The time has come. Bethesda, creator of some of the most monumental RPG's ever seen, most famously The Elder Scrolls series and the Fallout series, bring us their latest title, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Excitement around this title has been massive, in my circles exceeding the hype for Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3, and with its launch we've already seen incredible numbers across the board, 270k+ concurrent users on steam, metacritic scores in the mid nineties on all formats, from all we can see it's a massive success within just a few days, and now it's my turn to take a look and put it through its paces...
It's been a long time since I got that giddy feeling over a game, and waiting for Skyrim to unlock on Steam I was certainly in suspense, the clock struck, Steam decrypted files, it was time for the adventure to begin.
Launching the game, met with a sleek main menu, hitting new and taking a slurp of my cherry cola, the first scene loads. I'm travelling in a cart, a prisoner it seems, and not on a journey that's going to end well from the sound of the general conversation between the others sat nearby. Looking around I'm completely taken by the game world, it's beautiful but in a dull medieval way, it's detailed, it's alive, I'm instantly immersed, I'm there, sound and visuals at the level we've come to expect from Bethesda titles, and I'm hungry for more.
Approaching a small keep, coming to a clearly dire situation, an executioner and his block in the distance, shouts and discussions from the locals as we are brought to a stop. Unloaded and called out one by one, the first walks on to his fate, no fear, walking proud, next a panicking man makes a run for it, shot down by the archers within moments, over so fast, I'm next, I step forward, they don't recognise me, they don't recognise my attire, I'm not on the list he holds, who am I?
Bethesda spare no expense plunging you into character creation, and what a wonderful character creator it is. Ten races are placed before you, each with their own characteristics, styles, and bonuses, short description accompanying each, Nord being the default selection. The races are varied, and what we've come to expect from the Elder Scrolls series, The Altmer (High Elves), Argonian (A reptilian race), The Bosmer (Wood Elves), The Breton, The Dunmer (Dark Elves), Imperials, The Khajiit (A race of feline humanoids, The Nord, Ocrs (also called The Orsimer), and The Redguard.
At this point I'm spoilt for choice, and I've already seen several races I want to play. I've barely gotten through the intro and I'm already thinking about my next playthrough and what character I'll be next, heck I haven't even decided what I'll play on this one yet!!
45 minutes pass by, I've been through a number of the races and their options, I've customised several, the different looks achievable are varied and vast, while not allowing the crazy concoctions we have seen in some of the previous Elder Scrolls titles, it's much more sensible and refined, and very very impressive. It's clear a lot of time has gone into character creation, it's been clearly thought out, immersion has been kept a priority, it's exactly what I had hoped for in Skyrim.
Settling on The Dunmer, The Dark Elven race, it's time to face my fate.
The man turns to his captain, asking her what to do with me, no mercy is shown, I'm here, and I'm thrown in with the rest, I'm sent to the block, and I take what could be my last steps in the world I'm longing to explore.
The first man is kicking to his knees at the block, head put to rest, a swift chop, a spray of blood, and before the body even been moved to the side I'm called up. Dropped to my knees with a thud, an odd sound in the distance, they ignore it, my head lays onto the block and turns, looking up to my executioner, the sound again, louder, closer, and then out of nowhere, a dragon lands on the building to my left, a powerful roar ejecting from it, the sky turns, chaos ensues, flames engulf all around us, buildings destroyed.
At this point you already know what you're in for, and it's going to be one hell of a game no doubt. My words barely do it justice, when you experience the intro, yes all that's just the intro, it really is an amazing way to introduce you to the world, and a great way to start the story of your journey. Bethesda set the scene so well, and its a quality that remains throughout your whole time in Skyrim. There aren't many titles out there that deliver in this way, in fact it's a magic only Bethesda ever seem to have mastered.
From here on you're presented with your first real option, to go with the escaping rebels or the guard trying to help you get through this mess, and it's the first of many in a game which offers options by the bucket load.
The main quest line in Skyrim itself is quite driven. You're easily put from point to point, dialogue is pleasant and well presented, scenes are well played out, it's scripted in the special way we've grown to love from Bethesda titles. Some people have criticised the voice acting, personally I find its over dramatic tones to be well suited, this is a fantasy after all, and I've even found myself getting into the spirit of being over dramatic along with it as I slam down my mug of coffee and head out into the wilderness on another adventure each time.
The quests themselves tend be the way you would expect, retrieve an item, find someone, learn something, the kind of tasks you always have in a world of this type, not much there has changed really from the past Elder Scrolls titles, but that's not a bad thing, why change something that isn't broken after all. If anything they've strengthened it with the variety of mechanics and systems behind the quests, and your character itself and its progression, and that is where Skyrim really begins to shine.
