Ah.. Bethesda, you’ve really outdone yourselves this time..
Since 1994, and the release of The Elder Scrolls: Arena, Bethesda have been dominating fantasy games with their rich and varied worlds, intricate plots, arrays of guilds, side-quests, dungeons and creatures. Even the nine races of Tamriel scream diversity.
As a big fan of the franchise and a returning player, I’ve totally fallen in love with the world and it’s inhabitants, the lore is detailed and varied and the timeline between titles flows almost seamlessly, with plenty of information to fill the gaps.
Now before I go off on one and proclaim Todd Howard as the new face of God, I’ll focus on Skyrim.
As the fifth official Elder Scrolls game, it had to match the depth of story that Morrowind provided, with the wild, varied world of Oblivion, and I’m happy to say that it has succeeded, and not just succeeded, it’s managed to blow those two out of the water.
Skyrim’s landscape is dominated by the largest mountain in all of Tamriel – The Throat of The World, from it’s peak, you can see the world spread out before you like a map, from the harsh, icy cold of Windhelm, to the (somewhat) warmer climes of Solitude, each city in the world is totally different, with Windhelm – The home of the first Nords in Skyrim, towering over the surrounding landscape like a giant stone sentinel, Markarth – Built atop an ancient Dwemer (Dwarven) city that riddles the rock beneath with tunnels and great halls. Riften – Home to the Thieves Guild, dark and more than a little ominous, even the guards patrolling the streets are crooked. But by far, I’d say the most magnificent city in Skyrim is Solitude, build along the ridge of a great stone arch above the sea, with colourful and magnificent buildings aplenty, everything screams opulence.
Onto gameplay, the revised combat system which replaced the old “chopstick” fighting of Oblivion has brought in many a new feature, blows now feel solid and weighted, dual wielding is no longer a dream and the kill animations are stunning, absolutely everything has been overhauled since Oblivion and MAN does it show, the ugly, block-headed people are a thing of the past, and it’s now possible to create a character that doesn’t scare away Daedra just with it’s face. In fact, it’s now possible to create a character that can be classified as handsome. The new animations are smooth and lifelike (with a few exceptions, ie. running up the side of an almost vertical rockface) Even the dialogue has been gutted, you can now move around during conversations and it feels like a much more natural experience. The persuasion minigame is gone, in its place we have a hidden “Approval” stat which affects how characters react to you, people who like you will run after you with an item you’ve dropped, where as people who don’t will run off with it. I highly reccomend trying this, as it usually ends up as a brawl in the middle of the street with people fighting over the dropped item.
Absolutely everything has been tweaked, gutted, updated and changed to make the game a much more enjoyable experience, and with a much larger design team, Bethesda have given each of their dungeons and caves its own unique handcrafted feel and story (follow the books and notes!)
The other things are totally new to the series, instead of a class that you select or create at the beginning of the game, you start out with your standard racial bonuses to the relevant skills, then just do what you want. The idea behind it is that if you pick up a cool piece of equipment or armour, you can use it, regardless of your level or your character. This new system is augmented by a perks system, you literally look to the heavens and you can see the constellations that mark each of the skills that govern your character, each time you level up, you can add another perk, these can be anything from zooming in with your bow, bonus backstab damage for stealth characters, inflicting deep wounds with axes that cause your enemy to take constant damage from blood loss and even overcharged versions of spells by dual casting them to create a more powerful version.
And last but not least for the new features is the Dragon Shouts, you’d be surprised at just how much you’ll end up using them, spit great gouts of flame, sprint forward with the speed of a whirlwind, tear the steel from an enemy’s grip and even freeze people solid. The sheer amount of shouts means that the way you play, combined with your custom class and perks, what shouts you use and even what kind of person you are, defines your character even more and makes your game unique.
The last thing I want to mention on this rather large review is the quest arcs, the insane amount of quests in this game would stand alone as a normal RPG, but when you add in the Companions, College of Winderhold, Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood quest lines, you’ve got 200+ hours of gameplay. The main quest tells the story of the return of the Dragons to Skyrim, and it’s up to you (as per usual) to sort it out, with the help of the Greybeards and the remnants of the Blades, it’s probably the best main quest in an RPG I’ve played. There’s even a Civil War brewing in the country, choose a side and fight for what you think is right.
So, if you haven’t played Skyrim yet, you need to. Retailing on average at around the £25 mark, it’s not too steep, especially when you consider what you get for your money. Go kill yourselves some Dragons!
And if I find anything about arrows in knees in the comments section, heads will roll.
The Voice Of Madness