Spanning across two decades, The Elder Scrolls franchise has been at the forefront of the RPG genre since the original release in 1996. We've explored the Breton homeland of High Rock in Daggerfall, the Dunmer Province of Vvardenfell in Morrowind, the Imperial Capital of Cyrodiil in Oblivion and now, Skyrim, the home of the fearless Nords. The world of Tamriel is always an exciting place, ever changing and evolving and with each game comes promises of new ground-breaking features but does Skyrim measure up to the hype?
As is traditional with the series, you begin your time in Tamriel as a shackled prisoner slowly approaching certain death at the hands of the Imperials. You've stumbled into the middle of a war and got caught somewhere you shouldn't be, the price, death. You're pushed to your knees, your head resting on the cold wood, the axe of the executioner reflects the shine of the sun as it's lifted high above your head. But before he can deliver the fatal blow, a creature known only as myth and legend swoops down from the skies, its breath exploding with fire and it is then that you're introduced to the first real dragon in the Elder Scrolls franchise. The beginning of the game sets an epic tone, buildings are getting destroyed, the dragon is hot on your heals the entire way, all the while you're working with your captives to escape alive.
When you've finally escaped the horror of the dragon, you're introduced into a world of true opportunity. Featuring over 20 square miles of beautifully rendered landscape Skyrim is bigger than both Morrowind and Oblivion and thanks to the new improvements to the Creation Engine, the graphics are truly next generation.
A Whole New World
The Elder Scrolls is most famous for it's non-linear approach, offering players complete freedom within the game world. This is enhanced even more so in Skyrim, players can choose to totally ignore the main quest line while they explore dungeons, climb mountains, work for divine Daedric beings, or simply live the humble life of a miner or forester. There is no right or wrong way to the play the game and the new perks system allows players to create the type of character they want to play, not the type that can get your through the game.
The game follows it predecessors in terms of activity and choices, you can literally spend 50 hours running around the game world and accomplish practically nothing. Players are able to choose the life they wish, you can join the Dark Brotherhood in a plot to assassinate the Emperor, rob the rich blind with the Thieves Guild, squash a rebellion with the Imperial Legion or lead a rebellion against a tyrannous power. Players can choose to accomplish all of it, none of it, or anything between. There is no other game that offers such variety of game-play and opportunities.
A lot of fan favorite features return and a number of new systems were also implemented such as housing, crafting and the ability to duel wield spells and weapons. Players can craft literally any armor, weapon or piece of jewelery they like and can then use their skills to enchant it with powerful elemental abilities or restoration magic. Houses are a lot more useful, featuring weapon racks, glass cases, a home for your wife and the shelves even automatically place books for you now. I spent countless hours arranging my houses in previous Elder Scrolls games so it's nice Bethesda is willing to save me some time stacking books and making weapons and armor look jazzy.
One of the most discussed new features is the introduction of Dragons and Dragon Shouts. A Dragon can attack at any time, whether you're sitting behind a tree waiting for that perfect time to send a small deer to Oblivion or shopping at your local Blacksmith's. There are a number of scripted Dragon events that occur throughout the story but for the most part, you'll come across the random ones. These fights are truly epic, the dragons can attack anything and everything, from Spiders to City Guards. I'd just finished dinner with my wife after which she decided to go for a walk, shortly after she was barbecued and tossed aside like a rag doll. As you slay more Dragons, you absorb their souls, you can spend these souls on learning various Dragon Shouts. These aren't as exciting as many first thought as some offer features that were basic magic in previous games, such as an AoE fire attack or show life spell but some do add some interesting elements to the game. The ability to send several foes flying with knock back, summoning ancient forces to aid you and even summoning a Dragon are among the more interesting aspects of the Dragon Shout system. Personally, I feel as this is a small taste of things to come, I would expect a similar feature in the next Elder Scrolls but with obvious improvements, I'd watch this space.
It's Not Perfect
I would love to be able to sit here and sing nothing but praise for Skyrim, the game deserves it and is clearly one of the defining titles of this generation but Bethesda haven't got it all right. They've totally remade the leveling and skill system and not for the better. Previous games utilized both a stat based and skill based progression system, allowing players to improve both as they move through the game. Skyrim doesn't allow for any changes to base stats outside of gear and buffs, instead your spend points in skill trees. It works, there's still hundreds of variations of characters and you can still become god-like with enough effort but it does seem to feel a little hollow compared to Morrowind and Oblivion.
Then there's the new magic system, or should I say lack of one. Previous games allowed a lot more customization with magic, I remember exploring Vvardenfell with armor that automatically summoned several Golden Saints and a sword that created a 100ft explosion on contact, sadly none of this is possible in Skyrim. Although you can still create your own spells and effects it is quite clear that the developers have limited the options to a more realistic level. It's hard to fault it as it was very easy to totally break Morrowind and Oblivion with enchanted armor and weapons so one can understand why they've added the restraints but the Elder Scrolls series has always been about innovation and moving forward, this is one area in the game they failed to accomplish either.
Skyrim is definitely one of the top contenders for GOTY, when compared to other favorites such as L.A Noire, BF3, MW3 and Uncharted 3, it stands in another league entirely. The game is not perfect, anything of this size is bound to have issues and people have already reported game altering exploits and glitches but Skyrim is still an amazingly unique experience and offers more re-playability than any title released in recent years. If you've not played it yet, what are you waiting for? If you have played it, what are your thoughts? Leave a comment.
Article by - Blaine Smith