A World of Adventure
Bethesda has crafted a unique, living and breathing world for you to explore and itís packed with adventure around every corner. Some of these are small side quests that their Radiant Story system creates to give you something to do, and some of these are quests that Bethesda has crafted from start to end that may not behave quite as you expect. There have been numerous moments in the game where I have been blindsided by a quest, where I thought it was going to be one thing and it turned out to be another. These are the moments that transform a typical fantasy into something akin to the Ring Cycle or Beowulf. These are the tales of epic heroism that star your own created character, your own personality and immerse you into the game world totally. Even these set quests have various Radiant Story elements that allow them to play out differently as you head towards the conclusion, perhaps itís just a change in where the one part of the quest takes place, or perhaps itís the enemies that you will face. It keeps things fun and fresh.
Radiant Story attempts to examine numerous variables and provide nearly unlimited opportunities for adventure in Skyrim. So far, itís worked gloriously and I have experienced only a fragment of the world on offer in my time with the game so far. Then you have the Radiant AI that imbues the citizens of Skyrim with their own personality, their own wants, desires and needs, their own feelings about you. This AI manifests in numerous ways, from a friend of yours giving you a gift to someone returning a dropped dagger that they know belongs to you, or running off with it if theyíre an enemy of yours.
It also governs what the NPCs do on any given day, hour or minute in the world. They have their own assigned jobs; they chop wood, talk to each other, work at the local mill and tend to the forges etc. You can do a lot of these jobs yourself as well, especially smithing and itís a great way to earn some extra cash. The same can be said of chopping wood too. Whilst weíre talking AI and so on thereís also a follower command system that works pretty well, you can order your chosen follower to do a variety of things, opening chests and attacking bad guys, as well as heading to specific spots. You can trade items with them and some of them will even guard your home for you, if you have one.
Radiant Story also adjusts things in the game based on what you do, where you have explored yourself and even who you may have killed. If an important quest giver dies, you may still gain that quest from a friend or relative...be warned though, revenge isnít just for the player character!
Overall the AI for the game is excellent...then of course you have the Radiant AI that governs the dragons. Oh...the dragons...these are titanic monsters that provide some of the best battles in the game, where brute force canít just win the day, where tactics and planning helps over just wading in. Killing them is hard and the reward is their soul, since as a dragonborn, you can steal their souls and gain power from them.The Draconic Tongue
Integral to the core story of Skyrim is the Way of the Voice. A mythical power that allows the dragonborn to perform incredible magical feats that only dragons can normally do. Not content with just making up some gibberish and calling it a language, Bethesda went the Tolkien route and made their own language. A language that rhymes in dragon as well as in English, a language that can be written or scratched by a dragonís three claws and their dew claw. This attention to detail is one of the reasons that Skyrim is just basically one of the most immersive adventure rpgs on the market and is rapidly outshining all of the other games in my heart as a Game of the Year 2011. The dragon shouts are utterly fantastic and earning them is a real legendary journey, more often than not they appear on Word Walls in ancient tombs and high in the mountains, mostly guarded by one or more dragons and once you have the word...you can use the dragon soul to unlock it. So donít think it will be a cake walk and you can mythically know these powerful chants, the shout or Thuíum must be hard won to mean something.
The Look and Feel
Thereís a lot of Skyrim to explore. There are several major cities, there are settlements out in the wild and there are dungeons and ruins galore. It all looks great too, and the Nordic theme to the game is superbly done. It is the best looking Elder Scrolls to date and the level of detail graphically is bordering on the insane. The weather system is a superb thing to see in action and a thunder storm, or massive blizzard is amazing to watch. My only gripe is that you donít actually see the character get covered in that snow, itís a tiny niggle and doesnít affect the game at all really.
The character models and items are really well done. The elves are an odd looking bunch and their alien looks fly in the face of the Tolkien stereotype, which is a good thing since it gives them their own place in the genre and marks them as different. The animations to Skyrim are likewise excellent with the combat looking beautifully visceral and the camera randomly panning out to show a third person view of the action as the character pulls off a slick move.
The atmosphere to Skyrim is something else as well. Every place you visit is unique visually and far more than any other game in the series has its own unique identity, from the sleepy little settlement at Riverwood to Whiterun, with the imposing Dragonreach high atop the hill...the home of the Jarl of Whiterun. The Creation Engine is definitely a step in the right direction and provides better visuals than the previous games. The lighting part of the engine is also nice and gives a great feel to the underground areas when theyíre dimly lit by torchlight or a spell. There are dozens of tiny touches as you explore from the snow blowing off the edge of mountains, to the wind tickling the trees or salmon jumping in a nearby river as they fight against the great current.
Then comes the night and everything changes, the landscape alters and the stars come out...and what stars they are. Night time is my favourite time in this game and I have travelled at night far more than during the day. Camping under the stars and watching the world go by...once again, immersed in this realm.