Very rarely do I find myself so engrossed in a game that I begin to neglect all other aspects of my life. It does tend to happen when some of the better Role-playing experiences fall into my hands, but once I do bring myself to switch off the console and walk away, all is forgotten until the next time I switch on. This doesn’t happen with The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, even when I turn off I find myself thinking about what perk to use next, or which quest to complete, or which Court I want me and my in game wife to move to next. I have to admit that I find this form of addiction to be both extraordinary and worrying. But then I remember that we are gamers, and this is what we play for, to experience these alternate realities which help us to escape those grim annoyances of our everyday lives.
If ever there was a game that could take me out of my own body for hours on end to live a completely different reality, Skyrim would be it. From the first time I saw the announcement that a new Elder Scrolls game was coming, I was excited. However deep down I was in doubt that Bethesda could top themselves. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion was the very first game I played when I bought into the next gen hype, and even that game managed to consume me for months. So I was concerned that Skyrim would come and go like every other game, because perhaps the appeal just wouldn’t be there anymore after spending hundreds of hours in Oblivion. I was secretly hoping that Bethesda would somehow leave me rotting in my own stupidity for ever doubting them, and boy am I rotting away!
So for those of you wondering what Skyrim is, and why you should own it. It’s an epic fantasy role-playing experience that lets you unravel hundreds of novel worthy mysteries and adventures, all at your own pace. It is very difficult to sum up the extent of this game in a thousand or so words, as it has so many layers of depth, so I will do my best to touch on what Bethesda has done to make this one of the most genre defining titles in the history of gaming.
The very first time your character is addressed you will be presented with the Character creation menu, which has been simplified compared to the previous game. You may select your race which all have their own special abilities and skill bonuses. You can then tweak the look of your character with all the standard facial feature options and finalize it by punching in the perfect name for your adventurer.
Another area that Bethesda has thankfully simplified is leveling up. Though it has kept the traditional Elder Scrolls logic of only leveling up skills as you use them, it is much easier to manage this time around. In Elder Scrolls you do not earn experience points by completing quests, instead there are eighteen skills which govern every action you make in the game. The more you use a skill the more it levels up, the more you level up your skills the higher your overall level goes. A bar will indicate your progression to the next level, and once it fills you can then chose to spend a point on your Magicka, Health or Stamina. You also unlock one point to spend on a perk relating to any of the skills; of course it will make sense to spend perks on the skills you use the most, which then in turn defines your own character class.
This is one of the many genius processes which make the Skyrim experience personal to the player. Other games will have you simply chose a character class, but Skyrim gives you the freedom to decide yourself the type of character you want to be; be it a Mage that is also skilled with one-armed weapons, or a sneaky duel-wielding assassin who is also skilled at conjuring zombies, the possibilities are endless.
Whilst combat is a lot more complex this time around, it is also more streamlined than it was in Oblivion. This time you can equip an item to each hand individually, unless of course it’s a two-handed weapon. This means you can either have a mix of weapon and spell, weapon and shield, dual-weapons or dual-spells. This is all too much choice and you may wish to go back and forth between a sword and shield and a sword and spell. Well Bethesda has thankfully made this an easy process by implementing a favorite system which allows you to favorite weapons, armor and spells in the main menu. Once you select your favorite items it’s as easy as pressing up on the d-pad to bring up a list of your favorite items, allowing you to switch your set-up on the fly. Not only that but you can also assign two of your favorite items to the left and right d-pad button, so that once you press the button the weapon will change to the desired item automatically.
To use your chosen items you press either L1 or R1 to use them respectively, if you have a sword then the longer you hold down the button the more powerful your swing will be. Powerful swings will drain stamina, so you may want to have some stamina potions handy if your character lacks in that department. Spells of course consume Magicka, so it’s a good idea increase your Magicka when leveling up if you plan to rely on restoration spells to increase health. The difficulty level in Skyrim is much more intense compared to the previous game. If you leave yourself exposed to a huge blow from a foe then you will literally feel yourself on the brink of death. If you are outnumbered then your every move must be calculated. Thankfully this time around there is a selection of characters for you to gain the loyalty of, which you can then ask to come along as you explore.
Another wonderful addition is the slow motion executions, which Bethesda has borrowed from one of their other popular titles Fallout 3. If you’re a stealth based character you will love this addition as there is nothing better than sneaking up behind your foe and watching your character sink their blade into the target in glorious slow motion.
