“What you learn here will last you a lifetime. Several, if you’re lucky.”
Leading a double life used to have fairly minimal connotations and probably meant you were Heat magazines desperate answer to a dirty love rat or border-line psychotic. That is before gargantuan western role playing games were introduced to next generation consoles the size of your face, or more realistically a small city. Now however, reality conflicts with fantasy beyond any imagination in Bethesda’s new divorce mechanism masterpiece; Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It takes half a lifetime of planning and bravery in order to pull a game of this magnitude off and equally as much to play through it. Even to the extent that any little buggy issues you may discover before the inevitable patch arises, are actually quite endearing. By now most people would have been traversing the plains with an arrow stuck through their head, or maybe had dragon corpses following them around. It would almost be impossible to eradicate every potential pitfall, especially when part of the magic in a specific instance is trying to keep certain NPC’s (none playing characters) alive in order to shape the arc of a story and influence the outcome of certain missions. The game would have been another ten years in production if you wanted a flawless product. So as the gamer you would be able to accept these small flaws, with a number of patches throughout the year to improve issues. Another truly beautiful tragedy of the game is having your side-kick (these can be acquired throughout Skyrim) killed while they are carrying half of your belongings, then to have the crushing blow that their corpse has disappeared when you return to them and all your treasured items are lost forever. Min tip number one; whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of leaving your items in a building that you do not own or out in the open world, as the same could happen, and how often does someone come across an Orcish Mace of great stamina? Hm? Exactly. All of these elements would probably go to show that you may have already been stuck in conversations with friends and started to zone out due to dreaming of smithing your latest steel plated armour, or maybe you haven’t seen your older brother in a while. Maybe you think your Dad is starting to take Game of Thrones far too seriously, one thing is defiantly certain, Skyrim has arrived.
It would be safe to say that describing Skyrim is hard enough to condense into a dissertation, let alone a micro-review. In fact, the game already has its own Wikipedia site covering back stories and the entire history of Tamriel including religion, weaponry, alchemy, and species. It is best to rather specify certain areas than try to cover every detail in the smallest proportions, hoping the much travelled and well experienced Bethesda RPG gamer has a cheeky segment of previous knowledge. Although if you are new to this genre of video-games and Skyrim will be your first outing, my goodness you are in for one hell of a trip. Introductions aren’t usually compelling in video games and often act as a dull way to roll credits through a bland, narrow setting. For someone who didn’t really ever grasp Oblivion but more Fallout, spending an hour or so at the beginning of Elder Scrolls IV trudging through a sewer, whacking rats with a club wouldn’t be most people’s idea of heaven. Much like Arkham City or indeed Fallout 3, Skyrim’s introduction is memorable and terrifies the player from his first breath, as a captor on his/her way to be executed. What happens next (would have been a *spoiler*) is a clear implementation of dragony fear which will stay throughout your journey, never feeling completely safe even within havens and rest points. With the addition of our scaly friends come the main driver of the plot and a completely new level of reliance on side-kicks and residents to come to your rescue when the foul beasts turn up, especially during your early levels of XP as whichever character you choose to shape and craft. It is the clear the importance lies with concentrating on which aspects of the game that suits you rather than trying to perfect every aspect, remembering your characters natural abilities. Thankfully after your capture you are prompted to give your name and class, here you will be able to define a playing style with each character having a brief synopsis and history, and then sculpt your desired cretin into the most ghastly beast to ever appear in Elder Scrolls.
Don’t be confused at the constellation above you in the mini-menu; this is the revamped experience and level up system. Here you can really home in on what your character may excel in, or what you would like to experience in the game. Although it is often better to stick with what your character is stronger at. As a Nord, It felt imperative to concentrate on; smithing (the art of crafting weapons/armour/jewellery), heavy armour, one-handed weapons, blocking and archery, with the occasional tipple into speech and enchantment. Finding early on that saving a few perks for archery was defiantly worthwhile as the tougher enemy archers can pin you down before you get within axe wielding range. So take care with those Perks. Your experience bar can go all the way up to level 50, this is achievable, yet by this point your character will need to be well honed like an Ancient Nordic War Axe. You will start to see the benefits of certain perks, the mains areas, ‘heavy armour’ for instance can be improved at the base level five times over bringing your ability to one hundred percent, there are also additional little perks within the heavy armour constellation. You can see here the level of choice and freedomBethesdawas keen to get right, as well as the character defining carrying weight system. If you do want to go and explore mind instead of staying in Whiterun smithing and selling stuff for seventy four hours in order to improve your level, once you have gathered enough funds, safety in exploration can be heightened with the use of a trusty horse. The old trotter is a little nippier than on foot and can usually escape the clutches of a Sabre Cat that would kill you in one swipe. There is nothing more frustrating than traversing Skyrim for an hour or so, not entering a building (which would auto-save the game) and being easy prey to anything other than a pack of Wolves or a Skeever, then ending up back at square one again. The horse resolves one of the unique systems inBethesdagames which can also judge your hording and OCD levels, the carrying limit. From the moment you choose your character class, a multitude of items can be gathered, and where some would almost be over encumbered within the first mission.
