Written by Chris Price
Photos and illustrations by Dead End Thrills
28 Monday 28th November 2011

Skyrim is big – very big. So much so, CVG are running a diary as one of their journalists whiles away 100 hours in the game – and in Skyrim, it’s not hard to get sucked in. Bethesda have earned their stripes as far as comprehensive world-creation goes (responsible for the critically successful Elder Scolls 4 : Morrowind and post-apocalyptic dust-fest Fallout 3), but Skyrim is truly a level above. It’s vast – and apparently, the bastard never ends.

So what of immersion in this world? Well, Skyrim certainly does the ‘Role’ part of RPG very well. Picking a race and a side, learning more about your characters lineage and how you fit into the whole saga, your moral decisions within the game will influence further endeavours and how you are assimilated into future missions. This is a game that truly lets you define both yourself and impact the world around you. Hell, bag yourself the ‘Amulet of Mara’ and you can go around marrying men and women (even the ancient world of Tamriel allows for same sex marriage – take that Texas!)

The comprehensive nature of the RPG genre as a whole has always seemed to require a similarly grand level of personal micromanagement, in an attempt to make the experience of ‘levelling up yourself’ seem (in some perverse manner) more realistic. A simplification of the interface of personal management of clothing, items, weapons and magic is more Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings than J.R.R. Tolkien’s. A lot of Fallout’s success have been transplanted, especially the ‘perk’ based skill system. As you complete tasks you’re awarded statistic upgrades to spend on magic, health, or stamina and a perk which is linked to a series of skill trees (a la Deus Ex). The perks have a palpable effect on your skills, grounding the upgrades in effectiveness rather than throwing around meaningless numbers on player skills.

Although upgraded from the previous title Morrowind, it’s a more flexible battle system, which conveys all the heft of a unwieldy broadsword quite brutally. Strike with traditional weaponry and shields, or wield various magical abilities to assist or hinder others.  The ability to dual-wield both sword and fiery-hand almost had me thinking of Bioshock at moments, and the interaction with environments and feral beings mean that battles aren’t always a question of you vs. opponent. And the introduction of dragons, who will stalk you across the lands until you bring them down, add an end-of-level boss element that punctuates chunks of the game. But the incongruous feedback from wounded opponents has you constantly second-guessing the effectiveness of strikes, degenerating even the most meticulously planned battle into desperate punching of the shoulder buttons, and quaffing of health potions.

But enough about violence - Skyrim is about adventure and narrative rather than statistics and strategy, and makes every opportunity to ramp up the scale: it uses everything from arcing storylines, individual side quests, novellas depicting history and clues to booty, feral animals – plus incessant dragons awoken from an ancient slumber. Bethesdahas come a long way from Terminator Future Shock, way back in 1995. Now masters in awe and fantasy storytelling – creating grand visions of dystopian worlds, familiar in part yet alien in others – and almost always memorable.

There is a trade off though, of wealth in one area of a game to a deficiency elsewhere. Much like Fallout, Skyrim has many moments of grandeur, with some impressively detailed hamlets and rolling scenery – but also some murky graphical clipping, and some plain weird gravitational elements. As a result, its anorakiness is kept in check – and it seems this hasn’t been to the detriment of the series. With its simplification of character management, there’s more game time freed up for immersion in the storyline. And with 40+ hours on the games primary mission, it’s certainly a game where learning to accept its faults as part of the experience is the only hurdle of getting down and dirty.

And this conveys Skyrim’s truly wild nature. It’s a fully-realised world designed for discovery and collection. Full appreciation requires full surrender from the outside world (and a decent chunk of suspension of disbelief when a dragon’s wing gets jammed in a wall and starts flickering away uncontrollably) but it features enough spectacle and finale to bracket chunks of game – keeping you and the story on an even keel rather than marooning you in this enormous world.

It owes a considerable debt to Fallout from the upgrade system and as a result feels more user-friendly. Some could argue it’s a dumbing-down, but from its Metacritic rating of 96 it seems nobody is complaining. It’s a grand, wild Nordic romp – veering from fantasy farce to super seriousness  – but one things for sure, be sure you’ve got plenty of time spare to sink into this chap, because once it gets a hold of you, it’s tricky getting out. Part-time heroes need not apply.


The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim is available now for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.

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  • Guest: filip
    Tue 29 - Nov - 2011, 11:08
    Interesting nevertheless