Fear my bow. It is known across the land as “Death From On High” and it keeps bandits awake at night, in fear that their lives may end with a swift arrow to the skull. I forged it in the fires of Whiterun and enchanted it in the basement of some reclusive old witch whom I murdered. I am a fire-wielding, war-axe-swinging, chef-hat-donning, *** bard blacksmith with a dead eye and a braided beard. I also collect butterfly wings and like to make adorable jewelry.


This is the freedom of Skyrim. No two gameplay experiences will be the same. It is just as possible to create a sneaky Khajitt with a penchant for pickpocketing and swinging a two-handed broadsword as it is to journey through the mountains as an assassin Breton who spends his free time collecting flowers and reading books. Bethesda has even allowed for a player to steer the course of their character throughout the game, not forcing them to stay within a strict class system. They’ve done it by creating one of the best and most brilliant leveling systems in the world of RPGs.


Much like past Elder Scrolls games the leveling system revolves around the use of skills. When you use your skills, they increase in effectiveness, and as they increase in effectiveness, you level up. So, the more I use my fire spell, the better I get at my Destruction skill. The real beauty of Skyrim (and what sets it apart from past Elder Scrolls games) is the new perk system. Each of the 18 skills has its own branching skill tree, with basic improvements that can be purchased at low levels and master improvements that can be purchased at higher levels. Every time you level up you are given a skill point that can be used at any time to purchase one of these perks and create a permanent improvement to whatever skill you assign it to. For example, a low level perk for archery may be a basic damage rating improvement, while a higher level perk may enable you to slow down time while aiming or recover more arrows from bodies. There are dozens and dozens of perks to choose from and they all aid in giving your character a distinct feel. You can save up the skill points if you want to plan out how you will distribute them or you can assign them as you get them if you want to create your character more organically. It’s a brilliant system that encourages replay and experimentation.


The combat also encourages experimentation, especially when casting spells. You can wield a sword in one hand while readying a healing spell in the other. Or perhaps you want to dual wield your weapons. Or maybe dual wield your spells (yes, you can have one element percolating on one hand with another element on your other – fire and ice, anybody?). Some of the collision detection and weapon swings feel a little goofy, but the satisfaction had when decapitating an idiot bandit after they get done yelling that they will destroy you is pretty darn invigorating. Just wait until you sink an axe into a Spriggan’s head.


The world itself is enormous and awe-inspiring. Games this large (can I even think of one?) can lead to some monotony and uneventful expanses, but not Skyrim. Skyrim is intricate. The team at Bethesda did an incredible job in creating interesting locales and enchanting areas. The vistas are fantastic and the cities range from majestic to scummy. There may be some caves here or there that resemble each other, but overall you can’t ask for more variety. I was afraid that everything would be snow and wind and mountains (there’s plenty of that). However, it’s truly amazing that Bethesda was able to make recognizably different regions within a uniform climate. There are hot springs, muddy meadows, dense forests, frosty peaks, icy shores, and grassy plains. If that sounds pretty good, wait until you explore the many tombs, lairs, forts, caverns, towns, remote cabins, Dwemer ruins (I’m so glad they’re back), lakes, ships, alternate dimensions, etc. I’m still amazed that Bethesda was able to create such an artistically and thematically cohesive world that still contains so many different things to see and do.


That’s not to say that there aren’t problems. As you must already know, there are bugs. In my playing, I haven’t seen too many beyond floating rocks and weapons. However, there are people who have run into their games crashing and some very strange happenings. The great news is that Bethesda is aware of these problems and is releasing patches as needed.


Beyond the bugs, there are some other annoyances. The dialogue in this game, though well acted (mostly) can get very repetitive. Why not give the merchant in Whiterun a few more things to say? I would rather have him not talk, if all he’s going to say is the same thing every time I visit his shop. That goes for most NPCs. I like they acknowledge me when I walk by, but they don’t always have to say something. I don’t say hello to everyone I see in real life, so why should they? A little more silence may be needed to stretch out some of the sparser areas of recorded dialogue. I do have to say that I was blown away by Max Von Sydow’s voice acting. The music is exceptional and stirring. The choir was a stroke of genius, even if I mockingly sing along when the title screen appears. “Dovahkiin! Dovahkiin! Ba-bab-a-ba-ba-bing!”


Along with these issues are others, such as companions always getting in the way at inopportune moments. In fact, I would rather not have companions in a game like this or at least make it optional. Also, I think that the map needs a little addition. I would love to mark found locations as unexplored, so that I’m not missing any content due to my being unsure about whether or not I explored that cave or fort that I happened to find just by walking by it. I also really want to see a level of polish that just isn’t here. The animation just plain needs work (I think of what Bioware accomplished with Mass Effect 2 and wish Skyrim had just a little bit more of that sort of attention to how people move and look) However, these issues are all overshadowed by the brilliance of the rest of the game.


I could go on and on about all of the activities that you can do in this game, all of the new creatures and people groups, the political intrigue, the epic main quest, and, of course, the dragons. I was unsure how much I would enjoy the dragons in an Elder Scrolls game, because I view dragons as being in a different realm of fantasy than the world that Bethesda has created. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the dragons in this game. There are many surprises to be had regarding them and even though the battles with them were slightly disappointing, I still really think they are a fine addition to the series.


I highly recommend Skyrim to anybody that enjoys video games. If you are not used to games of this size and scope, you may feel unsure of what to do. I recommend that you follow some quests to completion, but don’t let that deter you from doing whatever you want. This is not a normal game. To get the most out of it, you will need to sink at least 100 hours into it. And believe me when I say that there won’t be a dull moment.