So, after having the game for two days and lodging just over 16 hours onto it so far, I can finally share my impressions of Skyrim, the next blockbuster Elder Scrolls title and quite possibly one of the best games in recent times, perhaps of all time.
From the minute you are thrust into the game, you can see just how utterly gorgeous it looks. Everything, from the trees and the dirt beneath your feet to the clouds hovering above, looks fantastic and it is a far cry from the dated, clunky graphics that Oblivion has (though they were top of the range back when it was first released). The lighting is impeccable, especially in dark areas where the light bounces off the surfaces, and I genuinely think that you would be hard pressed to find an area in Skyrim that fails to look fantastic. It is a true indication of how far the current generation of gaming consoles have come, and graphics on the whole, when you compare Oblivion (released in 2006) to Skyrim, five years later.
The amount of content that there is in this game is quite staggering. If you thought Oblivion was a big game, and it was by all accounts, then you haven’t seen anything yet. There are 190 quests in total, with only 19 of those reserved for the main story, and that doesn’t include the radiant quest system that randomly creates them for you, meaning that there is a seemingly infinite amount of quests in the game. Bare in mind that some of these can take well over an hour to complete and you get the picture of just how much there is. Now, if that wasn’t mind-boggling enough, there are also 150 dungeons to explore. For the ones I have come across so far, I have easily spent over an hour on most of them so again, you can see how big of a game this truly is. You’ll also be taking time out to go exploring through the world, a necessity in Bethesda RPG titles, so you can easily assume that another 50-100 hours will be spent doing this. Quite how they managed to fit all of this onto one DVD disc must surely require some magic of its own.
As you would expect from an Elder Scrolls game, there is an amazing amount of character customization to fiddle around with. Right from the outset, you can create just about any character you want with the traits that you want them to have and you can further tweak your character during the game by leveling up only the skills you desire. If you want to be a tough-skinned warrior, you can be that. A stealthy assassin? Yep. A pickpocketing archer that picks enemies off from afar? You bet. Not only does this add a whole other layer to the game, it also makes the amount of replayability jump through the roof (when you actually get through the game, that is). I have heard of some people having multiple characters on the go at the same time as there is no doubt that you can get something different from the game each time, dependent on how you play through it.
A lot of things seem to have been tuned and refined from Oblivion. The levelling up system feels a little bit like the Fallout games, but feels a lot better and finely tuned that Oblivion’s. Magic has been improved massively, although the removal of spell creation is a little disappointing but not a major problem. The combat mechanics have also been improved (you can now do fancy executions at given points), the inventory system seems easier to navigate (on consoles, anyway) and on the whole, it just feels like more time and effort was spent on it. Things like alchemy are still there but they feel pretty much the same as Oblivion.
The character animations have been improved in heaps and droves from Oblivion. It is now feasible to play the entire game in third-person, as the animations actually look real this time instead of semi-human, and NPCs that populate the game’s towns and villages can also be seen doing things instead of standing there or walking around. For example, you can see NPCs chopping wood, or making weapons. It makes the game seem more real and familiar than in Oblivion. They also seem to have hired more than ten voice actors to play a hundred roles this time around. Don’t get me wrong, I have heard several NPCs speak with the same voice as the unwashed woman living in a town hundreds of miles away, but it’s less of a widespread annoyance than before.
The dungeon design is, once again, fantastic and totally engrossing. I have been in luscious, water-filled caves and deep, threatening crypts full of bodies that come to life. It’s very easy to spend over an hour exploring every inch of a dungeon until you finally exit the place, precious loot in hand. I have seen quite a few set pieces seemingly repeated in numerous areas, but it is understandable given a game of this size and magnitude.
The dragon fights, which are a big part of the game, are totally fantastic in every way. Yes, they can be a little difficult and can sometimes take a while to annihilate, but the pay-off and feeling of empowerment when you do finally kill one is overwhelming. There are an infinite number of dragons in the game, not including scripted ones, as they occur randomly when you are exploring through the game. You need their souls, obtained after killing them, to unlock new shouts that you have discovered. Shouts are Skyrim’s new addition and basically involve using your voice to slam an enemy with the force of a tonne of bricks, or create a wall of fire in front of you. It’s a great system on all accounts and I can’t fault it in any way.
I can’t deny that I am a little disappointed with the weather effects in Skyrim. The snow, especially the thick kind that you experience on high mountains or in the frozen areas of the map, is utterly brilliant but the rain effects are particularly poor, almost non-existant. Having a nice, dynamic, weather system is always something I enjoy in a game and I was hoping, perhaps too much, that Skyrim would have powerful thunderstorms, or blustering gale force winds. There are thunderstorms, but they aren’t anything to shout home about. Shame.
If you’re not used to games like this, or this is the first time you’ve ever played an RPG, the sheer wealth of customization options and inventory screens can be quite intimidating, I would imagine. I’d say it is the same for most RPGs out there, perhaps all of them, so it is quite lucky that it doesn’t take too long to get used to them in Skyrim.
Well, those are my impressions of the game and believe me, I struggled to get more than one negative thing to say about the game and I didn’t want to leave it with only positives as no game, not even one as great as Skyrim, is flawless. When I come to write my Game of the Year post next month, I am fairly certain that this game will be riding high at the top and probably will for many other people as well. I always knew that I would love the game but I think I under-estimated just how much so.
This is definitely one of the biggest games of the year, and not just in popularity.