The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Xbox 360 Review

Over recent years it cannot be denied that single player campaigns have, on average, gotten shorter. With developers pushing towards tighter and tighter deadlines in a highly competitive industry, it seems only sensible to concentrate on designing a short-lived yet flawless experience. Bethesda on the other hand have taken the tried and tested formulae of the past in producing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. As a developer, they are renowned for creating sprawling open-world RPGs such as the highly popular Fallout 3 and Oblivion. It may then come as no surprise that Skyrim would not stray too far from their winning formula. Featuring an absolutely gargantuan world map, containing locations ranging from Nord villages with crystal clear lakes to rocky mountaintops and skeleton filled tombs, there’s no denying that Skyrim can initially be a little overwhelming; however, due to fantastic organisation on Bethesda’s part, players are eased into the game at a natural pace.

Upon beginning your adventure as an anonymous prisoner, you’ll find the option to choose your character’s ‘race’, of which there are 10, each with their own attributes and abilities. This is followed by a massive range of aesthetic adjustments. Unlike previous installments in the Elder Scrolls series, initial character choices are not a game-changing experience. Instead, you will be able to develop your character as you see fit, with level-ups based entirely on the use of various skills. For example, using two-handed weapons will increase your level in that skill and in doing so gains experience to level up your character as a whole. This is a huge step up from the standard ‘thrown in at the deep end’ affair seen in many titles of this type. With each character level up comes a ‘perk’ – which could take the form of new abilities such as power bashing with a shield, reduction in magic costs, the option to craft new types of armour and weapons and many others. Despite the huge number, all possible perks seem to have a purpose, so although perk choices are permanent, none feel like a waste of hard earned skill points. The inclusion of these level-based unlockables certainly adds another dimension to what would have been an already excellent levelling system.

Combat forms an essential part of the Skyrim experience. Fortunately, it is as enjoyable as it rewarding, lending itself to a variety of play styles. For the soldier amongst us, one-handed weaponry such as war axes and swords can be combined effectively with shields. For the wannabe ninja, powerful sneak attacks make a return, this time with the addition of dagger based throat-slits. New to The Elder Scrolls series is the ability to dual-wield one handed weapons in left and right hands, theoretically doubling damage output but removing the ability to block. A few cinematic finishing moves have been added to the mix to hammer home the satisfaction of a particularly successful scrap. Skyrim’s combat is a massive improvement over that of Oblivion and remains fresh throughout the game’s many quests, looking fantastic in both first and third person views aided by major advancements in character animation. If the ‘up-close and personal’ approach isn’t really your thing, do not fear. Mages have access to a whopping list of spells, categorised by ‘destruction’, ‘conjuration’, ‘illusion’, ‘alteration’ and ‘restoration’. These are learned via the reading of spell tomes which can be found in various locations or bought from wizards around the nine towns or ‘holds’. Archers also have access to some interesting new abilities, such as zooming in upon aiming using the left trigger and slowing down time. The combinations are almost endless.

Story quests follow a fairly straightforward yet effective plot to reveal a yet another new feature to The Elder Scrolls series – Dragons. As expected, dragons are powerful and unpredictable creatures whose appearance takes a rather more dynamic approach than most enemies. This means that the next time you fancy a virtual picnic outside Riverwood, you could find yourself with a little more on your hands than some vegetable stew. This unpredictability lends itself to some interesting battles, seeing the likes of the infamous ‘Stormcloaks’ joining forces with attacking bandits to take down the immediate and undoubtedly bigger threat. It’s a brilliant feature that has been missing from many games of the genre and one that has definitely found an ideal home in Skyrim. It’s advisable to avoid picking fights with the scaled tyrants until extra help is available or you are armed to the teeth with potions and upgraded weaponry. Upon defeating a dragon, being the ‘Dragonborn’, you will absorb its soul. Doing so allows you to unlock a new ‘shout’ (powerful spells, executed using the language of the dragons) once it has been found written on ancient monuments dotted around the region. Every shout has 3 stages, or words, each increasing the effectiveness of the shout whilst increasing the time taken to recharge. Wielded properly, shouts can turn the tide in heated battles and should definitely not be overlooked as a gimmick, plus they are great fun to use. There’s nothing more entertaining than ending an aggravated frost troll by blasting it off a cliffside with the power of your voice.

You will find that the majority of your time in Skyrim will be spent doing side-quests. Although the main quests are substantial, they may not be to everyones tastes, and it is this aspect that gives Skyrim such an edge over competitors. The concept of linearity has been thrown completely out of the window. Right from the word go, the world is your oyster and the choice of what you do from here on is entirely your own. After spending a few hours with Skyrim, my quest list was brimming with quests given to me by court wizards, shopkeepers, bards, travelling salesman and slippery thieves to name a few. Needless to say, there is an almost overwhelming variety; from rescuing prisoners in an Elven stronghold to taking part in a civil uprising or getting married, each quest has its own self contained storyline. However, upon completion of various objectives, you may find the world around you reacting to your achievements.

Aesthetically, Skyrim is a rugged land, drawing inspiration from Norse mythology to create an atmosphere quite different to previous Elder Scrolls games. Most importantly, exploring the land is an absolute joy. Landscapes range from lush forests to blizzard-stricken peaks, and the sheer diversity means that no two routes feel the same. As days pass, you will begin to notice the finer details in Skyrim’s graphical touches – such as insects zipping about the countryside and the night sky gently lit by the Aurora Borealis. At a distance, Bethesda’s virtual world seems almost real, yet upon closer inspection shadow details are noticeably jagged and textures can be rather flat. Putting this aside, the beauty comes in the package as a whole, which can only be described as ‘breathtaking’. The soundscape is also brilliant throughout, with voice acting not only aiding the plot-lines, but working alongside the amazing visuals helping to create a sense of immersion unheard of in console games.

With all this positivity must come a downside. Glitches rear their ugly head in the form of disappearing mammoths, skyrocketing giant attacks and unresponsive NPCs stuck ‘in-combat’. Personally however, I believe these odd cock-ups can be overlooked. It’s a very small ask in order to enjoy what can only be known as a genre-defining experience. Whether you’re spying for an anonymous customer, battling the undead, hunting down a serial killer, overthrowing an infamous warlord or crafting your own armour and weapons, Skyrim never falters to keep you entertained.

As a result, though Skyrim is not perfect, Bethesda can take pride in knowing it must be pretty damn close.

9 out of 10
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