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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
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The Game Effect Review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

Experience one of this generation's defining games

By Nate Gillick on 11/17/2011
No game has ever felt as overwhelming to me at the beginning as Bethesda's newest open-world RPG. Players begin the game in a scripted sequence, where they're carried off to their own execution. Within minutes, a dragon arrives and begins to lay waste to the modest fort, giving players an opportunity to escape. As openings go, it's a significant step up over Oblivion, the last game in the Elder Scrolls series. Instead of treading through a heavy-handed tutorial dungeon, this intro explains the controls and key concepts of the game in a more organic fashion as play progresses. Once the opening has concluded, the gloves are off, and players have free reign to do anything they want, which can be a terrifying prospect at the start. Skyrim is a game more about enjoying the journey than arriving at any set destination, offering players the opportunity to make the world their own over the course of dozens, if not hundreds, of hours. 

Enter an immense world

Two hundred years after the events of Oblivion, the dragon god Alduin has appeared, foreshadowing the end of all life, according to ancient prophecies. Assuming to role of a Dovahkiin, or dragon-born, players have the power to absorb the souls of dead dragons, gaining their power while ensuring that they can't be resurrected. Skyrim's central narrative takes players all over the realm, and does an excellent job of keeping mission objectives varied, from rescuing a character during one mission, to infiltrating a party to steal information, and much more. While Skyrim's core story does nice work showing many of the highlights of the world and tying all the threads together, it's far from the only major attraction on offer. As with everything else in the game, this story can be enjoyed at your own pace, whether that be running it straight through from start to finish, or doing a quest or two before venturing off to do something else for a dozen hours. Enjoying it piece by piece may be the best way to go, as each new mission often takes place in an area of the map far from any explored territory. 

Skyrim's
world is truly epic in scale, featuring nine major cities, and hundreds of locations to explore. Starting a new game and seeing such a vast and uncharted expanse is intimidating, but also provides the sweet satisfaction of discovery. Truly, the size of Skyrim's world has to be experienced to be believed, and it's bursting at the seems with things to do. One of the chief complaints I had with Oblivion was that, outside the main story and guild quest lines, there seemed to be a lack of compelling things to do. The same cannot be said for Skyrim, which continued to throw fresh quests and tasks at me faster than I could complete them. Clearly I need to learn how to say no to NPCs. At its highest (so far), my quest journal contained 21 active quests and 40 miscellaneous objectives that I had to complete.

Quests are substantial missions, offering their own stories, trips to some of the game's more involved dungeons, and some great rewards. Each quest also has a logo next to its name to serve as a reminder of which faction the quest is for, or if it's a general side-quest. Miscellaneous objectives are smaller fare, but should not be dismissed as menial "fetch quests" that so frequently permeate the genre. Yes, there are several objectives that act as little more than courier missions, but others serve as extra incentive to go explore a new dungeon, or act as lead-ins to full quests.  

With all these quests and objectives to complete, questaholics in need of structure to their exploration won't be left wanting. There are numerous dungeons that exist purely for the purpose of exploration, without any ties to other quests, so those who want to wander at random will be well rewarded too. Like the miscellaneous objectives, the scope of the dungeons vary, from areas that can be cleared in thirty seconds (not kidding) to deep caves that can take an hour or more to complete.

All this questing and exploring could get lonely, but thankfully players don't have to venture out into the wide world of Skyrim alone if they don't want to. Like Oblivion and Bethesda's Fallout titles, Skyrim features companions that will follow players around and assist them in combat. Some follow along for a specific quest, while the loyalty of others can be earned by completing quests or hiring them on. Thankfully, these companions won't keel over and die; if their hit points are depleted, they're "downed" until combat ends, then they'll rise again and be ready to go for the next battle. 

While it's great to have an extra spell-slinger on your side in the fray, companions do present a few problems. AI pathfinding causes them to get in the way and block progress, particularly in narrow corridors. No matter how much I moved around, they had a habit of getting in the way of my spells if they were engaging at melee range. Considering the huge number of quests available, I had hoped to see some missions revolving around companions and expanding on their characters, but I did not find any evidence of quests like these, making companions useful allies, but not friends that I grew emotionally attached to. 

