Was there really any need?
Grab a sword, a quiver of arrows and your finest Elven armour. Cancel all social engagements, stock up on food supplies and kiss your loved ones goodbye. It’s time to embark on a heroic journey, one which will be carved by your own two hands; a glorious tale retold through hearsay, legend and the musical stylings of a local town bard. For this tale will forever be unique to you. Forget what you knew, forget who you are. For you are now Dovahkin. You are Dragonborn… This land is yours to roam, to plunder, to pillage, to save, and to scorn; to accept, to reject, to help and to hinder. Welcome to the winter wonderland that is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
North from Cyrodiil, the province of Skyrim is home to vast plains, treacherous mountain paths, winding, crystal clear rivers and lush forestry. Animals frolic, blissfully unaware of their less peaceful cohabitants. Demons stir, bandits’ raid and the once mythical beasts known as Dragons return, instilling fear into every human being. The ancient towns that scatter the land are steeped in history, formed through years of tradition and hardship. There is no one true ruler governing Skyrim, as each faction secretly plots the demise of one another, bound by human nature’s constant desire for power.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim could be boldly described as an unwritten, best-selling fantasy novel. Naturally, there’s an engaging plot holding the foundation of the story together (one which I won’t spoil), however, it’s the sheer freedom, endless amounts of available quests and the wealth of opportunities to customise and explore which truly pens an epic tale that transpires at your whim.
After the opening cut-scene, the player is granted the opportunity to create their character. The character selection screen allows you to choose from a selection of races, many of which will be familiar if you’ve played any of the previous Elder Scrolls games. From the Nords to the Argonians, each race comes with their own set of skills and starting bonuses. There’s an array of sliders and options that grant you the power to make your hero or heroine as individual as you see fit. Thankfully, every race is appealing due to the fact The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim never locks you into one certain class.
You won’t be punished for choosing a less burly character, nor will you be hindered if you choose a hard-hitting slugger. This avoids the common occurrence of ‘character class regret’, where by a few hours in, you realise that your character is far too weak or completely unsuited to your play style. Perhaps one aspect which may concern fans is Bethesda’s odd decision to alter the appearance of the elven races from that which resembled the more traditional elven stereotype (think Legolas from Lord of The Rings) to something which looks quite alien-like. It could deter many players from choosing the elven races this time around which is a shame, as the elven race is usually a past-time, fantasy favourite.
Once you’ve named, styled and tweaked your hero or villain (depending on your preference), the world of Skyrim is essentially your oyster. From the outset, you’re quickly provided with a multitude of choices. Do you want to master the art of the sword, impaling trolls with effortless ease? Or do you prefer the might of magic, conjuring fireballs and raining sheets of ice down from the sky? Why not a combination of the two? Perhaps you’d prefer to focus on the main story quests or instead complete one of the many numerous side quests?
Traditionally, RPG’s can be somewhat overwhelming at times, especially in the early stages. The daunting magnitude of a game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim can often result in deterring novice players. Luckily, Skyrim’s experience system isn’t a myriad of strict complicated perks and bonuses, one that forces the player down a specific linear path. Instead, Bethesda wisely introduced an experience system which once again, encourages freedom of choice. Using the outlay of a star constellation system, numerous abilities are available for your perusal. From lock-picking to one-handed weapons; every action that you perform can be mastered, improved or even neglected.
When a player levels-up (achieved by gathering a culmination of experience points earned by performing an assortment of actions), the three fundamental stats of health, stamina or magicka can be increased. Perk points are also provided for the player to improve a particular chosen ability. However, to unlock the more advanced techniques, skill points must be accumulated.
Complementing the invigorating absence of the rigid structure is the Guardian Stones. The Guardian Stones are mysterious, enchanted objects which, when activated, can enhance a particular attribute of your character. For example, if you activate the ‘Warrior Stone’, the player will receive an experience bonus every time they engage in hand-to-hand combat. There are numerous Guardian Stones scattered across the land, each with their own individual enchantment. Only one Guardian Stone can be activated at a time, thus, it is up to you to determine which Stone is most applicable to your needs.
Hoard It All
There’s a mind boggling amount of things to collect in Skyrim. From enchanted weapons, miscellaneous items, books, flowers, food, coins, potions, armour; practically every item can be hoarded away. One can sympathise with Bethesda’s burden of designing an intuitive inventory system to house all these distinct items, but even so, the inventory can be a rather clunky and hard to navigate which can frustrate. Flicking between spells and weapons isn’t as simple as it should be and at times you can find yourself selecting the wrong item or entering a battle without a shield equipped.
Combat feels fluid, meaningful and crucially, satisfying.
I vanquish Thee!
Naturally, during your stay in Skyrim there will be hundreds of foes to vanquish and demons to banish. The combat in previous games has felt rather stiff, disconnected and somewhat awkward. Pleasingly, the combat system in Skyrim has been significantly improved over its predecessors. Combat feels fluid, meaningful and crucially, satisfying. A welcomed ‘wow factor’ is the finishing blow cinematic. Witnessing your character gracefully annihilate a troublesome bandit is infinitely awesome. Even after several hundred encounters, battling enemies is exciting thanks to their intelligent AI and unpredictability.
Magic is available to every player, with restoration spells, destruction spells and ailments spells to choose from. The cast can conjure magic with two-hands this time around, creating imposing fire balls rather than a mere stream of a flame.
Catering to fans of both the first-person and third-person perspective, Skyrim allows the player to switch between the two on the fly. If you prefer the sight of your hero in action and a better view of your surroundings then the third-person perspective provides a wonderful viewpoint. If you want a more visceral, realistic and immersive experience, than you may opt to play the game strictly from a first person view point. Both are equally as enjoyable.
