So as the clock ticks over the 100 hours played mark and one platinum trophy later, I have experienced everything that Skyrim has to offer, been everywhere and saved the world numerous times over. Or have I? That’s the luxury of Skyrim no matter how long you play, how many Dragons you kill and no matter how many quests you complete there will always be something you haven’t discovered just over the horizon, some new manifestation lurking around the corner and some new damsel in distress that requires you and only you to solve all their lifes problems. Welcome to the next instalment in the Elder Scrolls series, you’ll probably be here for a little while.
Skyrim takes place 200 years after the events of Oblivion and puts you in control in the latest Dovahkiin or Dragonborn in plain old English. A powerful and unique type of being, an individual who can speak in Dragon and absorb the souls of the Dragons that now roam freely around the province. Where your ultimate goal is to save Skyrim and the World from the threat of the Dragons and their leader.
You wake up in Helgan after a Dragon attack and must get out alive, and following a successful escape you find yourself in Riverewood a picturesque little trading town and from there your free to roam the wilds of Skyrim and do as much or as little as you like. You can continue the main story quest line, go dungeon crawling or simply find another faction around the land to help. The possibilities are endless.
Although the opening to Skyrim may not be as jaw dropping as what Fallout 3s was as you stepped out of the Vault in the Capital Wasteland the scale and diversity in Skyrim’s landscapes is simply unparalleled.
Players of the previous Elder Scrolls will feel right at home here, the typical RPG style is continued where you can level up your character. However Skyrim’s levelling system is somewhat different to typical RPG s, you will not receive experience for completing quests and killing bandits instead you will level up sub categories such as light armour, archery, smiting, enchanting and so on and once a sub category improves to the next level the overall level will increase. Then when enough sub categories have levelled up your general level will increase allowing you to increase your stamina, health or magic and input a perk into any of your sub categories which may increase the damage of bows, increase physical damage resistance or reduce the amount of magic used when casting a spell. The choice is simply endless and although it’s not possible to get every category to 100 you can very much be what ever you want. Whether that’s a heavy armoured magician to a light armoured pick pocket anything is possible. That’s what makes Skyrim so magical, no-ones play through will be like the next persons.
The biggest change fans of the series will notice is that playing as Dragonborn you’ll be able to use Dragon shouts which are unlocked throughout the game with the Dragon souls you’ll be collecting. They act similar to spells but are far more powerful and are totally unique. You’ll be able to blow fire or ice at your enemies or disarm them just by using your voice. You’ll also be able to upgrade each shout you unlock with up to 3 words which will increase the power of that shout. These words can found on dragon shines and walls around Skyrim and are extremely useful for getting yourself out of sticky situations.
The province of Skyrim is truly majestic, you can travel to the top of the highest snow peaked mountain, or take a trip into the icy cold ocean. Or perhaps sitting around the boiling geysers that are similar to those in Yellowstone Park takes your fancy. Perhaps you would rather explore ancient ruins or just take a stroll across the grassy plains of Whiterun. Equipped with your trusty steed the whole of the region is open to explore. Bethesda has seriously upgraded the graphics thankfully as the engine used in the previous instalment and the preceding two Fallout titles was starting to look its age. There is still some texture popping occasionally and people in general still stare in abyss when interacting with you but on the whole Skyrim is especially pretty for a game of its size.
As gorgeous as the game looks it’s the sound which really inspires you. The epic soundtrack that plays as you take on a dragon and the orchestrated opening tune if you leave the title screen running will certainly leave you hair standing on edge and makes you feel totally indestructible. The sounds of the wildlife all around you while on foot through a deep forest and the sound of the waves crashing against the side when you’re walking along the beach all help to create an atmosphere that is unmatched. The voice acting isn’t half bad either, yes some of the NPC’s you’ll come across may sound exactly like one you met previously but on the whole they don’t sound too over the top or too strange and I for one am seriously glad about this.
