, especially when compared to Oblivion.

Speaking of creatures charging and attacking, a word about the combat. I think the combat in this game runs a lot smoother than in Oblivion, and I mean a lot smoother. The way that you're able to change up your magic and weapons is a breeze to deal with, and I love the incorporation of showing finishing moves on enemies at some points, giving beautiful takedowns their moment of glory. No matter what type of fighter you are, you will be able to play exactly the way you want in this game. The area of skill points had a major facelift as well. Whatever style you play, that is what your character will become. Want to be more of a thief type? Then play like one. Fighter? Mage? Those skills increase as you go along and use them accordingly, and as you level up you choose different perks in each skill section, shown as colorful constellations that you gaze up to for guidance.

Something I'm sure people are really waiting to read about is the topic of dragons in Skyrim. It is no surprise that there are dragons, and that as you kill them you absorb their souls and gain powerful magic abilities called shouts, so that's not spoiling anything. One thing I wasn't prepared for when I saw the trailers and YouTube videos of game play was the sheer perfection of these beasts. It is a thing of beauty to watch a dragon fly around, land, shoot a stream of fire at the people trying to kill it, and the digression of its ability to fly as it gets injured, seeing more and more blood as it's near death. The sounds that you hear while fighting dragons, other creatures, and just all of the audio in this game is quite impressive and clearly has been shown as close attention to as every other aspect of this epic work of art. Another word about sound is that the voice acting has definitely improved leaps and bounds from the last game, giving yet another huge example to add to the things Skyrim has nailed.

I could write all day about all of the finer aspects about improved races, cultures, things you could do like cooking and other jobs, alchemy, and other fun things, but I'd rather keep playing! So go play it yourself to learn even more! If you are sitting on the fence about whether or not to get Skyrim, get it. It is worth it a million times over. The amount of time you could spend in this game is practically endless. The only potentially bad thing is that you could lose sleep because you won't want to stop playing.

Sit back, relax, and let's play!

Shael Millheim
Sr. Writer Impulse Gamer


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