The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a huge game. It boggles the mind how many different things there are to see and do while playing it. You could easily spend hundreds of hours in this world and not get bored. That said, Skyrim is quite a traditional game in many respects. This is unmistakeably part of the Elder Scrolls series and it feels like the game Bethesda Softworks have always been trying to make. This has its advantages and disadvantages; if you hated past Elder Scrolls games, chances are this one is going to get on your nerves as well. It is unashamedly a role-playing game. You are given a blank slate of a character and you shape how the world interacts with you through your actions. Kill nearly everyone in a village? Chances are the survivors aren’t going to react kindly on your return visit. Evil deeds in one area won’t make you wanted in all areas though, which is a godsend for anyone who played previous games in the series. Unfortunately, (though hardly unexpected from a Bethesda game) there have been reports of various crashes and bugs, although the newer patches seem to have cleaned most of these problems up.
The main attraction in a game like Skyrim is getting completely lost in an unfamiliar world. In this respect, the game delivers spectacularly. First of all, the game looks incredible. The graphics are technically impressive, but what really got me is the art and the level design. Some of the places you visit took my breath away, for example in a city in the far North of Skyrim you can see the Northern Lights in the sky at night. The mountain ranges are also marvellous; standing at the top a mountain overlooking half the world feels truly epic. A special mention has to be made for the dungeons as well. I felt that dungeon design was a weakness in past Bethesda games, especially in Oblivion. The dungeons in Skyrim are no longer as samey as they were in past games, each one feels quite different and I had a lot of fun exploring them. Another highlight of the game’s visual design are the dragons. The dragons are the main enemies in the game, so this was something that Bethesda had to get right. Thankfully, they nail it. The dragon animation is stunning and almost every fight I had with a dragon (there are many) felt suitably epic. Another impressive feature is that the behaviour of your reptilian foes doesn’t seem to be scripted much at all. A couple of times I had to retry a dragon fight after dying; the second time the dragon behaved in quite a different way which meant I had to change tactics.
Another fantastic element of the game is the sound design. The sounds in the world really add to the experience and help to create a compelling atmosphere. I played a stealthy character, so I relied on listening a lot as I sneaked around. Sound was indispensable when deciding if I should round a corner or make a break for a door. The music also helps to make the game feel epic; often during dragon battles the main theme music would kick in, which really helps to make you feel like a badass as you shoot the beast out of the sky.
In fact, Skyrim does an excellent job of making you feel like a badass however you choose to play. The core combat is the biggest improvement from previous games; it feels so much more visceral this time round and the ability to dual-wield really opens up your offensive options. You still have a choice between getting up close and personal with various weapons or killing foes from afar using magic or bows. There is one completely new element to the combat though; without spoiling too much, your status as Dragonborn gives you access to ‘shouts’. These powers involve your character saying words of power in the dragon language which have varied effects on the world around you. There are loads of shouts in the game, ranging from a basic push shout which propels enemies away from you to ones which slow down time dramatically, allowing you to make short work of most combat situations. It feels like Bethesda have really perfected the Elder Scrolls levelling system in this instalment, you level your skills by using them so it’s really simple to tailor a character to your exact play-style. There are also a lot of non-combat skills; you can engage in smithing, alchemy, enchanting, pick pocketing and other things. Another great feature of the levelling system is the addition of perks. Each time you level up you can choose to enhance a specific skill with a perk (as long as you meet the skill level requirement). These range from simple damage increases to really useful stuff like allowing you to zoom in for a slow motion sniper shot with your bow.
But all these great systems would be meaningless without a story and Skyrim doesn’t disappoint here either. The main quest (which concerns the dragons) is much more engaging than the main quest in Oblivion and the guild quests are brilliant as ever. The sheer amount of quests on offer is daunting; everyone in the world seemingly has some problem which you can help solve for them. I consistently had about 20 active quests on the go once I got through the games initial stages. The only complaint I would level at this part of the game is that most of the time I didn’t really care very much for the characters involved within the quests. I was more interested in getting cool stuff or new powers. This being said however, the Elder Scrolls series has never really been about character drama. A few dialogue scenes still come off awkwardly and some of the random NPC chatter gets downright silly at times though. The town guards all seem to want you to know their opinions on the most random topics; the recent ‘arrow in the knee’ meme stems from one of these frequent outbursts.
Despite these minor issues, Skyrim is really a place to get lost in. It is so easy to spend hours just wandering around seeing what’s around the next corner. You really get the feeling that you’re part of a living world; oftentimes as I travelled through the wilderness I’d encounter a random person in trouble or some animals hunting something (me usually). To see everything you’d have to spend much more time than was healthy and probably play through it more than once. I heartily recommend this game to anyone who has even a passing interest in role-playing games, epic fantasy or just damn good videogames. Buying this game will probably be the most worthwhile purchase you make all year.