The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

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I'll just say it right now - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an enriching, evocative and awe-inspiring experience that fully deserves to be discovered, should you be one of the few in the world who hasn't given it a go. While many aspects of the game are watered-down from earlier entries in this much-adored series, there is a whole lot that the developers did right. 

And what they didn't do right, the general public and modding community certainly fixed... for the most part. Take a look at my piece on modding in Skyrim to see just how much love and passion players have injected into the game via mod creation, and for insight from a popular modder, Joseph Lollback (aka Antistar) pertaining to his one-man project, Clockwork.

Proof of how addicting and incredibly fun the game is? The fact that it was released back in 2011 yet even today has a massive fanbase that continues to log hours exploring, dungeon-delving, quest-fetching and Crimson Nirnroot-picking. The modding community's fiercely passionate dedication to tweaking the game also generates infinitesimal reasons to revisit this digital frozen wilderness. Of course, there are those who want to understand what it is about this particular game that continues to draw people in. 

Skyrim, in layman's terms, is a sprawling fantasy RPG that seeks to envelop players in a detailed, living and fully explorable atmosphere and landscape. Taking place in a frigid northern province in a fictional world, Skyrim thrusts players into the middle of an ever-changing environment. The magic in the game's design is the completely open-ended gameplay, allowing players to (once they've created a deeply customizable character) follow along with the main quest or set off in a completely different direction. If players simply wish to roam the mountainous region picking ingredients for alchemy or stealing cheese from the houses of the province's inhabitants, then they're free to do so. Of course, the sheer number of features, choices and opportunities available for Skyrim players is too long to list here, but here are just a few examples:

-Explore hundreds of individually unique tombs, dungeons and ruins, most of which have their own stories or minor quests tied to them, discoverable by the player.

-Visit cities and towns populated by voice-acted non-player characters (NPCs) who provide everything from goods and services to quests, opportunities and insight into the land around them, making for a living, breathing experience.

-Varied and unique quests, ranging in everything from a strange civil war (complete with fort-sacking and battles) to dragon-slaying and sprawling dungeon-delving tasks as well as specialized guilds for players who prefer either magic, melee-based combat, thievery or even assassinations. 

-A wide array of skills and perks that allow for a truly unique experience each time, depending on the player's choices. Everything from destruction-based magic and archery to pickpocketing, blacksmithing and alchemy can be utilized and increased to provide bonuses and special attributes to players.

-Complete and total freedom mingled harmoniously with hundreds of quests and tasks for players to complete at their own discretion. Everything in the game is optional, and everything is possible. The choice is entirely yours (barring a few small exceptions here and there). Many players have invested hundreds of hours into Skyrim without even touching the main quest.

-Countless activities and things to fiddle with. Just a few examples include potion (or poison) crafting, blacksmithing, smelting, mining, hunting, enchanting weapons and armour, buying and upgrading player homes, cooking and recipe-hunting, reading hundreds of individually unique books (many of which are full-fledged stories or insights into the fascinating lore of the Elder Scrolls series), harvesting ingredients from the wilds, as well as wandering with followers and getting married. 

The province of Skyrim is home to many smaller regions with varying climates and atmospheres. For example, the Reach is a valley and river-filled region with towering pine forests and craggy mountainous ridges. The Tundra is a frigid, hazardous area muffled by snow, ice and hidden secrets aplenty. The Rift is in a constant dreamlike state of perfect Autumn, with brilliant orange and yellow leaves smothering the rich sloping valley landscape, hugged by towering mountains filled with ruins, treasures and secrets. Of course, pictures are worth a thousand words. Check out the gallery below, consisting of my own personal screenshots taken whilst playing this engrossing and beautiful game: 

I must admit, there is a certain bias when it comes to my personal experience with Skyrim. The game was released during a difficult and dark time in my life - a time when I didn't think there needed to be a tomorrow. Lining up on launch day, I was ecstatic and excited for the first time in months. Having played the previous entry in the series, Oblivion, for thousands of hours, I was incredibly eager to delve into the next chapter and experience what the series' developers, Bethesda Softworks, had created. Over the next year or so, I found myself gaining emotional and mental strength from the escapism, immersion and sense of whimsy that Skyrim delivered. Having that time to escape from the chaotic and unforgiving real world was a therapeutic and necessary chapter of my life. It taught me to pace myself, breathe and ponder - a wondrous gift in this age where people move too quickly to type complete sentences or think of the feelings of others. This is one of those powerful experiences that only other players of Skyrim will likely understand. Many revisit the five entries in the Elder Scrolls series because of the fantastical escapism and level of serenity these games provide. There's a certain essence in them - an aura or magnetic force that sucks you in and numbs the poison. These games have saved lives.

This review being written and published today is living proof.

That essence and lasting allure is precisely why Skyrim has endeared the past several years and emerged from the mountain of other game releases since 2011, relatively unscathed. Couple that with the countless number of modifications available for PC, and in some capacity, console-based users (ranging in everything from new player homes and treasures to collect to entire quests, lands and voice-acted companions) and you have one hell of an experience waiting for you. The game and all of its downloadable content has recently been remastered with new high-definition graphical enhancements and tweaks to the game's design (such as water flowing more naturally and rain not clipping through overhead structures such as roofs or bridges without need to install a mod). 

And the decision is yours whether to take a peek at what Skyrim holds. It's more than a video game or "plaything".

It's an experience.