The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim review
It’s no secret that I often lose hours of my human existence in an RPG. The ability to become a fire wielding mage, a stealth thief with a penchant for pick-pocketing or an armour clad gladiator is just too inviting to resist.
Bethesda Softworks have been at the forefront of the genre for many years. Way back to 1994, with the birth of the Elder Scrolls series, gamers were introduced to worlds often larger than their imaginations could comprehend. The world inside of The Elder Scrolls franchise is breath-taking. The scale and the environment of Tamriel, with all of its 9 provinces, are as diverse as the creatures, monsters and races that dwell within.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the latest in the series, is a vast, often intimidating game which is set to the north of Oblivion. Without spoiling any of the plots to those who have yet to play Skyrim or finish the main missions, I’ll just set the expansive scene.
Skyrim is in the middle of a civil war, 200 years after Oblivion, and after the assassination of the High King there is now a struggle for power. The main story revolves around the return of certain fire-breathing NPCs, and your choice from the very start is to jump straight into the journey set before you, or to begin a voyage of your own.
The realisation of just how immense and immersive the world is soon dawns as you explore your surroundings. Even after over 50 hours in Skyrim, I am still discovering new cave systems, mountain ranges, valleys and dungeons. Each with their own set of missions, the gameplay within Skyrim seems never ending. I have completed the main mission sequence, and I am now faced with over 50 side missions with only half the map discovered. Maybe less.
So after the introduction animation plays out, which shows your new mate’s head lopped off and your head next, you get to choose your race. You have the choice of all of the races within Tamriel, all with their respective abilities and perks and like all the best RPGs, there are face tattoos. So with your life on the line and with all hope lost, a somewhat gigantic dragon shows up and interrupts proceedings. Run!
From here on out it is up to you. Either choose the route which lies before you, or as stated earlier; make your own path.
Explore the titanic mountain peaks, or delve into the deep cave systems, you simply cannot wander far before uncovering your next intriguing set of missions. Whatever you stumble across, and stumbling happens very often in Skyrim, the variety is the main spice that flavours this game so richly.
Every decision you make during gameplay affects the way Skyrim and the NPCs within respond to your character. The dragon that saves your head from the chopping board previously, need never grace the skies again if you ignore the main story but if you do, a few missions in and the air is thick with fire. The AI never forgets a face either. Steal from a shop in plain sight and the guards are instantly picking at your heels. It is jail or death, unless you are a complete bad ass warrior, and if you do escape their clutches, your next visit to the town sees the battle commence. There is no escaping your wrong choices here.
I have to admit that I couldn’t imagine Skyrim without the dragons. My usual routine, which usually consists of looting shops and then selling the bootie back to the owner (which is disturbingly satisfying), is often broken up by the appearance of a colossal dragon. Your first fight with one of the beasts will be the one you’ll remember most fondly. Your heart will be in your mouth the whole time with victory being the stuff legends are made of. It’s not an easy feat, far from it, but it is possible and thankfully your own death is nowhere near as often as in Dark Souls.
Each kill, whether it be dragon (which brings about strange, wonderful and powerful ‘Shouts’ to your character), mountain troll or a wandering bandit sees you gain more skills. This gives you the ability to level up. Whatever you do within your story, whether that is casting spells, wielding your sword doubled handed or firing out a few arrows, will see your abilities strengthen. It is a natural progression but one you can also enhance yourself. Within the level up screen, of which there are 18 skills, each individual one branches off into separate areas of enhancements. You can concentrate on a certain area of expertise; I ploughed points into double handed wielding and after a few branches were lit up I was defeating enemies in one hit. Or you can spread your points across a number of areas. There is a theme here. The choice is entirely yours.
The missions within Skyrim are colourful and varied just as the landscape is. Even ignoring the main mission takes nothing away from the depth of available gameplay. Maybe even the opposite. Each individual mission takes you to a far flung land, further from where you call home. Some of the locations feel inhabitable and completely uninviting as the blistering snow driven winds leave you wondering where to turn. The terrain alone keeps you on the edge of your seat. A top a mountain I found myself edging closer to the TV, instinctively assuming that would help me get a better view through the blizzard. I lost many a brave stallion that way. Luckily, after falling maybe 1000ft, he broke my fall and I survived. I may have shed a few tears after his passing, but that’s between Skyrim and I.
Bethesda Softworks certainly took their time building and developing Skyrim which only benefits the player. The scenery is rich and inviting, and certain effects that seemed stiff and bloated in Oblivion are only sharp and more detailed in Skyrim. I often found myself staring open mouthed at my surroundings, just ingesting the absolute magnificence that is in abundance.
Skyrim is a game within a game, within a game. Searching the caves and dungeons for loot is a mission. That is, after defeating all foes within and solving the sometimes complex puzzles. Gaining all dragon ‘Shouts’ is a mission. That is, after scaling a monstrous mountain and gaining the trust of a group of bearded men. Becoming a mage is a mission. That is, after joining the college once you’ve completed the tasks given from a town’s mage. I truly see no end to accomplishments within this lush and exciting world, and it is a world. Nowhere is off limits within, it is open world to the purest sense of the expression.
I haven’t touched upon the spells available, the monsters that await you, the ability to get married, to buy property, to develop friendships, to gain enemies, to in a sense start a complete(ly) new life.
I have never played a more complex or rewarding game. It makes the real world look bleak and desolate and I crave the variety of adventure that Skyrim offers. The time I put into this epic to write this review was not enough and personally nothing I can possibly say could do Skyrim or Bethesda any sort of justice.