The mechanics of character progression have changed through the life of The Elder Scrolls series, and personally, I'm finding Skyrim to be the most refined experience yet. Skillgains and experience are gained in the typical way you would expect, you use something, you gain exp in that area, no surprises there. The levelling and perk point system however is amazing, and beautiful in many ways.
In Skyrim, every skill, has its own specific perk point tree, be it one of the many types of armor, one of the many magic schools, one of the many weapon types, every single type of just about anything has its own perk point tree, allowing for an extreme level of customisation to your character as you make your way through the game. You really are able to adapt your character tightly to the way you play, and importantly, you don't feel penalised if you change your style and start down a new route, it really is a very robust and impressive system.
This customisation, coupled with the infinite quest system, allows you to really make just about any type of character and any focus you can dream of, without the worry of screwing something up.
And yes that's right, I said infinite quests...
While the main quest line itself obviously has an end, it's in the many subquests and chains, that the infinite quest system can be found, and where many find the heart of Elder Scrolls games really lies. As with the past Elder Scrolls titles, there's a number of organisation, guilds and such that you find yourself working for and being roped into, and Bethesda in all there wisdom, have put in a storytelling system here that can actually generate its own quests. After finishing the basic subquests for such an organisation, the infinite quest system takes over, and keeps you in work offers and quests forever. Bethesda's aim was to create a world you can truly live in, and by giving Skyrim in some aspects a neverending cycle, they've certainly done it. I'm sure you will agree this is something every RPG needs, and I can't wait to see how my character has played out a few months down the line if I keep exploring this infinite system.
After picking your focus and starting to customise your character and its specialisations, combat really comes to life in Skyrim. I've started a couple of characters now, and while my Dunmer is magic focused, primarily in Destruction, I've also been through the melee offerings and archery on a Nordic character before writing this.
First up magic. In Skyrim, you have two hands, obviously, and it's up to you, in any way, to choose what spell you have on each, or maybe even the same on both....want to do cast fire and heal yourself at the same time? Sure no problem! Want to dual wield chains of lightning like a Jedi? Sure no problem! As you move on and on, learning more and more schools of magic and more spells, the possibilities become seemingly endless, and through the clever favorites menu, you can hot swap these spells at your will to, allowing deadly combo's to those with the mind to fabricate them. Magic users are going to be very happy with how Skyrim is put together no doubt.
Second up the melee weapons. Be it axes, maces, swords, shields, two handers, Skyrim has a mass of variations and styles, all very beautifully modelled in their own ways. Through the stamina system, you can do bigger swinging charged attacks, short sharp swings, you feel in good and control of your movement, it's a powerful and directional system. As with magic, what's in each hand is your choice, whether you run sword and board, dual wield, or one of the bigger two handers, or even mix up melee and magic at the same time? It's all up to you, there's no limits, and again the hot swap system allows you to change and tailor to any combat situation.
Last I'll touch on archery, personally my favorite dragon killing method. Archery is simply put, fantastic. Again you draw back and hold your arrows, take powerful calculated shots, or quick pluck and fires, you're in full control at all times. The arc of the arrows flight is smooth and how you would expect, it all feels very natural and variable based on what you ask your weapon to do, I honestly couldn't find any complaints in combat of any variation.
Bethesda have hit the nail on the head, taking past mechanics and strengthening them once again in Skyrim. It's fast and fun but tactical and calculated at the same time, and it's a real nice balance they've struck no doubt.
Game length is a topic currently up for debate, and honestly it all depends how you choose to play the game. There are those taking the main quest line as the games length, and while in a way that could be seen, you miss the beauty and depth of what Skyrim, and any other Elder Scrolls title, really is. So personally I feel, and while yes you can run the main quest line in under 10 hours, and I believe dev's raced and did it in less than 3, you miss so so much content and the true essence of the game in doing this. Bethesda set out to make a world you could live in, the infinite quest system, the countless organisations, and the in depth character progression are there for a reason, and it's for that reason I feel the Skyrim doesn't have an end or a length. If you explore it and embrace it, Skyrim is a game you can in theory play forever, or until the next Elder Scrolls title rolls around in the very least...
There's a whole lot more I could still write, there's so much I know I haven't even touched on, and as with the infinite quest system, I feel I could make this an infinite review. Every day I'm still finding new things, experiencing new things, and for the first time in a long while, I'm enjoying a single player experience and not feeling that something is missing, Skyrim is giving me all I could ask for and more...
- Beautiful immersive world and setting
- Expands greatly on previous Elder Scrolls mechanics
- Infinite quests, doesn't get better value for money than that!
- Struggling to find any...