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The skills system has also been overhauled for the better. There is a nice design choice employed where the skills are written upon the constellations. Sure, it’s just another graphical user interface but it makes for an appealing visual flourish as you choose one of 18 Skill disciplines (i.e. Destruction, One-Armed Combat, Alchemy, Smithing, etc.), and from there choose a sub-skill perk each time your character levels up. The fact that all Skills are open to all players allows for greater character customization. Characters who want a “Jack of all Trades – Master of None” are free to craft that without penalty. In addition, you can build a Heavy Armored, Two-Hand Broad Sword Wielding Tank who just so happens to dabble in Alchemy. As in Oblivion, the more you perform an action, the better you get at it, and the frequent notices that your Archery Skills have gained a level or that your Speech Enhancements allow for shopping discounts, make for a nice bonus for simply playing the way you want. All of this was present in the previous titles, but everything feels more robust yet blessedly unobtrusive than it has in the past, making for fewer breaks in questing.
If there has been one knock on the series, it’s that their very open-ended nature tends to lead to some game-halting or nagging bugs. Oblivion certainly saw its share, and Morrowind was riddled with defects. During my extensive playtime with Skyrim, I’ve encountered a few freezes – some occurring for simply no discernible reason. In fact, my game locked up once while simply standing still atop a mountain taking in the view below. No action had transpired on the screen as I slowly panned the horizon, taking in the stunning stretch of forested landscape below. Inexplicably, the game froze and I had to reload a Quick Save positioned several hundred feet below my current location. I certainly haven’t encountered many bugs but it’s worth mentioning that the review copy did encounter one here or there. Bethesda does recommend that you clear your system cache from time to time to help alleviate these annoyances and there has already been a pre-release patch to help stabilize the environment. With that said, none of the bugs I encountered would be considered game or quest breaking and with a game of this scope and ambition, these quibbles are to be expected.
Bethesda crafts role-playing games that are hard to do justice to in a traditional review. For gamers who live for this sort of thing, each person’s play-through becomes their own unique experience – leading to water cooler moments that not everyone gets to share. Skyrim seems filled with these and yet, I have a feeling you won’t experience half of what I did nor will I travel the same paths you pursue. That’s the fun and beauty of this title – each adventurer begins from the same Point A and may end at the same Point B – but the paths we travel in between are vast and meandering and consistently surprising. And that’s Skyrim’s biggest accomplishment – it greatly adds to the conversation. In a marketplace where console RPGs are bigger than they’ve ever been before, Skyrim’s arrival marks a fitting Return of the King.
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