Oblivion was without question one of my favourite games of all time. I dedicated months of game time to completing as many of the quests as possible and ended up mapping all the territory, just for fun. Addicted was an understatement. Skyrim has been hyped now for the last year, and it is finally upon us, but can it live up to all the expectations? It certainly won’t be easy.
There is no doubt that Skyrim is an ‘epic’ title. The sprawling landscapes seemingly go on forever with an array of main quests and sub missions to keep fantasy gamers pinned in their chairs. After a solid three days of gaming I have beaten the main missions, but still have a lot of time to spend tackling the secondary quests and this is where the real fun begins.
Bethesda are masters of open world role playing games, having released Oblivion and Fallout 3 to mass critical acclaim. Skyrim is certainly the kind of game that you will get lost playing, the world is really just jaw dropping.
From the opening sequence, the developers give you plenty of scope to fine tune your character, selecting one of many races and adjusting the body, face, hair and skin colour. You can even pick a male or female ‘version’ of your finished deity.
From here on in the gamer is presented with an opening background story, setting the tone for the experience to come. I have to admit, I found the opening script more than a little stereotyped, but I can forgive Bethesda because Skyrim is based around Dragons. We all love Dragons, right?
The environments are amazingly well detailed, from snowy mountains, to marshy swamplands, with no shortage of varied locations on offer. The cities are particularly impressive, with a myriad of NPC’s to interact with. This is how many of the smaller missions are presented. You can help the people you meet, if the urge is there. Stealing from a NPC is a sure way to cause hostility and in many cases a clash of metal, so be aware that all of your actions have ramifications.
Your character’s class will develop as you progress, spending points enhancing health, magic and stamina. Points can also be allocated improving all areas of combat and recovery – from blocking to the casting of specific magic.
Graphically I have to say that I was impressed with the game because the improvements over previous titles are noticeable. The interactive weather effects for instance are spectacular to experience, especially when running headlong into a fierce snowstorm. The only downside is that my little 6790 graphics card struggled to maintain good frame rates, so I had to borrow a higher powered card from Kitguru. With a GTX570 at hand, the whole experience was transformed and I noticed less glitches with the Nvidia drivers. Running at 1080p was possible, and I was even able to max out many of the settings. Musically I was very impressed with the ambient soundscapes and background music.
The interactive nature of Skyrim is the single area which gamers find the most appealing. You can interact with everyone you meet, to a varying level anyway, chitchatting about their lives, dreams and goals and offering to help them if they are in need. I even helped to pay someone’s debts, just because I am that kind of girl. Obviously Bethesda want a ‘living, breathing’ world for gamers to experience, and I think, for the most part, they succeeded.
The game is not without fault however. There are some rather noticeable physics glitches, many of which have been posted on Youtube. I wouldn’t say I experienced many of these in my travels, although a horse I stole starting acting weird once, and got stuck on the roof of an inn, when I looked around, even though im not quite sure how it jumped up there. There are also some weird glitches when some characters get killed … such as twitching legs and arms (or tails in the case of animals).
The weird and wonderful are what make this game so appealing however and I would hate to see Bethesda remove all personality from the game. Bethesda are constantly patching and releasing mods for the game, and the third party support is always fantastic. There are already a ton of ‘non official’ mods available – check this page out for a handful.
The path you take will effect how your character will fight. You can load down with heavy armor and two handed weapons, but you will always be able to cast magic if you spend even a little time researching some spells. As your character is a ‘Dragonborne’, you also have the ability to SHOUT. I don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone who hasn’t had the chance to play the game yet, but these abilities are the most important in the game, especially as you begin to encounter the awesome Dragons that roam the landscapes. You learn a new shout by reading runes, which are given in specific in game locations. The SHOUT ability to bring Dragons to the ground is one of the most important attacks in Skyrim.
As the game starts to progress, the story line opens up and you end up battling a variety of evil creatures, from undead to the oversized giants who are often seen roaming with wooly mammoths. If like me you make the mistake of starting a fight with the giants then things can get pretty bloody, and really quickly too.
Using weapons and magic is the best way to enhance your abilities, for example, if you use a two handed weapon regularly, your character will become more proficient. I found two handed weapons were the best way to take out the boss characters, but the downside is that you can’t use a shield to defend against an attack, so deft footing is needed. I completed the main missions with a level 14 character, but he is continuing to improve and I now have a very powerful magically enhanced dual hand warhammer which can cause 40 points of damage (with frost and critical) each hit.
I have read threads online from players who have experienced some rather nasty game ruining bugs, causing some missions to halt mid way, or for glitches to stop them completing the quests. I must have been fortunate, because I have had a pain free journey so far, apart from the flying horse which I mentioned earlier. I did get stuck in a mountainscape once, but you can ‘quick travel’ to a location to get out of the environment bug.
The biggest demand placed on the gamer, is time. I have spent literally 35 hours in game so far and I feel like I have only touched briefly upon the experience. I have guilds to join, people to rob and new weapons to buy. The game is so demanding of time, that I know many people who have phoned into work, claiming they are sick. Just so they can get another 8 hours battling the evil force of Skyrim.
The PC version looks stunning, and it runs really well if you have a decent graphics card. There are plenty of settings to lower the image quality and find something suitable and I noticed that the ‘shadow’ option seems to have the hardest hit on frame rate performance. If you lower this then the game will likely be playable at higher settings.
Skyrim is the kind of game that really needs complete dedication from the player. If you are willing, and able to do so, then the rewards are immense. It is one of my favourite games this year, make sure you get it, even if RPG isn’t normally your deal.