Confession: When I first played Skyrim, I didn’t like it. I know, it’s an unpopular opinion. Some would even say it’s blasphemy. That’s not to say that I wasn’t hyped about it, because I was — insanely so — but there was just something stopping me from being able to really enjoy it. In hindsight, I just don’t think I was quite ready to give up my beloved Oblivion.
In Oblivion, my favourite city was Bruma — the snow-capped mountains, a fun Dark Brotherhood quest, and the cosy shack you could purchase for a not-unreasonable 10k Septims (minus upgrades). When Bethesda announced that its next instalment of The Elder Scrolls would be set in Skyrim, I couldn’t help but be excited. I think my exact words were, “oh my god, it’s going to be like Bruma for the entire game.”
So when it was released back in 2011, I played it immediately. After a few hours, my initial takeaway was, well, Alduin’s cool and all that, but it just looks a bit dull. I missed Cyrodiil, a province where you could find a little bit of everything — the lush greenery of Valenwood in its green forests, the swampiness of Black Marsh in the dingy Bravil — and that’s probably where I was going wrong. This is Skyrim, harsh and cold, but, still, I couldn’t help but miss how Oblivion seemed somehow brighter.
More recently, Bethesda released the Special Edition, a re-mastered version of the game featuring all three DLCs, shorter load times, upgraded graphics (what it calls “remastered art and effects”, “volumetric god rays” and “new water shades” — basically, it makes the game look a bit prettier), and, of course, mod support.
After grabbing an Xbox One X, I felt compelled to revisit Skyrim. I think seven years is enough time to get Oblivion out of my system. We’re going to take a look at the best of what the game has to offer, including the mods you can get your hands on to make yourself a god, give you hours of extra gameplay and, just for shits and giggles, add fun easter eggs to the game or simply provide a little light-hearted relief. We’ll also look towards the future of TES, with the long-awaited trailer to The Elder Scrolls VI recently unveiled.
Stormcloaks vs Imperials
One of the major storylines of Skyrim, aside from the main quest, centres on the Stormcloak rebellion. It’s this that you’re thrown into at the very start of the game — you’re being executed alongside Ulfric Stormcloak, who killed High King Torygg using only his voice (allegedly — Ulfric claims he also stabbed him, though it would have been a sight to see Torryg Fus Ro Dah’d off a balcony). In fact, the game sets this storyline up to be much bigger than it arguably is — you follow an Imperial or Stormcloak (depending on your earlier choice) to Riften and are immediately encouraged to join the faction.
What Bethesda did well here is make you feel that you were being given more than just an arbitrary choice — after a certain point in the game, there’s no going back, and the only way you can play the alternative storyline is to start a new character. Will you back the Stormcloaks, who are pissed off — to say the least — that their worship of Talos has been outlawed, or the Imperials, who are basically doing their job by enforcing the treaty that ended the Great War (honestly, you can’t win, can you?)
At a certain point, you might even find your progress blocked because of the choices you’ve made. During a certain point of the main quest, you may need to negotiate a truce between the two sides to get them to stop fighting long enough so that you can capture a dragon in Whiterun. If you’ve already joined either the Stormcloaks or the Imperials, but you haven’t progressed far enough in the story, you will be unable to negotiate the treaty until you do. Likewise, if you’re currently in the middle of negotiations, you’ll be unable to continue progress with the Civil War questline until you’ve banished The World-Eater for good. It’s a nice realistic touch that shows that your choices have consequences, and while we all know it’s to prevent quest conflicts, we can at least pretend that Ulfric, Tullius and co are just too busy to talk because they’re busy trekking up a ginormous mountain.
Unfortunately, there’s very little reason to play through twice — even if you’re a completionist, you’ll get the same set of achievements, regardless of your choice, and the quests are largely the same, except that you’ll target different forts depending on whether you’re “liberating” or “reunifying” Skyrim. Even after you’ve completed the storyline, something seems off. There’s no finality to it — many NPCs will still talk about the war as if it’s ongoing, which makes it all feel a bit… pointless.
In TES 6, we’d love to see something a little more polished. Now, we know that adding completely alternative questlines is a huge workload, but it would add even more to the replayability of the series, especially if, like with Skyrim, it keeps the perks system, rather than the more rigid class system we saw in Oblivion. Plus, since Bethesda has admitted we won’t be seeing TES 6 until after Starfield, they have plenty of time, right?
Skyrim, thankfully, gave us radiant quests, something severely lacking in Oblivion. In Oblivion, the majority of factions gave us some sort of continuity — you could receive gold and other goodies once a week after completing the Fighter’s Guild, for example, and after the Dark Brotherhood, you could pray to the Night Mother and get told that some poor sod in Morrowind needed getting rid, but if you’re looking for ongoing adventure, that’s not really helpful. Its expansion, the brilliant Shivering Isles, offered a little more in that settlements could randomly become under attack, which you could then handle personally, but these were exactly that — random.
