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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim may not be as demanding as Dark Souls but don't be fooled, it will take up just as much time and sink you just as deep into a heroic role. But more than just being long, it's the breadth and depth of Skyrim's scale that makes it so grand.
This is, perhaps, the biggest role play game I've ever played on a console. In fact if I knew just how big it was before starting I may have thought twice about playing it. Sure, Oblivion was a big game and gobbled up plenty of my life and Fallout 3 kept on going long after lesser adventures have finished, but Skyrim is of a different scale altogether.
What really impressed me though was its attention to detail, in spite of how much ground it has to paint, populate and generally bring to life. As you travel through its world there is as much to stop the heart about the landscape (blending from woodlands to snow covered mountains to grand cities and vast lakes) as the various inhabitants out to impress by more aggressive means.
Along with a varied horizon, you can also play your role here in many different ways. I started off by focusing on weapon craft - manufacturing weapons at a forge - and made good progress. After a while though I turned my hand to some alchemy which then let me enchant my creations. At times I was also distracted by wood chopping and cave exploration that although less exciting were just as thought through and engaging.
It really feels like you can progress in Skyrim any way you want to, and the game will not only let you do it but reward you appropriately. Whether you are simply building a house for your family to live in, joining one of the many guilds or spending time learning in a library, Skyrim keeps you going with a constant string of incentives.
Threading through the world is a central story that ensures you don't become too distracted with the minutiae of life, or settle down with the family for too long. The scene is set with your initial escape from execution which sends you barreling into the bright Skyrim sunlight.
As the story progresses you are soon caught between civil wars and dragon sieges. But beyond these day to day concerns is the pressing knowledge that the remains of the Dragonborn are all that is keeping Skyrim from being destroyed forever. It sounds grandiose I know, but as it inches along one mission at a time there is a genuine sense of intrigue and tension alongside the more obvious elements.
As you work through the story you gain Experience. Each use of a weapon or spell or particular skill contributes to this and edges you closer to the all important next level. When you do upgrade you can assign talent points to a skill you want to improve and by so doing steadily create a more customised adventurer.
Alongside the skills and weapons you can use Dragonborn magic (obtained by reading runes that are carved about the place). These require magic points and must be used sparingly, but the right bit of magic at the right moment can really make all the difference.
As was true with Oblivion though, Skyrim is not without its bugs. It feels like the sheer weight of all that is going on is simply too much at times. Happily these are all minor (characters embedding themselves in the environment and strange animations). While the odd crash means I saved more often, it seems a small price to pay for such an ambitious game -- and I'm sure patches will solve the majority of these issues before too long.
I genuinely lost myself in Skyrim, like reading a book or watching a film.
It's not until you have played it though, and devoted a good portion of a few weeks to the game, that you start to realise how important an achievement this is for role play games.
Skyrim builds on Bethesda's foundations, sure, but more than that it stretches out towards the horizon and makes real what I hadn't thought possible in these sorts of games previously.
I genuinely lost myself in Skyrim, like reading a book or watching a film, but in so many ways not like that -- its scale, ambition and delivery dwarf even the grandest of narratives from those other disciplines. For a game, this is no small achievement.
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