The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

With the gates of Oblivion firmly slammed in the face of Daedric badstuffs, a hundred years or so have passed in the world of Tamriel, with nothing eventful enough to warrant one of Bethesda's legendary Elder Scrolls games. Now though, in snowy Skyrim, located to the north of Cyrodill, dragons are stirring, and another hundred or so hours of incredible RPG adventure beckons. Handily, your character of choice, which can once again be crafted from a whole host of different species and facial characteristics, is a Dragonborn, a chosen one with the power to thwart the greatest and most evil of all dragons.

Skyrim

Your time in Skyrim will be far more than a single-minded linear assault on the biggest dragon's sand castle though. This is no simple trek and bash with a single dragon as your target. Skyrim unleashes you on the world and, as has come to be expected from such games, lets you do whatever you want. You can entirely ignore the main plot for the majority of the game if you wish, and instead choose to help characters you meet along the way, make potions, spend time enchanting weapons and armour, chop wood, hunt dragons, go swimming, get married, buy a house, cook food, craft weaponry or just simply walk through the mountains of Skyrim taking in the scenery. The game is yours to make of it what you want. Some will only scratch the surface, while others will invest literally hundreds of hours extracting every ounce of greatness from a game that has such immense depth.

Primarily, Skyrim is an RPG, with levels, upgrades, armour improvements, magic and many of the other typical fantasy ingredients. Fans of the standard action adventure genres won't be left alienated though, since the game's main combat can be a real-time hack and slash affair if you so choose. There are tactics to suit everyone though, with the game happy to let you tackle most situations using any method you choose, like sneaking in, tricking people, blasts of different magic types, sniping from range, wading in with big sticks or even taking a different path altogether that avoids direct conflict. It's a game that lets you do almost anything within the world that has been created, and it manages to do so while rarely spreading itself too thin. As with any other Bethesda offering, there are vast numbers of bugs that quickly make their way to internet sites, and there will be some luck involved as to how many you encounter, but with regular saves, it's unlikely that anything too game-breaking should occur, and upcoming patches promise to remove many of the issues witnessed so far.

Skyrim

With that small negative point out of the way, it's back to firmly patting Skyrim on the back, starting with compliments for the opening, which once again sees the main character in a restricted situation, spending much of the opening trawling through caves (though far less brown than those seen in Oblivion), until finally the world of Skyrim is unveiled. The game looks incredible without any need for the build up, but by making you wait just a short time before being granted true freedom, your first escape into the open world is made even more impressive. With a brief bit of advice from a temporary companion, you're given a suggested destination, but are under no obligation to follow. Where you go after the game's introduction is entirely down to you. Should you choose to simply head to the nearest mountain, you're perfectly entitled to do so. In all likelihood, you'll encounter a village or two, with miniature adventures waiting to be found. Fifteen hours later, your mission list will have expanded to incorporate a vast number of untamed objectives, and you'll have forgotten where you'd been told to go, and you probably won't care for another thirty hours at least.

The main quests do tend to be the most epic, but the variety in Skyrim and quality of each mission is a vast step forwards from Oblivion, which says a great deal. Even missions that are essentially a game of fetch seem to have been tuned for modern-day gaming. Dungeon structures are carefully mapped with unlockable doors or bridges that ensure you rarely cover the same ground over and over, since the game clearly recognizes that the dungeons aren't as much a visual spectacle as the outer world, and making long journeys into and out of tombs isn't the best use of time. On the surface of Skyrim, you can fast travel to visited locations, but otherwise you're left to your own devices, to soak in a beautiful game either on foot or on horseback. You'll happily walk for hours in the forests and mountains of Skyrim, since the graphics in the game are clearly a massive improvement over the already-beautiful Oblivion. Where the Fallout games felt like a re-hashed engine covered in bulk-buy grey paint, Skyrim feels fresh and new in every way, with care and attention poured into nearly every visual aspect. It's a shame to mention the bugs and glitches again, but it's pretty much inevitable that such things will occur in such an ambitious game. The game will achieve true perfection if those few glitches are swatted.

Skyrim

Aside from the visual upgrade, the tuned mission types and the updated level structuring, a crazy few might still ask if there are any other changes to warrant purchasing a new Elder Scrolls game. Honestly, those first few points are enough alone, but there are other exciting differences. With dragons essentially replacing Oblivion gates, your character, the Dragonborn, has some excellent hidden talents, which can be discovered as you progress. The most impressive are the Dragon Shouts. Certain missions or areas will unlock words that form parts of Dragon Shouts, which can be used once your character absorbs a dragon's soul. The potential is tremendous, because you can now arm your character with a potent spell in one hand, a sturdy weapon in the other, and a shout at the ready, granting you a triple attack with which to assault your target. There are also convenient shortcut menus for favourite spells, shouts and weapons, allowing you to make quick changes in battle, without resorting to the main menu. It's a nice touch, and the shouts themselves are extremely cool, particularly with a decent surround sound setup.