In Skyrim, following completion of the main factions — and even during — you can complete an endless number of quests, from dragon hunting to assassinations. The Thieves’ Guild offers the most variety here, where you can choose from Bedlam, Burglary, Fishing, Numbers, Shill and Sweep jobs, which provide enough to keep you busy when you’re looking for something to do.
There’s no denying it — it’s the soundtrack that makes The Elder Scrolls so immersive. Try sneaking through a dungeon with the sound muted; it breaks the experience. Even the oddly placed Dungeon music in Oblivion’s Oak and Crosier in Chorrol is off-putting, because we rely on it, more than we think, to let us know if there’s even the slightest chance of running into a troll.
The music for each of the Elder Scrolls games Soule has composed — Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim — is unique and really adds to the magical quality of the game. Soule is surely part of the furniture now, right? You’d think so, but it seems like he may not be back for Bethesda’s sixth outing in Tamriel. It’s something this gamer girl isn’t happy about — and I’d bet that I’m far from the only one.
Of course, PC players of The Elder Scrolls have always had access to mods, but it’s something that’s always been on the wish-list of console gamers. We had to wait a bit longer, but with Skyrim Special Edition, it was finally here.
But which mods to install? Clearly, that depends on what you’re looking to add. Do you want your character to fart every time he uses a dragon shout? There’s a mod for that.
Want to turn Alduin — and all dragons, for that matter — into ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, complete with signature “YEEEAAAAAHH”? Come on, who wouldn’t?
Okay, maybe not.
Of course, there are also plenty of other mods out there, including ones that give you new quests and dialogue, mods that give you access to everything you will ever need in-game, and others that give you a blast from the past…
This fairly unremarkably named mod is actually called Cheat Room (Xbox One), but God Mod sounds catchier, so we’ll go with that. This little gem gives you a bunch of spells, including one that, unsurprisingly, let’s you go to a cheat room. Imagine that. Here you’ll have access to every single item in the game, including quest items, enchanted armour, and an assortment of other goodies. If you ever wanted to feel the power of taking out a dragon in one shot, equip the god ring and go have at it. You can also turn yourself into a Werewolf or Vampire Lord at the click of a button and use cool game-altering spells to change the weather and make NPCs essential (not going to lie, I used this one on my horse after a disrespectful giant killed it outside my house — there is some shit your fictional kids don’t need to see).
Of course, some would say it’s cheating, but it’s great for a bit of fun, and if there’s one thing you’ll want after hundreds of hours of gameplay, it’s the toggle collision ring, because flying through mountains is a lot more fun than climbing yet. another. one.
So you already know this by now, but I’ll say it again — I freaking love Bruma. Part of the Beyond Skyrim project, which is working to bring Tamriel’s other provinces into Skyrim’s timeline, the Beyond Skyrim – Bruma mod lets you cross the southern borders into Cyrodiil. This is not to be confused with Skyblivion, which is a remake of Oblivion using Skyrim’s engine (and which I cannot wait for, even if I am a little worried that I’ll never be able to enjoy playing Oblivion again).
Beyond Skyrim – Bruma adds hours of additional gameplay. It’s been around 200 years or so since our last visit, so you shouldn’t expect everything to be the same, but you can revisit Cloud Ruler Temple, Frostcrag Spire, which was added in Oblivion’s Wizard’s Tower download, and see what became of the Mages Guild Hall after it was destroyed.
If there’s one thing to say, it’s that it looks good. Skyrim’s graphics are never going to hold up today compared to the likes of which we’ve seen from recent games like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey — it’s a different ball game — but they still look pretty good, especially when you’re naturally going to compare Skyrim’s Bruma to Oblivion. The original music composed for the mod is decent, with Jeremy’s Soule’s Oblivion soundtrack also making an appearance, which is a familiar, almost comforting touch. The voice acting is a bit dicey, but this is a mod and perfection is far from expected.
Looking Ahead to The Elder Scrolls 6
Long-term fans of the series have been anxiously awaiting new of TES 6 and at E3 2018, Todd Howard dropped news of the latest entry — along with a trailer — and the disappointing news that we wouldn’t see its release until after Starfield, and we don’t even know when that’s being released. It’s safe to say that we’ll be waiting a while.
Still, it’s enough to get the TES community in a tizzy, and forums have popped up all over to speculate where in Tamriel we’re going next and what game mechanics we might see at play.
We now know that Bethesda will not be abandoning its Creation Engine for either Starfield or the new TES release, which hasn’t been well received by players who feel it’s outdated. Who knows, if it’s completely overhauled, this might not be an issue — after all, Rockstar has been using the same engine since 2006, and look at Red Dead — but given Bethesda’s history, is that likely? Starfield might give us an indication in terms of graphics and performance, but even then, TES: Vvardenfell, Hammerfell or whatever the hell it’s called will still be some way off.
Given Bethesda’s recent disastrous outing with Fallout 76, maybe a bit of breathing room is a good thing. I didn’t love Skyrim when it was first released, and now I do, so I’m hoping that my apprehension about TES 6 will mean that it’ll all end well.
What did you enjoy most about Skyrim, and what are you looking forward to in TES 6? Let us know and, while you’re here, don’t forget to check out our gaming news and reviews.