Oh, hello, Dragon Age. Didn't see you there. Morrowho?
Skyrim is torn by civil war: A weakened Empire struggles to retain control of the province, while rebel Nords vie for self-determination. Dragons have returned after centuries, and nobody knows why. Undead infest the crypts, cairns, and barrows, and more dangerous things haunt deep Dwarven ruins. Elsewhere, ordinary people are living their lives. Guilds struggle to reclaim past glory, shopkeepers try to scrape by, lovers quarrel, and everyone could use your help. Time to make your mark on the world.
Skyrim is a first-person RPG with a wide array of skills and abilities, loosely clumped under three main archetypes: the mage, the warrior, and the thief. Unlike earlier Elder Scrolls games, though, there are no tagged skills or premade character classes. Play the game how you like, and your character gets better at what it does most. Our first character was a flame-casting, axe-wielding Nord, but there are eight other player races and innumerable play styles, and Shouts add a new kind of mana-less magic to the game. The game’s voice acting (for the most part), interface, and graphics are also leaps ahead of Oblivion’s. Combat is more satisfying, if a bit repetitive after a while. Even killing dragons becomes almost routine as you increase in power.
You saw a mudcrab the other day? We saw this.
Skyrim’s main quest is an incredible tale that brings you from one end of the province to the other, from the highest mountain to the lowest depths, and encompasses stealth, diplomacy, adventuring, exploration, and a lot of combat. But it’s a greatest-hits collection for a prolific band. It’s a good starting point, and you’ll get some of the best content, but if it’s the only album you listen to, you’ll miss most of the material, including stuff that’s better than any of the hits. With superhuman focus you could beat the main quest in maybe 25 hours, but that’s not how you should play Skyrim. Even running from one objective to another, we inevitably got sidetracked for hours by something—a small town, a crypt, a ruin—we spotted in passing. We clocked 55 hours of play time before reluctantly focusing on the main quest and still felt we’d just scratched the surface. One editor has put 90 hours in and has barely touched the main quest at all.
It wouldn’t be a Bethesda open-world game without a heaping tablespoon of weirdness. Animals judder into the landscape or appear hundreds of feet in the air, then fall to their deaths. Every guard you meet complains about the arrow he took in the knee. Books and plates render slightly inside the shelves they’re on, then go flying across the room. A giant’s club rises into the air like a helium balloon. At times, the game would crash to desktop every hour or so. Good thing there’s a mod for that.
Dragons require a lot of percussive maintenance.
That’s one of the best things about playing Skyrim on a PC. In addition to the graphical superiority—consoles ain’t got nothing on Skyrim at 1920x1200 at Ultra settings—the modding community corrects for bugs and idiosyncrasies faster than the developers. Look past the inevitable nude mods, and you’ll see high-res texture packs, patches to fix Bethesda’s blocky faces, interface tweaks, and more. This isn’t to say Skyrim is a really buggy game. The few bugs that aren’t fixed by patches or mods aren’t enough to dampen our enthusiasm for the game world or the story.
If Skyrim was only as good as Morrowind or Oblivion, it’d be unskippable. But it’s much, much better. It’s certainly the best game Bethesda’s ever made, and one of the best we’ve ever played. It’s not without weird bugs and quirks, but the gameplay, story, and amount of content are all staggering, and we’ll be playing it for months to come.