To illustrate the effectiveness of the combat, an encounter with a particularly tough dragon on a snowy mountain top required every skill in the book for a successful outcome. While in the air, the dragon's attacks were extremely effective, with powerful cascades of frosty breath stripping the main character's health to mere shred. A quick blast of healing levelled the playing field, but further damage is always inbound. By conjuring a Flame Atronach, a handy diversion was essentially fed to the dragon, buying time to kit out the main character and restore both health and magicka. Charged and ready, the dragon had made a landing to dispatch the Atronach, granting the main character a chance to cause some serious damage. A fierce shout using Unrelenting Force sent a shockwave that staggered the dragon, keeping it pinned to the floor for crucial seconds while a flurry of powerful flame spells followed. With confidence at a high, it was time to charge in and start slapping the poor beast with an enchanted sword, carving through the creatures impressive health bar. The fight was far from over though, with the scaley threat quickly manoeuvring to try and devour the main character whole. Things quickly descended into a devious game of cat and mouse, with the dragon's impressive size its undoing amongst smaller stone structures. Finally, the killing blow was struck, and the dragon was slain. The majestic animal began to burn, with its skin fading away. Stood victorious, the Dragonborn absorbed the lost soul as the music built to a crescendo. The battle was won, and the victor walked away yet more powerful, ready to tackle the next dangerous foe.

Skyrim

It's the presentation as a whole, everything from dragon encounters like that through to the smallest menu, that has evolved so effectively from the early days of PS3. Skyrim boasts one of the smoothest user interfaces around, and every visual aspect of the game has clearly received a lot of loving attention. Character models are leagues ahead of Oblivion, and the voice acting too, meaning that as you explore Skyrim, you're far less likely to keep hearing and seeing the same people in different towns. Certainly you'll still detect the repetition, I mean, everyone would feel a lot warmer and a lot happier with a belly full of mead, but there's a staggering amount of dialogue recorded, and rarely an inconsistency in sight. The music and effects are the strongest audio aspect though, and warrant the inclusion of a decent surround sound setup. The entire score is absolutely epic, with several stirring pieces and many others that are both moving and atmospheric. Meanwhile, every spell cast, every Dragon Shout and every environmental aspect encountered is a joy to listen to, with waterfalls and whistling winds complementing fearsome shouts and dramatic flame bursts. Using the shout Whirlwind sprint to propel your character through the scenery never grows old with the sound turn up, with an effect reminiscent of the sound barrier being broken as your character hurtles forward.

Immersing you in the game is something Skyrim excels at, and there's enough gameplay there that you might not feel like leaving for over a hundred hours. Though the central quests may take only a few hours if you run past everything, there are varied and exciting side missions that could easily occupy most gamers five times longer than the average adventure game. There's no online component, but it's unlikely most people playing it will care. There might be scope for multiplayer RPG action, but the game is designed to be your adventure, you as the Dragonborn, taking on the world and saving the day. Oh, and earning trophies for it. With a game as large as Skyrim, there's no need for any daft trophies involving silly numbers of online kills, ridiculous item collection or hidden trophies requiring internet intervention. The game simply asks you to beat it, while doing a whole host of things you'd probably want to do anyway. The sole exception is perhaps the requirement to pick 50 pockets, which won't suit everyone's style of play, but on the whole, the trophy list is an ideal challenge for such an incredible game.

Skyrim

In summary, though there are games more polished, like Uncharted 3, games more fearsome, such as Dark Souls, games with unlimited online potential, Battlefield 3, and others that excel in a particular area, there is literally nothing out there that can compare with Skyrim for crafting such an immersive, expansive, epic adventure. Many will steer clear based on a fear of the cliched RPG featuring brown dungeons, aging combat and an abundance of statistics, but Skyrim is an adventure that should be missed by none. Bethesda may have an awful reputation for bugs and glitches, but they have a far stronger history of games that are truly inspiring, featuring adventures more entertaining and rich than anything else around. Skyrim is the pinnacle of Bethesda's achievements so far, and deserves a few hundred hours of your time.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Bethesda

Developer:

Bethesda

Players:

1

Online:

None

Release:

2011-11-11

Trophies:

50

Review summary

Gameplay:

Incredible depth, variety and endless potential

Graphics:

Skyrim is outstandingly beautiful throughout

Sound:

Amazing music and effects

Lastability:

Literally hundreds of hours of quests and exploration

10.0

Meteoric

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