Start the game and watch as the real world fades into insignificance.
The last Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, was a beast of an undertaking. Many gamers dedicated large chunks of their lives to that game and it really makes you wonder what these epic RPG players have been doing since. Have they been mournfully completing one game after another in an attempt to fill a hole? Maybe they have taken their pale, pasty skin into the sunlight and discovered another life than is not filled with quite as much adventure? Or maybe they have just been sitting patiently, waiting for Bethesda to offer them another world in which to exist?
Well, it seems like the wait is over as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is now available. Kiss your loved ones goodbye, tell your mates you will see them next year and get comfortable, a whole new world awaits.
The game begins with the player sitting in the back of a cart with a collection of other characters. Everyone is in chains and the cart is being escorted by guards, which doesn’t look good. In some ways it is reminiscent of the beginning of Oblivion, exposing Bethesda’s fondness of leaving the player wondering how they will proceed right from the very start.
The cart journey itself is a good opportunity to look around and take in the startlingly stunning scenery. Although not up to the standards of some modern games, it is the scale that impresses more than anything. Everything that the player can see can be traveled to, explored and then relieved of any secrets. The variety of these locations is also impressive, with the game constantly throwing up something new and wondrous to look at. It is almost as if this world had been handcrafted by its inhabitants over multiple generations.
The cart journey is also a good point at which to listen to the other prisoners and pick up some of the underlying stories. It turns out that there is rebellion afoot in the land of Skyrim, posing opposition to the Empire. As the player progresses, allegiances will have to be made, but the story has a few twists to make that decision more difficult than it should be. But more important is the reappearance of Dragons, which have not existed in the world for a long time. With their appearance being a portent of the end of the world, it may come as no surprise that the player turns out to be a Dragonborn and the only one who can stop them. What are the chances?
Players of Skyrim advance and level up through practice. Almost every action within the game has its very own skill which will increase as and when the player uses that skill. Everything from fighting with a sword or using a magic spell, through to running and jumping will improve a skill. As these skills improve the player levels up and receives a bonus to health/stamina/magic and points that can be spent on skill perks. This is a very neat way of handling the whole leveling up process which results in the player gradually improving at various things rather than suddenly improving once a given amount of experience has been reached.
This also results in the player not having to choose a character class as the player can dabble in the disciplines whenever they want. Of course, they will still have to practice certain skills to become proficient at them and access some of the more impressive results. But realistically, the player need not choose to solely be a warrior or mage and such.
Not that there aren’t benefits to specialising. On the players journey they will come across stones that will offer a particular path. Taking one of these, and the player can only take one at a time, may result in the associated skills leveling up quicker, or they could allow the player expertise in a particular skill, or even give the player invisibility. However, the player can easily change their choice of stones at any time, should they prefer to spend some time emphasising on other skills or if they find that they require certain advantages.
The controls on the console are also simplicity itself. The player assigns a weapon or spell to both the left and right hands, which are represented by the left and right trigger buttons. Items of importance, such as potions, can be assigned to the d-pad for ease of use during combat or whatever, rather handy as the inventory quickly becomes a mess of everything that you pick up. The player is limited by the amount of weight that they can carry, so to begin with picking up anything and everything to sell in the local town for a few coins is tempting, but soon the player will find themselves dropping piles of loot in order to squeeze something more interesting or valuable into their limited inventory.
What makes the game so massive and so immersive is the fact that it feels like it lives and breathes. This is apparent by how much there is to do in the world. The player can follow the story missions to the letter if they wish, or step off the much trodden path and find something else to do. The game has more than 200 dungeons (200!) to explore and loot, every village and town will find numerous inhabitants requiring the player’s help, and then you have special quest lines such as The Dark Brotherhood. Hell, if you want a quiet life, learn a craft, buy a house and get married. It may not be exactly what the developers intended, but the choice is yours.
Anyone who has played one of Bethesda’s previous games will not be surprised to find that there are a few glitches in Skyrim. They range from the simply funny graphical anomalies, such as people half suspended in walls, to the more serious quest-breaking issues that occasionally pop up. But even with some glitches requiring the player to reload a previous save, it is hard to look at them as anything but amusing quirks in a massive world.
It is not very often that you will hear a gamer complaining about the sheer size of a game. But, other than the occasional glitch which we have all come to know and love in Bethesda games, this is seriously the only thing that I can complain about. The game is such a massive undertaking that it may well put some gamers off. But really, there is nothing else to complain about here.
Taking on a game such as Skyrim is not something that should be considered lightly. Not only is it absolutely massive and will keep you playing for a long, long time, but also the world of Skyrim is a living, breathing place in which the player will get incredibly involved. Minutes will melt away into hours, and hours into days, whilst the player explores and interacts with this incredibly colourful, detailed world where adventure awaits around every corner. Before you embark upon such a quest, make sure your affairs are in order, as you will be gone for quite some time.