Monday, 14 November 2011

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review - A Masterpiece of Epic Proportions


As most of you know by now, the Fifth installment of the Elder Scrolls games was released last Friday.

The hype surrounding this game has been staggering to say the least, since it's original announcement last year, and for those of us who played the previous installment (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), expectations were extremely high that Bethesda would once again bring us something we could spend countless hours enjoying.

The last Elder Scrolls game was released in 2002, and since then Bethesda has been hard at work with Falllout 3, Fallout New Vegas and the numerous expansion packs for both.

I seriously enjoyed Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, but throughout both there was always a part of me that longed to be back in the fantasy world of Tamriel. The Post-Apocalyptic Wastelands of Fallout always seemed too Monotone for me in comparison.

Back then, Oblivion set a standard for me with regards to open world beauty and freedom of choice, providing so much content that it took months to discover all that was offered within it. In fact, I know some people who are still playing Oblivion today.

I purchased Skyrim on Friday afternoon for Xbox 360, and with 3 sets of fully charged batteries, I hurried home to start playing.

Skyrim was the one game that I was waiting for this year beyond any other, but nothing could prepare me for the full scale of the adventure I was about to embark on.

From the moment you start the game, the sheer beauty of Skyrim immediately takes your breath away.

The trees and grass sway gently in the wind with the occasional flock of birds flying between them. The sky is a beautiful bright blue filled with photo-realistic clouds and a sun that blinds you with white light if you stare directly into it, with even the shadows of the trees and bushes dependant on what angle the sun shines from in the sky.

While the landscapes of Cyrodiil in the previous game were mostly forests, you begin to realise that there is far more variety in the environments of Skyrim. The forests where you start the game quickly turn to snow-covered mountains, desolate wastelands or marsh-filled swamplands depending on which direction you decide to travel. Weather changes often, with snow, rain and harsh winds changing the sky as you travel.

The sheer amount of content this time around is unbelievable, with characters approaching you for help out in the open while traveling, or quests becoming available from the purchase of a simple item at the many vendors in the different cities. You even receive mail from anonymous sources when travelling the world, commenting on previous events and providing further story and quests associated with your actions.

Gone are the days when you'd travel for miles without seeing anything of interest, as these random encounters happen frequently with far-reaching consequences.

Bethesda has included many of the redeeming qualities of the Fallout series, showing that they are true masters of the genre and are always willing to improve drastically on an already winning formula. One of the major additions to the Elder Scrolls series is the perk system first seen in Fallout 3, where levelling up provides you with an opportunity to decide which special abilities you'd like to acquire when progressing. These are unique to each speciality, so you may decide to choose a perk that allows you increase damage when dual-wielding Destruction spells, or maybe increasing your chance to do critical hits while wielding a two handed weapon.

The possibilities are endless and allow for all manner of variations in how you structure your character.

The inclusion of companions (a non-player character that follows you for the duration of the game) make a great deal of difference when in combat, as you can outfit them with weapons and armor to compliment your style of play. And although companions don't influence the story, this is actually a good thing. It means that if they die it's not the end of the world, as you can always hire or recruit a new companion at the nearby Tavern.

The ability to Duel Wield any type of weapon or spell is a welcome addition to combat and provides a far deeper experience when in battle. You are able to switch effortlessly from a sword and a shield to an axe and a fire spell, a healing spell and a dagger, or even two swords or axes to do maximum melee damage. 

Occasionally time will slow down to show a well-placed killing blow for added effect, sending your enemies flailing into a wall or falling off a cliff to their death.  

The numerous factions within Skyrim provide their own intriguing story lines and progression, with the College of Winterhold (the Mage's Guild) being the current story arc that I am busy with. Others include the Dark Brotherhood, the Companions (Fighters Guild) and many others. You can even choose which side of Skyrims Civil War you want to follow, pitching you into heated battles with your comrades at your side.

Lesser games could have used each of these story-lines as their main plot and still done well (each providing its own unique perspective.), but these are completely aside from the main story in Skyrim.

The main story involves the newly awakened Dragons from legend, and in this lies the games greatest strength. You are a "Dragonborn", from an ancient line of warriors who warred against the Dragons in ages past. As you progress, you encounter Dragons that circle the skys and wreak havoc on the towns and surrounding countryside. Encounters with Dragons are sometimes scripted, but often random as well. These chaotic encounters are incredibly intense, with townsfolk and guards rallying with you to attack them.

Once the dust has settled and the dragon is killed, you absorb the soul of the dragon which in turn provides you with additional power to your "Dragon Shouts" that you acquire throughout the game. Dragon Shouts are immensely powerful spells that don't use Magic, but do have a cooldown. Some of these include the ability to send a bolt of force in front of you, Dash forward several yards in a second, or summon a lightning storm to help you in battle against a Dragon.

While I must admit that I managed to clock up a good 60 hours of gameplay this weekend alone, there is still so much to see in the land of Skyrim, and I will certainly be playing it well into next year.

I still cannot believe the amount of improvements to the Elder Scrolls series in Skyrim, and every one of them mentioned is a fantastic inclusion that keeps you interested and constantly craving more, and with the promise of further expansion packs to add to the already massive world provided.....I'm VERY Impressed.

This is easily one of the best RPG's ever made.

10 / 10

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