Build a better hero

As with any RPG, all this questing should lead to a stronger character, and Skyrim's leveling system is brilliant; awarding players experience towards leveling up not for killing monsters or completing quests, but for advancing your various skills. Higher level increases offer more experience towards leveling up. For example, leveling a skill from 90 to 91 provides much more experience than leveling a skill from 20 to 21. Characters no longer have primary and secondary abilities like they did in Oblivion, so all skills influence leveling equally. It's a rich and satisfying experience to decide how to build a character without the limitations of class archetypes.  I mean, how often, in fantasy, does one encounter a character with the plate armor of a warrior, the spell-slinging prowess of a mage, and the stealth skills of a thief - all at once?

Every ability in the game has its own skill tree, containing perks that can be chosen to provide additional benefits and further refine character customization. These perks all provide significant bonuses, which can make choosing one per level agonizing. If you take the time to study each tree and plan out the perks you want, growing a character in Skyrim provides a more satisfying development curve than any other RPG available.  


So, Skyrim has the RPG elements nailed with questing, exploration, and character progression, but has the combat evolved beyond the simplistic hack-and-slash of Oblivion? Well, partially. Sword and shield combat feels largely the same as it did five years ago in Oblivion, which is disappointing, especially when Dark Souls showed earlier this year what could be done with fantasy melee combat of this breed. While enemy encounters can be fast and furious, melee combat boils down to spamming quick strikes, blocking when needed, and occasionally holding down the trigger for a power attack. Magic attacks, however, feel vastly improved thanks in part to the dualcasting system. This allows players to map the same spell to each hand, and cast both at once to create a noticeably more powerful spell. Sending out lightning from each hand to mow down a horde of bandits made me feel more like a Dark Lord of the Sith than any recent Star Wars game. Furthermore, two spells can be equipped for tactical needs, like a flame spell in one hand to attack while casting a healing spell with the other. While it takes quite a few levels of advancement before the spells feel as strong as, say, comparable Bioshock plasmids, it's a nice touch to the overall combat system and provides for a multitude of gameplay options that would otherwise be impossible.

Another new addition to combat is shouts, special powers granted through knowledge of the dragon language. Shouts come in a wide variety of forms, and can be offensive or defensive in nature. A couple examples include a shout that pushes enemies away from the player, and a shout that freezes an enemy for a few seconds. Each shout is made up of three separate words, which can be discovered throughout the world on special monuments. For each additional word of a shout learned, the shout becomes more powerful, making hunting for new words as meaningful a task a improving skills for leveling up. Shouts feel like an ace up your sleeve for combat, and are a blast to utilize, while the recharge time afterword ensures they're not overused.

There be dragons!

With Dragons out in the wild once more, I'd be remiss not to discuss how these headlining battles play out while discussing combat. Dragon encounters come in a variety of flavors, as some are scripted parts of the campaign, some are random, and others are located on specific parts of the map. For the most part, these battles feel epic, with dragons soaring over towns, breathing fire or ice down upon buildings, and dodging oncoming arrows from the guards below. Dragons may land on top of buildings, hover in the air, strafe, or land to deal damage up close, with a range of behaviors wide enough to keep things interesting... for a while. 
After killing several of these flying terrors, that shiny epic feeling dulled a bit as pattern recognition kicked in. It was also frustrating when a dragon killed a valuable NPC, or one too many of my spells went wide and hit a guard, which turned the whole town against me. Somehow, the giant dragon ravaging their town became less important than giving me a dirt nap for an errant firebolt. Many of the dragon encounters do feel like amazing fights, but expect them to eventually become routine.

While fighting, switching between weapons and spells on the fly during combat has never been easier thanks to the new favorites system. Players can go into the menus and easily set any usable item, weapon, or spell as a favorite. Pressing up on the d-pad pauses combat and brings up an alphabetized list of all favorites, which can then be set to either trigger. Now, it's fast and easy to switch up from sword and shield, to a bow, or break out the destruction magic, allowing players the freedom to handle combat as they wish and not feel cramped into one fighting style.
 
