Here be dragons.
I can’t quite put into words how excited I was for the day that this game was released. I felt like a child again, the day before Christmas, impatiently waiting for presents to be placed under the tree. I love the Elder Scrolls series with all my heart, and I can’t honestly give a review of this title without any bias, but I will try to bring up any criticisms that I can think of, as painful as it will be.
To those who haven’t heard of the series before, Elder Scrolls is a series of rather excellent role playing games by Bethesda dating back to 1991 and The Elder Scrolls: Arena. The series was always pretty damn popular, but the series really hit critical acclaim with their 3rd main instalment into the series, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Including a full 3D environment, hundreds of hours of gameplay and brilliant plot writing, it revolutionised what role playing games could achieve and won countless awards. Their next title, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, was no different, and holds the place of my favourite game of all time. With over three hundred hours of play time, I can say with confidence that Oblivion deserved every award it received.
However, that is all in the past. Elder Scrolls V has arrived, and now after two solid weeks with the game I can say that Bethesda have done it again. I was worried that it wouldn’t be different enough, and that it could be too similar a formula to the last title for it to be interesting. This is not the case. If you want an recent example of something that suffers this problem, look no further than Modern Warfare 3. I may regret attacking this series, but MW3 adds a pathetic number of new features, a minor graphics upgrade and another terrible storyline, forcing you to pay another £30-40 for what is basically Modern Warfare 2.5. But with Skyrim, the game is a huge step forward from its predecessor and most definitely not a re-boxing of an older game.
Let’s start with the first thing you notice when you start up the game, may it be PC, Xbox or PS3. You notice the graphics. Now they’re not fantastic, and are in no way revolutionary, but running on just above medium graphical quality on a PC was enough for me to call the game beautiful. Bethesda’s new engine runs like a true dream, with characters looking human for the first time in an Elder Scrolls game (Well, sort of. They still look a little funny if I’m being honest.) It also houses a wide range of graphical options on PC, so all the nerds out there can run it on the beautiful “ultra” setting with their high-end PCs, while I toil away on my Dell laptop. *sigh*
A Khajiit, one of the playable races.
Now for the meat of the improvements: the vague topic known as gameplay. Every element of the game has been improved, from combat to speech, stealth to magic and even simple running and jumping; every action just feels right. The feel of finally crushing an enemy in the face with a giant battleaxe in slow motion is never going to get old. Believe me. The combat is a main portion of the game, and the three styles you can choose to play are now pretty unique and equally appealing. Melee, magic and stealth are all viable choices and each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and all three are perfectly balanced – you just need to find the path that is right for you. Or you can be a mix. The game will never pressure you into one way of playing; it’s all your choice. Want to play the Mages Guild quest line as a warrior? That’s fine. You play how you want to play. The other aspects of the game – exploring, crafting, socialising and the like – are also greatly upgraded from previous titles in the series, and can be explored to your heart’s content. The game is simply all the best things from the series so far mixed together into one experience and then pumped full of steroids. Beautiful I tell you, beautiful.
One last positive I will mention about the game is its atmosphere. The previous games suffered from serious immersion issues with major bugs and glitches, or strange animations which pulled you from your experience. Skyrim still has bugs, and you can’t expect it to be flawless, but you do truly feel like a part of the game. Personally, I would say the music plays a big role in this. The Elder Scrolls games have always had brilliant music, but Skyrim tops them all by far. The theme just sends tingles down my spine; there is nothing quite like it. The whole soundtrack makes me want to go play the whole series again, and its what made me so excited when the game was first announced.
Now the hardest part for me in this review, the negatives. Nothing truly springs to mind as I write this, as to me the game is truly and utterly fantastic, but I can see a few problems people might have with the game. Firstly, it’s quite an open experience in places. A large portion of content will only be discovered via exploring and spending time searching areas, and players who will simply don’t have much fun completing these tasks may miss out on certain chunks of the game. For me this isn’t a problem, but being a hardcore RPG player, I’m accustomed to searching every crack and crevice, every cave and dungeon, every chest and container. Another criticism you could make is of the occasional bugs. I previously stated that glitches used to be a problem with the series, and compared to previous titles Skyrim is excellent, but when compared to other games in recent years you can’t help but notice that there are still problems.
Ultimately, for an RPG fan, this is a game you cannot miss. For a gamer, this is a game you cannot miss. For an individual who hasn’t even touched a game in their lives, this is something you simply cannot miss. I cannot press on you enough the incredible experience this game provides, and my only wish is that you should try it for yourselves. If you are curious about the genre, or just starting into gaming in general, I cannot think of a better way to begin your enlightenment into the wondrous world of orcs and goblins. It may slowly start to eat your life away, but it’s something that you should not go without.
You will not regret it.
I'm on a horse.