When Skyrim was announced, Bethesda said that their intent with this fifth Elder Scrolls game was to recapture what made Morrowind great. Why Morrowind? Oblivion sold well, had a thriving mod scene on the PC, and drew immense critical acclaim, after all. So why was Bethesda so intent to step back and draw inspiration from an earlier entry in the series?
A lot of it had to do with complexity. Morrowind was unabashedly a PC game, and one that was unforgiving to players who didn't take the time to learn how to play it effectively. Oblivion, in contrast, was an experience tailored for consoles, and it shows from the now-infamous leveling system up to the user-interface itself. Many of the early Oblivion mods were designed to "fix" these issues and bring the experience closer to that of its predecessor.
The other major factor in Morrowind's appeal, however, was its world. While Cyrodiil is very traditional fantasy, with large stone castles and opulent cities among sweeping, verdant plains and atop grand hills, the third Elder Scrolls game was largely set on the swampy island of Vvardenfell in the eponymous region of Morrowind. One did not ride horses from city to city, but paid for passage on Silt Striders, which were tremendous insects with hollowed out cavities for passengers to occupy. The pervading color was "brown" and fungus grew everywhere. It felt less austere, more lived in and earthy.
Skyrim, set in the region of the same name, draws upon that, striking a medium between Cyrodiil's sun-spattered fields and Morrowind's desolate swamplands and quarries. This is the northern land from which the Nords hail, those large, pale men and women who look as though they were ripped from Viking lore. It's appropriate that the promotional art and videos for the game have thus far prominently featured a man in a horned helm.
It is the mountainous North, and so there is snow and ice. That isn't to say that foliage and greenery is unheard of, but Skyrim is a harsh land, and wears its history of battle on its scarred surface. There's a chill in the air, and the creatures are appropriately burly, with werewolves and giants in abundance, and dragons once more circling the skies. Despite the land's inherent danger, however, it thrives on the world stage, being one of the most influential and powerful regions in Tamriel.
Architecture in Skyrim is its own beast. While Cyrodiil is filled with sky-high towers and Morrowind has short, flat cities built on infirm ground, Skyrim's cold climes beget structures that exist at least partly underground, in the interests of conserving heat. They are also constructed almost entirely out of stone, with wood and straw used only in support and for roofing.
Despite the hardships of living there, and the very particular requirements of construction in its cold and mountainous terrain, Skyrim has five major cities and many smaller towns and settlements. Among the five major cities are Windhelm, former capital of the First Empire and home to the palace of the Ysgramor dynasty; the port city of Solitude, which also houses the Bards' College; the Dunmer-affected city of Winterhold, which hosts its namesake college, located in Northeastern Skyrim; and the city of Whiterun, in central Skyrim, which was once referenced as the "Imperial City of Skyrim." Now, giants use the nearby tundra as a pasture for their herds of mammoth.
Aside from these major cities, however, the many smaller stations and holdouts of Skyrim, the garrisons and towns that pepper the landscape, give the region a more rural and lived in affectation than its Imperial neighbor and, while certainly not as inviting as the idyllic Cyrodiil, Skyrim offers that breath of the legendary, that hint of something grand begotten there that continues to exist beneath the surface that Morrowind lacks.
Those who wish to avoid spoilers on the events of Oblivion would probably be best served skipping to the "End Spoilers" tag below.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is, as a game, set two centuries after the events of Oblivion and, following the assassination of Emperor Uriel Septim and the sacrifice of his illegitimate son, Martin Septim, the Third Age has ended and a new one has begun. Following in its predecessor's penchant for regicide, the High King of Skyrim has been laid to rest and civil war brews in Skyrim. A loud contingent of its people are clamoring to jump from the sinking ship of the Empire, while others continue to hold out hope that it can be salvaged. This civil war is the last in a string of prophesied events that will result in the return of the dragons under the Nordic god of destruction, Alduin. As such, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will feature dragons as prominent enemies, which players can defeat for incredible rewards, claimed as they are the Dovahkiin, a "dragonborn."
Featuring mountainous terrain, filled with dank, winding caverns and dotted with foliage among frozen tundra, Skyrim is not a welcoming or forgiving place, but it has power and it has its comforts. Many will explore it this winter when the game comes out on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC November 11.
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*