At first, I was unsure as to whether I was going to buy Skyrim - sure, it was really hyped up, loads of advertising - but there have been plenty of games with that kind of release which have ended up being terrible, and I’d never been a huge fan of the earlier elder scrolls games.
This said, as I found out more about it over time, I did get more interested. I’d enjoyed Fallout 3 and New Vegas, and with friends speaking highly of it, and a £20 price, I eventually buckled, and I can happily say I was right to do so.
Skyrim begins as you’d expect - the usual story set-up with two rival sides, one clearly good, one clearly evil. A wide range of character races gives you plenty of ways to play, but they have drawn away some of the things you picked at the beginning (classes and star-signs) and pushed them into the game. This is a really good design decision, as it allows you to evolve your play-style over time. It’s also less worrisome to those new to the genre or the people who have to consult a wiki every time they make a game-changing decision. Likewise, you pick a side at the beginning - but you are not bound to this choice. You can go and join one of the big two factions at any time, but you can play for a long time before doing so, if you choose to.
This is great design from Bethesda on a number of counts - first of all, it, as I said before, keeps you from being bound from the beginning. It also allows you to gain a bit more depth about the sides before picking, and this is where the game’s plot truly excels. At first my allegiance lay with the rebel faction - the ‘Stormcloaks’ - due to the fact I was being executed by the other side (the Empire) at the beginning of the game. As you move on through the game, you slowly build up a picture. As I moved through the game, my opinions changes as I learned more. Some places you visited gave you a different perspective, and who I think of as the ‘better’ side has changed a lot throughout the game.
I don’t want to say what I currently think about the sides - as exploring them is a major part of the game that really brought me into it. The game throws you into the world roughly, and misleads you constantly. You slowly unravel the world, by talking to people, spying on people, seeing the state of the world, reading the many books that exist in the world, and understanding the complex and layered politics of the world.
The land of Skyrim is split into many smaller regions - these are generally in the favour of one side or another, but some are very split. Within these factions there are many sub-factions that often have different support as well - this makes the politics of the land feel more real, the complexity adds interest, and means you constantly have to think about who you are talking to, and where their biases lie.
Everyone - both individually and in a greater sense, as factions, feels flawed. This is what truly makes Skyrim so immersive. The world feels real and it feels important - just as those around you are flawed, you are made to feel flawed, and are often put in ‘no right answer’ situations, or situations where you do not have all of the information. Skyrim gives you the option to forge ahead quickly, but also to reserve your choices and learn more, delving into the mass of side-missions and small quests that fill the world, and learning more about it in the process.
The world feels truly big, without feeling tiresome to move across. There are little villages, camps, caves, and other places of interest all over the place, all with little quests or people attached. Skyrim plays just like an RPG should - you start off on a quest, and along the way, as you complete that one, you find five more to do. It keeps you interested, and quests are not always the same old fetch quests - they often boil down to that, but are kept interesting by lots of unusual battles, locations, tricks, traps and puzzles that stand in your way. They often have multiple solutions - often with some more correct than others, and some more profitable. There are also plenty of quests which deviate from the norm - odd bits of very different gameplay that do well to break up the game, and stop it being repetitive. Quests also come in a variety of ways, mostly from people, but sometimes from notes, books, couriers carrying letters for you, being kidnapped, and many other little things. It all helps the game keep you on your toes.
The plot and world are the best bits of Skryim, but everything else is well done too - there are a lot less bugs in this game. Not to say I haven’t had any, but nothing too serious. The leveling system is excellent too - as you do something, you get better at it, and then you can choose perks as you want. This means your character is built on your play style, and allows you to make your choices as well.
That is not to say there are no problems - Skyrim’s interface - clearly designed with a controller in mind over a mouse and keyboard - is pretty poor, with a lot of space wasted, and taking a lot of time to do anything. I understand the want to remove clutter from the main play screen, but this seems to have extended into menus as well, where a little more at once would have meant fewer clicks to do what I want. Battles often have you ripped out of it all for 20 seconds to change weapons, drink a potion, and in tougher battles where you are doing this repeatedly, it just feels wrong.
Overall, it’s a great game - I have had plenty of hours of play out of it, and expect plenty more, price/hour, it’s the cheapest game I’ve played in some time, and it’s a massive, rich experience.