Skyrim offers a remarkable scope of choice, from quest completion and character development (and aesthetics) through to more abstract choices such as who to support in a civil war, which Daedric lord to work for and which repetitious mine worker you really, really want to drag to a swamp and torture. There are no morality bars here; the grey area between right and wrong is filled in by your own personal mindset. This can effect the game in ways that are almost inconceivable. In fulfilling a contract for the Dark Brotherhood, the assassin’s guild, I removed an entire quest and storyline that I was entirely unaware of until a recommendation from a friend. Likewise, the game morphs and changes by itself. I tried to search for a legendary sword to no avail, only to find it stashed in the loot of a bandit nearby; something that, as far as I’m aware, hasn’t happened in anybody else’s sandbox world.
As you can imagine for such an enormous area, there is plenty of travelling to be done. Use this relaxing time to your advantage; the world of Skyrim is one of almost unbelievable beauty and imagination. The Northern Lights flit across the sky, icy tundras haunt the coldest areas and forests of dappled shadow surround the intrepid adventurer; every five minutes you must catch your breath before it leaves you in appreciation. The towns too are remarkable, full of character and characters, each with a different feel to the next; the inspiration of George R.R Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice is most clear here. ‘Winter is coming’ would also be a good parable for the atmosphere of Skyrim; the sense of threat is palpable, with death awaiting around every corner and crag of the bitter landscape. It is these moments where the details really begin to hold their own to create a living, breathing civilisation. Salmon leap up-stream, wolves hunt in packs, children run and laugh, parents and wives mourn the war dead in graveyards whilst necromancers try to revive those in less salubrious tombs. You realise, soon, that you care for this frail world, you care about the people you help, feel guilt when you steal and fence those who have nothing to give; chillingly, perhaps more so than those sitting around you now.
Despite its roots in a famed and often high-handed RPG (role-playing game) series, Skyrim is remarkably accessible. Gone are the lists of attributes, the set characters and awkwardly-assigned magic attacks; in come development trees, the chance to upgrade any attribute you use rather than what the character set demands and the mapping of spells onto the player’s hands. This mapping also works for weapons in general, so a shield can be assigned to the left hand and a sword to the right, for example. As a result, the combat experience has greatly improved; bows and magic are now a viable, useful option, and in first-person mode combatants duck and weave, adding integration to the fighting that was never previously there. The third-person viewpoint is finally has an effective use, giving a grateful hint of spacial awareness vital for the stealthy player (I admit, I’m a bit of a shadow lurker).
There are faults of course; a fully-formed sand-box world is near impossible to get exactly right and glitch free, and these glitches can be hilarious (dragons flying backwards) or mortifying (dropping through the game world, quest characters disappearing etc). In these instances Bethesda were always going to be victims of their own ambitions, as has proved the case. However, it would take a Scrooge to focus on this when so much else is right.
Despite having nearly a month to play with this artful creation, I still feel the surface has been barely scratched. Likewise, this review has barely scratched the surface of what is possible to say about Skyrim, yet a longer one could not do it more justice (and many have tried). All that needs to be said is that this is the best game of the year, the best game of the generation and probably the greatest achievement in entertainment this year. So, buy it, put it on your Christmas list, steal it, do whatever; the choice is yours. Lock your curtains, turn off your phone and remember this; once into the plains of Skyrim, there is no return. But why would you want to?