You don’t have to be a serious gamer to know why The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was one of the most anticipated games of the year for some people. If you’re looking for a massive, highly-detailed world you can lose yourself in for weeks, months or even years at a time, few games can match the sheer size and richness of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series.

But heck, I probably don’t need to tell you that. What you will be interested to know is that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is without doubt the biggest departure in the series since its inception. That means they changed things, a lot of things, some traditional things even – but don’t panic! They’re good changes for the most part.

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As usual, we’ll get the premise out of the way first, just so that we have some context to work with. This episode takes place in the province of Skyrim, which long time players will know is the homeland of the hardy Nords (kind of like Vikings). It’s a beautiful, mountainous country full of flowing rivers, pine forests and snow covered peaks. There are several large cities dotted around the place, with plenty of quaint, smaller settlements surrounding them – but don’t let the idyllic setting fool you, the place is actually in turmoil.

It seems that hundreds of years have passed since the events of TES IV: Oblivion, and the once benevolent Cyrodillic empire has been taken over by the High Elves and has set out imposing all kinds of restrictions, religious and secular, on every province within their auspices, including Skyrim. Naturally, some Nords rebelled against this and a civil war ensued. As the game starts out, you find yourself unexpectedly caught up in this war, already captured by the Imperials under suspicion of being a rebel and on your way to your execution. Luckily, fate intervenes not a moment too soon and you are able to escape after a dragon – a creature thought then to be mythical – attacks the Imperial stronghold.

Now free and able to go where you will, you can forge your own destiny as you see fit. Will you join the Nord rebellion and help them free their homeland for Imperial rule, or will you join the Imperials and fight against them? Then there’s the sudden reappearance of the dragons – where did they come from? Why? And what does it have to do with you? If none of this interests you, you can go and join the local Thieves guild and live a life of crime, or you can join the Companions, Skyrim’s native mercenary guild, and live by the sword. Maybe you’d prefer to join the Winterhold College and further your knowledge of magic, or simply loot dungeons for profit and adventure. You can also simply wander around, murdering everyone in sight and stealing everything that isn’t nailed down, or you can try at least.

Sounds like pretty standard Elder Scrolls stuff so far, and it is. The major changes are actually to the gameplay itself. All the standard races are still available for players to create a character from, three types of Elves, four types of Humans, Orcs, the cat-like Khajiit and the reptilian Argonians, and they all have their innate strengths and weaknesses. Gone however, is the idea of classes. That’s right, no more of that Warrior, Mage, Witchunter, Thief typecasting bollocks here. You want to learn magic, then do it. You want to learn to sneak, swing a sword, pick a lock, use a bow – do it. Although, to be honest, we were never really restricted by the classes in the previous games either, we could still teach our characters to do anything we wanted – but it seems that Bethesda has finally admitted it by removing the idea of classes altogether.

What I can see bothering some players – although you have to be a pretty serious nerd to object – is the removal of the stats, you know, Strength, Intelligence, Agility and so on. Oh yes, it’s gone, sir or ma’am. Perhaps this was done to prevent some players from spending ages carefully levelling up to get the maximum benefits instead of playing the actual game. Now, the only real way to progress is to play properly. You still level up by using and increasing your skills, like One-Handed Weapons, Heavy Armour, Destruction Magic, Lockpick, Speech and so on, and when you level up you get to add 10 points to either your Magic energy, Health or Stamina. You also get a Perk point to add to one of the game’s skill trees – one corresponding to each skill. For instance, the Heavy Armour skill tree contains perks like “25% armour bonus for wearing all heavy armour” and the Restoration magic skill tree contains perks like “Healing spells heal 25% more” and so on. The more you increase each skill, the more perks you can assign to each, and the more powerful your character will become.

The game’s combat has seen an interesting change too. Instead of the old this-goes-here, that-goes-there system, players can now equip an item in each hand. A sword and shield, a sword in each hand, a sword and a dagger, a mace and a spell, a dagger and a torch, two different spells, or the same spell in each hand for double the effects – you name it. It’s an interesting idea and it makes a lot more real-world sense this time.

Had I the space, I’d go into even more detail about how the Alchemy has changed, and how the Enchanting skill has returned. I’d also discuss how much fun it is killing dragons and how much more structured the melee combat is. I’d also mention how good the graphics and music are and the immense attention to detail. Unfortunately, the game is just too big to decribe in the space of a single review. If you’re a role-playing fan, it’s your duty to buy this – Skyrim needs you.

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