The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of those sequels which had an exorbitant amount of pressure upon it since its initial development a few years ago, following the success of its predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. However, it seems as though Bethesda works well under pressure; given that there was a lot to do to trump the success of Oblivion, Bethesda was able to apply that pressure to the appropriate places and with the information made Oblivion a victory at their disposal, a gleaming diamond was produced—instead of fossilised poop.
For a brief history, The Elder Scrolls made its début in 1994 with Arena, which was a strictly first-person game that set in motion a formula that is present in the subsequent instalments. Such includes wilderness and dungeons present in the game world as well as a spell creation system made prevalent in Oblivion. Overall, Arena was a critically acclaimed success—and to quote Matt Barton, a game historian, "...the game set a new standard for this type of role-playing video game, and demonstrated just how much room was left for innovation."
Two years later, Bethesda released Daggerfall as a sequel to Arena, which further introduced some of the features we see today including equipment enchantments, the ability to purchases houses, and a vampire/werewolf/wereboar transfiguration system. Daggerfall also incorporated a political system made up of different kingdoms, guilds, orders and religions. Daggerfall's boastful tagline was "Prepare to experience your new obsession," which proved appropriate given the game's critical success.
In 2002, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind arrived and during which, I was in elementary school and heard of the game through a friend. I'd never gotten the chance to experience it back then and in the future, I'd ended up mistaking it for Fable and further postponed my experience with the Elder Scrolls series. Morrowind begins with the player's character, having been imprisoned, arriving in Morrowind by boat in order to be pardoned. This is a common introductory segment throughout the main installments of the series. A well-received tutorial depicting the prisoner's release moves the player through the process of character creation. The player is successively asked questions by a fellow prisoner, an officer, and a bureaucrat as the player is registered as a free citizen; choosing, in the process, the player character's name, race, gender, class, and birthsign. These affect the player's starting attributes, skills, and abilities. This feature was continuously approved with the subsequent releases of Oblivion and Skyrim.
Four years later, Oblivion—the fourth instalment in the series—was released and was the first game in the series that allowed players to switch between first and third person perspectives. Oblivion is arguably the game that put The Elder Scrolls franchise on the map and to this day remains in the top selling instalments. It was the most critically acclaimed of them all, hence the pressure that was put upon Bethesda for their development of Skyrim.
In 2011, Bethesda released Skyrim which was received with open arms and was yet another critical success. The game is not a direct sequel to its predecessor, Oblivion, but instead takes place 200 years later, in the land called Skyrim, in Tamriel. Skyrim also makes use of an updated graphics engine, proving to be one of the most beautiful games on the market today. Skyrim is the culminating point of some of the very best elements Bethesda has developed for their particular brand of open-world RPG. Welcome to Skyrim, friend. You aren't leaving any time soon.
I experienced the Elder Scrolls games with Oblivion when a friend basically shoved the game in my face on a semester break during high school and said, "Do not leave your house until you've played this game." I was not the kind of person at the time to take video game recommendations well, as I was—and still am—quite picky. However, I sat down and gave the game a go and nevermind not leaving the house until I played the game; I didn't want to leave the house until I finished it. With that being said, it's rather needless to say that I was drooling over every inch of information for Skyrim, and when I finally got my hands on it...it was nothing other than a complete and utter blow-away.
Hailing as my favourite video game of all time, Skyrim holds a space close to my heart. However, that does not blind me from the game's cons or faults, if you will. While I enjoy it immensely, I am still aggravated by the occasional bug or glitch, but not so much to the point where the game is unplayable.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim shows players a Tamriel in ruins—the Empire has invaded the northern land with the intent on gaining control, banishing the worship of the god-king Talos and forcing the Nords and other races inhabiting the lands to follow their ways of life and submit to the laws of the Empire. However, the natives of Skyrim are not having any of it and the strongest of them band together and form the Stormcloaks, led by Ulfric Stormcloak, the Jarl of Windhelm, a province in Skyrim. The game puts players in control of the Dovahkiin, or Dragonborn, who is unfortunately stuck in the centre of this anything-but-civil war.
From the start of the game, players witness a cutscene in which your character meets some colourful NPCs while en route to the chopping block. It is here when a soldier of the Imperial Legion realises you are not on the list of prisoners and asks who you are. Players are able to customise their characters as in Oblivion, but with more in-depth abilities and significantly more beautiful visuals. After the character creation is complete, you're instructed to go to the chopping block anyway. Nice job, Imperial Legion. Before your head is severed from your body, however, a dragon appears and causes chaos, allowing you to escape in the confusion. Not long after, you learn that you are the Dragonborn, one of few people who are able to absorb the soul of a dragon upon killing them and harness their powers for your own. For a game that contains entire cultures, races, history, and its own brand of academic and fictional literature, Skyrim’s plot is blissfully simple. In short, dragons are coming back to Tamriel and they’re very angry, having been ousted from power aeons ago. The province of Skyrim is engaged in a brutal civil war between separatist and imperialist factions, so nobody’s really treating these giant lizards as a serious threat. You, however, have learned that you are the Dragonborn, meaning that the defence of the realm is basically in your hands.
