Few video game series have the rabid fan base and near-universal acclaim of Elder Scrolls. The last installment, Oblivion, landed on more game-of-the-year lists than you can shake a sword at. So of course, in this jam–packed holiday season, one of the most anticipated games is Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Early videos of Skyrim have shown that Bethesda Game Studios has learned from the successes of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, so fans are already assured of a beautiful, polished game. But what specifically can players expect? I was recently invited to participate in an extended live play demo of Skyrim.
The opening of Skyrim is being kept tightly under wraps, so my play began about an hour into the game. You can gather some clues about what happened in the intro from things NPCs say, but I have been sworn to secrecy. I can tell you that Skyrim takes place two hundred years after the events of Oblivion, a civil war is on, and the player can choose a side. There are also factions new and old that players can join: the thieves’ guild and the magic academy are both back. After witnessing a group of hardy NPCs take down a roaming giant, I joined their band, the Companions, which led to a whole quest line helping your comrades.
It’s amazing how distinct the NPCs are in Skyrim. The folks wandering around the many townships have clear personalities, and there are way more voice actors contributing to the dialogue than in Oblivion. All dialogue is in real time, so no more zoom-in-to-awkward-closeup. This, in addition to the world map, which includes sixteen miles of unique terrain, are a far cry from the looped tiles of Oblivion, and the biggest improvements over previous installments. The result is an immersive adventure that’s bound to keep you busy for hundreds of hours.
In the years to come, I predict that fans will look back at Elder Scrolls and refer to Skyrim as “the one with the dragons.” Dragon shouts, dragon language, and dragon enemies all feature heavily. As my play time wound down, I found myself under attack by a gigantic green dragon. He flew around, plucked my NPC allies off the ground, torched me and my friends. I can’t really express how epic it is to fight dragons in this game. They swoop out of the sky. The battles are brutal and intense. Victory is rewarding and SO satisfying.
Get excited. Skyrim may not revolutionize the first-person RPG market the way its big brother Oblivion did, paving the way for hits like Fallout 3, but Skyrim has honed Elder Scrolls into the best high fantasy video game there is. Check out my full review of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in a forthcoming issue of Realms of Fantasy, and in the meantime, take a look at my other Realms of Fantasy video game reviews.
Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, as well as a columnist for Tor.com, Lightspeed, Fantasy Magazine, and Realms of Fantasy. His fiction is out right this second in the anthology The Living Dead 2. Follow him on Twitter.