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DOVAKHIIN! Dragonborn! The word vibrates through you, the thrum of power palpable. Deep inside you know this to be you, your true essence. Will you heed the call and save the world from the return of dragons? Or will you get married and open a shop with your spouse? This open game will dangle opportunity and story quests in front of you, but will never impose a time limit onto your meanderings.

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~ Excerpt from the journal of Rafiq the Redguard (Loredas, 14 Hearthfire)

The cold in Skyrim is unbelievable. I get mocked by the locals for walking around shivering. I don’t know how they do it; some of the men don’t even wear shirts! The only place that I feel warm is at the forge. Even then, the wind that blows from the north is more than enough to cut through the flames and chill my sweat. I have abandoned my heavy armour, the metal is far too cold for my liking.

The province of Skyrim is, for lack of a better word, massive. Players of the previous games, and those who are familiar with other Bethesda games will notice it to be similar in size to Cyrodill, but much more mountainous. To illustrate for those unfamiliar with the series, Skyrim has around 300 locations to visit. These range from burial sites and effigies to vast underground networks of mines and ancient ruins, to the cities of the world. There are nine holds, or cities, in the province, with a slew of towns, farmsteads and hamlets. Each of these locations has either treasure, quests, merchants, things to kill or places to explore. Or, they contain a pleasant mixture of these. Every book in the game is rendered and full of text, allowing for the player to read more about history, backstory, politics, religion, locations of ruins and badly-written erotica.

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~ Excerpt from the journal of Rafiq (Middas, 25 Frostfall)

There is great profit to be made in the tombs of these Nords. I do not understand the way they inter their dead; sealing their best armour, weapons and valuables underground. I was disturbed by how often the undead roam these places, but they make for good practise with my mace. What foul magicks are at work here?

The class system has been removed to give even more freedom to players. Without any guidelines, you can play whatever type of character you want to be, with any twist. Are you the sneaky thief who backstabs for massive amounts of damage as well as enchants his own blades and makes his own poison? Or are you that plate-wearing warrior-mage that marches straight into battle while invisible? Or do you prefer being the minstrel who steals the hearts and purses of everyone in town, before summoning a legion of undead to do his bidding? Use the skills you want to and watch them improve with use. Then, as you level, you will get perks which can be spent to enhance certain skills or improve their usefulness. (This includes everything from extra armour, new types of smithing and getting merchants to buy stolen goods.)

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Your actions and choices carry a lot of weight in Skyrim. A civil war is brewing and both sides vie for a dragon slayer to champion their cause. News travels fast, and guards will be aware of which guilds you join and who you spend time with. The implications of your actions and quests range from random dialogue from the guards regarding your exploits, to open hostility for the horror you have unleashed on the world.

Despite being sceptical about how this would run on a PC, Bethesda did a marvellous job of optimising their code, and a fairly cheap PC can run it in at 1080p on high detail. The highly active modding community adds the cream to the PC platform, as new custom content gets created constantly, including everything from nicer looking skies to nicer looking (and nude) females.

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Bethesda has always been teased about the number of bugs in its games. In Skyrim, some of these bugs are nearly game-breaking, but I find it hard to penalise for this considering the magnitude of the world and the game.

The soundtrack is engrossing and reminiscent of previous titles and help to convey the culture and mood of the world. The town bards are particularly enjoyable, making for a good distraction or beautiful ambience while in a tavern.

Bethesda has taken an already mind-bogglingly large gaming experience a step further with a system called Radiant Storytelling. This nifty little engine takes note of your skills, choices, your level and several other parameters, and builds quests for you. Your friends may reach the same town as you and have different quests available, or one will get a quest from a merchant in dire straits, while the other will find a note on the corpse of the bandit that just ambushed them. This means Skyrim has infinite side-quests. Infinite. Let that sink in for a while.