The power of the souls you harness from dragons produce a unique feature: the shouts. They're easily forgotten, tucked away on the right bumper, but they're tied to no resource save their own cool-down times, so they're extremely useful in a pinch. Unrelenting Force - shown in every demo - can be used to knock back enemies. It can also be used to bellow everything off a table in a tavern, if you're feeling troublesome. Other shouts include (but are not limited to) slowing time, breathing fire, calming storms, and fading away. Fade is more of an escape method than a stealth tool, for the simple enough reason that you have to yell like a giant lizard to activate it. In my experience, nothing puts a potential pickpocket victim on their guard like someone behind them bellowing in an ancient tongue.
For those who've played Oblivion and perhaps even Morrowind, the features of Skyrim aren't that different from before. You'll have warring families to deal with, rogue necromancers to deal with...and there's a girl in Whiterun who wants to play tag, if you think you're man enough for the task. On top of everything else, you'll have the guilds to join and master.
The College of Winterhold is the equivalent of the mage's guild, where you can dabble in the five arcane branches of magic. The Companions in Whiterun are fondly regarded by the locals, but they also have an interesting secret. Turning up at Riften will bring you to the attention of the Thieves' Guild, and if you walk into Windhelm looking to join Ulfric Stormcloak in the rebellon, you might also overhear someone talking about the Dark Brotherhood.
Other towns have their own secrets. Falkreath is a miserable location with Skyrim's largest graveyard. Helgen, the location of your interrupted execution, has Skyrim's oldest tree just outside it, and a bloody tough hag camped outside, slinging fireballs around. In short, there's a lot to discover and having had the game for two years, I haven't even finished the main story yet.
Each race you can choose from during character creation comes with a few of the 18 skills pre-boosted, but for the most part, you'll improve them just by using them. The lockpicking mini-game is simple but fair; if you're willing to snap a dozen lockpicks, even an apprentice levelled thief can crack a master lock. Just come prepared. Sneaking isn't really useful until you've earned a substantial level in it and selected the appropriate perks. Otherwise, even the blindest of enemies will spot you in the darkest corner.
Beginners will probably take comfort in the guidance of their compass waypoints, making their way to the nearest village and from there to the first confrontation with a dragon, but you’re more than welcome to explore off the beaten track. There’s certainly a lot of exploration to be done in Skyrim.
How your character is equipped to deal with the threats you’ll encounter is something you’ll want to ponder as soon as possible. If you want to take the obvious approach and don a suit of barbaric fur and armour with a great sword as your weapon of choice, go right ahead. The more fantasy based gamers will no doubt revel in accumulating magic skills to do everything for them, from conjuring weapons out of thin air to lighting up dungeons and transmuting iron into silver and gold. The more nefarious of you may appreciate a bow and some stealth training, especially since the stealth training helps your pickpocketing skills, which will help you earn quite a bit of currency.
Run-and-fetch side quests come in their droves to fill up your “miscellaneous” quest list, as do the go-here-kill-this side quests, and all of them seem to be sending you hundreds of leagues out of your way. Some of the investigative quests are just as bad, but there are a few set closer to the point of origin, so it’s not all that frustrating.
The problem with Skyrim is ironically its greatest strength: the exploration. Going from one objective to the other, it’s not unusual for you to get distracted by several caves, abandoned forts, ruins, or minor villages (where yet more bloody quests await your involvement.) You loot, kill, sell, and purchase for a couple of hours, level-up perhaps once or twice, and you then realise that you’re still trying to finish the same quest you started ages ago. Consequently the game leaves you feeling somewhat unfulfilled. You’re playing it, but there’s a distinct lack of progression – and that will start to grate after several hours. It's here where it's advised to go back to the main story line to avoid that feeling of the game going stale.
Skyrim may frustrate you at times, but it will work its way inside your skin and there's no getting it out. It never really gives you the proper opportunity to stop playing and the moment you do, you'll be aching for more. You'll have plenty of stories to tell your friends, great experiences to be nostalgic about...and something to look forward to after a long day at the office.
Three additional downloadable content pieces are now available for the game, which adds a plethora of new weapons, armour, quests, and hours of gameplay:
Dawnguard: A civil war between vampires and vampire hunters that allows players to choose which side to fight on. New skill trees for Vampire Lord and Lycanthrophy are added as well.
Hearthfire: Have you ever wanted Skyrim to take some notes from The Sims? Well, it has. In Hearthfire, players are allowed to purchase property in three different holds and build their own home from the ground up and add different wings including libraries, greenhouses, kitchens, trophy rooms, and mage towers. You may also adopt up to two children.
Dragonborn: Do you want to learn more about the Dragonborn? More importantly, the first Dragonborn? The plot involves travelling to the island of Solstheim and the return of a mysterious former Dragon Priest called Miraak, one-time ruler of the island. Unlike the ancient Dragon Priests of Skyrim, he's purportedly the first individual to be gifted with the dragon blood, much like the Dragonborn, and possesses the ability to absorb Dragon souls.