Released in 2011, five years after Oblivion, Skyrim is the fifth of the main Elder Scrolls series, and the first to sound like it's a James Bond movie title. This theme music on the other hand sounds more like what you get when 90 people chant their own made up lyrics to the Elder Scrolls theme introduced in Morrowind... it's basically amazing. Here have a youtube link, may it make your day just that little bit more epic.
I sank a considerable number of hours into this game a considerable number of months ago, so I'm not coming into the game blind, but I can't remember any of it in any kind of detail. As always I'll be playing it utterly unmodded, like a fool, to give you the most authentic screenshots possible. I'm not really a fan of mods to be honest, as I don't like the idea of tweaking a game to suit my tastes. For me it's a bit too much like getting out the red pen and scribbling edits over the pages of a novel I'm not liking. Once I've tasted the power of godlike power of an author I can't immerse myself in the experience in the same way.
(Click to view images in an astoundingly modern 1280x720 resolution. Actually I've just upgraded my PC at bloody last, so this time I've thrown in a few at 1920x1080 for you to enjoy. That's 125% extra pixels, free!)
Being captured (off screen) by the Imperial Legion for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time is bad enough, but the Imperials have decided to drive their convoy through the dullest part of the nation of Skyrim: a road overlooking nothing but icy hills, where even the trees are grey. It's already miserable enough outside for me right now in real life and I'm freezing my ass off; I don't need to use my expensive new hardware to simulate this experience (I miss my old machine, this newfangled PC I've just built is too power efficient to work as a decent heater).
Skyrim is meant to be a game about exploration, freedom, a bit of conversation, and some spectacular landscapes, and the intro has none of this. To be fair the dialogue I'm being exposed to is filling in important backstory and introducing the main players with admirable efficiency, but the designers absent-mindedly forgot to throw in a hook and make me care first.
FOUR MINUTES LATER.
When I scrolled down and saw all those sliders I was ready to shower praise on this face editor for all the options it has, but then I realised that half my choices here are just 'cheek colour', 'nose colour' etc. Also a lot of the sliders switch between a dozen or so presets, so you can flick between eye shapes and nose shapes, but there isn't much scope for fine tuning. On the plus side, I get to edit the hero's face in broad daylight for once, so I can actually see what I'm doing! Shame she won't keep her head still.
|HD Textures (on a shiny new GeForce card) | Original Textures (on a well-loved old Radeon)|
|Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion | Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim|
Weirdly once the face editing is over with, that's it for character creation. There's no attributes to adjust, no classes to pick, no skills to tag... I'm just led up to the nice bloke with the long axe and a bag over his face, and told to kneel down and lean over the basket full of head.
A MINUTE OR SO LATER.
A timely intervention by a pissed-off dragon left the Imperial fort/village in flames and gave me a chance to make a break for it. But now I have to choose who to follow inside to safety: my rebel friend Ralof from the cart ride or Hadvar, the Imperial soldier who led me to be executed. It seems like a no-brainer really, but I know the Imperials from the other Elder Scrolls games, and even though this is set a few hundred years later and they're cosplaying as Romans these days, I'm still inclined to want to trust them.
Plus their leader is voiced by Michael Hogan of Battlestar Galactica and Fallout: New Vegas fame, and he's awesome. Also I couldn't help but notice that as men, women and children were running around in terror from a fire-breathing monster straight from the times of legend, it was the Imperials who were trying to get the civilians to safety, while the Stormcloak rebels were more concerned with protecting their own asses.
Sorry Ralof, but I'm sticking with Hadvar from now on.
I expect that some are put off by Skyrim's default un-modded interface having a slightly more stripped back and sci-fi look to it than the traditional solid skeudomorphically-styled stone looking menus of a typical Western fantasy RPG, but I like it, so n'yah. Oblivion's awkward menu was made to look like a clipboard, so it's a step up from that for sure.
All the icons have been dropped this time around leaving only words, which would suit me just fine if they'd thrown in a couple of numbers to go with them. Sure I can view an individual item's stats by moving the cursor and selecting it, but the only thing I can see at a glance about my gear is a tiny triangle to let me know that something's better than either my bare hands or the sack I'm currently wearing. Oh also, it doesn't show the item condition stat anywhere you look... because you don't have to repair equipment any more! And thank fuck for that.
Skyrim is a fully 3D real-time action RPG with a full range of motion for the single character I'm steering around, none of that Legend of Grimrock tile based movement or Paper Sorcerer turn based combat thing going on here. That means that this guy is going to run up and start hitting me now, and I have to either block his axe or get out of its way. Or I suppose I could just soak up the damage and hack away at him with my sword, that does sound more like something I'd do. I might even hold down the attack button for a bit and use up some stamina to pull off a power attack.
