The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – first impressions
RPG fans everywhere can shout a collective woo-hoo as the newest installment in Bethesda’s epic adventure series has arrived. Here are our thoughts on the first few hours of the game.
So what’s new? Well plot wise it covers a whole new territory north of the Elder Scrolls incarnation with a backstory involving civil war between the Imperial Guard and a group known as the Stormcloaks. Your character is naturally key to the plot, being the dragonborn and therefore imbued with special powers. The inclusion of dragons in the game is one of the standout features and although the first time you encounter one is during a cut scene of sorts, it is the game’s first real visual knockout blow.
As usual you have a wide range of choice as to how you want your protagonist to look. When designing facial features each individual slider can now be moved on its own without affecting the others. This gives you a high degree of control over how you want your character to look and also mirrors the in game npc faces which are now more diverse than before.
The other thing you notice is the Argonians are now noticeably more reptile like and the Khajiit take on a more slender and cat like appearance. Female characters in the all race builds are now also noticeably more feminine in their stature and detail, although your gender doesn’t have as much of an impact on conversations as your race will.
As before certain races natural attributes lend themselves more to a certain approach to the game (e.g. Dark Elf’s make great thief style characters) but you can build your character any way you see fit. You can even pick up a shrine stone that will help boost the XP gained for certain attributes by 20%, which can either further enhance a finely tuned race/path combo or give a slightly more eccentric one like an Orc mage a fighting chance.
The gathering of resources and their use has now been made much more interesting by the introduction of an upgrade system.
Weapons and armour no longer degrade over time as they are used but instead can be upgraded at the Blacksmith’s Forge. You can also create weapons from scratch there – provided you have the required items (which can also be made via smelting or purchased) and a high enough blacksmith skill. Some Fable inspired animations make this more engaging than the old inventory method of creating potions in Scrolls.
Essentially it’s all about resource gathering as is the alchemy aspect of the game which is now a fun sort of trial and error. You eat ingredients and combinations of them to see what the effects are. These then get added to your recipe book as do ones that you have read about in alchemy skill books. Again this is represented in a more visually engaging way than before and adds to your immersion in the game world.
Leveling up has been overhauled with the most obvious difference being that you are now given a stat point that raises either health, magic or stamina by 10 points. You also gain perk points (1 per level) which you can distribute among your various skills (represented by an eye-catching astrological menu). Unlike Scrolls you don’t have to sleep to level up which means you can do it in the middle of combat. Quite handy as it restores your stamina, health and magic to full.
As with previous installments it is recommended that you pick a core group of skills and focus on beefing them up to avoid your character feeling weak at later levels. Again though I can’t stress enough; it’s totally up to you how you distribute these points.
This is a game that rewards completionists who seek to explore every nook and cranny of an underground cavern. Within the first couple of hours it’s entirely possible to find an underwater passage leading to an otherwise inaccessible part of an area. The feeling of reward when you open a chest there is noticeable and for me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game.
As for combat there are a few impressive changes. You can now dual wield one handed weapons and even magic (one kind in each hand). When an enemy’s health is low enough there are some position sensitive, fatality style finishers which seem to occur randomly to freshen things up and do indeed have this effect.
In addition to vampirism, lycanthropy is now available. The ability to change into a werewolf brings with it its own set of pluses and negatives but it must be mentioned that you can sprint faster than a horse and as long as you don’t transform in public (which the npc villagers understandably find quite disconcerting) your crimes as a werewolf go unpunished.
Musically, composer Jeremy Soule remains and continues his excellent work here. An orchestral score makes every fight seem epic (even somewhat amusingly, those against mud crabs and stray dogs). The stirring, string led adventure music gives way to sweeping pastoral tones when roaming the open countryside and tranquil, reflective ambience when strolling through the villages. This lends the settlements a peaceful, rest like feel in-between all the bandit slaying and is one of the key features in balancing the gameplay.
A special mention must go to the main menu theme which is so epic it sets the tone of things to come perfectly, as I hope this opening reflection on the game also does.
Since the game is HUGE I haven’t even mentioned how the guilds work or more of the plot but as with all articles on these games you have to leave things out otherwise it turns into the article equivalent of War and Peace (length not quality). However part of the joy of these games is diving in to a universe where you initially may feel out of your depth and then mastering the world around you.
All in all then, it feels a great addition to the series and one that I shall be playing to its conclusion. Which may take some time!
Special thanks to Kev and Elmo for their help with this piece.