Talent perks can only be unlocked if the player has reached a requisite proficiency level with in a type of attack or skill. So, for example, if your character fights most battles with a two-handed battleaxe, their two-handed proficiency will rise faster than their defensive or one-handed attack skills. The talents aren't limited to combat, though; skills such as blacksmithing, alchemy, lockpicking, sneaking and bartering are also available for a boost. Once again, the more players use these skills, the more perks become available for unlocking.
The talent-trees themselves are represented by swirling star constellations in the heavens above Skyrim and are both beautiful to look at and easy to navigate. That latter quality is, fortunately, shared by all of the game's menus and while it may sound like a bulletpoint on a factsheet to praise the menu system, Bethesda really do deserve some credit for its work in this respect. Given the volume of abilities, attacks and information players need to have readily available to them in the game, a poor menu system could have easily turned Skyrim into a chore.
That certainly doesn't happen here; players can easily flip between their inventory, magic abilities, talent trees and their map of the world by simply hitting the B button (in the Xbox 360 version tested) and flicking the right stick. They can hotkey any item or magical ability by highlighting it with the Y button, and mapping it to the D-Pad. They can also choose any perspective to play the game from; clicking in the right thumbstick switches the camera from first to third-person view, and by holding in the right stick and panning back with the left, players can shift their perspective to as close or as far away as they like.
If Skyrim has one weak spot, it's the fact that occasionally the odd bug in the gameplay raises its ugly head. Players may find their heroic efforts hit a snag when they become stuck against a piece of scenery, or prompted to talk to a character that remains oblivious to all of their prodding. These aren't deal-breakers, necessarily, and to an extent they're to be expected from a game this size. Most of them can be avoided by loading a previous save, but there were one or two instances in our play-through, which threatened to hold up my progression.
In one mission, where my task was to become wedded to the in-game love of my life, I was informed that I'd failed to get married after being jilted at the altar. When I tried to get hitched a second time, my bride-to-be arrived at the church with no eyes in her head, making her wedding vows seem more than a tad sinister. There were also a couple of instances where the game crashed completely, requiring a console reboot. With all of this in mind, we urge you to remember that this is a Bethesda Game and while auto-saves occur between entering and exiting new environments, players risk being hurled back into early stages of the game if they don't save well and save often.
In the light of the game's impressive strengths, however, all of this criticism feels like unnecessary nitpicking. Skyrim is easily one of the strongest and best examples of the Western RPG, and it further establishes Bethesda's reputation as one of the most talented and creative forces in the gaming industry. Moreover, it offers players a world so vast they could easily become lost in it, and so beautiful they may never wish to return from it.
See you all next spring...