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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Bigger, better and more dynamic

Hands-on with one of the most wanted games of 2011

Skyrim is proof we're in the richest gaming generation of all time. Five years ago The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion wowed console players with its size, its visuals, its world and its ambition. Yet by today's standards it looks at least a console generation old.

Luckily for us, Bethesda's new Creation engine has taken old hardware, pushed it to previously unimagined limits and created a game no one could have foreseen on Xbox 360 - certainly not in the days when Oblivion felt like a bold and dazzling new era.

For tips and cheats have a look at CVG's Skyrim guide.

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Conservative estimates suggest there'll be upwards of 300 hours of gaming ahead for those jumping into Skyrim, so it's only fitting we take the time to consider the land you'll be spending the next six months exploring.

Five years on and Cyrodiil is still one of the best worlds in gaming. From cities to hamlets, marshland to open plains, secret forests to snow-capped mountains, it packed hundreds of hours' worth of new sights into one sprawling, streaming environment. And, frankly, it pales next to Skyrim.

The game, set in Tamriel's titular northern province, is considerably smaller than both Cyrodiil and Morrowind, but what we've lost in acreage we're seeing balanced out in rich detail. Naturally there are plenty of craggy peaks to scale (in a nice touch the weather grows worse the higher you climb - you'll be trudging through full-on blizzards at the highest points) but variation comes in the form of parched plains, weathered towns and packed, dense forests.

There's no one-for-one Imperial City equivalent. Skyrim instead has five major hubs dotted about its landscape: central city Whiterun, which has an unfortunate witch problem; wealthy northern stop-off Winterhold; the port of Solitude; the old capital Windhelm, near the border to Morrowind; and Markath Side to the far west of the map, where people study the art of the Voice.

Plenty of other towns and smaller settlements prevent the land from being too barren: in all likelihood, most people won't manage to see everything the game has to offer.

NORTHERN EXPOSURE
Being at the tip of the continent, Skyrim was the landing spot for the first human parties who travelled across the Sea of Ghosts to flee the civil war in neighbouring continent Atmora. It witnessed the genesis of Tamriel's human population, and it's the province from where the Nords rose to power and drove the Elven races towards the south.

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So, as the birthplace of the continent's human life, its rugged landscape is pocked with reminders of older Ages: abandoned ruins are a frequent sight during Skyrim's running time, and many of them are haunted with spectres and skeletons and other ungodly monsters.

Subterranean cave systems and warrens are plentiful and in a promising twist Skyrim is home to werewolves as well as vampires - we're fully expecting the lycanthropy disease to make its long awaited return to the series. Bethesda claims no two areas are alike (there are now eight dungeon designers compared with Oblivion's one), so the hundreds of hollows are all going to provide new thrills.

The Radiant Quest system will ensure you appreciate them too. Every person and location in Skyrim has been sorted into categories, and the game will rifle through these categories when coming up with new quests, so each and every player gets brand new content.

Here's how it works: you might stroll into a town after a specified number of pre-requisite events have taken place; the Radiant Quest dynamic will grab a nearby character who fits specific mission giving criteria - say, a mother whose child has been kidnapped - and you'll be asked to journey to an unseen grotto to complete the task.

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