Skyrim has been around for a while now and it’s also been a while since I finished testing the epic open-world fantasy. But that’s mainly because as the last few words spelt out this game is truly epic! Both in size and duration, putting similar blockbuster titles, such as COD MW3 to shame, with its vast playing time.
The story for Skyrim is mainly about the return of the Dragons and in the beginning you have to carry out basic missions to warn other towns about impending attacks, there are several twists and turns to the main storyline as the game unfolds but to mention anymore would be to spoil your own enjoyment of the game.
However what I can tell you is that while the main storyline is going on there are countless side-missions to undertake which can involve anything from taking on bounties, to stealing important documents. The number of side-missions is almost overwhelming if it wasn’t for the useful quest interface which allows you to pick multiple objectives and display these on the world map for you to follow.
Sometimes you can’t help but move into a new town without taking on yet another side-mission, so the main storyline can get put on hold for a considerable time if you are not careful. So for those with OCD tendencies to take on every mission, you can kiss good bye to a social life for a few months to come.
In terms of the scale of the map I have to say it’s pretty huge, so if you enjoy roaming around vast landscapes you will certainly like Skyrim! It can sometimes take an hour of real-time to move from one point of the map to another. Mainly because you can discover new places along the way or fight some of the creatures that patrol the landscapes. Similar to Fallout 3/New Vegas (also by the same developer) you can fast travel between places but this spoils the adventuring and besides you can only fast track when you have discovered places anyway.
Combat is better
Combat thankfully does not use Fallout 3’s system of pausing the action to allow you to pick out an enemy’s weak points (I think this was called the VATS system). Instead you can fight (in some epic battles I must add) using weapons and magic (or a combination of the two) in real-time in first person or third person perspectives.
In terms of weapons you get a vast array of one handed and two handed instruments to wield, such as bows, knives, axes, swords etc. Some weapons have enchantments which do additional damage or others are more effective against the un-dead for example. The more you use a particular weapons the better you get at using it. So at first you may not even dent an enemy, but then later on as you get more proficient in using it the effectiveness improves and thus the more damage you make.
Magic improves in a similar way and you can cast spells (or use one off scrolls) that range from fireballs to Emperor Palpatine electrical spikes.
Your skills also improve the more you do a particular task, such as bartering with shop keepers, or sneaking. The skills upgrade system also becomes available soon after you level up and this allow you to use your skill points on improving your character (which incidentally can be customised at the start of the game to your own taste – again similar to Fallout New Vegas).
Money Money Money
As you gain more experience you can also do jobs to get gold or pick up gold from looting dead bodies. Buying and selling your items also plays a strong part in the game because the more money you have the better EQ you can buy/wear and this in turn allows you to defeat more and more enemies.
I have to say the Xbox interface is quite intuitive, so using the controller you can quickly pick skill points, select items or pick magic/weapons.
Potions, weapons enchantments and skills can also be created/upgraded at certain tables throughout the game or when speaking to other Non-Player Characters (NPC’s). This again involves a fairly simple interface to manipulate NPC conversations/core items.
Speaking of conversations there are literally hundreds if not thousands of NPC to speak with. Mind you like the Fallout series I found that some conversations can be lengthy (so I was skipping a few), but you have the usual multiple choice questions that you can ask in order to progress your game and to complete certain tasks.
Also some of the side-missions will allow you to make friends with other characters. These friends can be useful at holding additional items for you (as you are limited to what you can carry) or they can help you in combat. It’s certainly useful to have a friend at your side at first, but after a while they can become irritating as they can get stuck trying to get up rocky landscapes. Also it takes longer to level up when you have an NPC buddy at your side.
Graphically (and audio come to that matter) the game looks and sounds great on the Xbox 360 version I played (from landscapes to indoor dungeons everything is rendered well and voice acting was good). I’ve seen first-hand some of the issues the PC versions have had with graphical glitches with older cards, but the Xbox version for the most part offers a great experience. The only downside with the Xbox version is the lengthy loading times. Simply going through one door to the outside world can take a while. However this at least gives you a break from the adventuring.
To sum up
It’s hard to review Skyrim because each person’s experience with the game will be different, which in some ways is what I liked about it. You can either spend all your time walking, running or riding (if you buy a horse) around the maps and take on every side-mission without ever touching the main mission.
Or on the flip side you can plough straight in and do the main missions first, then when it’s finished take on all the side missions. It’s entirely up to you.
One thing I will say is that if you decide to take a break from Skyrim and then return to it at a later date, it can take a while to get back up to playing speed.
Additionally I was sometimes annoyed by the NPC conversations which get drowned out by the background music (especially when an important event takes place), or when you attempt to talk to someone and they speak back as if you have already spoken to them previously about something else. So Skyrim does not shine in every aspect, but these issues only occur intermittently which is not enough to spoil your adventure or enjoyment.
I did however start to become a little bored after 6 weeks of play, which is when I decided to stop playing and give the game a rest. But this does not mean I won’t be playing the game again, because even if you become bored it still has that quality lasting ability that is rare in games these days and if you are looking for a single player challenge (with bouts of on-off monthly play) you will get a lot of enjoyment out of Skyrim.