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Publisher: Bethesda Softworks Developer: Bethesda Game Studios Genre: RPG/Open World Mode(s): Single-player Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3, PC Launch Date: 11th November 2011
On 11/11/11, the game that many fans of The Elder Scrolls have been waiting for finally released. Becoming one of the most anticipated games of the year, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim had a lot of expectation riding on its release. It is the follow up to the award winning Oblivion, and now we can see how well the latest addition to The Elder Scrolls series fairs. So does Skyrim offer more or less compared to its predecessor? Does it live up to the hype or fall short? The only way you will find out is by reading this in-depth review. Game-play Ė 10 Before we go into too many details, it must be said that this is one of the biggest worlds there is to review and sadly, even with nearly 100 hours spent in this world, it feels like the surface has barely been scratched. This is the immense scale of what Bethesda has provided in their latest game. To put across as much as possible, parts of each quest line has been tested out, alongside an exploration of parts of the world. Skyrim opens up on the back of a cart, taking you to the tutorial area. This trip instantly gives you an insight into the amount of detail that had been put into the graphics. As the tutorial area progresses, you are introduced to Ulfric Stormcloak, the leader of the Stormcloak rebellion. After coming off the cart, you get to make your character, which results in using the character creator, which is much more in depth than in previous games of the series. The creator lets you change race, of which the usual ones are there such as Nords, Dunmer, Kahjit etc. It then lets you change all the features and their depths and widths, such as cheek depth and width etc. All of the character models, not only your own, look strong and built for the harsh climate of Skyrim, which is in the North of the Elder Scrolls world. As the tutorial continues, you witness the destruction a dragon can cause first hand as you escape Helgen while it is under attack. The tutorial area is well put together and teaches you the basics, before finally releasing you into the big world which is available. One of the first settlements you come to is Riverwood, if you take the time to talk to everyone you instantly receive numerous side quests and miscellaneous quests. Even on that small scale of a town, it is clear to see how many side quests will be on offer for the players. From here you could follow the main quest-line or go exploring each corner of the map. There are numerous quest-lines specific to certain factions. You have the main quest-line, which will see you learn more about yourself and the situation Skyrim currently faces, the guild quest-lines, which stay true to their styles, such as magical artifacts in the Mages, or hunting down your next target in the Dark Brotherhood. Each quest is informative and for the most part send you across the land to reach your goal. This gives you all the more reason to explore the land on offer. Some of the side quests and miscellaneous quests are sadly buggy, as can one of the main quests. Some of the Bards College quests involve finding instruments and returning them. Upon handing in the quests though, the items remain in your inventory, taking up space. You still get rewarded for the quest though. Another is handing in a book at the Mages College, as sometimes the guy wonít provide the necessary dialogue option to hand it in.


Gazing out over Whiterun in front of the Jarls home
This same guy however is responsible for some people having issues during the main quest-line, and this means either finding the location by luck or doing a side quest which leads to the same location, which can be found north of the college. Despite this however it doesnít take away from the overall experience. On the subject of quests, some do interlink with each other despite being from different people, this is a nice touch. The games mode of transport is walking, running, horses, carts and the fast travel. The horses do cost 1000 gold each, and while they can be slower than expected, they can withstand a lot of damage. If you havenít got that amount but donít want to walk, there are carts at some of the towns which can take you to other towns for 20-50 gold. As for fast travel, it can come in handy but it does mean you miss out on the route between locations, which could contain anything. Most of the dragons you encounter in the wild will be either scripted to a location of a word, or random near nothing of importance. They wonít just focus on you either, they will attack anything they see moving. Sometimes however, some will be flying around overhead but not attack or land, leaving you to try getting its attention. Each town is different and each offers the player lots of quests and information. Each style fits into the area of the world it is in perfectly, be it built to withstand weather, or be beaten harshly by it. Each town also have their own problems on top of the civil war between the Imperials and the Stormcloaks. Moving from towns and quests to go to the exploration aspect, the terrain is different in all areas. Mountainous areas can be hard to traverse at times unless you find the correct path up them, while the blizzard filled tundra can easily be blinding and features icebergs and sudden drops in the mountains. The player can also learn shouts, which are features of the Dragonborn old and new. These range from things such as a blast that knocks enemies flying to altering the weather. These are interesting additions and as mentioned, old Dragonborn know them too. In some locations there are special types of Drugar which when they were living knew the shouts. This can become at times annoying, as you can be blasted into a wall and shot at with arrows, but the same time it also lets the player know how it feels to be the enemy. Each shout is made up of words, which must be found and unlocked. To unlock a word you must spend a dragon soul, which means slaying more dragons. A feature which is currently missing however is the breath meter underwater. In previous games you have a meter which lets you know how much more breath you have before you need to resurface. Sadly it is missing from Skyrim, which leaves the breathing to a guessing game. Luckily the enchantments come in handy and can save your life, especially water-breathing ones. You can also do an honest days work in Skyrim. This is stuff like mining ores, chopping wood, cooking etc. Mining ores is most beneficial however, as these ores can then be taken and smelted into ingots, which can be used in Smithing. Smithing is one of the skills that are open to the player. The skills have perk trees, which all help your character out in different ways. Some examples of these perks are investing gold into shops, making different types of armour, even having 25% chance to behead people. All these perks are helpful and it can be hard to choose one per level up. As for fighting, different enemies can be weak or hard. For the most part, fights will be easy to deal with whatever path you take, be it warrior or mage. Some fights however can be quite hard and in some cases annoying, such as Drugar Deathlords. Following certain quest-lines can provide different abilities which can help out in these fights immensely. There is so much content packed into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that itís hard to cover everything, and even after 90 hours, it feels like you have barely scratched the surface of what is possible in this game. Itís a really fun experience to wander around and soak up all the wildlife, or sneak through towns to get to your target.


