The long-awaited sequel to Oblivion and the fifth entry in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim’s been on my radar for a while now.
First it was the big Elder Scrolls fans amongst my friends who were talking about it, marvelling at the trailers and arguing endlessly over the footage. Then I saw it myself at the GAMEFEST expo, and I was surprised to see that thousands of fans waited for more than two hours to see it – not the game itself, but another trailer.
I saw the game again at the Eurogamer Expo the next weekend, and this time it was playable. Even with dozens of consoles prepared, again Skyrim dominated the proceedings near the centre of the arena, with massive lines matched only by the first European sighting of the PS Vita and the FPS goliaths that are Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3. I wasn’t that convinced though – I preferred to spend extra time playing Battlefield instead.
Fast forward a few weeks and it was launch day. I had bought Modern Warfare 3 the day before, and idly thought to check the Steam stats for an article I was writing, to see how many were playing on PC versus console.
I was shocked to see that the just-released Skyrim had in excess of 230,000 concurrent players. Modern Warfare 3, widely lauded as the biggest entertainment launch ever? 80,000. I was beginning to get intrigued – I know it’s a good series, but seriously, three times as big as CoD? Maybe it was those fabled Eastern European gamers coming out in force?
I checked my friends list, and there the real surprise came. Almost everyone that was online was playing Skyrim. Even my friend Maelstrom, a talented Russian Battlefield player, was on Skyrim. I asked him how the game was.
“Really good,” he said. “I’m not normally into these things but all of my friends are playing it and telling me to play it.”
What could I do? I played it.
And almost as soon as I got into the game I started to work out why. I was enjoying the majesty of the opening cutscene, prisoners on a cart winding through a snowy pass, when a message appeared. “Move the mouse,” it said. I did so and recoiled in shock – this wasn’t no cutscene, this was the actual game!
It wasn’t just that the graphics were great (and they were). It was the whole affair – a beautiful vista laid out before me, believably animated people with well generated faces (so much better than Oblivion), a lush soundscape and an overlying sense of fantastic realism.
As you continue to explore the game, this sense of fascination continues to expand. There are certainly some sticking points that annoy (the menus, for instance, which take 80% of the screen with a picture of an apple and about 10% for listing the item’s you’re carrying in a large font.) but there are few areas where you can’t see that a trade-off has been made in favour of beauty (the apple is in 3D, rotatable and lovingly rendered).
I played for only one night, but I am very keen to play more. Each part of the game is so finely crafted that you forgive its flaws and get sucked into the story. Watching my girlfriend play was almost as much fun as playing myself; she got the fright of her life when she talked aloud to the man in the cart and he responded instantly (a coincidence, of course, but a great one).
Where Battlefield gets its magic is from individual moments of utter brilliance, where you can only laugh at what has just happened – a jet blows into a fireball at your feet, you headshot a helicopter pilot, or a car careens out of nowhere to take down that last enemy. It’s the immediacy of these moments that makes them appealing, but Skyrim takes it in a different direction – instead, it’s the consistent believability of the world and the smörgåsbord of opportunities waiting for you.
Setting foot in that world unlocks a deep desire to return there, and now I understand why it is so popular, why communities like Reddit’s /r/gaming have become almost entirely concerned with the new title. Even more than StarCraft II or Minecraft, Skyrim is swallowing up the gaming community and is becoming the standout fall gaming title that most critics (myself included) would have guessed that Battlefield or Call of Duty would be.
And it lives up to the hype. Whether you’re a hardcore RPG fan, a lover of good games or indeed any form of sentient life that breathes oxygen, then you should try Skyrim. It’s brilliant.
This article was written by William Judd. William writes for Mobile Fun, the UK’s leading online retailer of Galaxy Note accessories including Samsung Galaxy Note cases, Samsung Galaxy Note chargers and a full Samsung Galaxy Note screen protector range.