An immersive sandbox game that goes nowhere but the ride is good
I have played all the Elder Scrolls games in the series beginning with Daggerfall and like many I do believe that Skyrim is the best of the bunch, I was not keen on Morrowind, never got into Oblivivion but put many hours into Skyrim. The gameworld is beautiful and gorgeous, both in terms of visuals and design, it is refreshing and invigorating to play a fantasy game set in a universe that resembles medieval realms instead of playing colourful fairies in a cartoon world. Not that I think the latter is necessary bad, but it never had goosebumps like in Skyrim when my hero stood on a high mountain in the night and looked down upon the flickering lights of a village in peril.
Yet, it's not just the visuals that are immersive, Skyrim feels like a living and breathing world and with random events and radiant story, you feel like there is much to experience that is unique to your play-through and actually part of a world that creates its own stories instead of being merely the front end of an interactive storyline, playing out in front of your eyes.
Despite all the glory of atmosphere and 'feel' the game has, there is lots to criticise about the game (at least to me) and most of it comes down to the open-world approach. The lack of a storyline that drags you through the world makes it far less compelling a world than say Bioware games which might give you less freedom of choice, but within the constraints of its focused world lies a storyline that is structured, paced and presented in a way that makes it impossible not to get involved. While there are storylines (even a main storyline) in Skyrim, there is no reason to follow it apart from the fact that you might want to see what the storyline(s) are all about, but as far as progression of your character, the game world or your gear is concerned, it does not matter. This is one of the problems I had with the game, the total freedom I had and the fact that the world changed to accomodate my decisions actually turned out to mean that it really did not matter what I did. Ignore a quest and nothing bad will happen, you can just take your time, no obligation to be a hero, no expectations, no moralities and ultimately no consequence. The fact that the item scale and you will find progressively better items throughout your journeys also means that you do not have to entertain higher pursuits as a hero. Slaying dragons, giants and taking on whole cities, ultimately bears no greater rewards than clearing out a den of common bandits or chasing down wolves, why ? Because the game rewards you depending on your stats and not depending on what you decide to do. Therefore, my level 50 character never felt a more accomplished hero than my level 10 character. I killed some bandits, helped out a few thieves, hunted down many items for strangers and went on many errands, but did I leave my mark on the world or changed the face of Skyrim ? Nope, nobody asked me to and I did not have to. The inevitability of taking on responsibility that comes with games like Mass Effect for example makes it much more enjoyable to be the hero of a story.
I can see where they were going with Skyrim and I think it is a marvellous undertaking, the open world, the radiant story, the immersion of the environment all create a world in which it is easy to get lost in on daily errands, living the life of an adventurer, unfortunately, with the lack of focus and sense of progressions comes something that I am actually trying to avoid in real life and why I play games, experiencing exciting storylines and not a long and tedious life that never ends and that does not go anywhere.
All in all, this is an impressive sandbox game and toolbox for your imagination and I loved the time I had but I could not help but feel that it is going nowhere and in the end, I lost interest in being a random dude doing random things and nothing matters at all.
There are other minor problems in the game such as the awful inventory and menus (make sure to download the mod to fix that) and the complete and utter lack of interesting characters that make you invest time and emotion in them, all the companions are cardboard and so are the rest of the citizens of Skyrim, which is a shame, I never felt sorry for anyone dying and considered everyone a rag-doll with my fantasy playground instead of being part of my gaming experience.
Still, the game is addictive in that is sucks you in and never generates downtime due to the sheer mass and density of content. A little less open world and more true consequences and this would have been the best game ever.