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In other words, you will never run out of things to murder, maim, fetch, defile or loot. The only downside to this system is if the quests you receive are too similar. (I currently have two quests, which involve getting items back from a fence. To do so, the fence requires a staff he gave to someone and then regretted it. Twice. Obviously, this man is way too promiscuous with his staff-giving, and should be stopped at once.) This being said, most often the quests are fairly unique and fresh, without that “Didn’t I just do this?” feel that some game engines ultimately create.

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The joy of an open world is this: there is always something stronger than you. Feel good because you decapitated that last boss? Beware friend, there might be a random creature in the wild that will send you to an early grave.

You will never have more fun cooking, smithing, catching butterflies, harvesting crops, enchanting goodies, bankrupting merchants, stealing things and killing dragons anywhere else. In fact, sometimes deciding which fun thing to do in Skyrim can result in a sort of brain implosion, leaving you decorating your character’s home instead… With books arranged alphabetically… For five hours.

~ Excerpt from the journal of Rafiq (Tirdas, 3 Morningstar)

I feel it is reaching a point where I will no longer be able to stay neutral in this civil war. The Jarl of my town mentions it at the feasts, and the guards seem uneasy around me now. They have seen me kill a dragon on the city walls, and have asked me not to Shout within the city limits. I wonder if my presence here is becoming a detriment to this city…

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This section is aimed towards fans of the series who want to know what has changed in the world:

Due to the long running nature of the series, and not being able to please everyone, a few noticeable differences have cropped up:

Custom spells do not make their return, making spellslingers appear weak in comparison to previous titles. Thankfully, the various perks allow players to customise their favourite spells to have that extra kick. Kill animations from Fallout make their appearance, adding some finishing moves to the melee. However, some make no sense, or are badly animated. (I will never understand how I decapitate people with my mace.)

No more item durability. Say goodbye to repair hammers and your armour breaking in the middle of a boss fight! To compensate for this, gaining skill in smithing feels accelerated, as does gaining enchanting skill. This could, however, be related to being able to see a nice shiny progress bar during the crafting process.

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So far, I have not found anyone that can be paid to enchant your gear. Also, you no longer need to know a spell be able to use it as an enchantment, but rather you have to first salvage the ‘recipe’ off other items.

The journal has been streamlined and is no longer a massive book full of hyperlinks to quests. Tracking multiple quests is easier than ever before, though this comes at the cost of only being able to place one custom marker on the map, and notes have disappeared entirely.
The UI does feel like it was designed with the console user in mind, which will annoy most PC gamers. Thankfully, Bethesda has already patched some UI issues, and the modding community has created a different UI altogether.

Conversations have lost the ‘influence mini-games’ of past titles, making for a much more believable interaction with NPCs. The UI is slightly clunky in conversations, sometimes resulting in the incorrect dialogue option being selected.The third person view looks a lot better now. This view has always been a pet peeve of mine. For the first time, though I find myself using it for several sections and some combat scenarios.

Scoring:

Gameplay: 10/10.

If you can see it, you can probably get/have/kill/steal/own/ridicule it. See that ruin poking out of the clouds on the mountains in the distance? Start walking that way and find a way to the top, there might be treasure or dragons in them thar hills!

Design and Presentation: 9/10.

A beautifully packaged engine that actually runs on the minimum requirements, and does so smoothly too! UI seems far too clunky and the game is DX9 only, but mods for these are already in the works. For the first time ever in the Elder Scrolls series, character faces look real and likeable!

Value: 10/10.

The immersive nature of this world is a massive time sink, and will definitely appeal to any escapist or western RPG fanatic. You will wonder where all your time disappears to, and why you are sitting at work dreaming of past accolades and future achievements. With 300 locations, infinite side-quests and a large community of modders making new content, you will never finish this game.

Overall: 10/10.

As much as I went in to find fault, and find changes that I wouldn’t like, this game has enthralled me. I am losing sleep and pushing every ounce of spare time into this title, it is all I can think about and the euphoria is showing no sign of wearing off.

[Reviewed on PC]

Last Updated: November 25, 2011

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Summary
10.0

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