For the first time in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim features a crafting system that is both rewarding and convenient. Players can brew their own potions, forge their own weapons and armor, and throw enchantments on items to make them even stronger. Upon visiting the right bit of equipment necessary for crafting (such as a forge or alchemy table) players can view the recipe for any item they have the skills to make, and vendors often sell most, if not all, items needed for crafting, meaning running around and gathering resources the hard way is entirely optional. Since the loot of most dungeons is of mediocre quality, crafting is the way to go to earn some of the best weapons and potions, so it's worth the time investment. Unfortunately, items needed for crafting skill have some weight, meaning carrying around a lot of ingredients can eat up valuable inventory space.

Bethesda put a lot of effort into making Skyrim its most stunning game to date, both visually and aurally. Utilizing a heavily revamped version of Fallout 3's graphics engine, Bethesda has breathed life into every nook and cranny of Skyrim's world. The draw distance here is sufficient to allow players to see miles into the distance, and every place that looks like it could be explored can be explored. While I paused more than once to admire the view, textures look pretty awful up close. With character models, Skyrim makes great strides in facial animation, with smoother, more natural looking features, but there's little innovation with character movement, which still appears rigid. The dragons, one of Skyrim's major selling points, look picture perfect, with powerful wings and sharp teeth the send a message of menace impossible to miss.

The Elder Scrolls series is known for excellent music, and Skyrim keeps that tradition intact, with a perfect mixture of subtle melodies for calm moments, and forceful epic scores to accompany dragon battles. Sound effects, from the crackle of lightening spells to the roar of dragons, feel so pitch-perfect that I felt chills go down my spine more than once while exploring dungeons. Bethesda has invested in a much larger cast for voice acting, to help keep conversation fresh, and the effort pays off big. It took me several dozen hours to even begin to notice that a few characters sounded alike, which is a vast improvement over Oblivion. None of these performances are award-worthy, but they get the job done, feel appropriate to the characters, and keep the experience immersive.   

Overall Impression

I could go on about how incredible a game Skyrim is, but this is a review, not a novel. This is the kind of game someone could take a week of vacation to enjoy... and still have tons of places left to explore. Bethesda has by no means made the perfect game, as much could be said about some of the game's glitches, and periodic freezing. In my 43 hours of play time leading up to this review, however, I never experienced any problems. I would have wished for more personality from companions, and some better AI pathfinding, but these complaints are trivial in the face of everything Skyrim offers. Bethesda's newest title stands head and shoulders above its predecessor in every way. With a vast open world crammed full of fascinating quests to complete, mysterious dungeons to explore, and plenty of dragons to slay, Skyrim gives players everything they need to remain engaged for hundreds of hours. Congratulations to Bethesda for creating one of the defining games of this generation, and the best game I've ever played. 
The Good
  • MASSIVE world to explore
  • Open leveling system
  • Tons of quests
The Bad
  • AI Pathfinding isn't great
  • Dragon battles eventually feel routine
  • Having to stop playing to get some sleep!
10
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Forbidden404 on December 10, 2011
I played a little bit today and it's awesome, first time in a Elder scroll's game... really amazing!
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NinjaViking on November 28, 2011
Man, this is such a good review and has very good and valid points....and is very spot on to what i would've wrote a review on this game...this game is very amazing!!! and WILL be GOTY and i will never stop playing it unlike oblivion which i thought was just ok but skyrim is truly amazing!!
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Merfyz on November 28, 2011
Really you only thought Oblivion was okay? I still preferred Morrowind for some reason, but i defiantly still thought oblivion was still quite awesome. I wish they didn't get rid of levitation and open towns in oblivion. The opens towns really set the ambiance of the game for me.
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NinjaViking on December 09, 2011
yeah i thought oblivion was only OK lol i played morrowind so many years ago i don't remember it lol yeah open towns ruined it for me
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Abstergo on November 25, 2011
Seems like a good RPG game, hope it's better than Oblivion.
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Merfyz on November 26, 2011
Did you not like Oblivion or something? Are you suggesting that oblivion wasn't good enough?
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Renagaid on December 08, 2011
Oblivion was great, Skyrim is better. I still enjoy Oblivion, all the glitches and DLC was amazing. I hope for some great DLC for Skyrim.
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Merfyz on December 09, 2011
They will defiantly make alot of DLC for skyrim, because it takes around 3 or more years until they release another one, so they have a big timeframe to milk skyrim.
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theoriginalgibly on November 22, 2011
holy shit i was gonna wait til Christmas but im not im buying it now
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Merfyz on November 26, 2011
Who waits for christmas for a game like this!
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AidenTech on November 19, 2011
I play it non stop and have not gotten tired of it even once. I have 4 characters all exploring the different areas and angles of this magnificent game and I feel as though I've still barely scratched the surface. I AM DOVAHKIIN!
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Merfyz on November 21, 2011
I like you enthusiasm.
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NSchneider on November 19, 2011
Based on the topics of conversation in my Twitter feed, I feel like a complete hipster, while everyone is talking Skyrim, I'm busy building my K/D ration in MW3. I will eventually purchase Skyrim, probably after the GOTY edition comes out and grants me the ability to enjoy some free on disc DLC as well, but I might cave in to pressure soon enough and pick this up. Sounds really too good to pass up.
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Merfyz on November 21, 2011
It is too good to pass up.
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ThrawnOmega on November 21, 2011
I'm sure there will be a GOTY edition, but you're looking at a 1-2 year wait, and I can virtually guarantee you the DLC won't be on the disc. More likely it will ship for codes to download the content without paying extra for it. This game is simply so massive, I have no idea how they could also fit the substantial DLC they have planned on the disc too. Be ready to commit some hard drive space, just and FYI. =)
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Dualsmg14 on November 23, 2011
@ThrawnOmega Actually seeing as it's Bethesda it probably will be on disc DLC in the GOTY edition. I'm not sure about New Vegas but I know Oblivion and Fallout 3 had separate discs with all the DLC on them.

