Developers Bethesda know their stuff, the massive games they repeatedly turn out are responsible for some big time chunks missing in my life.
Oblivion, the first game I bought with my first 360 and wow, that was a jaw dropper even though now a respect for Oblivion can be met with some derision. Personally I sank in excess of 120 hours into that game just messing about before I even started the main quest, which incidentally still sits on my shelf waiting for that day I hear the call to arms.
Fallout 3 and the subsequent New Vegas were in similar boats, however New Vegas didn’t catch me quite as much as Fallout did so I still have a lot of ground to cover there. Fallout 3 did scratch that itch and saw yet another playthrough I’m excess of 100 hours. On this occasion, I did finish the main quest as it was reasonably short, although I did wait until the game changing DLC dropped that left the world open once you had beaten the quest.
Now we have Skyrim, or rather Skyrim has us – by the short and curlies.
The team at Bethesda have outdone themselves this time around, this title defies the term game and offers one of the most comprehensive and flexible open world environments I have ever enjoyed. In 2006 Oblivion was special, a free roaming world that appeared to teem with sporadic events and life. Skyrim takes that trickery and expands upon it in ways that could only ever be dreamt of. I recall early interviews that discussed the expectations for a Lionhead game called Project Ego, a lot of the dynamics promised there are actually available here ten years later. of course the Lionhead title was the beginnings of the Fables and we all know how they turned out.
The world of Skyrim offers a deep and wide timesink, you cannot help yourself wandering off the beaten path into another random encounter that builds your own rich and interwoven story. NPC’s have been carefully crafted into their own dramas and your character can choose to drift in or out of those stories at will. Regardless of the impending civil war, the resurgence of Dragons and your own quest for vengeance, it is the minutiae of the world that engages the player until another bunch of hours have passed by.
There have been reviews slating the title as ‘Game of the Year’, they are not wrong and while they will have been comprehensive in their descriptions of melee combat, spell work and the use of dual wielding I find the user interface improvements stand out the most for me. The inventory menus have been massively overhauled, ease of access in game and navigated as simply as a familiar web interface. Searching your sack of loot for that potion or poison is so much better and is not intrusive enough to shatter any suspension of disbelief. Additionally, being able to tag certain items as favorites allows you to customize your own quick access menu, again easing the flow of weapon swapping mid encounter.
My only gripe with the menu system is the way the map is tucked away, it is there, it just does not feel as intuitive as the rest of the system. The most beautifully realised aspect is the skill tree, each skill and it’s subsequent modifiers are mapped as constellations, to level up your character lifts their head skyward and you can browse the skill options amongst a borealis style backdrop. It really is quite soothing.
Combat is typically Bethesda, switching the viewpoint from first to third person regularly offers a more fluid experience, swinging away like a maniac will use up your stamina so tread carefully. The ranged combat both magic and bow based are really quite satisfying though, and encounters often deliver the chance to sneak in do some long range damage.
There are also the crafting opportunities that range from cooking, to smithing and being a budding alchemist. These interruptions never feel like mini games, they are not, but they are useful additions that can enhance your skill set and character at a fraction of the normal cost.
This game is a totally wonderful package and will not be getting old anytime soon, the sheer scope of the world actively encourages you to play your own way. The choices are yours and it is just as satisfying watching salmon jump upstream through a churning rapid it is spending the night working out the best way to steal mammoth cheese from a giant. I know people that are 50 hours into the game and yet to delve any further into the story than the first couple of missions, it really is that absorbing.
One concern it does raise, is that these games and especially Skyrim bring out the worst in my psyche, nefarious deeds are often done to satisfy my curiosity, I will think nothing of ransacking a house while the owner is in the pub or pickpocketing them in their sleep. In the Fallout world to scavenge was to survive, in Skyrim the absence of Oblivion’s seemingly telepathic Guardsmen encourages my dark side. You can feel quite pleased with your level of ‘Gangsta’, more so than a GTA game ever encourages. By example I met a courier and accidentally found out what was in his pockets, the mysterious letter he was carrying suggested an interesting side story in that area, a fine example of the rich tapestry woven around you. Of course if the courier had survived and I had followed him to his destination, things may well have been different for all of us.
Overall Skyrim has to be experienced, forget the hall of fame this game belongs in the Asgardian Hall of Heroes.