Like all Elder Scrolls games to date, you’re a nobody, just a criminal locked up in a prison for an unknown crime. This time round though, as most of know already, that cell is situated in the freezing Nordic nation of Skyrim.
You’re released. Why, we don’t know yet. But you’re released into a nation that’s tearing itself apart. It’s a land governed by nine holds, regions that are traditionally each controlled by a single ruling family. But the system hasn’t lasted – many holds are now governed by elected councils, some have been overthrown, and they’re on the brink of war with each other. And as the conflict reaches crisis point, the dragons show up.
That’s the setting for the fifth game in Bethesda’s open-ended RPG series The Elder Scrolls. It uses a new engine, a new combat system, a whole new kind of magic, and an awful lot of snow.
You can find more in detail information about Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim here.
Tracing the Line
200 years ago, in Oblivion, a prisoner much like yourself saved the world by finding the illegitimate son of the dead emperor Uriel Septim VII.
Oblivion was the commercial hit the series always deserved, but it’s also a game you can rarely mention without hearing someone’s top three gripes about it. A lot of Skyrim’s features are direct responses to those complaints, but a few almost seem intentionally defiant.
Martin and his heirs are long gone, and without the Septims – the ruling family around whom all the other Elder Scrolls games revolve – the world is vulnerable to terrible forces.
The Septims are Dragonborns, mortals whose bloodline gives them the power to use dragon magic. The Dragonfires you were trying to light in Oblivion used that magic to protect the mortal realm from the demons of Oblivion. That’s why Martin was so important: as the last blood relative of a Septim, only he could keep them burning and the world safe.
When the Dragonborns die out 200 years later, it’s not the demons of Oblivion that break through – it’s actual dragons. They’re already ravaging the world, and they’re nothing compared to what’s next. Alduin, the biggest and baddest of the long-lost species, is coming. The Elder Scrolls foretold it, and only a Dragonborn can stop it.
Which brings us back of course to our nobody prisoner – you. As fate would have it, you are Dragonborne and perhaps the last that can lay claim to the lineage. In terms of the story, that means you’re going to be the one saving the world (no really?). Though if you’re like me, that’ll be after I’ve done all the side quests. In game terms, it means you have access to a whole new type of magic AKA Dragon shouts.
Dragon Shouts are three-word phrases, uttered in the dragon tongue, which function as powerful spells. For them to work, you first need to defeat a dragon and take its soul: that gives you the potential to learn its shout. But the words themselves don’t come easily: they’re written in the dragon’s own language on the walls of crumbling ruins all over Skyrim. The dragon’s soul gives you the ability to spot power words among the scratchy ancient glyphs.
There are more than twenty shouts to learn, from one that’s effectively ‘Force Push’, to one you whisper to teleport yourself silently toward an enemy.
Ok, ok. So I used a Dragon Age reference here. You’ll have to forgive for that, but moving along. Because Dragon shouts aren’t conventional magic, anyone can learn them (Even non-Pointy hat types). The good ol magic we know and love from Elder Scrolls games past, returns once albeit with tweaks here and there. The Elder Scrolls games have always split their spells into themed sets called Schools – Destruction, for example, lets you cast all the attacking spells but counts as a single skill as you improve it with practise.
The themed skill sets for magic are still in, of course, but have undergone a few changes. The School of Mysticism (AKA The School of Miscellaneous spells we didn’t know where to put anywhere else at the time – mouth full) is gone. It’s best spells have been moved to other schools of magic, such as Alteration (in turn, making them more attractive propositions).
That leaves Destruction (damage-dealing), Restoration (healing and buffs), Conjuration (summoning minions and equipment), Illusion (stealth and confusion), Alteration (utility spells), and Enchantment.
Enchantment is a magical skill set last seen in Morrowind, which lets you imbue your favourite weapon or armour with any spell effect you know. In Oblivion, much to the disappoint of many, the player skill was removed in favour of a pedestal in the Imperial University that does it for you every time, perfectly (yawn). Fortunately, in Skyrim, enchantment will be making a return as a player skill. That’s one tick off the check list of things I’d want out of it, that’s for sure.
Destruction spells are now more flexible tools: a fire spell is not just a fireball, it can also be used as a flamethrower or to place fire traps on the ground. And Bethesda say they’re hoping to let you combine them with one another when you wield different spells in each hand, though exactly how won’t be nailed down until they’re sure they can do it.
The most important change to magic is that spells are no longer separated from weapons. Oblivion’s system meant that everyone, from a pure mage to a brainless fighter, had to wield both a weapon and a spell at all times. Skyrim is much more freeform: you have two hands, and it’s up to you whether to ready two spells, one spell in both hands, a spell in one and a weapon in the other, or even dual-wield any two single-handed weapons.
Next Page: Archery & Leveling