As you regain consciousness, you find yourself tied up in the back of a wagon traveling down a mountain trail. Looking around, you see other prisoners, bound and talking about a civil war. Upon reaching your destination of Helgen, each of you are declared traitors to the Empire and sentenced to death by beheading. As you approach the chopping block, a loud roar pierces the air. Just as you are about to be killed, a dragon appears and begins destroying the town. This is Skyrim, and only you can save it.
As you progress through the ‘tutorial’ dungeon underneath Helgen, the most important aspects to the back story of Skyrim are revealed in conversations with your guide and a convenient book you’ll find. If you’ve played Oblivion, it is worth noting that Skyrim takes place a few centuries after the events of that game. The empire is weaker than in the past, and a civil war between the Stormcloaks and the Imperials threatens the political fabric of the world at the same time that the dragons have returned to destroy Tamriel. As a dovahkiin, or Dragonborn, you are one of the few people left with the power to not only kill dragons, but also learn their language and use their power against them. It is up to you to prevent the coming apocalypse. Take your time, though. The apocalypse will wait for you, so feel free to do whatever you want in the meantime.
Once you escape from Helgen, the entire land of Skyrim immediately opens up for you. Don’t want to continue with the story? Ignore it! Feel like traipsing across the entire country in search of the magical College of Winterhold before you have gained a single level? Go for it! Beware the wilds though: bandits are the least of your concern. Giant spiders, wolves, bears, even giants and dragons roam the lands looking for a tasty snack, and more likely than not, you’ll be on the menu if you can’t defend yourself.
Need some money? Take on quests, craft weapons and armor for profit, cook food and alchemize some potions. If you’re interested in the more unsavory aspect of earning money, thievery, assassination and bounty hunting will bring in a tidy amount of money and items. There’s no fear of running short of things to do, as Skyrim will dynamically create new quests of all types for you to take part in based on your progress and actions in the game up to that point.
The combat feels great, whether you are fighting with melee weapons, bows or magic. You’ll also find that you can equip weapons, or spells, in both hands. Doing so will increase both your attack power, or, in the case of spells, it will enable you to double cast, or with a certain perk allow you to combine the spells into a single, more powerful version.
Leveling up in Skyrim is as simple as going around and doing whatever you want to do. As you do things, you’ll improve the skills related to each task, and as they improve, you’ll level up. Each level also gives you a perk, like in Fallout 3. Each skill has a perk tree associated with it that will enable you to further customize your character to your specific play style.
The graphics look great, whether you are enjoying the soaring vistas, wandering through the various dungeons, or just watching yourself kill things in third-person. The voice acting is also much improved over the last Elder Scrolls game. The sounds and music also lend themselves well to the atmosphere that Bethesda is creating.
Nearly every complaint we’ve ever seen from Oblivion and Fallout 3 has been addressed in some manner here. There’s really not a single drawback to Skyrim that I could find, save the fact that it is so enjoyable that just exploring and doing random stuff will surely eat up several weeks of your life.
Pros: Detailed graphics, living world dying to be explored, a massive amount of content
Cons: Weeks of your life will just disappear