That shield won't save you now
Graphics Ė 9 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a massive feast of graphical candy from top to bottom. Letís begin with the character models. Each race is different from the others, but it is mostly the differences between humans and humanoid which stand out. If you take the humans, such as the Nords, their build is very human, from their feet to their heads, their face structures and eyes. Then there are the elves which have their pointed ears and different eye styles. The more prominent details however go to the Kahjit and Argonians. The Argonians now look even more like lizards than before with slightly elongated heads, their scales and features more prominent. The same is with the Kahjits head shape and fur. Something which can be seen in the tutorial area during the cart ride is the muscles and even veins on the arms. Both stick out like they do on those who train their body. The body movements act out in the same fashion with no issue; they do react and move as they should do, such as running etc. While we on movement, this is a perfect time to detail the finishing moves in a graphical viewpoint. As stated in the game-play section, these finishers are seemingly random, and they can prove beneficial in fights. But they would lose their charm if they didnít look as good as they are meant to. Here is where the game proves itself as a strong fighter, as the different finishers are always fun to watch. Be it thrusting a sword through the enemyís chest and having their body lurch over the sword, or making heads roll from shoulders, the finishers stand out in combat. So what about the creatures that inhabit Skyrim, do they feature the same amount of detail? Once again the answer to this question is yes. The animals such as wolves, bears and sabres look as dangerous as they can. The fur and attention to detail on their faces is stunning. As well as the dangerous animals, you also have the neutral, or the prey. These are like rabbits and elk and horses. So much detail has been poured into the creatures of Skyrim, and the horses have that added touch. As you ride them to wherever you are headed, if you look closely you can see their muscles moving.


Someone said to face your fears head on
Finally, we have the main creature feature of Skyrim; dragons. This review has covered that they come in different varieties and strengths, but what about the graphical aspect of them? The dragons at a quick glance look the same as each other, and quick glances are usually what you have time for while trying to fight them. But in actual fact, they are different. In most cases, the difference is in the colouring and tail shape. The Blood Dragons feature oval tipped tails, making them stand out more than the normal varients. Each horn and scale is detailed and their breath, be it ice or fire, comes out as a stream, which is pleasing to watch and see in action. In some cases, the dragons might crash land and this leaves a trench where it crashed and slid along. Moving from characters and creatures, we go to the items. Each item in the inventory can be turned around and zoomed in on. This gives the player a bigger insight into the items, and can uncover higher details that can be missed out on by the less observant. This zoom in feature is a good one and also is featured in the loading screens which are statues of certain objects, some relevant to certain quests and items, some of the races and creatures and others to do with the history of the land. The most important graphical area of The Elder Scrolls however is always the towns and the environments. Each town has their own styles. Take Solitude which is in the mountains to the north and compare it to another town, such as Riften or Winterhold. Solitude is built up more like a fortress and its town, with proper streets and organisation. The stone walls of buildings seem sturdy and strong, and towering over them is the Blue Palace. Riften on the other hand is less built up, made more of a mixture of stone and wood. This provides the feeling that Riften is slowly growing from rural beginnings. It has two layers to it. The street level of the town is where the buildings are, there isnít as much organisation to where everything is. The lower level however, is the Ratways. This is not only the sewer system of the town but also home to the Thieves guild. Both of these towns differ so much from each other, in size, design and structure. The same can be said about each town. It is refreshing to see such differences between the main holds of Skyrim. The other example for comparison I gave was Winterhold. This is more of a small settlement than a town. It is extremely weather beaten, with blizzards ravaging it often. Some of the wooden buildings are just ruins left by the harsh climate. The building with the most to offer is the college, which is built up of stone instead of wood. When you begin to explore the college, you can sometimes end up getting lost due to its multiple layers and turns. As stated, it is refreshing to see such differences in the towns styles, these all match up to the environments they are in. Like the towns, the environments differ to different regions. In the south, the forests take over the terrain, and this provides a very scenic diversion and enjoyable hikes as the trees all look like a lot of detail went into them. The area is also green and fresh, almost peaceful. There is also the tundra to the north, filled with mountains and ice bergs, which is frequently hit by blizzards which can make it difficult to traverse the tundra. There is also a more barren area of the map, which is like a boggy swamp. This area of the map is smaller than the others but still another fun different style. Each of these areas, while mainly mountainous offers different views and all can be interesting. Many hours can be lost by just exploring and looking at every little detail that Bethesda have put into the game. Even the night sky looks beautiful when it is lit up by the stars and moons. Occasionally the sky is also lit up by northern lights, which can come in reds and blues. Itís hard to put into words how breathtaking the sights in this game are. The only problem however is the one which comes in other Elder Scrolls/Fallout games. There are those occasional areas which donít work out as well as they should. When you are in the snowy areas and looking at the shadows of the trees, you can see the pixels which form the shadow. Also there was a camp up north where the items and tents seemed to be misplaced, as they were hovering instead of set on the ground. These aside however, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim still boasts some of the best graphics seen in a RPG. For the most part, everything featured in this game looks so alive and in some cases dangerous, and this shows how much attention Bethesda have put into their title.