Unfortunately as good as the graphics are and how heroic the sound is, the game is sadly let down by its control system. Melee in the Elder Scrolls has typically been slow and heavy and archery has usually been a little bit hit and miss. Using spells is actually one of the better attacking systems but even then you’ll have to scroll through numerous pages of magic spells and powers to find the one you’re after and that’s just not entertaining. Numerous times I’ve stopped combat to look for a potion to use or re-enchant my weapon. Yes you can favourite items in a little list that’s easily accessible through the d-pad but you’ll rarely have a weapon, spell or piece of armour long enough to take advantage of this. The map is clunky and as the game progresses somewhat rather complex to follow. There are simply too many lists and menu pages in the game, and searching through them to find the smallest of quest items starts to feel more like a chore as you rack up the hours. All of these are small flaws but after 50 or so hours these miniature flaws become a real distraction.
Fans of the Elder Scrolls series will feel right at home here when it comes to what quests are available. There are the typical side quests and miscellaneous quests as well as the main story line quest. However fans can expect the usual separate quest lines from the likes of the Dark Brotherhood and the Thieves Guild as well as new lines from the Companies and the College of Winterhold. These quest lines on the whole are not too long and are reasonably interesting, although some like the Thieves Guild contain lots of small pointless actions that shamefully increase the amount of time you’ll spend with that faction. Most have no influence on the main game and will not affect your progress but they do cross paths with other faction quests and side quests, By far the most interesting of the available quest lines is the Deadric line which is a series of quests that reward you with extremely powerful weapons and armour. Fans of the series will know that Deadra are powerful God like beings and are usually evil so you can imagine what their quests are probably like.
Along with these quests you’ll be able to take your time and unwind by doing little things around the world like buying a house in whatever capital city you fancy. Settling down with the love of your life, mining ore and cooking food, modest things that just let you remember that in the open world exploration genre Skyrim is unmatched.
You may just prefer to go dungeon crawling and with over 350 locations on the map you’ll have plenty of places to see and clear. These range from your simple abandoned house or shack, the typical subversive dungeon or mine, to the rather expansive underground burial crypts which contain deadly adversaries and wallet busting loot.
However I’m playing this Skyrim on the PS3 which means that I’m suffering the notorious lag or slowdown. Whatever you want to call it its totally game destroying and unacceptable in this era. My save data at last check was 13 MB which is 7 MB over the predicted lag threshold and can safely say I cannot play for more than fifteen minutes without the game becoming unplayable for periods of time. It may take me 5 minutes to walk from my house to the exit gate in Whiterun. Add the fact that the game crashes on me at least 3-4 times a day and I’m wondering why I bothered to continue. Bethesda makes brilliant games and their developers and designers are simply top of the table but their testers are right down at the bottom, rock bottom. How they could miss this game breaking effect is mind boggling and totally unforgivable. I understand that a game this size can have glitches and accepted it in Fallout 3 and New Vegas in fact some of them tended to be slightly humorous, Dragons flying backwards or the rotating head guy in New Vegas. Sadly though it’s about time Bethesda hired some more testers as it wasn’t funny in 2008 when Fallout 3 froze endless times and it wasn’t comical in 2010 and it certainly isn’t amusing now.Bethesda will be releasing patch 1.4 shortly which promises to fix the issue but until then it can’t get a 10 from me.
So why did I bother? Well because if you can tolerate those issues you’ll be rewarded with the deepest, richest and most rewarding experience you’ll have in gaming for at least the foreseeable future. No play-through will be the same as the last and the possibilities in the game are never-ending. The game looks astounding, it sounds even better and will reward you no end of times. You’ll be hooked, levelling up your character, telling your partner that you’ll come to bed after one more quest and then 3 hours have flown by. You’ll want to find all the special weapons and armour and complete every quest thrown at you. And the best part is that you’ll complete it once and go back again just to see what you can do different the next time round. Happy adventuring you’ll be here for a while.