There are some speculation that programming team Bethesda were working on a follow up to the hugely successful Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion back in 2006. Skyrim, on the other hand is a much different beast to its predecessors that introduces dragons at the heart of the story. At the beginning, your custom made character finds him of herself about to be executed in a small village of Helgen. However, the intervention of a dragon sends everyone scrambling to safety and of course, your character escaping to explore the wonders and threats of Skyrim.
What strikes immediately about Skyrim is its attention to graphical detail which sets some really high standards in RPG gaming. Where Oblivion lacked graphically in terms of facial characteristics and variation in landscapes and interiors, Skyrim blows its predecessor out of the water. Bethesada thought through a lot and it certainly shows for example with lighting and atmospheric effects that really does change the immersive experience when playing the game. You really feel the extra tension with the mists and fogs in the caves or the light streaming from a gap in the broken ceiling in a old lighthouse on the edge of Skyrim. When roaming the great snowy wilderness, you can see the wind blowing powdery snow off the tips of craggy hills. Streams of water run rapidly through lush green valleys. It’s a really great game to look at.
So what about the game mechanics? Bethesada did some rethinking on the game engine but the casting magic or swordplay remains largely the same. The revised third person perspective works very well and I do find myself alternating between the two play modes during combat and wandering. Players can fight one handed or use two handed weapons. Or if you prefer a little magic then spells can be equipped using the menu interface and used on either or both hands. If you want to upgrade your skills, you can fight more monsters that populate the world or speak to one of the hundreds of non-player characters that may be kind enough to teach you for a little gold.
Your character is essentially ‘Dragonborn’ meaning that you have special abilities such as the new Shout weapon which damages enemies by using voice. They can only be unlocked by standing at a special ‘Word-Wall’ but should be used sparingly as they take time to replenish. Other skills can upgraded via use of a constellation chart which plots the number of traits such as ‘Pick Pocket’ to various magic disciplines. There are so many upgrades on the star chart and this reflects the time dedication required to play to improve your character’s skill levels.
The world of Skyrim is very well crafted with a functioning economy and diverse range of cultures and races inhabiting. An inn keeper for example may complain about the quiet business in remote areas. Whilst a bustling town may have competition everywhere. Difficult side quests and shady characters can be found in all corners but beware as people remember your actions so choose your path wisely! Caves dotted around the land provide equally good practice areas to level up and they are remarkably varied in look and feel. Sound effects are also well realised with the wind howls to every sword swoosh adding to the game’s quality. The music is so-so and those familiar with Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings soundtrack will recognise the odd nods to those tunes. Voice work is exceptionally good and doesn’t detract in anyway.
It’s probably excusable for a game this size and in this long length of development to brush aside the odd bug. However, Skyrim does have some stinkers which don’t put you off but you will find jarring. For instance, Bethesada spent all that time getting landscapes to look ultra-realistic but what the hell is that big solid black monolithic rectangle sticking out of the mountain?! Or better still, looking at the orange sunset over a quiet peaceful lake and out appears a red pointy bright red triangle bang in the middle! Hopefully, a few patches will get rid of these niggly bugs but they could’ve done better to iron these out.
The interface has been revised with a minimal look but this lacks consistency to the whole fantasy feel of the game. It’s also cumbersome to use requiring lots of scrolling especially when your character starts to acquire more items throughout your questing.
Overall, Skyrim is another classic in the Elder Scrolls series. I found the gameplay and plot both engaging and interesting. The graphics are sublime for an RPG and sets the bench mark high once again despite the bugs. Skyrim will take days and months to play properly but I’ll still wait in anticipation for further expansions and mods when they arrive! An excellent game which surpasses Oblivion in many ways.
It’s worth noting that Dragon Age and Gears of War have all followed onto tabletop versions of various guises. Let’s hope some company decides to bring Skyrim in a full role playing game or board game sometime soon.