The Companions look happy to see you
Sound Ė 10 As with any Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim features an orchestral mix as the background music and the fighting sequences. We have established the amount of detail that has been placed into the graphics and game-play, now we take a look at how much went into the sound. The first sounds we will take a look at are the character related ones. The voice acting is spot on with most of the characters. Be it an annoyed shopkeeper or an excited child, the tone of voice is spot on. Even the accents for different races add to the interesting mix that is ever present. But thereís more than just voices, each footstep can be heard, making things perfect if you sneak into a building and want to avoid detection. The same is said for the character you play. While almost voiceless, you do hear the shouts being made. On top of this you can hear each footstep, and they get louder if you are running. You can hear the metal scrap as you draw your sword and sheath it, the tension of the string as you pull an arrow back. No detail got left out when it comes to the sounds the characters make. Next is the creatures, did they receive the same amount of detail? The answer is a resounding yes. Each animal has their own sounds, such as a wolf howling, which on dark nights in the middle of a wood can put you on edge. The wolfís howls however are beaten by the growl of a bear which always sounds threatening. Found in numerous caves and ruins are Charus and Dwarven machinery. The Charus are insects and scuttle around, which provides the perfect insect-like sound. As for the machinery it actually does sound like machines ticking over, with steam coming from some of them. Naturally the loudest sounds of all go to the dragons; hand in hand with the sound of their ice/fire breath. The dragon does have other sounds though. There is the beating of their big wings as they fly over, which can also cause the ground to vibrate slightly. There is also the big thump when they land or the continuous grinding if they crash land. When they are slain there is the crackle as their skin begins dissolving before the whooshing of the soul flying into your body. Next up is the background music and general noises that come with Skyrim. Starting with the dragons again, the game is good at letting you know when one is nearby. Not only do you hear the roar, but the Elder Scrolls theme strikes in, first slowly then builds up in volume, making each dragon fight feel that much more important. At times in towns there is soft orchestral music complimenting the areas nicely. The orchestral score is a brilliant soundtrack and yet the time when it isnít playing is when the game is more magical. As mentioned above, you can hear footsteps and people talking, but there is so much more going on in the world. While you walk around the world on offer, you can hear nature all around you. The birds, the rustling of leaves, insects, all of it makes for a great experience. It gets better too with the rushing of water as it goes over a waterfall. As we are on the subject of water, in Solitude there are numerous manholes, through each of them you can hear running water down in the sewer system. This once again shows the attention to detail that Bethesda have put much time and effort into this game.


Not all dragons fly around randomly, some protect treasures
Achievements Ė 9 At first glance, the achievement list is an easy 1000G. Then you boot up the game and realise what the game has to offer. While the achievements will come easily enough for finishing certain quests and activities, some will take more time, such as reading 50 skill books and having 100,000 gold on you at one time. People could just boot the game up, visit each town then rely on fast travelling to zip around the map while working on each achievement, and some probably will. However they will be cheating themselves out of a fantastic experience. This list is one filled with the usual suspects for a RPG title. If people take their time and explore, then they will be rewarded with great sights, and it will make those achievements all the more rewarding, such as clearing your 50th dungeon, or finding your 100th location. For those who are more to the thieving side of the game, there is an achievement to pick 50 pockets and 50 locks. Some thankfully encourage further exploration, such as learning 20 shouts. This means going out and finding the word locations or collecting all the Daedric artifacts. As stated above, the only reason it loses a point is that it is a generic RPG achievement list. It does an excellent job of encouraging players to go explore the expansive world that is provided. Conclusion While The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim might have a few graphical bugs which could do with ironing out, itís very hard to not fall in love with the game. Boasting hundreds of locations and dungeons to traverse, Skyrim is filled to breaking point with content. Add into the equation that there is DLC planned, this could be one of the biggest games Bethesda have created. Whether you are an explorer hunting for adventure, or an assassin prowling the streets, Skyrim has something for everyone. For people who play it, time can fly by before they know it, and some people will end up spending hundreds of hours playing Skyrim and will still not have experienced everything on offer. With news that a title update is in the works, this could iron out those bugs that take the game down slightly. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a great RPG and it lives up to the hype in at times breathtaking form. This game can easily be a strong contender for Game of the Year.


 

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