Skyrim's world is as beautiful as it is dangerous

C haracters in RPGs have struggled with dragons. Monarchs have had their castles lit up like Christmas trees, villagers have had their farms go up in flames and soldiers have been baked inside their suits of armour. Yes, it's all been done before but nothing quite like in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda's sequel to the critically acclaimed Oblivion is in a league of its own, capturing the scale and scope of battling dragons like never before. As the name suggests, the game is set in the northern lands of Skyrim, a frozen kingdom in turmoil after the assassination of the high king. His killer, Ulfric Stormcloak uses the “thu'um” or dragon-shout for this purpose (yes, he shouts people to death), and over the course of the game, your character will get to choose from lots of sides to pick while having access to more than one variety of the said dragon-shout — assuming you don't stray from the path of Skyrim's main quest, of course. Unfortunately, straying from this path is a lot easier than one might think, considering there's an astonishing amount of content on offer here.

The rugged northern land of Skyrim is home to the Nords. In stark contrast to Oblivion's world, Cyrodiil, Skyrim's settlements feel more rural and its larger cities look like they've weathered innumerable invasions and civil wars. The world looks beautiful and all 40 square kilometres of its outdoor environments can be explored without loading times. All of this is made possible by Bethesda's proprietary ‘Creation Engine' which makes its debut, and it must be said that Skyrim is the perfect tech-demo for it. There's a lot to see in Skyrim, from fishing villages to mining towns, castles, centres of learning to tall mountains, forests, dungeons and rivers. It's the most beautiful and dangerous Elder Scrolls world yet, and while there's a lot to see, there's a lot more to do.

The game offers a substantial amount of hardcore RPG fan-favourite content and then some: tons of loot, logical character progression system, insane number of quests and sub-quests, spells galore and a solid combat system. Skyrim uses the same progression mechanic as Oblivion where your character's abilities get better as you use them but it adds a neat system where you can select ‘perks' for a particular ability once you level up. You can either choose to specialise in a particular discipline (Illusion magic, for instance) or spend enough time maximising all your skills if you spend enough time in the game. The ability to equip a weapon or spell to each of your hands (or a spell in each hand) is a fantastic addition as well. However, Skyrim does away with traditional inventory and item screens, opting instead for a ‘list' system that works well when you're carrying a few items, but it's rather messy when your load becomes heavier. Get used to it, though, and it becomes infinitely less frustrating.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim offers an experience that is unique; its scale is unmatched, its world beautiful and huge. There are an absurd number of things to do in Skyrim and the ‘radiant' quest system ensures that are literally, an infinite number of tasks that will be handed out to you by the world's inhabitants. Downsides include a clunky console-centric interface, occasionally dumb AI and confusing controls but there's nothing here that can take away from the game's incredible execution of the things it does well. If you're looking for an epic RPG in which you can spend countless hours hunting dragons, you need to look no further than Skyrim. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is available on PS3 and Xbox 360 while the PC version can be purchased digitally.