A new feature which is related to the underlying story arch is the Dragon Shout ability. These powerful ‘shouts’ grant powerful, rechargeable perks such as the technique of projecting your voice which can throw enemies helplessly across a room. There are many shouts to discover, each containing a distinct characteristic which can be used in combat. The Dragon Shouts are important abilities which may be required to solve a dungeon puzzle or to overcome more powerful enemies.
The Land Of Splendour
Running on Bethesda’s new ‘Creation’ engine, visually, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim can often be outstanding. Breath-taking vistas, beautiful day to night cycles and claustrophobic, dimly lit dungeons all add to the fantasy fuelled immersion. Mountains range as far as the eye can see, meadows sway in the breeze whilst blizzards whirl on the snowy mountain trails. Dark, dingy spider-infested caves are beautifully brought to life, with convincing lighting effects, rich textures and a peppering of objects occupying the caves. Each town and city has its own distinct architecture, avoiding the trap of generic similarity. At times, Skyrim truly is a masterpiece, showcasing how to effectively recreate a living, breathing world; a visual delight for the eyes. The graphical style may not entice everyone, but there’s no denying that Skyrim is an impressive spectacle.
Character models, which were ugly, frequently cloned and plastic looking last time around are much improved; with added detail enhancing the allure of story based NPC’s. The countless, expertly designed weapons and armour have also benefited from a significant upgrade, making each treasured find just that little bit more special. Enemies are also gruesomely rendered, with trolls, giants and spiders triggering the appropriate response of disgust.
Of course, one of the most fascinating aspects of Skyrim is the ability to spot a mountain in the distance and travel there by horse or foot. The vast landscape of the world is a pleasure to navigate; discovering hidden coves or undiscovered towns is strangely compelling, often negating the urge to fast travel, which at times is necessary and an option as long as you’ve previously discovered that destination. Some may find the constant trekking and traversing tiresome at times, and admittedly, the horses won’t provide the desired speed or stamina you may expect, however, this is adventuring after all and it’s faithfully represented in Skyrim; warts and all.
Score Of The Gods
The soundtrack that accompanies your grand adventure is captivating, magical and truly memorable. Each orchestrated swell provides a fitting ambience to the grandeur of the game. The title theme alone, which plays during monumental battles, is possibly one of the most invigorating musical pieces ever created. Jeremy Soule’s mesmerising accompaniment is a triumph, so much so that the mere sound of the Skyrim theme can actually motivate you to return back to the game – an astonishing feat.
Equally, the sounds of weapons and creatures are captured perfectly; with realistic shrieks and cries invoking a skin-tingling chill at times. There’s a tangible feeling of tension as you carefully advance through a hostile cave or approach a camp of bandits. Hearing the tight, tension of the bow as you draw back your arrow, then listening intently as your arrow glides through the air before embedding into the back of unsuspecting bandit is a wondrous feeling.
Unsurprisingly, there are countless people to meet in the world, each with their own tale to tell. Generally, the voice acting is excellent throughout. NPC’s sound believable and real, encouraging you to chat away to each and every passer-by.
Best Of The Quest
Skyrim’s length can be simply described as epic. This is a game which is plentiful, one which will provide well over 60 hours of gameplay with ease. The main quest alone constitutes at least 20 hours of gameplay. There must be well over a hundred side quests to complete, each as richly detailed as a story quest. There are guilds to join, weapons to find, armour to create, books to read, a house to renovate, the prospect of marriage; Skyrim dwarfs previous games with its scale.
Let’s not forget that Skyrim, thanks to its variety, is definitely worth multiple playthroughs. Maybe the next time you’ll want to be a magic user, a badass and hone a completely different skill set. Speaking from experience, my character, choices and discovered items were fundamentally different to that of my friends. It’s that personal touch and uniqueness which will always make The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim an attractive proposition.
Buggy Bonus + 1
Unfortunately, Skyrim is plagued with an unbelievable amount of bugs and glitches. Yes, people will fearlessly proclaim that it’s a huge open world game and bugs are to be expected. But at times, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim can feel absolutely broken. It’s confounded by the fact that because Skyrim is such an immersive, wonderful experience, these game breaking bugs can leave you angry, frustrated and more importantly, disconnected from the fantasy world. A patch has recently been released which addresses some of the more prevalent bugs but there is still a monumental amount of unresolved issues.
Unluckily, for PS3 owners their copies of Skyrim were so gimped that after 30 hours of play the frame rate began to fall dramatically to a basically unplayable 2-8 frames per second. PC owners are frequently booted out of the game unexpectedly whilst Xbox 360 owners were unable to install the game to their hard drives at the risk of losing texture quality. And that’s just barely scratching the surface. Quests are broken, NPC’s are frequently erratic, and yes you can be killed by inanimate objects! Sometimes you’ll find yourself swimming in mid-air, flickering skies, world holes and other bizarre bugs. Obviously, patches will be released down the line, but it’s the early adopters, the true fans who have to suffer through the broken mess that has been offered for a monetary price. It’s a disgusting, unacceptable practice which is becoming far to prevalent in modern games. These inexcusable errors taint the wonderful, unsurpassed world of Skyrim; one which would have otherwise perhaps obtained a perfect score.
Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then watch our video review here.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was reviewed on PC.
A Legendary Tale
The first 15 minutes of Need for Speed: The Run is quite enjoyable, however, quickly the cracks begin to appear and your coast to the finish line becomes an unbearable slog. There’s definitely room for a dramatically improved sequel as the idea, although flawed in execution, is an interesting one. Regrettably we’re left with a disgustingly short campaign, horrific load times, dull gameplay and a mediocre story. And that’s a shame really, because after your two hour ride, you realise that Black Box’s solid idea quickly ran out of gas. Despite what EA might believe, you really don’t need this Need for Speed.