I wouldn't wait for the GOTY edition but that's coming from someone who bought the collector's edition and hardcover guide.
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Merfyz on November 26, 2011
They will just have 2 discs just like the game of the year Oblivion had.
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Dualsmg14 on November 19, 2011
Played it for 36 hours straight after release. If that's not Game of the Year material I don't know what is.
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Merfyz on November 21, 2011
I completely agree.
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OSMenace on November 28, 2011
Thats dedication at its finest.
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Renagaid on December 08, 2011
I went for 22 hours.....5 hour energy helps.
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Merfyz on December 09, 2011
AHAHAHAHAHHA you used an energy drink to keep you going, ahahah thats so funny i might just try that! Thats dedication right there.
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cjf582 on November 18, 2011
This will be the first RPG that i have played since Crisis Core, and that was fun so i was wondering MW3 or Skyrim? I loved MW2 but i still don't have and RPG in my collection so i was wondering what to get.
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SpoonsOfDoom on November 19, 2011
u wont ever need another rpg it pretty much doesnt end. and when it does. make another character. MW3 is pretty legit as well but if u want an RPG that will last you this is it
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Merfyz on November 21, 2011
Give yourself something new. Think about it like this i bet you have been playing all the past COD games, and they come out all the time. How often does an elder scrolls game come out, and the hours you can put into this, and then months later you can play it all over and still have the same fun. Defiantly get skyrim.
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Merfyz on November 18, 2011
I think the character races all look so amazing! I want to be them all. Its going to take me at least an hour messing around in the character creation.

In oblivion i thought the orcs looked dumb, but in skyrim they look so amazingly cool.
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Cecmajster on November 20, 2011
I think that best one is Kahijit sneak/archery it's amazing combination , his needing to explore an area before attack makes him so unique
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giftedrogue on November 21, 2011
There is an Orc in the game that actually has a white skull painted on his face, and he is without a doubt the most intimidating NPC in the game.
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Merfyz on November 21, 2011
@giftedrogue can you make your starting character like him?
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giftedrogue on November 21, 2011
I don't know if they have that war mask available to players, but they might.
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Merfyz on November 21, 2011
I will defiantly try look for it when i make my first character.
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Renagaid on December 08, 2011
I've seen you all over Merfyz and I'd like to discuss Skyrim with you.

And to just ask, do you think there will be DLC such as new hair/paint. Or even something reminiscent of Oblivion's house DLCs and even something as massive as Shivering Isles. Maybe something where you can join/fight the Thalmor to free/ban the worship of Talos.

