While the sheer number of characters and names you encounter in Skyrim is daunting at first, playing the previous Elder Scrolls games or knowledge of Tamriel lore is not a requirement to enjoying this new epic. The story opens up with the main player facing execution at the hands of Imperials with a group of other Nords marked as traitors to the empire. Imperials are the ruling race in the continent of Tamriel and their design was inspired by Roman legions, while Nords are the natives of Skyrim, generally fair haired, much like the Nordic peoples of our world. Intriguingly, one prisoner facing execution with the main player is a man named Ulfric Stormcloak, whose mouth is gagged. It turns out that this is the man who “shouted” the High King Tyrogg to death and plunged Skyrim into civil war, pitting various factions against each other for control of the province. An even more sinister shadow is cast upon Skyrim, however, with the return of Alduin the elder dragon, who disrupts the execution. According to Skyrim legends, the return of dragons to Tamriel marks the sign of the end times.
Following the main storyline alone lasts approximately 40 hours. With all the side quests and battles added, total gameplay time could easily reach 300 hours. With ten races to choose from and 18 skills to master with 251 perks, game play variety is unlike anything players have ever seen in an RPG game. Aside from the usual countryside combat and banditry, players can also immerse themselves into magic and learn in the College of Mages or learn music and speechcraft from the Bards College. There is never a shortage of things to hunt, slay, shoot and collect, including dragons, bears, tigers, trolls, rabbits, goats, deer, giants, mammoths and even butterflies. Maybe you fancy cooking or collecting recipes? Then you can be a cook or a master alchemist. You can also immerse yourself into smithing and craft the finest armors and weapons or just help out in the farm by cutting wood at the sawmill or grinding oats. Don’t want to work too hard? You can always join the thieves’ guild and master your pickpocket skills. There are over a hundred unique and readable books, ranging from simple journals to multi-part historical accounts that add texture to the world of Skyrim. Even when the life of combat has left you weary and longing for simpler things, you can always find a nice partner to settle down with and marry. If you have enough money, you can even buy her that three-story manor so she could be the envy of all the maidens in Skyrim.
Fast traveling is a convenient way to quickly move from city to city (or as it is called in Skyrim, a “hold”), traveling by foot or horse is much more fun as the landscape is gorgeous and there is never a dull moment, since almost everything is either trying to run away from you or trying to kill you. Unlike most recent games released that use dubstep (ugh), music in Skyrim is orchestral with harmonic chants (resembling the dragon shouts in-game) and really accentuates the experience, especially in combat. Once the music turns ominous, you are sure to see a dragon’s shadow cast on the ground and hopefully you have time to raise your shield and block the attack before you are either scorched or frozen to death.