One of the deepest open-ended RPGs to date.
Most games earn the unflattering distinction of being catalysts of social destruction. Is the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim any different? No, not really. Yet, if you can allow yourself to cave in, a hugly rewarding experience can be found therein; an experience unlike any game in the market today. The fifth in the hugely successful Elder Scrolls RPG series makes its infallible mark in the fabric of the franchise, and just might possibly be one of the greatest video games ever made. Such a claim is open to contention, but based on my own experiences with Skyrim, I can't recall ever playing anything of such magnitude, and it is unlikely I'll find one quite like it ever again.
One of the reasons I make this claim is because Skyrim is an open-world sandbox that draws various elements from previous games and makes significant improvements over its tried-and-true gameplay formula. And the sheer open-ended nature of Skyrim is nothing short of staggering. After you've created your character from a template of ten different races, you can begin writing your own story soon after you're freed from your constraints and spared the fate of execution at the start of the game. It all might seem taxing at first, but you're soon given a dearth of opportunities to foster individual character growth, chart your story progression and make a name for yourself in a cruel and unforgiving environment. You don't necessarily need to worry about making the wrong or right decisions----anything and everything is pretty much fair game and, while Skyrim itself will not punish you for your actions, the consequences of your decisions can still weigh on you. (Killing innocent civilians and stealing will place a bounty on your head, for example.) On that note, you can choose to pledge your allegiance to one of two powerful factions currently vying for control of Skyrim----the dominant Empire or the Nord-centric freedom-loving Stormcloak Rebellion. You might decide to put off the main story portion of the game indefinitely and focus entirely on the majority of side quests that number damn well near 200----ranging from fetch chores to killing marks and even persuasion and threats.
Character development is fairly straightforward with opportunities to grow health, stamina and magicka as well as consign perks, yet all of that is just as complex as the land of Skyrim itself. Unlike the Elder Scrolls games of the past, Skyrim doesn't give you an explicit class template like a Warrior or a Mage. You're left to create your own unique play style through skill constellations that determine speech, specific weapon efficiency, magic schools like destruction and restoration, style of item crafting, and much more. Perks are singular skills within each individual constellation that grant access to a variety of different abilities---like decapitation, reduced stamina exhaustion, and armor bonuses to name a few. Again, there's no right or wrong way to develop your character, but keep in mind that a poorly-developed adventurer will often run into trouble during later stages of the game, and once you've spent your perks and points, you can't undo them. So long as you decide how you want to play by focusing on the particulars, you'll ensure a path of survival as the journey across Skyrim grows more and more difficult. And, through it all, your character---regardless of race or play style---is burdened with a precarious destiny of being a Dragonborn; a destined hero with an additional repertoire of Shouts that you find throughout the game. They will definitely prove to be helpful when brute force fails on its own. In fact, being a Dragonborn is the reason for the main story portion of Skyrim, but this fact alone isn't necessarily all that important in a gameplay sense---considering everything else the player can do outside of fulfilling their destiny.
Overwhelming as Skyrim is, the game is surprisingly user-friendly. You can fast-travel between towns and dungeons that you've visited as long as you're not encumbered (weighed down), and the UI has been streamlined for easier navigation and stress-free item management. Quest tracking is extraordinarily helpful with distinguishable markers and customizable waypoints that will help steer you in the right direction. You can hire NPCs to fight and journey with you, as well as employ the aid of mounts like horses for faster travel to uninhibited areas. Earning levels are no longer reliant on points and figurative numbers. You'll gain points for your personal experiences in the world through crafting new figments of armor, successfully completing quests, selling items, building up weapon and magic skills and even striking worthwhile conversations with NPCs. This disposes of the drudgeries of monotonous grinding that is clearly evident in other role-playing games, and actually makes the chore of earning levels enjoyable.
Skyrim isn't without its noticeable flaws. As numerous as the quests are, most of them feel like cookie-cutter copycats of one another, making them seem derivative. The most enjoyable quests, however, involve exploration of lengthy dungeons and interacting with NPCs, and some of the stories and dialogue make you feel as if you're a part of that world. Transitional load times disrupt the flow of the experience, but they're relatively few and far between. And, as of this writing, occasional bugs crop up that will have you scratching your head in bewilderment, including rare ones that will disrupt your game progress. Hopefully, Bethesda will continue to implement much needed patches to address these issues, and the game automatically saves at various points so you won't have to worry about backtracking should something happen.
So much effort and time goes into experiencing the vast world of Skyrim that exploring everything that it has to offer will lay claim to every fiber of your social life. And simply finishing the main story portion of the game is missing the point entirely. Skyrim does everything in its known power to ensure that the player truly gets their money's worth, and it succeeds in this endeavor in nearly every way. It may not exactly be for everyone, but Skyrim is certainly a journey worth taking. The only question remains---do you think you're up to it?