For once, one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the year is not centred around a gung-ho marine and his squad blasting urban landscapes into mounds of rubble, but instead focuses on a condemned prisoner who holds the key to the survival of a fantasy land facing its direst threat.
When The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released in 2006, it was universally hailed as the finest RPG of its generation because of its vast landscapes and the amount of freedom in its gameplay. The buzz about the latest sequel, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, was that it was a labour of love that would far outshine its celebrated predecessor – and unusually, the reality lives up to the hype.
Choose your destiny
This time the action in the land of Tamriel has moved further north from Oblivion and the opening dramatic scenario sets the scene perfectly – Skyrim is in tumult after the murder of its ruler, and you are about to be executed as a rebel.
Just as you’re led to the block, a dragon appears, and from that moment on it’s the survival of the fittest as you gradually come to a realisation about your true nature and destiny within this divided nation.
To give any more of the plot away would be unforgiveable – but what you’ll rapidly discover is that the number of side-quests is well nigh infinite, so if you want to go off on a complete tangent from the central storyline, it will probably be months before you need to come back on track again.
At the core of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the belief that you alone are in control of your fate in this land. Character classes are largely irrelevant here as whatever race you choose, you can immediately increase your experience in any field, whether it’s archery, two-handed weaponry, spell creation, metalwork or potion-making, just by putting it into practice or by asking experts to train you.
Stunning graphics, hundreds of weapons
The new graphics engine is quite stunning, especially when you’re crossing mountainous passes, lush river valleys and busy village centres, and much joy will come from pausing your journey for seconds to view spume coming off a roaring river as foxes and rabbits dart in and out of the foliage.
As for combat, there are literally hundreds of combinations of one and two-handed weapons and spells, and the good news is spells can be made more powerful by using both hands at once. There’s also a new range of dragon powers that can be used against humans and flying lizards alike.
An equally huge array of enemies both old and new is available, and as you progress a dragon could just swoop down above you and demand attention. There’s a great deal of surprise to be had in this game and you’ll need to have your reflexes on full alert, even though you can take a companion with you on the road for some extra fire power.
It may have taken five years for the latest Elder Scrolls chapter to see the light of day, but you’ll need another five years just to experience all the content and exploration packed into this superb game. A thoroughly deserved Best Buy.
- Total freedom to explore.
- A few bugs to iron out.
With its greatly improved graphics engine, breathtaking landscapes, virtually infinite questing and character development allied to a degree of freedom unmatched in this genre, Bethesda has created a role-play game light years ahead of its rivals.