Will Mass Effect 3 be the game of the year? Not if Bethesda has anything to say about it. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim takes the bracing freedom of the studio’s previous work, and reworks practically every other facet of the experience. Oblivion’s identikit dungeons, confusing menus and hollow-eyed NPCs are hereby consigned to the dustbin of history. 

Skyrim will be massive

The fact that the new Elder Scrolls game is set in a vast open-world won’t be news to anyone, but Bethesda is really pushing for the next level here.  Skyrim is the northern-most province of Tamriel, and an altogether more rugged landscape than that in Oblivion. It is the home province of the Nords, the first humans to appear in the Elder Scrolls mythology, and contains five major cities, nine smaller “holds”, and an assortment of smaller towns and villages.

Beyond that, not much is known about where Skyrim will take us. The player character seems to be the typical Bethesda cipher, but we do know that he/she is “dragon-born”, meaning that he/she has the soul of a dragon and access to some of their powers. This is particularly handy for Skyrim’s residents because, 200 years after the climax of Oblivion, dragons have appeared in Tamriel once again. It falls to your hero to sort the problem out, and though Bethesda’s Todd Howard compared Skyrim’s dragons to game bosses, he also hinted that not every dragon is necessarily an enemy.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim will be beautiful

A lot of fuss was made about the supposed loveliness of Oblivion’s game-world, but I could never understand it. Sure, it was green and bright and all that, but it lacked life and personality. Skyrim is a major step forwards in this regard, the Bethesda art team running riot with colour and detail after the mud and rust of Fallout 3.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

However, Bethesda has pointed out that graphics alone will not make Skyrim a believable place. A great deal of emphasis is being placed on ambient details and flourishes: butterflies dance around flowers, fish leap from the water while swimming upstream, and the world’s inhabitants can be going about their lives in far more noticeable ways – jobs were the example offered by Howard, but there will be others. The animation on the character models will also be more convincing: you are no longer locked into position during conversations, and the third-person view is a world away from its shoddy execution in previous Bethesda games.

The only real remaining question is about how reactive the game world will be. Howard confirmed that you will be able to buy property more freely than before, and claimed to be toying with a number of possible ways for the player to influence the economy and infrastructure – sabotaging a lumber mill leading to a scarcity for arrows, for example.