Welcome to Sonia’s Sassy Reviews, reviews of games from the unique perspective of a total newbie gamer whose only just started to indulge a lifelong love of video games, who also happens to be an adult(ish) woman. So, here we go!
Look, I know this game is ancient, by gaming standards, and I have been playing it for almost forever. I’ve never quite finished the game (or, at least the story. Can you every really finish this game?) until the night before writing this review. Hush. I didn’t want to finish, okay? I didn’t want it to be over.
One of the things I like best about Skyrim is that you get to decide who you play as. You may choose your gender, your race, the details of your face, hell even your weight. Lordy. Half the time of my first gaming session with Skyrim was spent deciding what I looked like, I swear.
For the record, I almost always play as a heavy-set female Bosmer. With tattoos. Obviously.
Similarly, you get to choose your own play style. You may, for example, play as a magic user, destroying your enemies in balls of flame, lightning or… uh… other magics. Can you tell I don’t play that character? You could play as a heavily armoured, heavily weaponed tank, who rushes in with a hammer or two-handed sword and obliterates your foes. Or, you could be a feisty, lightly armoured sword and shield specialist. If it suits you better, as it did me, you may instead choose to play a sneaky ranged fighter, specialising in sniping fools with a bow unseen. There are combinations of these, too, if you wish. This flexibility permitting various kinds of play-styles and personal player preferences when it comes to character design is to be commended.
The vast number of races and base facial features helps to lift the character design where it otherwise fails; all the characters are built the same. There isn’t a whole lot of difference between the shapes and sizes of characters. Given the sheer volume of characters, however, I’m okay with this.
It’s not like the cast is small. Furthermore, the lack of diversity of body sizes is tempered somewhat by all the different facial features of each person, as well as their various actual personality traits. They feel individual when you meet them.
Some of them are genuinely good folks.
Some of them are, well, they’re basically Nazis. Looking at you, Thalmor.
As readers of my Sassy Reviews well know, I gravitate towards games that promise me a good story. Games like The Last of Us, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and 2018’s God of War, are some examples of games that I adored, largely thanks to the story.
Skyrim is much the same, though the nature of the story is different. You, the player, find yourself thrown into a world in the middle of civil war, at a time when an ancient enemy shows up to make things hellish for everyone no matter which side of the conflict they fall on.
How and when all these issues are resolved depends entirely on the player.
It’s this silver of story in an epic broader narrative that makes Skyrim so much fun. I delighted in running around the countryside, stumbling across various locations. The ruins, in particular delighted me. There was, for example, a ruined cottage that was literally just a door frame standing beside the road.
If you headed up north, you could stumble across a carcass of a mammoth, frozen in the ice, weapons of all manner sticking out of its hide, evidence of a great hunt.
There’s a lighthouse in which lie the bodies of a family who had moved in to retire, only to come across a nest of man-eating bugs and their Falmer care-takers.
There is a skeleton that can be found opposite a sabre-tooth carcass, the said carcass being riddled with arrows.
These crumbling locations, as well as dialogue references to past and current events, individual perspectives on these events, random encounters that show the aftermath of someone else’s life or death situations and so on created a world that felt ancient and lived-in and entirely, utterly immersive. I wasn’t playing a game, when I visited Skyrim of an evening. I was on holiday in another world… and then got myself involved with their troubles.
This is precisely how and open world single-player game ought to be done.
The story of Skyrim was vast, and we, the player, are just a little person in this epic narrative, doing what we can in the world in which we find ourselves. Yes, please.
Happily, also, there are very few true villains in the world of Skyrim.
Alduin, the world-eater, would be the main villain of the piece, him devouring souls in Sovngarde and wanting the end the world and all. Jerk. I would also contend that the Thalmor are also major villains, their whole superiority schtick making them basically Nazis. Jerks.
Every other person could be a villain or a hero depending on your perspective.
Ulfric Stormcloak is either a rebel hero or a selfish, power-hungry tool, depending on your perspective.