The scale and variety of the world map is hard to compare with many other games, Red Dead Redemption comes close and this was a fantastic game within its own right, both true works of art. Weather effects are as genius as Red Dead, with higher more northern areas of the map becoming snow ridden and tundra like. The wildlife is a gorgeous little touch and a great chance to improve your archery skills and unless you need specific animal hides for missions, these can be used to make leather in most forges. Smithing, like with many of the potentially mind-numbing tasks somehow feels satisfying just because the world is so well realised. You want to feel under its skin even if it is just chopping wood at a mill for one of the town locals, to earn a little extra gold while the suns shining, or sitting at a table in an inn, or buying a home and marrying. It is a shame that this area of the game wasn’t more incentivised, developing speech and other such skills.
As much as this epic tale will win countless awards come the end of the year, and rightly so, alongside the little glitches (hopefully fixed now) are those slightly repetitive flaws, some of which already existed in Fallout 3. The repetitive dialogue; with allies it’s a scandalous bit of torture and ruins tension in those story driven areas. Here you are in front of some high king, being told of your importance in the battle for Skyrim, when, oh who’s this putting their two pence in? Your assistant finds the most inappropriate point to tell you the same story you’ve already heard a thousand times, and tells you right in your face so you cant hear the story unfolding right in front of you. Granted is it usually quite clever when you enter a certain dungeon or mine, your assistant will often have a history or background about the clans or people who inhabited it. There are occasional wastes of good ideas; particularly mini quests. They could be far more dramatic or at least tie in with some other elements of the land and history, but often just fizzle out, which is not to say that there aren’t some gloriously. Taking away the Karma aspect of the game gives the player much more freedom as apposed to Fallout. The choice to craft your own events but it means you don’t get the scripted responses and good/bad choices which added a bit of dramatic panache. The reduction of violence from Fallout 3; while it easy to see the need to tone it down a little I still think the brutal cutting up of limbs makes the world more realistic. I like the fact that you have to work for the beheadings, and it does make it rewarding, but it almost seems a little too limited, although anyone who can say once they unlock the decapitation perk they don’t squirm a little when removing a woman’s head with two axes needs looking at.
The overall criticism of Elder Scrolls V will be an eternal discussion, often down to personal preference, adding suggestions for improvements. You cannot really knock a game that gives something mesmerising every hour for around three and a half thousand hours.The bar has been raised dramatically – but this doesn’t mean that all games from now on will have to square up to Skyrim. While some run of the mill games will look pitifully small and bad value for money, it will be about the larger games publishers making sure they can use innovative elements in order to improve their game designs. Eidos Montreal showed this with their beautifully realised ‘Deus Ex – Human revolution’. Even the simple platformer was made great with ‘Rayman Origins’, without forgetting the fantastic open world ofArkhamCity. Not every team would be allowed the time and work force that Bethesda has had with the production of Skyrim so its unfair to have it compared with the fantastic array of titles 2011 has produced, but it is safe to say that no other game can hand you a completely open Narrative that you the player can shape and craft yourself. Yes there are main quests but the most fun is had experiencing and exploring the open world around you. So go out there with sword or fire in hand, save run down towns or burn villagers alive, just try to ignore the backwards flying dragons, I’m sure they fix that soon…
Graphics – 8.5
Rendering, texture and lagging problems can sometimes remove you from an immersive dramatic event; these bug aspects that should have been resolved before its release. But no other game has this scale of open world in such eccentric beauty. The game often feels alive.
Sound – 9.0
A wonderfully natural changing soundtrack, which represents fantastic shape to an action packed event within Skyrim, or just a lovely ambient track while you traverse the plains. The voice acting isn’t as repetitive as Fallout 3 and weapons and magic feel forceful.
Enjoyment – 9.5
It is safe to say that everyone who has played Skyrim will have a different story to tell. You will get lost in it for hours only to find you have just been arranging your wardrobe in your recently purchased house. You will get as much fun out of it with the amount of hard graft you put in.