Since I bought the game on its launch day on the 11th of November a lot of things have tried to get in the way of me playing Skyrim. I have started a new job, had a baby son to go with my 2 ½ year old daughter, done the Christmas thing and even moved house. Well now it is mid-January and I’ve still managed to put 105 hours in game so far……and I am nowhere near finished. This game is huge. HUGE. Which is pretty much something that you can say about most Bethesda RPG games really – Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout3 etc – all have been mighty titles of gaming that, to me, have eclipsed normal everyday life, but Skyrim in my view takes it to a whole other level again. Unlike its predecessors I find that I can’t walk a virtual mile in it’s varied and stunning landscapes without finding something to do, or being attacked by something. I love poking around and this game lets you poke to your heart’s content. I’ve put in over 100 hours and I am still only level 38 (of 81). And on top of all that, you get to fight dragons. DRAGONS.
I was riding my horse slowly uphill to a bandit hideout, taking it easy, trying to scope the place out, my usual approach. Have a look about, don’t get too close. Leap off my trusty steed and sneak up the hill with my enchanted bow at the ready, pick them off one by one Spintercell-style ( without having to hide the bodies ), until the s.h.i.t hits the fan and I have to switch to a sword in the right hand and destructive magic fireballs in the left, with a shout or two to back me up. This particular foray was about to begin when suddenly, the ground shakes, the horse starts to jitter and a massive winged shadow slips over the ground and a mighty roar is let out overhead ( this is a game to play on LOUD by the way…) – a Blood Dragon flies over out of nowhere and turns a circle over the bandit camp. The bandits, still completely unaware of my presence, start to let loose on the Wyrm, which promptly lands and burns most of them to cinders.
Quick as a flash I’m off my horse, bow out and firing as I advance on the creature from the side – it was still being distracted by the few hardy bandits left with some fight in them. Under my volley of thunderbolt enchanted arrows the creature goes down, skin burning away and I stand by and absorb its very soul…
Skyrim to me, more than any other game I’ve played, is a game of stories. Not a game of achievements or kills and leveling up or grinding for gold. Most of my playing time in Skyrim has been accompanied by a very good mate on Xbox live chat, navigating his way through his own adventure in Skyrim. Almost all of our chat consists of “Wow, this just happened…” or “ Jesus, have you seen this…” or even in some cases “Ah crap! that was tough…”. Said mate and I get together with another friend and gamer once a fortnight for Magic the Gathering, and the last few month’s sessions have turned into “What are you doing in Skyrim?” talks, cards almost forgotten for hours on the table in front of us. A lot of people have complained about bugs and glitches, or have an preference to play it on PC – several mates of mine fanatically state – “ This is a PC only game, don’t play it on a console!” I haven’t seen these things, and I don’t actually care about these things. Well yes, I’ve got it on PC as well but I get a LOT of pleasure out of the Xbox version. I’ve sat there with both the PC and Xbox version loaded up and yes the PC version looks better. It doesn’t play any different and the stories are the same and that’s all that matters to me with this game.
On the technical and gameplay side, Bethesda have improved on the previous titles with a more streamlined interface which at first I thought was a little too simplistic but as I’ve gone on I’ve actually come to love it. The menu system almost fades in from the gameplay P.O.V. and starts out from your basic top level items of Magic, Map, Items and Skills.
Bethesda have integrated the skills system from Fallout3 into the leveling system. 251 perks in 19 categories, such as light and heavy armour wearing, one and two handed sword wielding, alchemy, enchanting, archery and different schools of magic such as destruction and conjuration. Every time you level up you choose to level one of the three major stats. Magicka, which increases your mana pool. Health which increases your hit points and Stamina which determines some special moves and how much weight you can carry around.
But you also get one point to spend on a perk, which is used to enhance your chosen skill path. With my character, for example, I have spent some perk points on the black-smithing skill which gives me the ability to forge different types of weapons and armour, like dwarven or elven pieces, and you can also improve existing armour and weapons. This system really opens up the game to be played over and over again with a different approach each time – and I can hardly wait.
One thing that has been removed from this game is items degenerating through use and needing repair. Thank the gods I say. The world is a lush environment full of things to pick over for selling, books for reading; filling out masses of lore and background, and some even (upon opening the pages) level up different skills, and some books start new quests. There is food to gather and cook, and herbs and flowers etc to gather-taste-test and blend into various potions by using the different alchemy tables scattered through out the world. There is wood to chop – making good money and even ore to mine – which is especially handy if your character is a blacksmith like mine.
The quests are varied and numerous, quite often chained and send you all over the world to complete. And it’s a BIG world but this doesn’t pose much of an issue as the map is easy to navigate and nicely presented with goals clearly marked and the quest journal a button touch away when you’re in map mode, making organising yourself simple. Various guilds and factions can be joined such as The Thieves Guild or The Dark Brotherhood that have their own quest lines and activities as well. I’ve found Skyrim far easier to understand with regards to what I’m supposed to be doing, more so than in the previous iterations of Elder Scrolls games. Although with that said I still spend an awful amount of time just poking about…
I was wandering off road looking for a way to ford a river, carefully avoiding being spotted by a nearby giant’s camp. I crept up over a rock straight into the path of 3 roving higher level bandits who immediately turned and started in on me. I stood and ran back the way I came. With arrows shooting past my ears I suddenly remembered the giant’s camp I had so deftly avoided minutes previously – I headed straight for it, the bandits followed. I ran up over a rise and cut across the edge of the camp, the bandits still following, firing arrows as they went. Which the giants for some reason took offense at, so it was on. Two giants stepped forward, massive clubs swinging, taking out the three bandits in very short order – one of them flying 30 feet in the air with the force of blunt justice…I was still chortling 5 minutes later as I cross the river further upstream.
I haven’t got too much negative to say about this game except maybe that it’s called Skyrim, which presents itself for plenty of jokes involving “rimming” – most of them coming from my wife. The one drawback I have found is that sitting on my games shelf in the computer room at my house I have got Deus Ex: HR, Arkham City, Saints Row 3 and Space Marine all still in their shrink wrap, and Forza 4 and Portal 2 to navigate fully. Skyrim makes you want to play, think, breathe and eat nothing else but Skyrim.You’ve been warned.
by Chris “Thane in the App” Shooter, co-creator and webmaster of www.geekzine.co.uk
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is out now on PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, prices vary.