The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

The majority of game stores sold out within an hour of the game being released, and over four million copies were sold on launch night. Yes, Elder Scrolls is back baby, and it’s really, reaaally good.

Dragons have come back to Skyrim, and they’re mixing things up in a bad way. First they save your character from execution but also burn down the whole village, then they continue to wreak havoc through the snowy, baron land that is Skyrim. Of course, you could do what I did for the first twenty hours of the game and just aimlessly explore the vast wonderland that is the Skyrim game map, a map filled with an endless amount of snowy mountains, ruins, caves, bandit occupied forts, large cities, small town, minute villages and a godless amount of uninhabited forest. Golly, you’ve been missed Elder Scrolls.

If you’re familiar with previous games in the behemoth and never-ending saga that is the Elder Scrolls franchise, then you won’t be surprised when I tell you that Bethesda Softworks have created an even bigger, more detailed and marvelously in-depth game this time around. Yes, I know, it’s pretty scary seeing as I’m still finding new elements, features and locations in Oblivion, six years and hundreds and hundreds of hours of gameplay on.

The first thing that instantly hits you is Skyrim’s huge graphical improvements over its predecessors. Character body and facial movements have undergone a mammoth revamp and are not only perfectly in-sync now but look incredibly cinematic and hugely realistic. The game’s surroundings have also enjoyed a massive makeover, with those little but welcome improvements really standing out, like snowflakes briskly resting on a tree-branch, or a wolf tucking into a deer with every last trickle of blood visible on its teeth and hair bristles.

When you have a game featuring detail and elements of this depth, it’s inevitable that a few minor technical glitches and mysterious anomalies pop up on occasion, perhaps not as much as in Oblivion or Morrowind, but they’re still there if you look for them. Despite my nit-picking, those are the only bad words I can actually say about Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game so vast and feature-rich that it’ll stun you to hear that it only took Bethesda almost three years to develop.

Gameplay in Skyrim, as you might expect, follows the same nonlinear structure that has proved hugely successful in previous Elder Scrolls games. Your character can explore the hugely vast open world by foot, on horseback or by fast-traveling (to previously visited locations). The game has followed in the foot of the Morrowind and Oblivion games by scattering a huge amount of cities, town, dungeons, lakes, forts and far more locations across the gameworld, finding them alone will easily take up your total play time well into double figures.

Various non-playable characters throughout the game will dish out quests to your character, some will be small errands and some will be huge, time-consuming quests that will undoubtedly pay out a handsome reward upon completion. Non-playable characters also serve as sources of information and skill training. Chatting will not only tell you things that may relate to some of your quests or errands but may actually lead to some side-quests. Some NPCswill also be able to train your in certain skills, for a small in-game cash donation, of course.

When not on a quest you can join one of the several factions that are present in the large, snowy province that is Skyrim. Just like in Oblivion, there’s do-gooder organizations like the Mages Guild and Fighters Guild, as well as more seedy factions such as the Thieves Guild or the Dark Brotherhood, a large band of killers, vampires and assassins.

Food, armour, weapons and other services can be bought from various shops and wandering ware-dealers, but of course, you’ll need some coins in order to buy any of these. Coins can be accumulated by completing jobs such as farming, by fulfilling errands or quests and even by looting various forts and caves out in the wilderness.

Character development is a huge part of Skyrim, at the beginning of the game you’ll have to chose what race you’d like your character to be. There’s a large choice, be it a cat-like being named the Khajit, a more human-like Nord or Imperial, or even a High Elf or more. After choosing your race you’ll then get to comb through several natural abilities, skills, strengths and appearance related elements to ultimately build your perfect character.

Combat in Skyrim has received a huge amount of development work to do away with the boring repetitive nature of fighting in Oblivion. Characters will now miss swipes and side-foot away from various hits and you’ll also now be able to perform combination hits, which normally end in a visually appealing killing cut-scene that’s satisfyingly gruesome.

Your performance in battle will heavily rely on your use of weapons and armor, which can either be purchased from a dealer or create using a forge. Shields can be used to not only reduce the amount of damage inflicted on your character and avoiding hits but also to inflict damage on your opponent.

A large amount of your time playing Skyrim will see you out in the huge baron-wilderness that surrounds every point of civilization. Unsurprisingly, traveling in the wilderness will see you encounter various animals, monsters, bandits, travelers and citizens. Some may be immediately hostile, but other may only be aggressive when attacked.

Now let’s get talking about the dragons. You will come across a variety of different dragons throughout your adventures, they are randomly-generated so will never become extinct, and their random appearances and behaviour means that they are prone to attacking cities, towns, individuals and farms at any given time. Some dragons can be quite timid, thus not normally hostile, but from personal experience, the non-hostile ones are definitely a minority.

During the main quest, your character will learn that they are a Dragonborn, a being that can cast dragon shouts of which there are twenty in the game. Dragon shouts can be discovered by trawling through dungeons and coming across ‘word walls’, they are then unlocked for use by absorbing the soul of a deceased dragon.

A nice thing about Skyrim is that it realistically simulates a medieval yet civilized world. Citizens go about their daily lives, selling their wares, farming, creating armour etc. and then relaxing at home or in a public house in the evening. The same goes for animals, deer or horses who will be out grazing in the day and then sleeping at night.

I’ve tried my best to put across how incredibly vast and diverse this game is, but you’ll only really understand the absolute humongousness of the game after playing it for yourself. Skyrim comes in a year that is flooded with a huge amount of RPGs that may well be technically superior to Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but one thing’s for certain, this baby’s going to be at the top of the charts for at least the next year. Miss this one at your own peril.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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