Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Platform: Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3.
Release Date: Out now
The anticipation building up to the release of The Elder Scrolls’ fifth instalment, Skyrim, was immense. This role-playing fantasy series has its beginnings in 1994 with Arena, a dungeon-crawling sword and sorcery title of modest success that was followed by Daggerfall in 1996. Upon release, TESII: Daggerfall was considered revolutionary and ground-breaking, featuring an expansive world and unfathomed freedom of choice; these features then became fundamental to the series. It is vital to view TESV: Skyrim in context with the rest of the series, especially TESIII: Morrowind and TESIV: Oblivion, in order to get a sense of the expected standard. These predecessors, released in 2002 and 2006 were, simply put, superb. Each featured immersive, open-world gameplay, top-notch graphics, interesting characters, humorous dialogue and both should really have had a ‘highly addictive’ warning label stuck to their boxes.
Even though TESV: Skyrim has a rich backdrop of lore, gameplay, style and previous successes to contend with, it surpasses all expectations. The introduction is captivating and beautifully functional. Textures are smooth and voice-acted dialogue is believable throughout the adventure. You are invited to choose your race, gender, appearance and name in a way that integrates smoothly with the unfolding introduction. You choose from ten races as before, but Skyrim really improves on the customisation, allowing the creation of a truly unique character. You are then released upon the province of Skyrim, and all remaining character development stems from how you play the game. It’s bloody brilliant.
If you opt to attack with a blatant axe, a sneaky bow or an astute spell, the relevant skill increases. All combat options are mapped to either hand, corresponding to each trigger on the controller. This allows sword/shield, axe/spell, dual-spells and dual-weapons. The combat is fluid and variant and heavily influenced by your choices, but it’s not all violence. You can craft, enchant, concoct, mine, smelt, harvest, purchase a house and marry. The quests are fantastic, the old factions are back, and the experience of joining certain factions will vary from gamer to gamer.
Non-playable characters are commonly heard talking amongst themselves about things that you are involved in or soon could be. This is quite exceptional as in the right location there are multiple conversations happening at once, and each, if engaged in, could open up endless opportunities for you to choose from. Sometimes you are side-tracked by attempting to capture a butterfly for its wings or a desperate fight for survival against one of the game’s main adversaries: huge, unscripted, intelligent dragons which, should you defeat one, instil feelings of ecstasy and immense power.
In short, the world of Skyrim is open and free, with events unfold based on your actions, with a dash of chance. Intricately designed, exciting, beautiful and addictive, TESV: Skyrim is all these things and more.