It was back in 2006 when we heard from The Elder Scrolls series last, in the form of Oblivion. The open-world RPG has evolved so much since The Elder Scrolls: Arena, which launched back in 1994. This is primarily where the RPG genre started for the series, having been originally planned as some sort of combat arena title. The game has a lot of history and for that it’s recognised as a prestigious award-winning franchise.

Moving forward to today, Skyrim is the fifth installment in the series, set 200 years after the events of Oblivion. The lands of Skyrim are very much split, with the majority wanting to split away from the Empire, whilst the others seek the safety of it. A new kind of threat is also present, as Dragons return to Tamriel, causing devastation across Skyrim. As the last Dragonborn, it is your job to slay the vicious beasts and defeat Alduin before he consumes the world and forces its people to slavery. Of course, you’re not alone on this adventure, as members involved such as the Greybeards are on hand to guide you throughout your quest.

The Voice is a new power introduced into the game, which grants you access to something called shouts. These are calls evolved from the ancient Dragon language, which can only be unlocked by obtaining the souls of the fiery creatures. Altogether there are 20 different shouts to be collected. Some of which are obtained from the Greybeards, whilst other’s must be found in the wilderness during your exploration. Of course, without dragons this game would cease to exist, plus a lot of credit has to go down to the Creation Engine, as it introduces flying Dragons and dynamic snowfall that accumulates on the ground.

What makes Skyrim remain appealing is its open-ended possibilities. You can approach most quests in a number of ways, utilising the skills you have learned. For instance if you need to gain entry into a restricted area, you can use your lock picking skill to pick the lock directly or you can use your brutal manners to intimidate a poor individual. And if that fails, you can always shove a bag full of gold coins under his nose.

Even during exploration there’s a range of activities to do. You can catch butterflies for their wings, ready to make potions or you can go around seeking out giant patrols and dragons. Most of the time you’ll digress from one thing to another. When I entered a cave seeking out a bandit leader; during the first ten minutes I found myself mining gold ores out of the cave wall, before returning to slay the rebel. All of this was made easier by the sprint inclusion, which is reliant upon your stamina bar.

Which leads on to the addition of new collecting methods. Mining is one of them, but there’s also cutting wood at the lumber mills in towns and then there’s forging new armour and weapons from the ores you smelt into ingots. Sadly there’s no skill tree for mining, but these extra tasks make it seamlessly feel more immersive and as if you belong to a specific town. Villagers will greet you and offer to buy your goods off you. This may seem standard of The Elder Scrolls series, but the inclusion of jobs now plays a role of awarding players for chopping up logs or picking crops from the local farm. You’re not forced into working, but once again, it’s another choice you can make.

Whiterun – one of the town’s in Skyrim is home to lots of different people, from worshippers to shopkeepers. Each town is never short of surprises and people. Ranging from the corruption of Riften to the strongly fortified Solitude, Skyrim is well and truly equipped for civilisation. Citizens are also aware of what’s going on around them and in other cities. If Whiterun is attacked by a dragon or a known leader is killed, people will spread the news and you’ll begin to find dialogue paths relating to this during your conversations.

Even then so, the wildness is packed full of locations, ready to be explored. Dungeons and ruins form the largest chunk of wildness areas, but there’s also shipwrecks and stone pillars which can be activated to grant you an effect. Every location looks interesting and appealing, forcing you to explore it even further.

There’s only a slight change in graphics, which isn’t really that easy to notice if you played Oblivion. There’s a tweak to the sharpness and textures used, but the current quality of graphics are more than enough to keep a gamer satisfied. After all, there’s so much more to this game than what it appears on the screen.

Another useful tool to Skyrim is the combat mechanic. Weapons now adopt specific fighting styles and can be dual-wielded if you have one-handed weapons like a dagger. Spells can also be placed onto each hand, allowing you to combine a frost and fire spell into one attack using both of the triggers. If there’s a particular weapon you really enjoy using, you can then favourite this weapon and quickly equip it using the D-pad. New finishing move animations make the combat feel more intense, whilst the loud battle music plays as one and combines with the action. I’ve never felt so involved in a fight against a skeever (a rat-like creature).

However, the game does contain several bugs such as the ability to boost your speech skill on certain NPCs and the occasional dip in frame rate, which can result in crashing. The sheer size of the game is one reason why the game might contain a lot of bugs though, as it’s a hard work as a tester to spot and find all of these bugs, which is why Bethesda rely on the player to find and report these. Bethesda Softworks are working on a patch as we speak, so we can expect that to release very soon and fix some of these issues.

Without going into the main questline or any side quests  in any detail; Skyrim quite easily has one of the longest set of quests in the franchise or in any RPG for that matter. During exploration, you’ll encounter lots of people requiring your help and there’s even continuous quests similar to Fable III. Most of these will involve finding objects within caves or fighting enemies, so when you’ve eventually finished all the main and side quests, there’s always more to do. Discovering every location is another quest within itself, as I’m still discovering new locations all the time and I haven’t even visited two of the settlements yet, which will without doubt hold even more side quests to be completed.

The return of guilds fuels the reintroduction of the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood, which may seem tedious, but they hold much more this time. There’s more a backbone to these guilds, with a major quest line resembling the main story. In that it tells a story, which affects the guild as an outcome. Then you can continue doing more work for the guilds by completing assassinations for the Dark Brotherhood or by stealing and framing people for the Thieves Guild. These aren’t just the only guilds available to join, as there are many more including the Imperial, Stormcloaks, The Companions and a few others. All of which are rewarding once completed.

If I had to pick out one of the disappointing things about Skyrim it would have to be marriage. It’s in the game, but you require 200 coins to buy the Amulet of Marra, which then allows you to ask an NPC’s hand in marriage. Once the marriage is complete you can move into your purchased house and that’s pretty much where this relationship ends. There’s no option to have children and the only useful thing they do is offer a share of their income when you visit them. You can get a good meal off them too, which might prove to be vital if you’re low on health. For myself, it felt as if this was added in last minute, as a way to say “yeah we’ve got marriage too.”

I think one phrase can only describe The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and that is “Game of the Year”. The game has improved vastly from Oblivion and one can see that a lot of effort has gone into the gameplay mechanics to make it easier for fans of the series, who can cherish Skyrim for its quests and exploration. Bethesda has raised the bar once again for its fantasy epic and no doubt it will continue to do so.