Looking for last-minute Christmas present? How about a video game? Everybody loves video games! Check out my top 10 list over on MSN for a list of the very best console games of the year, if you need ideas.
At the top of the list, and indeed at the top of many critics’ and gamers’, is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s a purely nerdy choice, given that it’s a fantasy role-playing game set in a fantastical icy land complete with elves and dragons. But hey, that stuff’s back in fashion now, given the success of Harry Potter and A Game of Thrones, right?
In my review, which I wrote after pouring about 30 hours into the game, I gave Skyrim 4.5 out of 5. With new game releases finally slowing down over the past few weeks, I’ve finally had a chance to go back in and play some more. Now, after about 70 hours, I’d probably be more inclined to give it the full 5 out of 5. It’s that good.
Don’t take my word for it. It’s the highest scoring new release on review aggregation site Metacritic, garnering a ridiculous 96 out of 100 overall score. It’s winning much acclaim, including game of the year from Spike TV’s Video Game Awards.
Why is Skyrim so good? It’s hard to know where to start gushing. In my review, I said it may be the most convincing virtual world created so far by game programmers—it’s absolutely huge and gorgeously rendered, from the epic things like Solitude, a city perched impossibly high on a giant arch of rock, to the minor details, like salmon trying to jump up rapids in that river you pass by.
The game doesn’t just look good, it plays great too. With its ability to randomly generate quests, you could quite literally play Skyrim forever. After 70 hours, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. The most amazing part is that none of those many, many hours felt repetitive. Every dungeon, cave or ruin I’ve explored has been unique. It’s hard not to marvel at the amount of work that went into making it play as such.
Most games of this type lock players into one type of character—you’re either a wizard, warrior or thief. One of the best things about Skyrim is how flexible it allows you to be. You can boost up your fighting abilities and, if you get tired, you can trade the heavy armour and swords for spells or bows. And with the infinite nature of the game, you can do this without constantly dying since the game adjusts to your current power levels.
Sure, Skyrim has its bugs—it sometimes crashes and glitches can pop up in the most inconvenient places, like in the middle of main storyline missions. But with the scale and scope of the game and the world, it’s really easy to forgive them.
I’m not the only one moved to gush about this game. Wired‘s Dave Banks recently wrote a tongue-in-cheek missive on why Skyrim is bad for the economy. With so many people devoting so much time to the game, he wrote, there is serious work being neglected. I couldn’t agree more. I had hoped to be on holiday by now, but I’m woefully behind because I’ve spent so much time chasing that damned Elder Scroll (spoiler: it teaches you how to defeat a particularly bad-ass dragon).
I’ve generally considered Grand Theft Auto III, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, as the best game yet. With its large open world and “sandbox” style of gameplay that encouraged exploration and going at your own pace, plus an acerbic wit, GTA III revolutionized how games were made. Subsequent iterations and other games that took the idea further were probably better, but GTA III got the ball rolling. It’s pretty much the Star Wars of gaming.
Skyrim, with its ambitious and excellent expansion of that very GTA III open-world accomplishment, may very well be the best game since. It has raised the bar in the action-adventure and role-playing genres and it’s the first game to really take the Grand Theft Auto idea to a higher level. That’s why I think we may look back on it in 10 years and give it the same sort of reverence.
To get back to the intro to this post, there’s actually a big problem. Skyrim is probably a terrible last-minute Christmas gift despite all my breathless ranting because, chances are, anyone who owns an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 already has it. Oh well, at least I tried to help.