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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: 163 minutes & 27 seconds with a 300-hour game

Another hands-on with the early hours of Bethesda's giant...

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So, to put this in perspective, you're micromanaging every skill by choosing from roughly 8-10 perks each - and some of these can be upgraded more than once. The scope for specialisation is incredible. Me? I opt to increase my magicka and bump up Destruction to boost the power of fireball spells.

Pockets full, and with the ancient book safely in my possession, I head back to Solitude to give Viarmo the good news. He seems pleased at first, but soon discovers that half the verses have become illegible over time. I plump for the conversation option that suggests he just makes the rest up - after all, the thing's been in a dungeon for hundreds of years, right? Who's going to check?

Viarmo gets onboard with the idea. He reads through the existing text and asks for my suggestions on how to complete bits of the poem. It's a fun little mini-game, and he makes comments on my ideas: "Hmm, that seems a bit farfetched" or even less enthusiastically, "Yes, that's probably what happened, although it seems a bit dull."

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Pleased as punch at having rewritten a portion of Skyrim's history, Viarmo invites me to help him present the updated version to the Jarl. How could I refuse? So I head to the castle (it's worth noting that Solitude seems a little larger than most cities in Oblivion), pausing only to stare at the incredible view the city commands over the surrounding countryside. Hey look, there's the mountain I walked past the base of an hour ago! Inside the rather modest main hall of the castle the Jarl sits, surrounded by advisors, as Viarmo prepares to deliver the verse. He does so with hypnotic diction, and I sit and watch, lost in the verse for a good couple of minutes. Yes, it shows that the voice acting is better than in Oblivion - thankfully - but it does so much more than that.

CHAPTER AND VERSE
It gives life and history to Solitude so much more effectively than any silent screen of text could, and it represents the end of a quest that's been much more than fetch and carry. It's incredibly smart design and, I hope - desperately - it's a sign the rest of the game is filled with such invention. Don't forget - I chose this mission randomly.

Much will be written about the size of Skyrim. About how many hours you'll spend enthralled by its world, in awe of magnificent vistas and a wealth of quests. Rightly so. But it's about much more than numbers, however big they are.

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It's about making you part of the world and all the stuff within it; making you believe Skyrim exists when you switch off the PS3... and did long before you ever turned it on. There's a strangely comforting thought that keeps coming back to me, long after Bethesda switch off my console and politely send me back into the nonsensical world of bad trains, dragonless grey skies and financial meltdowns. And it's this: I'll be back in Skyrim soon, and for much, much longer than three hours.

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