Skyrim is finally here. This long awaited fantasy RPG is probably one of the most anticipated games of the year for some, it certainly was for me given that I can pin Oblivion, the last game in the series, down as the sole reason that I ended up owning an Xbox 360.
Elder Scrolls has always been a series close to my heart, mainly due to my fondness of all things fantasy. You can keep your M16 with laser sight and your rocket launchers, all I need is a large sword and a fireball spell to take on my enemies. Also who wants to play in a modern day setting when you can wander, chain-free, along some of the most beautiful and fantastical landscapes you have ever seen. War? Who needs it because I have Skyrim.
And what a game Skyrim is, it’s huge, everything about it, from the sprawling missions to the large scale battles, the enemies and the massive, utterly impressive landscapes. Lots of love and time has gone into this game and it doesn’t half show, even from the very beginning when you are first introduced to perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of all – the dragons.
Given that this review is going for the spoiler free approach I won’t go into the above too much, other than to say that at this point you will also be introduced to your character and the creation that goes along with him. There are numerous races to choose from, each with their own background and place of birth, you can of course also change the features of your character thanks to a pretty comprehensive creation system, allowing you to change their sex, looks, hair and eye colour and anything else you don’t like about them. Finally you are also asked to name your character and this, as they say, is when the adventure begins.
Before moving on, it’s worth mentioning that the beginning of the game also gives you the initial impression that all is not right in Skyrim. There is a rebellion going on between the Imperials and the Stormcloaks; the latter being those responsible for killing the King and hence causing the civil unrest that Skyrim finds itself in the middle of. Adding to these worries is that the end of the world has been foretold, although your adventures will soon lead you to finding out more about this.
Once the pleasantries are out of the way the world really does become your oyster. Of course, you do have a main path to follow in order to fulfil the destiny of your character, however there are so many distractions in the World of Skyrim that you would be forgiven for putting your destiny to one side for a while.
While it’s possible to complete the main mission without discovering the land to its full potential, it’s nice to get some experience under your belt. Especially, when exploring a land such as Skyrim which will provide you with not only countless hours of entertainment, but also some of the best moments in videogame history. A lot of these moments come from random encounters; such as fighting monsters you come across on your travels or agreeing to a mission from a stranger you have just met. Of course, all of this leads to experience, which in turn makes your character not only more knowledgeable but also a lot stronger.
The gaining of experience is probably one of Skyrim’s strongest assets. While it is true that gaining experience is generally achieved by adventuring and killing the enemy, there is so much more to it than that. As you will soon discover, just talking to NPC’s can improve certain stats while, reading, bargaining and persuading will also help you to grow stronger mentally. There is also the ability to improve your skills by using Alchemy Labs (used for creating potions), Blacksmith Forges (used for weapon improvement), Cooking Pots, Arcane Enchanters (used for weapon enchanting), Workbenches (used to improve armour) and more, all of which also provides a welcoming way to improve your character using a hands-on approach. The main secret to improving any stat is just to use that skill multiple times, therefore the skills you use the most will shape how your character turns out to be.
Once you have gained enough experience you will then level up, the first step here is to choose whether to increase your characters Magicka; which is used for casting spells, Health or Stamina. Once this choice has been made you must then decide which of the main skills you would like to spend your perk point on. Here you are presented with what can only be described as a sprawling menu of options for each of your skills, with each one branching out in different directions and allowing you the choice of deciding which way your characters skills will evolve. You can also save perk points, allowing you to spend them at a later time.
As mentioned, one of the easiest ways to gain experience is to talk to people and you will get plenty of chances to do that due to the vast areas and numerous towns and cities spread throughout the map. Finding cities is easy, given that you can fast travel between them (once located) and even if you haven’t located the main cities, you can even rent a carriage between them, which is ideal as this gives you a closer starting point to any missions you may have on the outskirts. You can, of course, travel anywhere on the map on foot or you can buy a horse. This is a great way to discover the numerous caves and ruins, which will no doubt lead you off on a different adventure from the one you were planning.
