Here Be Dragons. Bethesda Softworks brings us the latest chapter in their ongoing Elder Scrolls series, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Steady your aim, learn your shout magic, and we will slay the dragons.
Set two hundred years since events of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim starts you out in typical Elder Scrolls fashion, a unknown prisoner being transported with other prisoners. You find out most of the other prisoners are members of the rebel group called Stormcloaks who oppose the rule of Empire and wish to return Skyrim to it's independence. Among the prisoners is Ulfric Stormcloak, leader of the Stormcloaks. He started Skyrim's civil war when he killed the Empire's king by using Thu'um, a powerful shout magic.
Upon arrival in the town Helgen you find out that you and a few other prisoners are victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless the Captain believes all of the prisoners are members of the Stormcloaks and are sentenced to death. Just as your head is placed on the chopping block a dragon attacks causing chaos.
Here is where The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's story starts to split. In the chaos you will be able to follow an Imperial guard or a Stormcloak rebel who will help you escape out of Helgen through an underground cave system. Once out of Helgen into the countryside the story truly becomes your own. The only thing you have in common with other players is the fact your character is a Dovahkiin, or Dragonborn, a dragon hunter anointed by the gods. You will be able to join factions, guilds, or even join a side in the civil war. You will also be able to choose not to do any of those things. The story is up to you.
Controls and Gameplay
By default The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a first person adventure role playing game, but if first person is not your style you do have the option to play from a third person perspective. This can be switched on the fly by pressing the right thumbstick (my review copy is the Xbox 360 version, so this might be different on the PC).
You have your choice on how to assign weapons or spells, depending on your play style. As for gameplay options you can go sword and shield and get up close and personal with monsters. You can stand back using spells or bow and arrows. The style I eventually settled in with was one hand sword and one hand casting spells.
With The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim being a sandbox style game, it is what you make of it. You can take any quest you want, craft goods, or just wander the contryside.
Graphics and Sound
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim presents a realistic world loosely based on the Nordic/Viking life. The touches are everywhere, especially in knot style artwork on homes to the horned helms you can wear.
Some people who have installed the Xbox 360 version to the hard drive have had graphical glitches,. I haven't had any myself, but I have been playing from the disc.
The sound for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim continues the Nordic/Viking theme with a majority of the cast using a Nordic accent. Those that don't are characters from other parts of the Elder Scrolls lands. Speaking of the voice cast, Bethesda has gotten some big names to voice characters, including Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Joan Allen, and Michael Hogan.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is huge. This will be a game that you don't blow through quickly, there is just too much to see and do. As of this writing I have not completed the game. There are hundreds of places to discover and I think I've found about twenty. For the most part I am still working on quests out of the first large city I wandered into, Whiterun.
The action comes pretty quickly too. As early as level four I encountered my first dragon. Most of your dragon encounters will be random, but some will be scripted depending on the quest. While there are plenty encounters, monsters, and people to fight there are also more mundane tasks. Like crafting items, cooking, chop wood, and mining. The list goes on.
One really cool thing I found was the way Bethesda has made the world very active. You could be out in the middle of the forest and watch a rabbit, deer or fox wander by. This added to realism and charm of the game. Then again with that level of realism you never knew when you would be attacked by monsters or bandits out there either.
There have been various glitches reported for all versions of the game, some game breaking, some not. So far I have encountered one glitch that was rather entertaining. In one quest I learned I needed to get a set of Imperial armor. At this point in the game I had decided to not choose sides yet so I didn't want to enlist in the military. Instead I found what I thought was a guard all by himself. After killing him and taking his armor I was caught by another guard. I was given the choice of paying a fine, going to jail or fighting this guard, I chose to just pay the fine. The guard then took me to the nearest castle to pay.
After the loading screen went away I found my character looking up at a very tall wall. At first I just thought it was a large castle wall. Then I turned and started to move around. I realized it wasn't just a tall wall, I was under the castle looking up through the floor. In fact my housecarl companion was running around above me trying to get to me. I found I could easily get out of this by making my way to the front gate of the castle and exiting. Instead my inner explorer took over, I decided to see how far I could go outside of the game's world. I was able to go very far. At one point I took a look at my map and saw I was waaaaaaayyyyyy off the map. I saved at that point for further exploration later
I think that is what I really like about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the game lets you play it how you want, even in a glitch. I tend to be person that wants to explore and the game lets me. Some want more story and you can get that. A well written one too. Even the side and miscellaneous quest are written with an eye towards expanding the main story by telling views of factions and families caught up in the civil war within Skyrim.
Glitches aside I really like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and look forward the many more hours I have in Skyrim. As of this writing Bethesda has just released a patch to fix many of the bugs. Though I hear it created a new one; dragons are now flying backwards. More entertaining glitches. I give The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a 4.5 out of 5.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is available now for the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 and Windows PC. For more information visit The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim web site.