Honestly, I found I sympathised a great deal with Ulfric’s cause. I’m all for the open worship of whatever or whomever as a deity so long as it hurts no one. The Thalmor and their superiority complexes didn’t like that a human and not a mer is included in the divines and so outlawed Talos worship.
That said, the Stormcloaks were nearly as bad as the Thalmor when it came to the treatment of other races, and I wholly disagreed that shouting the High King to death was the way to resolve the issue.
I also believe that the war for independence was incredibly short-sighted. The afore-mentioned Talos was the first emperor. And also, if there was to be any hope to defeating the Nazis – I mean, the Thalmor – you’d need the strength of a unified empire.
Similarly, General Tullius can be a symbol of oppression, a tool of the Thalmor persecutors.
A native of Cyrodiil, the general has no real grasp of Nord traditions and is tasked with carrying out the terms of the White Gold Concordat, which is a betrayal of the Nords by the emperor. Depending on your perspective, General Tullius (who I do not doubt was modelled quite deliberately after Julian Caesar) could very well be the villain of the story.
Other opposing forces that might be the heroes or the villains depending on where you sit may be Delphine, leader of the Black Blades, and Paarthurnax, a dragon who seems to have his eyes on Alduin’s position as king of the dragons. Leader of the dragons? Ruler? Whatever Alduin is to the dragons.
Both Delphine and Paarthurnax, however, are good folk, making the choice between them something to really mull over. For the record, Paarthurnax lives in my play-through. Sorry Delphine, but I’m not going to kill him. He’s a friend.
All of these oppositions, existing within characters who are still fundamentally good folk, depending on where you stand creates a wonderful experience, and a world that is so immersive, it sucked me right into the story.
Also, I got to kill dragons and steal their souls, so…
I love how this game treated women. Not only is there an option for the most powerful person in Skyrim (hell, the continent, really) to be a woman (that’s you… the dragonborn), but women were everywhere in this world, and they weren’t a monolith.
There were female jarls, female companions, some of whom were absolute units, female travellers, shop owners, soldiers, rebels, friends, foes, wilting flowers, feisty leaders… The variety of roles afforded to women in game was refreshing and fun.
Nor was it forced. It just simply was. This world felt genuinely equal and it was fantastic.
Ungerd the Unbroken, my companion for the majority of the game. She broke my heart when she retired to be the steward of one of my manors. I loved adventuring with her.
Not directly related to women, but I also appreciated how the game handled sexuality. You can marry folks the same gender as you in game if you wish. I did not. I played a female bosmer, and I married this dude:
Argis the Bulwark. Yeah, he’s a hottie. Incidentally, Argis is canonically bisexual. He’s a marriage option if you’re playing a male character, too. I am here for it.
The game play was ridiculously easy to pick up, becoming second nature quite quickly; accessing and arranging your inventory, switching between weapons and spells, and so forth made perfect sense.
Also, you get your choice in how you play. I played a sneaky ranger-type, choosing as my companion tanks who would run into battle and take all the damage, keeping enemy eyes off me. First, this was Ungerd the Unbroken. When she retired, I went adventuring with Argis the Bulwark, who later became my game husband.
I really liked that the game could adapt so easily to people’s preferred game styles, with a whole lot of options for mixing and matching. For example, I did not do magical things much, except for healing stuff. I maxed out my sneak, my archery and also put a number of points in lock picking, because it comes in handy. Any points in light armour were accidental. You get those by being hit a lot.
Playing wasn’t stressful or confusing, even if I found combat with a sword and shield awkward and silly (slash, slash, spasmodic running). I absolutely loved delving in to ruins – the ancient Nord ones, and the Dwemer ruins. I loved killing dragons and stealing their souls. I loved making decisions that challenged my sense of morality.
There were a few odd bugs, like floating objects, and a horse that randomly followed me wherever I fast-travelled to (until bandits killed it. The bastards), to companions that forgot how to human and had trouble with stairs sometimes. Still, these bugs were more amusing than troublesome, and I look upon them fondly, like you would a playful horse mucking around in the field. They didn’t affect game play enough for me to consider them problematic. Mostly, they were funny.