It’s no secret that you character is Dragonborn, so going on various adventures becomes essential given that as part of the main quest you will want to find and learn new words for the very important Shout ability. Shouts are essentially as they sound; your character will come across ancient words carved in Dragon tongue which they can instantly learn, this word will then give you new powers that can be used in addition to your magic. Some Shouts will be taught while others require that you find the word, kill a dragon and absorb its soul in order to activate it. Shouts range widely in nature from the very first known as Unrelenting Force, which sees you using your voice to push anything in your immediate path aside to others such as Fire Breath which essentially sees you breathing fire like a dragon. After you complete the main campaign Shouts become very powerful, although by then you have just about mastered the art.
As well as your Shouts, Magic also plays an important part of the game. There are many schools of magic available and although you are free to use all of them, the very nature of the game will see you use some more than others. Magic is split into four categories, Destruction; which houses combat-like spells such as Flames and Lightning Bolt, Restoration; which houses your healing spells, Alteration; which provides defensive spells and finally Illusion; which provides spells such as Clairvoyance as well as spells to distract and cause fear.
In addition to Shouts and Magic you also gain active effects, which come from enchanted items and from the ritual stones which are found spread throughout the land. Ritual Stones are basically a one-time blessing based on class such as Warrior, Thief or Mage. Once you activate the stone it will then allow you the ability to learn spells, combat or stealth moves faster. Enchanted items explain themselves obviously and can be found throughout the land. There are various effects which come from enchanted items such as increased magicka, stamina and more.
On top of the above, you also have enchanted weapons. These, of course, are the games lifeblood; given that these weapons will allow you to cut down the trolls, bandits, dragons and any other enemies which come your way. Enchanted weapons only have limited charge so you have to use them wisely, either that or make sure you have plenty of souls gems with you to recharge them on the go. Standard weapons can still be pretty powerful, so as long as you have the correct skills and some decent armour, you may still find yourself strong enough to get through most encounters.
Combat is a major part of Skyrim and there is no getting away from it. One of the greatest strengths of Skyrim is that no encounter is the same; therefore a tactic which worked in your previous fight may not be enough in the next. The thing is, you will lose health and a lot of it. A good tactic is to have a healing spell in one hand and a sword in the other, although sometimes even this is not enough, especially when you are outnumbered. Thanks to the sheer variety of skills you possess there is always a way to win a fight, its just a case of finding the correct combination.
Skyrim is of course a massive game so it would be impossible to cover every single aspect, it would be criminal however, not to go into detail about just how wonderful this game looks. Straight from the off you will notice the vast landscapes and snowy mountains, although it’s not until you start exploring that you realise just how much detail there is in this game. Be it the highly detailed cities with their cobbled stone pavements and aged buildings or the moment where you climb to the throat of the world and the snow is coming down so thick and fast that you can’t see an inch in front of you. There is only one word to describe the presentation and dynamic weather system; stunning!
Skyrim does have a few teething issues as you would expect, sometimes NPC’s won’t acknowledge you, for example: I had a mission where I had to speak to someone but he wouldn’t give me the time of day and then just as I was leaving his comrade was speaking to me as if the person I was just trying to talk to had accepted my offer. Another issue is that sometimes NPCs don’t react to a situation, for example: I had just completed the main campaign and went to a certain city to see someone very important, expecting high praise, however he failed to even acknowledge what I had just done. In addition to this there are also occasional screen tearing issues and the odd bit of invisible scenery. It has to be said though that in a world as massive as Skyrim, issues such as these are probably to be expected. In general NPCs are fantastic, reacting when you draw a weapon, asking you to put them away or just mentioning in passing that they have heard of your accomplishments. Every detail has been thought of and then… perfected. So a few minor flaws certainly don’t take away from this.
Some say that single player games have had their day, making way for the ability to jump online and take it to your friends. Thankfully, Skyrim has not forgotten its roots, offering a single player adventure which is just as epic in scale as it is in nature. The lone adventurer can rest easy, because there is no better way to spend time on your own than to spend it with Skyrim.
This is not only one of the finest games of the year, it’s one of the finest games ever made.
Rating: OutstandingReview Policy
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is available to order now on PC (here) (Ps3) here and Xbox 360 (here).