Although Skyrim is an open-world full of mystery, there is a main plot line to follow should you want to. Dragons were once a long lost myth in Skyrim, however they have now re-emerged and in all the chaos you discover that you are gifted by being of the Dragonborn. With your new discovery you will set out on an adventure to discover the origins of your gift and what made the Dragons return.
You have the freedom of taking this quest at your own pace, but you’ll always feel like this open plot line is affecting everyday livelihood in Skyrim. Dragons will swoop down and attack cities, farms and villages at random, uniting everyone as they come together in an attempt to slay the beast. Indeed you could very well be engrossed in a battle with some bandits, when out of nowhere you feel the ground shake (the pad vibrates) and then a Dragon swoops over you all breathing fire upon you, and then in that moment your former opponents become allies, as you all scramble to take down the threat residing thirty feet in the air. Even animals (including sheep) will come along trying to get a piece of the Dragon, which I found pretty hilarious. Once you do manage to finish off the Dragon you will resume your former battle with the bandies, or if you are in a town the town-folk will gather around the Dragon’s remains, shocked at what they have witnessed.
After a Dragon dies you will also absorb their soul being that you are Dragonborn. When this happens you gain the ability to learn one of the many Dragon shouts, which can be utilized in battle. To fully learn a Dragon shout you must learn the words, which you will find written in many of the forgotten caves scattered all across Skyrim, giving you all the more reason to explore and discover. Dragon shouts come in all forms, there are ones that stagger your opponent when used, once that allow you to dash yards ahead at incredible speed, and I have even heard there are onces that allow you to manipulate the weather. To activate a Dragon shout you can select it in the Magic menu and then press R2 to use it, however a cool-down is required before you can use it again.
No matter where you go in Skryim, it is full of life. Residents are aware of all recent incidents, many times they’ll recognize you for your various accomplishments throughout the land. Couriers will run after you delivering anything from invitations to death threats, assassins will come after you, and guards will hunt you down to collect your bounty should you break the law. Wild animals reside throughout the land and will attack on sight; deers, goats and rabbits walk the lands, running away as you get too close. And my favorite is the addition of Giants, which lead their Mammoths across the land. Giants are not hostile unless you provoke them or attack their Mammoths, and that makes them an amazing sight to come across as you explore the region. Sometimes a Dragon will attack you and you will get the chance to fight alongside a Giant, but try you’re hardest not to get in their way because all it takes is one blow from a Giant to kill you.
To add to the fantasy of day-to-day livelihood you can now partake in various craft based work, all at your own will. You can go mining, hunting for animal pelt or hide, and extract ingredients from plants. Mined ores can be smelted into ingots which allow you to become a blacksmith and craft armor and weapons, or simply improve the ones you already have. Animal pelts and hide allow you to craft leather which can also be used to create leather armor or weapons. Ingredients can be used for Alchemy, which allows you to craft potions or poisons. It doesn’t end there either; you can also enchant items, chop wood and cook meals. All this is up to you, you are never forced to do any of it; but if you wish to get everything you can out of the experience then crafting is definitely something to look into as you can sell anything you craft.
By now you’re probably thinking that no game can be this perfect, and though I honestly believe that Skyrim is the perfect game, there are unfortunately some flaws to report. For one there are sometimes extreme framerate issues on the Playstation 3 version, which can be irritating given the fact the game requires you to install the very first time you play. Also I have heard others speak of various A.I bugs that see quest based NPC’s doing silly things whilst you’re required to follow them. When you do consider how much of an ambitious game Skyrim is, it’s no wonder why these hiccups exist. Bethesda has recently announced that a huge patch is coming for all versions, so hopefully these small issues can be fixed.
I have written of the addiction, the character creation, skills, quests, A.I and crafting; but I have still not even scratched the surface of what this game has to offer. So far I’ve had fifty hours of non-stop enjoyment and I doubt I’m even a quarter of the way through the main quest. Don’t get me wrong, Skyrim isn’t for everyone, and not everyone shares the same appeal for fantasy. But speaking completely from my own perspective, I have to say that this is the definitive game of this generation in gaming. If we see anything that tops Skyrim anytime soon, then I guarantee it won’t be on a console.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game for the PlayStation 3 provided by Bethesda.