South Park‘s 2007 episode “Guitar Queer-O” not only took on a great parody of the Harmonix game series, but created the fictional “Herion Hero”, a game in which you chase a dragon – but the catch is… well, that’s exactly it – you don’t ever catch the dragon. Bethesda’s Skyrim, made several years after the South Park episode, puts me in mind of this game. You do catch the dragon this time around (or its soul, at least), but this is one hell of an addiction. True, I never really liked RPGs that much, if at all; they always left a banal taste in my mouth. Skyrim – however – well that just shoots straight through your veins. Choose no life, choose Skyrim, choose a fucking big television.
So it begins: you sit silently at the back of a horse and cart, the driver telling your fellow passengers to pipe down. You’re being escorted through a forest towards a town; turns out you were at the wrong place at the wrong time. The imperial army have wrongfully incarcerated you, and are ready to lob your head off. Cue an impressive attack by… yep, a dragon, and you find yourself running from the flames and eventually escaping into the beautiful world of Skyrim.
Dragons have returned to the province of Skyrim, and they’re making mammoths fly uncontrollably into the air. On top of this, a civil war is taking place between the native Nords and the Empire. These are the main plot points of Skyrim – I say main because there are hundreds of side quests you can actually progress through.
I bought this game twice – on initial launch, and then several months after selling my first purchase. Why? Simply because the game is massive. I was daunted, and decided to give it another go after a nagging feeling told me I hadn’t given it a chance. There was definitely a monkey on my shoulder, and this one had 3 eyes and was susceptible to fire. Yes, it’s a huge game, but you come to realise the game mechanics are in fact manageable, and you can (for the most part) keep tabs on places you’ve already explored.
So what sets Skyrim apart from the every day fantasy games that bombard retailers shelves? Essentially, not a lot. But there’s something about the world that is so captivating. It’s like walking through Cornwall, without the trolls (although some would disagree). While heading to my next destination, I can’t help but stop to look at the blissful game world around me. At night you’ll gaze from a mountaintop at the ‘northern lights’, or stroll through the orange and golden forests of southern Skyrim.
Your character (of your own creation) – be it a cat-man or giant lizard – starts off as a lowly wanderer. You build up your levels, which increase magic, health and stamina as you progress through the game. Alongside these 3 attributes is a skills menu that factors in a plethora of ‘perks’, improving your smithing, enchantments, archery and many, many more. Skyrim will eat up hours of your time – the reward comes when you realise that pesky ‘death lord’ who kept killing you a hundred hours ago, will now die with one blow of your deadric sword. The choice of character type is entirely your own: it’s up to you whether you grow to become a highly skilled mage, an axe wielding warrior, or even a master thief.
With the addition of the DLC, it helps to expand the world you live in. Hearthfire – a Minecraft type extra – allows you to build a house and raise a family. There’s also the vampire expansion of Dawnguard, which fits seamlessly with Skyrim’s world and includes some fantastic additions. And Dragonborn – a game that, admittedly, I haven’t spent too much time with upon writing – in which you explore an entirely new region, and the Lovecraft-like underworld it mirrors.
Due to its gargantuan size, there are inevitably some issues. This comes in the form of bugs, which can either be a minor hindrance (entering a building will sometimes cause items to mysteriously catapult across the room) or downright hilarious (upon visiting a new town, a dead mammoth fell from the sky and landed next to me). The worst culprit happens on occasion (though not enough to ruin the experience) when the game will turn into the ‘Goldeneye-walking-through-smoke’ frame-rate, or worst of all, the game freezing your console when loading.
I have clocked in an inconceivable 200 plus hours over the course of my journey (I should be embarrassed about this, but hey… I’m really not). Skyrim is a monumental achievement; one you can potentially play for the rest of your life (though once all quest-lines are finished, I will probably hang up my hat). For RPG gamers, this is a no-brainer, but for those who stray far from anything fantasy based – let that preconception dissolve. Take this blue pill (or red, I can never remember) and indulge in a living, breathing world full of dragons, vampires, buxom maidens and flying mammoths.
As Stan Marsh’s dad once said – “I almost caught the dragon!”