The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the game that all RPG players have been waiting for since Oblivion graced our consoles all those years ago. Oblivion, the last game released in the Elder Scrolls series was an epic adventure, albeit one with a fair few flaws. It seemed like there were three voice actors, the dungeons were all too similar and the missions were almost all the same. Travel to this dungeon, pick up artefact, come back. It did detract from the experience, but it wasn't a problem, due to the vast amount of extra content besides the main quest. Whether that be assassinations, burglaries, treasure hunting, learning magic or just straight up exploring the land of Cyrodiil, there was a lot to do and it almost never got boring. Over 100 hours could easily be put into the game without the player becoming tired of it. After Oblivion, everyone wanted the next Elder Scrolls title. Nothing was mentioned, leaving many to wonder if there would be one for this generation of consoles at all. But a year ago, the trailer surfaced and excitement has been building ever since.
The game starts in a very similar way to Oblivion. You are on a cart, on the way to Helgen to be executed. You aren't told why, as Bethesda want their fans to make their own back-stories and reasons for this punishment. Seconds before the executioner's axe is due to take off your head, a huge dragon attacks the city, disrupting your death and giving you a chance to escape. One of the guards sees the good in your character, and decides that together, you may be able to make it out. And soon, Skyrim is all yours, and you are the Dragonborn, the Dovahkiin. You can do the main quest from start to finish with no pauses if you wish. But that's not the point of Elder Scrolls games. The most fun comes from exploring the land, helping out the people that live in the various towns and settlements, hunting down the wildlife, exploring ruins and finding amazing treasure. Skyrim is so vast, moreso than any other game on the market, that it becomes easy to lose hours. The best way to play the game is to pick a starting point, choose a random direction and walk. You will come across villages, ports, caves, towers, dragons, bandits, necromancers, ghosts, shrines and wild animals. Boom, there goes ten hours of your life, without even touching the main quest line.
There are many towns to visit, including my personal favourite, Whiterun.
Skyrim has a great way of telling you some of the many things to do, by using some clever in-game ways. Go to Riften, and you'll hear people talking about the Thieves Guild. Ask some questions about it and you'll find out more and more information, including it's whereabouts, making it easier and more interesting to find out about it. What makes this even better and more immersive is that there aren't just a handful of voice actors anymore, there are now over 70. It really does make a difference, after hearing the same voices repeated over and over throughout the world of Oblivion become a joke. Another way to lead you to a location or person could be a letter, on a table in a cave that you've been sent to clear out. It could have information on a big haul of treasure, stolen by a group of bandits. The promise of wealth makes it hard to resist checking out the location specified in the letter. And the best thing about it is, you could completely ignore all of this if you wish, to just focus on the story, but by doing this you'll miss out on allies, adventures, the best weapons, even marriage and your own home. It's an incredibly deep adventure game that surprises and amazes you at every turn.
Everything from Oblivion has been improved. The main improvement is that you don't have to focus on one style of combat anymore. It used to be that you would choose a starting class, such as a warrior or a mage, and you would then use their weapons for the entire game. Whilst it was great to see your character grow and become much better at these weapons, it did become very repetitive. That issue is no more, as the boundaries of class have been completely destroyed. You still pick an area to be better at, but are still free to use all weapons as you see fit. You aren't bound to your sword anymore. If a situation calls for it, you can pull out your bow and arrow and not feel completely useless at it. If you want to try out your hand in magic, do that too. It's easy to become equally skilled in all weapons, and the game becomes so much more fun. No longer do you have to start a new game if you want to be good at archery as well as magic. You can do it all with one character. The combat is also much more customisable, without becoming overpowered. In Oblivion, a spell was selected and was from that point always active if you needed it. You could shoot a fireball whislt wielding a weapon. Now, everything gets assigned to a hand. So you could assign a shield to your left hand, and a sword to your right. A pretty standard set up. If you wanted though, you could mix it up and swap the sword for a spell. So you could use a fire spell to set your foe alight, and if they get to close, you can still block. If you wanted to be completely magical, you can assign spells to both hands. They can be the same spell, making it twice as powerful, or they can be two different spells. It's great to have a destructive spell and a healing spell, or even a magical block such as Lesser Ward, which gives you both offensive and defensive magic. It's great to have the option to try out all styles of combat, and it really allows you to create your perfect character.
The combat is so much better than in previous Elder Scrolls games.
The world of Skyrim is absolutely gorgeous. There are snowy mountains, vast tundras and lush forests and lakes. There are too many caves, ruins and hideouts to count, and a lot of them have a mini-story to them, which often include bandits, the twisted Falmer (which were once elves), the Forsworn, a strange, primitive cult, vampires, necromancers, etc. The list goes on, full of creatures and groups of people who generally don't want you butting in on their business. It's great fun to explore each and every one, and the treasure that is usually deep within the structure definitely makes it worth it. Exploring the exterior world is also amazing, as you'll see some truly inspiring sights. The first time you see a giant, walking with a couple of loyal mammoths is unbelievably exciting and jaw-dropping. After a while, you'll start to notice the smaller details, which really do add to the experience. The salmon, jumping and swimming their way up waterfalls. The line of ants, making their way back and forth across a tree stump. The butterflies and dragonflies darting around, all of which you can catch and use as ingredients in many potions. Bethesda have created the closest thing to a living, breathing world that the gaming world has ever seen.
Of course, the main event is the dragons. There are both random and scripted dragons, and each fight with one of the scaly giants is fun, epic and incredibly intense. It starts with a roar, or a shadow, alerting you to it's presence, and then the fight begins. They'll fly past, shooting fire and ice from their mouths at you, they'll hover just out of reach of your swords to deliver a more focused attack, and finally they'll land. The ground shudders as the beast makes a more intimate assault, and the first time that a dragon snaps at you with it's ridiculously large teeth will be a moment you won't forget. You must use everything at your disposal to be the victor, including the game changing dragon shouts. Defeat a dragon to absorb it's soul, which will then let you unlock the power of a dragon word. You find these words in a number of ways, and once you unlock them, the shout is yours to do with as you please. The most well known is the unrelenting force shout, which sends a huge blast of energy at whatever you aim it at. Great for combat, but also perfect for a bit of mischief. For example, sending someone sailing off the top of a mountain is just too good an opportunity to miss, no matter what the cost, and the results are always hilarious.
This screenshot represents how Bethesda must feel right now. Truly epic.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the most awe-inspiring, beautiful, epic, deepest and most fun game that is available right now. It takes everything that was good from Oblivion, and expands and improves it. It takes everything that was bad about Oblivion, and either fixes it or gets rid of it. Yet with all of these Oblivion comparisons, it never seems too familiar or dated. Bethesda have shown that they still know how to make amazing RPGs, and now they're better than ever. With promises of large DLC and future Steam Workshop support for the PC version, it looks like it's only going to get better in the land of Skyrim. The only bad thing is, nothing can be good after Skyrim. It's perfection beyond anything that the industry has ever seen, and it's going to be damn hard for anything to knock Skyrim off of it's lofty dragon perch.
by Louis Gardner