GAME NAME: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
DEVELOPER(S): Bethesda Softworks
PUBLISHER(S): Bethesda Softworks
PLATFORM(S): Playstation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PC (Checked)
RELEASE DATE(S): 11/11/11
The Elder Scrolls series has a storied history with lore that could fill a fair few textbooks.
Arena (released in 1994) was intended as a simple arena combat game that shifted towards an RPG during development. Daggerfall & Morrowind expanded this concept into fully fledged 3D worlds. Oblivion was shoved into the foreground as the Western RPG on a fledgling Xbox 360. Since then, there were always massive expectations of the follow up, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Those expectations were not misplaced.
Gameplay and Story
Skyrim shoves the player into an unnamed prisoner’s shoes, on the back of a carriage, on the way to their execution. It doesn’t sound all too glamorous, but the intro does tell a story of a High King that was murdered by another prisoner, a bloody civil war raging in Skyrim & Alduin the Dragon God returning to destroy the world.
New players might feel a bit lost with the amount of lore that gets thrown around within this opening sequence. Imperials, Stormcloaks, Hammerfell, Jarl of Windhelm, Sovngarde, Nord, Rorikstead, General Talius, Shor, Mara, Dibella, Akatosh, Devines… these are just some of the words that get thrown at new players within the very first conversation of the game. Bethesda really missed an opportunity to engage players here. This doesn’t mean you’ll be permanently lost, but it takes a while to catch up to the lore, which is arguably essential to becoming fully immersed within the world of Skyrim.
After creating your character & finishing the obligatory tutorial level you get set free on the Skyrim landscape, and what a landscape it is… Bethesda are masters at creating a living, breathing, world and Skyrim is no exception. NPC’s roam freely with their own schedules, and even approach you if they are in need of help. Animals wander its open plains whilst wolves and bears attack when provoked. It’s a credit to Bethesda’s programmers, artists & AI designers. This world doesn’t just feel alive. It is alive.
The walk to your first town is breathtakingly detailed. Animals run around realistically, trees sway in the wind and its snowy landscape will remind you of Norway or the Swiss Alps. The first time I played it, I felt cold in my living room. It’s that good.
Dungeon crawling is equally fantastic. Bethesda hired a team of eight dungeon designers for Skyrim (versus one designer in Oblivion). Consequently, the dungeons vary vastly from the claustrophobic experience of Oblivion. Some are massive organic sprawls with their own ecosystem & rarities. Others are steampunk industrial ruins built by ancient dwarves. The dungeon variety provides its own jaw-dropping moments throughout the game, and solidifies the knowledge that when it comes to Skyrim, “You haven’t seen everything yet”.
The combat system has had an overhaul since Oblivion too. Dual-wielding is the order of the day in Skyrim. You can have a Fire Wall spell in one hand, with a Soultrapping Ebony Sword in the other. There are no limitations as to how you wield. If you build a pure casting character, you can combine two of the same spells to create a more powerful version of it.
One of the major additions to this instalment is the introduction of “Shouts”. Shouts are dragon words which are found on Word Walls you find scattered around Skyrim. These have various effects like sending your enemies flying with hilarious ragdoll physics, fire breath, frost breath, and many others. Once fully upgraded you have extremely powerful shouts that bring dragons to their knees. The game makes sure you feel like a badass, and trust me, you will.
Side Quests & Guilds
As you traverse Skyrim you’ll most certainly run into one or more of the factions that exist in the world: The Thieves Guild are seen as common criminals & thugs in Skyrim. They have lost most of their influence in the 200 years since the Oblivion crisis. Your job is return them to their former glory. College of Winterhold, is a mages guild similar to Oblivion’s Mages Guild. The Dark Brotherhood is an assassin’s guild where the player becomes a contract killer. The Companions are a guild of Warriors specifically for the sword/shield character.
These are separate, fully fleshed-out, side-quests that captivate as soon as you encounter them. Any type of character can join any guilds, and these guilds are a great way to practise skills you haven’t used much during your play through. They add at least another 30 hours of play time on top of the already epic main quest, so it really adds value to an already impressive package.
If you’re an achievement/trophy nut, expect to play about 100 hours to complete the entire game, plus side quests. If that’s not enough play time for your money, the Radiant AI system will randomly generate quests (usually when you ask for jobs at an Innkeeper or when you finish a guild questline). These quests will not end & provides an endless amount of play if your persistence knows no bounds.
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