We won't even pretend that we've completed Skyrim in the few days we’ve had with it. But this isn’t laziness on our part – we’ve been sucked into Tamriel for a huge part of each of those days. It’s an excellent sign that a game is compelling when you find yourself squirming in your chair due to an imminent toilet break but just can’t tear yourself away. After all, you’ve got a load of kit to sell and fancy items to buy. Except that by the time you get to town, someone’s spoken to you about a bandit chief nearby, and they’re always good for a bit of hack’n’slash fun and…
Interesting distractions are plentiful in Skyrim, mainly due to the many locations and tasks (no, they’re not all quests). While most tasks doled out are the usual fetch-and-carry or mailman tasks, they’re done well; either because they’re quickly ticked off or because they encourage you to go to interesting locations. However, this being a fairly conventional RPG, there’s always the odd time when you find Dravin’s bow or some other named item in some dungeon despite not knowing Dravin – oh well, better take it, we’ll probably meet him soon and then we can give him his bow.
Even when trying to focus on stand-out new bits of the game (we tried, but ultimately failed to focus exclusively on the main quest for this review – damn our curiosity!), the game is so full of interesting distractions that it’s taken a page and two paragraphs just to mention the dragons.
Dragons are a brilliant addition to Skyrim. When attacking from the air, they’re tricky foes; bows tend not to deal enough damage, and spells often lack the range, to be able to shoot them down. It’s a little disappointing, then, that dragons have a stupid tendency to land, meaning that you can run up and whack them with your two-handed axe. However, while dragons look impressive when wheeling and swooping in the air, seeing them crawl around on the ground like humongous, menacing lizard-bats is delightfully creepy.
The dragons are the crux of the story, as they’ve come back to menace the land. No-one knows why, but it becomes clear early on that your character is dragonborn. This means that not only are you imbued with innate dragon-killing powers, but that you can absorb the souls of dragons. There’s more to say here, but we can’t – spoilers, y’know?
Nom-nom-nom, lovely dragon soul, that...
Absorbing dragon souls is important, not just for plot reasons, but also because dragon souls let you activate Shouts. Shouts are words of power, spoken in the dragon tongue, and have many effects. Unrelenting Force is a kind of Force-Push power, and others include Frost Breath (frost damage) and Whirlwind Spirit (super-quick running). You can learn new Shouts, or enhance known Shouts, by learning additional words – these are found at dragon locations on the map, in certain dungeons and so on. Dragon souls are kept until you choose to activate a word or Shout, and Shouts with all three words are pretty powerful.
For example, we hate frost trolls – they regenerate, they're hard to hurt much in the first place and they smash through even heavy armour and way too easily (death by frost troll was a constant threat). However, our three-word Unrelenting Force Shout can send a frost troll flying back, meaning we could heal or just continue to pelt it with arrows and magic.
It’s easy to switch between Shouts, weapons and magic via the new favourites system. Mark anything in your inventory as a favourite and it appears in the menu, which is opened by pressing Q. The game pauses, letting you switch from bow to hand-to-hand weapon or magic easily and quickly. You can have as many favourite spells, weapons or items as you want, and the system dramatically reduces the need to trawl through your full inventory.