Nehrim - The Best Game, err...Mod, You Haven't Played
When one thinks of Elder Scrolls games, a few things come to mind. At its core, a typical TES game provides an interesting world to explore, with lots of questing, looting, fighting and lore along the way. When you take those core attributes, use the same engine that was used in TES IV: Oblivion, and completely rework the game like the team at SureAI did, you are left with something that has to be played to be believed. Nehrim presents something entirely independent from the Elder Scrolls universe, yet is constructed from the same building blocks as Bethesda's monster RPG title.
At first glance, you will immediately notice the similarities between Nehrim and Oblivion. After all, it uses the same Havok physics engine as Oblivion, and the general look of forested scenery is pretty similar. When you dig a little deeper, though, you start to uncover some key differences between the two games. Dig even deeper and the genius of the design of Nehrim starts to make its imprint on you, quite heavily. Go even farther than that and you might even say to yourself in disbelief, "THIS is a mod?! It feels like its own game!" And that's exactly what Nehrim feels like; its own standalone game that could have been released for $60, but instead it's free for all of our enjoyment. Thank you, SureAI!
So what's good about Nehrim? As I said earlier, you have your usual core principles of open-world RPGs intact and they're all done incredibly well with a high level of professionalism throughout. The world seems meticulously hand-crafted, a feeling that many felt was missing from the Elder Scrolls: Oblivion game. Nehrim is huge (about the size of Oblivion itself) and has different landscapes to explore, and those landscapes leave you with the feeling that the game was crafted by someone with a huge attention for detail. You will find your usual ruined forts, caves, tombs, etc. to explore, never quite sure what's around the next corner or over that hill. Additionally, towns are all over the map, and overall, there are almost *too* many points of interest. Your head may in fact explode at the exploration possibilities in this game. However, Nehrim differs from Oblivion in the exploration department by the simple fact that Nehrim has a bit more structure than Oblivion. Both are open-world, but Nehrim employs the use of more narrow pathways at some points. Yes, you can still wander off in the woods, and exploration is greatly encouraged, but sometimes you will need to take the well-traveled road to get to your destination. The end result is that you get the feeling of an open-world Elder Scrolls game, but with a bit more structure and "hand-craftiness" you'd expect from a game like Gothic or Risen.
Brave one of the enemy-infested points of interest and you never are sure what you're going to find. Instead of level-scaled loot and encounters (as is the story with Oblivion), you get the feeling that the opposite is happening; that it's a non-scaling, static world. What does that mean in practice? It means that if you enter a cave well above your level and somehow manage to survive to the end, there is a good chance that the reward you find will also be well above your level. For example, I entered a cave full of magically contaminated zombies, and using a little retreat-while-flinging-spells technique (and, admittedly, dying a few times), I somehow managed to kill them all and plunder the treasure room at the end of the ruin, which rewarded me with some awesome, powerful loot. And the beauty of Nehrim is, I can equip that loot right away and use it, rather than having to wait until some arbitrary level to reap the benefits of it. Of course, the opposite of this scenario also occurred. I gained a few levels and visited a ruined temple that was on the road leading from the starting area, and I found myself plowing through enemies with little resistance. It was easy and the loot was underneath me, but the experience was still fun, and I did manage to pull some sellable items from the fray. This is one of the side effects of having a game that does not scale to your level.
As with any good RPG, a lot of the time spent with the game will be in combat. Combat is your typical first-person, Elder Scrolls-like experience. You can throw spells from a distance or close in with some melee attacks. You can wield any sort of weapon or spell, of which there are many, and the mechanics of the battle system are very similar to Oblivion. The fun really comes when you combine a little magic with a little melee. You will be zipping around the battlefield fighting all sorts of enemies; zombies, diseased animals, dinosaur-looking beasts, fire elementals, spiders, giant beasts, etc. The list goes on and on. When you level up your skills a little bit, the combat becomes fun. I started as a melee character and quickly learned that magic is a very powerful ally in Nehrim and a must to supplement my battle strategy.
The leveling up system is an area where Nehrim starts to break away from most Elder Scrolls games. Unlike Oblivion, each foe you defeat in combat grants you experience points, and after you reach a certain amount of experience, you increase your level. You have nearly the same skill list as Oblivion, with a few differences (crafting, anyone?). While your skills do level automatically by using them, ala Oblivion, you can also purchase training which increases your skills at the cost of gold and Learning Points, which are acquired each time you level up. I find the system to be done quite well and it's pretty effective and elegant. It creates a situation where you really benefit by fighting every enemy you encounter, and rather than those encounters being meaningless, they are essential to becoming stronger in power. And the great thing about leveling up in Nehrim is, as stated earlier, the game does not appear to level with you, so you get the feeling of power increasing as you level. It's also very possible to encounter a tough challenge that is impossible at lower level, but if you simply level up a bit and come back, you will find it much easier the second time around. This creates some great gameplay experiences and leaves you with stories of conquest to tell your friends.
Questing is also a lot of fun and exudes a high level of professionalism as is seen in the rest of the mod. Rarely are the quests simple and forgettable, usually it's quite the opposite. I find myself constantly interested in completing the next objectives and learning more about the situation at hand. This also leads me to my next point about the general storytelling and plot of the game. To put it briefly, the plot is pretty darn interesting and really starts to grab you after spending a few hours with the game. It's full of interesting lore, exciting locations (wait until you see some of these creative places!) and plenty of twists and turns that will leave you intrigued at what's unraveling before your eyes. The story is one of the key features of Nehrim and it's apparent that a lot of time and effort was put into making it an interesting and worthwhile experience.
So with all this said, what makes Nehrim *that* good is the fact that it really is larger than the sum of its parts. It's brilliant, in fact. There are a few niggles here and there. Some books are left in German, and some of the quest text is very poorly translated, but thankfully these things aren't the norm. There are too few side quests and a good amount of NPCs have nothing to really say to you. But overall, just experiencing this vast world with such beautiful scenery, interesting locations and a complex story really makes it an emotional experience. Traveling from one area to the next is always an adventure. Will you encounter some massive enemy that is too powerful to destroy? Will you find some ruin filled with high level treasure? Maybe there will be a new town or settlement to explore. There is so much to do and see here that, like any great Elder Scrolls game, you can get so absorbed and lost in this world. Walking down a treacherous mountain path for the first time is as fun as any questing or anything else in the game. The unpredictability of the game combined with its hand-placed nature make it quite thrilling to venture in this beautifully crafted world.
There is so much more that could be mentioned, but the bottom line is, if you enjoyed Oblivion, Skyrim, Morrowind, or any other great open-world RPG, you owe it to yourself to try Nehrim. I don't call Nehrim a mod, I call it a game, because it's earned that title. Just give it a few hours to grab you and it might not let go. Well done, SureAI!
Information aboutElder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Play-time: Over 60 hours
Regions & platforms
· Platform: Xbox 360
· Released at 2006-03-24
· Publisher: 2K Games
· Platform: PS3
· Released at 2006-03-24
· Publisher: 2K Games
· Platform: PS3
· Released at 2007-03-20
· Publisher: 2K Games