Penny for your thoughts.
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Merfyz on December 09, 2011
Ya lets talk skyrim, except i havent even played it yet. But i know enough about the games, and have seen enough footage to where i almost have played it. :P I hope they release DLC as big as shivering isles, and i bet they will.
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NinjaViking on November 18, 2011
I got this for my computer and have yet to play it..any suggestions on a good race??
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Merfyz on November 18, 2011
Whatever one you like best, it makes the game more enjoyable if you like your character. They are all good, depends how you want to play.
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giftedrogue on November 21, 2011
I would recommend playing as a Nord for your first playthrough in order to stay true to the storyline, that way you don't have to justify why a non-Nord character is Dragonborn.
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jangoblamba on November 25, 2011
I prefer to use an Argonian, they have a nice combination of multiple areas on the skills tree, and their ability to resist disease and breathe underwater makes them an easy to use beginning race.
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Merfyz on December 09, 2011
I just go with what looks coolest, and in SKYRIM THEY ALL LOOK SO AMAZING, it will probably take me a whole day to figure who i want to play as.

I think they made the Orcs look really badass this time.
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davedarren on November 18, 2011
The main character looks retarded.
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Merfyz on November 18, 2011
I haven't come to a person opinion yet wether i too think he is retarded.
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praxisofevil on November 18, 2011
Given that the "main character" is a customized creation with options of several unique races the only way it could look retarded is if that was your goal...
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Merfyz on November 18, 2011
He means not the main person you create but the advertised guy who they created, and who is in all the trailers. The one with the horned helmet.
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LOOKTheMagician on November 18, 2011
sleep is the worst part about this game, ive played it till i fell asleep
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OSMenace on November 18, 2011
Good to hear!
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Merfyz on November 18, 2011
Ohh i will play it until i die, from lack of food because i forgot to eat.
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giftedrogue on November 18, 2011
For me, the issue was my eyes refusing to open again so that I could keep playing.
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Merfyz on November 18, 2011
Ya then you tell yourself you don't want to play the game half asked. So you go to sleep.
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McGill93 on November 18, 2011
Just downloaded a mod that tells me the real-life time at the loading screen. Helped me realize I've been playing too long... Wow, that's something I thought I'd never say about Skyrim.
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Dualsmg14 on November 19, 2011
Anyone else play it for 36 hours straight after release? Because that's what this amazing game caused me to do.
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Merfyz on December 09, 2011
Shit you beat all my records with 36 hours. I often get so sleepy it just ruins the game because i am half asleep so i just go to bed because i will get more out of the game if i am awake.
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OSMenace on November 18, 2011
Sounds epic.... but I'm already engaged to another of the big games this year... sorry Skyrim :/
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Merfyz on November 18, 2011
No no no no no no no you must play skyrim, YOU MUST! You are going to miss out on life if you don;t play it!
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theoriginalgibly on November 17, 2011
should i buy this game?
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Merfyz on November 18, 2011
YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS GO BUY IT RIGHT NOW
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Batlorn on November 18, 2011
Clearly yess, this is one of the awesome games out this year and i think the best ;)
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NowWhat on November 29, 2011
Umm yea I think that it is crucial you buy this game. now. like right now.
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Merfyz on November 17, 2011
I have been waiting for this game for years now.....and i have to wait a month longer after the release date to play it, ITS TERRIBLE
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theoriginalgibly on November 17, 2011
why?
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Merfyz on November 18, 2011
My xbox is in another country, i have to wait until i travel back.
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LOOKTheMagician on November 18, 2011
i can only imagine your pain
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OSMenace on November 18, 2011
A tale of a boy (err, man?) and his x-box...you should write his book
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theoriginalgibly on November 18, 2011
dont worry ill buy and play it for you
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Merfyz on November 18, 2011
Thanks the original that makes me feel so much better
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Merfyz on December 09, 2011
It has been about a month after the release of Skyrim and i have still yet to play it. : (
I might be looking at waiting around 2 more months before i can play it, its torture.

At least all the bugs and glitches will be fixed for when i play it. :P
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