Five and a half years ago, the gates of Oblivion opened and its denizens poured out into Tamriel. Eventually, after dicking around for days, or even weeks in a staggeringly massive open world doing odd jobs, hunting in the forest, and picking random fights with guards, I helped save Tamriel and sealed shut the gates of Oblivion. In November, Skyrim arrives and throws a crap-ton of dragons in your face.
I’m sorry, what was that last part? Dragons? If I’m not mistaken, someone said something about dragons. Well, Skyrim has a bit of a fascination with the large beasts of legend. Dragons will roam the world freely, and will not be restricted to certain encounters. Going down to the corner blacksmith for a new blade? LOOK OUT FOR DRAGONS. Taking a nice stroll through a forest? LOOK OUT FOR DRAGONS. Looking to fight some dragons, absorb their souls, and further develop your Dragonborn magic? LOOK OUT FOR DRAGONS (though this is probably the one situation in which you’d WANT to see dragons).
Now, how about a little more information on that whole “absorbing dragon souls” thing? Well, you are one of the last living Dragonborn, and have a special kind of magic, called Voice. Voice is applied using Shouts. Essentially, replace the word “Voice” with “magic” and “shouts” with “spells” and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going on, though standard magical spells are also a part of the game. Absorbing dragon souls unlocks words of power. Each shout consists of three words of power; the more words of power you have for a shout, the higher power the shout will be. You can see how it’s in your best interest to defeat as many dragons as possible and asborb their souls. Dragon souls aren’t the only method for obtaining words of power, though; wordwalls do much the same thing without the threat of burnination. For regular magic, you get quite a selection. From your standard elemental spells to other, more practical spells like Clairvoyance (which gives you a blue glowing trail to your next objective, similar to the trail in the Fable series), there’s a lot to choose from. Some spells can be charged, as well, for additional power.
The development team behind Morrowind, Oblivion, and Fallout 3 returns to Skyrim, bringing the same mind-bogglingly humongous open world element that you loved (or hated) in Oblivion. The land of Skyrim is divided into nine Holds (counties), each ruled by a Jarl. The world boasts an open working economy that can be altered by your actions, dynamic quests that are tuned based on your actions, and dragons. Did I mention the dragons? With the return of the development team comes the return of incredible graphics. The world is, of course, stunningly beautiful. Anything you can see, you can travel to. The mountain off in the distance? Go for it. The weather on the mountain isn’t textured, but dynamically controlled. There’s just…so much. Oh, speaking of beauty, remember how gorgeous the character models were in Oblivion? Oh, that’s right. THEY WEREN’T. Well, with Skyrim there are no more hideously ugly characters (unless they are designed to be hideously ugly, of course).
Gameplay is similar to Oblivion, with some modifications. Though Skyrim was designed to be played from a first-person perspective, you are now given the choice to change into a third-person perspective, which may prove to be more comforting and familiar to those who have not played first-person fantasy RPGs in the past. The left and right triggers control the left and right hands, and equipping your hands at any time is incredibly easy and simple, even when in combat. Need to quickly change up your spells while fighting off various enemy types? No problem.
Now, I’m a stats/item junkie, so the item/magic/skills menus in Skyrim really blew me away. The item menu provides full 3D models with statistics for every item you have in your inventory, in very high detail. I may have squealed when I saw it. The magic menu provides visual representations of each spell as well, and while they are pretty, it is somewhat less exciting. The maps are bird’s eye view topographical maps with fast travel. The creme de la creme, however, is the skills menu. Opening the skills menu turns your gaze skyward, as you look into the heavens. A nebulous background provides the foundation for your skill trees, which build constellations in the sky as you develop them. It is functional, it is beautiful, and it is completely awesome.
Not enough content yet for you? There are over 150 handcrafted dungeons for you to fight your way through. Still not satisfied? There are over 300 books in the world that can be found and perused. You want more? How about a spell that lets you breathe DRAGON FIRE FROM YOUR FACE. There’s more, and more, and more than I’m going to put into words. When 11-11-11 comes around, Skyrim is a game you’ll just need to play on 360, PS3, or PC.