Like Oblivion there's no 'chance to hit' stat to worry about, so if I'm in range and facing an enemy, my attack is going to connect with them. Though my character's skill level still plays a role in how much hurt I inflict with each hit.
I could grab a second weapon for my off hand, but I can't block while dual wielding so I'll likely leave them in my invisible inventory sack instead with the rest of the swag. And I can't dual wield the shields, sadly.
Fallout 3! I really hated that tumbler minigame introduced in Oblivion. The trick here is to turn the lock slightly with the knife until the pick starts rattling. As soon as rattling starts I need to ease off and adjust the angle of the pick a little before turning the knife again, or else it'll break and I'll be back at the start again. This is a novice level lock though so there's a pretty wide arc for me to safely park my pick in to complete the lockpicking and collect me treasure.
Hey the dead bloke in the cell was a mage, and he was locked in there with his magic robes and a spell book still in his possession. Spell books can be read once to permanently memorise a spell and then they vanish, so that means that this poor prisoner spent his last few miserable days locked in a cage with just one book to read... and he never read it.
Turns out I actually knew this flamethrower spell from the start, along with an incredibly useful healing power, but they've taken away the dedicated casting button I had in Oblivion. I can stick a different spell in either hand in place of a weapon, or use the same magic in both hands for double the firepower, but I can't cast a spell without dedicating a least one of my attack buttons to it.
SOME CAVES, GIANT SPIDERS, AND A POOR ATTEMPT TO SNEAK PAST A SLEEPING BEAR LATER.
Now it makes more sense to me why they started me off somewhere entirely unremarkable; they apparently wanted to recreate that feeling of emerging from the sewers at the start of Oblivion, or Vault 101 in Fallout 3, and seeing the awesome landscape for the first time. Though I wish they hadn't.
I think the biggest difference that jumps out to me between the games is those mountains in the distance. Skyrim's mountains are much more interesting to look at, with mist drifting around their craggy peaks, but more importantly they're in the way. There's something on the other side of those hills, something obscured and mysterious, a place that I can discover. Oblivion's mountains on the other hand just mark the boundary of the map. The only things I'll find over there are impassable cliffs and invisible walls.
These are the Guardian Stones, three of them anyway, and I can activate one at a time to give me a passive benefit to my character. They remind me of how I had to choose a birthsign in Morrowind and Oblivion to get similar bonuses, and that reminds me how I haven't had to choose a single stat or skill yet. I became a battlemage because I felt like using fire in my left hand and wielding a mace in the other, I've gotten better at wearing light armour because that's what I've chosen to wear... I'm making my character choices with the actions I take throughout the game rather than picking them from a list at the start, and that is a change I can 100% get behind.
A SHORT HIKE LATER.
I have to shower some praise on the reworked conversation system though. It's exactly the same as the old one from Oblivion, except without the awkward zoom right into the face of the person I'm chatting with. Also the persuasion mini-game has gone! And I'm not having to pick from 'overly good' or 'absurdly evil' with every response! All lines are fully voiced by the way, and this time they seem to have gotten a few more actors so I'm not obviously speaking to the same seven people everywhere I go.
By the way, take a look at this new 3D map. It doesn't beat amazing paper map bundled in with Morrowind with all the secrets drawn on it, but it's a massive step up from Oblivion's tiny zoomed-in map window and it's appealing to look at too! If this was Oblivion I'd be able to fast travel to any major city from the start, but it's not, so I'll be walking all the way to Whiterun.
|Elder Scrolls: Arena (MS-DOS)|
Oh, plus there's another difference between the games worth bringing up. Arena looks like this:
|Elder Scrolls: Arena (MS-DOS)|
I miss all the hopping though. In Morrowind I used to hop everywhere, building up my acrobatics stat to the point where I could leap over buildings. Bethesda took all that nonsense out in their later games though, presumably because people were enjoying it too much. Though they did at least give people the option to buy a horse to make up for it.
LATER, IN WHITERUN.
I wouldn't dream of doing any of that though, as I'm an honest respectable adventurer. Plus I don't know anyone I can fence stuff to yet. In fact should probably race up the hill and go visit this Jarl I'm supposed to be meeting.
Interesting looking, but also functional, as he's got an alchemy lab and an arcane enchantment bench behind him. I haven't gotten any potions ingredients or magical gear I feel like stripping apart in the name of research just yet, but the guy also runs a shop and I sure could use a few new spells. Annoyingly there doesn't seem to be an option to buy back items I've sold by accident so I have to quick save every time I use a shop, out of fear. On the plus side, the game has quick saves!
Will this Skyrim article ever end? Find out in part two!