The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Glaives, pikes, bardiches, halberds, partisans, spears, picks and lances. Javelins, arbalests, crossbows, longbows, claymores, zweih nder, broadswords and falchions. Flails, clubs, morning stars, maces, war hammers, battle axes and, of course, longswords. If you ever played a fantasy RPG or one of many historically-themed action or strategy games, you'll already be familiar with an impressive array of medieval weaponry. The medieval arsenal has had an enormous impact on games since their early days, and their ubiquity makes them seem like a natural, fundamental part of many virtual worlds.
These items are based on real weapons that have maimed and killed countless real people over the centuries, but even though we're aware of this, medieval weapons have become estranged and distant from their roots in history. Part of this is our short memory; the passing of a few centuries is enough to blunt any relic's sense of reality. Another reason is they were made a staple of genre fiction. In our modern imagination, the blade has become firmly lodged in the rocks of fantasy fiction and historical drama, and no-one will be able to pull it free entirely.
Today, these weapons have been refashioned to serve our very modern fantasies of power, freedom and heroism. There's the irresistible figure of the hero-cum-adventurer who sets out to forge their own path. From Diablo and Baldur's Gate to The Witcher and Skyrim, the fundamental logic of violence stays the same. Battles lead to loot and stronger equipment, which in turn allows our heroes to tackle more dangerous encounters. The wheel keeps turning, and we follow the siren song of ever more powerful instruments of destruction. On the surface, they're problem solving tools, but they also promise the excitement of adventure as well as the power to dominate and enforce our will on those fantasy realms. As such, they become fetishised. Extravagant visual detail and special effects signal a weapon's rarity and power, turning them into ornaments and status symbols.

While the actual violence in such fantasies is often justified by a struggle of good versus evil, the resulting gore and savagery has also captured our imagination. Most games, even mainstream RPGs like Skyrim or The Witcher 3, can't resist indulging in an aesthetic of cruelty and barbarism by showing us the grisly devastation caused by these instruments of murder. Blood spurting from wounds and clinging on blades, heads and arms being hacked off and tumbling through the air, special killing and execution animations captured in glorious slow-motion. Their gruesomeness markedly contrasts with the sanitised, often bloodless effects of modern guns as portrayed in games, disingenuously suggesting that modern violence and warfare is somehow more civilised than that of our ancestors.

Games like For Honor, Mount & Blade, Chivalry or War of the Roses celebrate medieval slaughter with grim nihilism as we hack and slash ourselves through hordes of enemies entirely without any ethical justification. Might makes right, and the means justify the end. The same can be said about the brutal spectacle of the Total War games, whose hordes of clashing soldiers tickle some deep-seated proto-fascist lust for demonstrations of power. These games paint a "grim and gritty" picture of historical violence, the "dark ages" of popular imagination. They're a half-leering, half-wistful gaze into a fantasy version of the past when the destructive urges of our collective Id have not yet been tamed by civilisation and violence was not yet regulated by the moral codes and laws of pervasive state power. In that regard, the butcher and the heroic adventurer use their weapons to pursue the same fantasy: unfettered will and agency, the freedom to follow your impulses regardless of their consequences.

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Bethesda has announced that Skryrim VR will be coming to Steam on April 3rd.

Skyrim VR, which originally launched on PSVR late last year, sees Bethesda's classic open-world fantasy epic rejigged and reworked for virtual reality headsets. As was the case on PSVR, the Steam version of Skyrim VR will include the celebrated base game, alongside the newly VR-ified Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn expansions.

Skyrim is pretty ubiquitous at this point in time, having appeared on six different platforms and in three different guises since its release in 2011 - but Bethesda's thorough virtual reality update, which includes support for VR controllers, is easily one of its most impressive.

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

It's been six months since E3 2017, when Bethesda announced its intention to add a Creation Club to Skyrim and Fallout 4, their massively-successful mega-RPGs known for their breadth of content and emphasis on player freedom. This club would task third-party developers with producing new pieces for the publisher's two marquee games, which players could then buy from an online storefront with real money. While some decried the service as yet another attempt to introduce paid mods to the single-player gaming ecosystem, Bethesda insisted the market for free fan-made content would remain unaffected. "We won't allow any existing mods to be retrofitted into Creation Club," reads the FAQ. "It must all be original content."

Following this, in late August Bethesda revealed the initial line-up for Creation Club, which included the Hellfire Power Armour and the Chinese Stealth Suit, both priced at $5 and inspired by similar items introduced in the various expansions for Fallout 3. There was just one little problem - if you searched the Nexus, the massively-populated home of free mods for Bethesda's games, among others, you'd find both the Hellfire Power Armour and the Chinese Stealth Suit already on offer for the low, low price of nothing.

A mild furore erupted. Press pounced on the revelation, which fed the already-boiling fan frenzy over what were considered outrageous prices for sub-par content. Paying $5 for a piece of armour was bad enough, but when the free alternative is superior, the bad deal starts to seem like an out-and-out ripoff. For Road to Liberty, the mod team behind the two projects, it was a confusing development, and one they worked with Bethesda to try to avoid.

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim's dirty little secret is that it isn't that large. Oh, it remains fairly gigantic by the standards of other virtual landscapes, even next to its youthful imitator and usurper, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But set against what it pretends to be - a kingdom stretching from arctic wastes to the temperate south, racked by dynastic squabbles and laced with the treasures and detritus of millennia - it's actually pretty dang tiddly, a little over 14 square miles in scope.

14 square miles? That's no bygone, mystery-shadowed dominion rearing its shrines and watchtowers amid sunflashed snow. That's a jumped-up theme park, a country music festival. More to the point, that's approximately the same size as The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, a game which has become something of a punching bag for Elder Scrolls aficionados in hindsight - neither as grand as its swaggering barbarian brother, nor as memorably odd as burned-out hippy uncle Morrowind. Steer clear of distractions like temperamental mammoth herds and you can walk from one side of Skyrim to the other in half an hour.

I'm being quite obtuse, of course. If open world games were required to be as large as their inspirations or narrative aspirations they'd never get finished, and in any case, who would have the time to play them? The fascinating thing about open world design is that it's not really about size at all. It's more the art of the deceptive miniature - of making the poky or digestible seem enormous to the point of exhausting, even as distant cities reveal themselves for neighbouring hamlets, fearsome mountains for mere well-appointed foothills. Skyrim is extremely good at this, to a degree I'm not sure any game environment can rival save the corkscrew terrain of the original Dark Souls. It launches on Switch this week, glory of glories, and I've spent a few hours with the remastered PC version to remind myself of its achievements.

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