First of all…I’ve never played an Elder Scrolls game before, but I freaking loved Fallout 3, with its sheer intimidating scale and its extreme VATS-powered ultraviolence. So how would I get on with a sub-Tolkien orc-em-up with a distinct lack of high powered ballistic weaponry? I’ll get the disclaimer out of the way… I’ve only been playing it for a couple of days and I’ve only scratched the surface with my weedy level 7 orc. I also don’t play a lot of games. So just imagine this is a review by your dad. Except sexier.
My first couple of hours were a bit of a shambles, ended up running sideways around a mountain for about half an hour and then getting a kicking from some villagers for stabbing one of their chickens. As a defiantly single-player experience, Skyrim requires graft – you need to put a proper shift in. Like a dull witted eskimo stripper, Skyrim’s delights are revealed slowly… slowly. It’s all about learning, about your character, about the wildlife, about the other characters, how they all work together. I learnt, for example, that bears dont like it when you try to set them on fire. Who knew?
The freedom, as with all Bethesda games, is liberating. In a variation of the “use-a-prostitute-and-then-mug-her-for-the-money” from Grand Theft Auto, in the very first town I came to I got some pointy eared middle-earth refugee to teach me archery. He charged me an extortionate amount, so that night I snuck into his house and pickpocketed him to get the money back. The next day I asked him to teach me archery again. Clearly a bit simple, he agreed. As an orc I was also frequently the target of some unwarranted racial abuse. But I had to reign in my righteous berserk fury… your actions have consequences in Skyrim. Steal a horse or get caught breaking into someone’s home and it’s the big house for you son. But there will come a point where my character is so insanely nails that I will return to Riverrun and bring fire and steel vigilante justice to my bearded Aryan tormentors.
Skyrim is, at least initially, a cold, grey, rather forbidding place, a bit like the Queensmere shopping centre in Slough. As it’s a semi-rpg, your main character (in my case, Barry the Truculent) starts off as vulnerable as a defenestrated toddler and is at the mercy of almost everything that walks and crawls in Skyrim, from mangy wolves to huge mardy giants. There is a main quest to pursue, some kind of generic GRR-Martin style tat about feudal strife and dragons but the main appeal is just hiking around the place, slowly grinding through menial tasks and low level enemy scum so you can pimp your characters stats and unlock precious perks. As a personal preference I have to say that so far the combat is a little less visceral than Fallout’s splattery slo-mo gunplay but again, I have only dabbled in large heavy bladed weapons, you can specialise in archery and pick off enemies from a mile off or specialise in violent magic and go all Vordemort on Skyrim’s generic fantasy fodder.
There’s been mixed reports of the visuals on the consoles but I have to say on a rather modest pc it works very well and looks and sounds great even on medium-to-low settings. The more hardcore rpg element will be unimpressed with the rather dumbed down interface but no doubt on the pc at least there will be forthcoming patches to tweak every single imaginable aspect of the game. Another minor quibble is some of the jarring americanisms in the dialogue “watch your ass” etc., and the voice acting is uneven. The music on the other hand is blockbuster quality, absolutely stunning.
Ultimately it’s one of those games where, on occasion, you’ll just stop and look around in awe. Not necessarily at individual graphics, but the genuine impression of a real, breathing, living world propped up by millions of lines of code and infinite possibilities. You could spend years in here. This isn’t a game you rent, it’s a game you live.