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The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim back to reviews
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An incredible game with largely unnoticed design improvements
Skyrim represents to me virtually everything that a franchise installment should be. It improves over its predecessors, offers something new to players, while still providing what players generally come to expect. Evaluated in its own right, Skyrim continues to impress me with its improved design and narrative depth.

The leveling system of the previous two Elder Scrolls games has been done away with, to great fanfare and celebration. The level progression feels more natural and is considerably less prone to overcautious play. In Skyrim, the player has much more control over how one's character grows. The new skill perks system means that the player's abilities improve more frequently now, rewarding focus while still letting the player grab any ancillary perks they find convenient. The end result strips away a lot of the dull complexity of previous games while maintaining at least as much depth.

Exploring the world is also something I've come to appreciate in Skyrim more than in Oblivion. Killing dragons is much less of a chore than clearing Oblivion Gates, and while some complain that they become easy after a while, I'm glad that Bethesda chose to lean towards making them too easy rather than too hard, as obtaining Dragon Souls is critical to the other central mechanic, Dragon Shouts. Shouts themselves add a lot of interesting facets to gameplay. The variety of Shouts lets the player use them in everything from head-to-head combat to stealth trickery to navigating the world, all in a way that makes the player feel empowered.

The story is also something I found intriguing. There's a lot of room for mileage variance with regards to the two main factions in the game. To side with one faction wholeheartedly, no matter which one, would mean allying yourself with some distasteful characters, be they racist, or militaristic, or downright psychotic. Any game that makes the player think critically about their allegiances deserves a gold star from the industry.

There are a lot of other changes I'm thankful for, like the experimentation-based alchemy system, the better sneaking feedback, and the improved NPC writing and behavior. The improvements over previous games, plus the depth added to the play and the plotline, result in a game that I'm glad to be experiencing, in spite of its imperfections.
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