As you pull your sword from the necromancer's chest, spraying their blood across the white ground, your companion is caught off-guard by a cone of fire spewing forth from the end of a rival sorcerer's palm. You can only watch as your personal bodyguard is engulfed in flames, her last thoughts only on defending her thane. Before you can react, you hear it. The high-pitched whine of a blood dragon, come to claim your soul for the dragon lord Alduin.
This is just another day in the wintry wastes of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
In the years since the title's predecessor, Oblivion, Bethesda has been hard at work producing some of the top role-playing experiences this side of a d20. The first aspect of Skyrim gamers will notice is that the game borrows heavily from its sister series, Fallout. To some this evolution may make some gamers retire from the battlefield, but fans of the post-apocalyptic initiative may not see the light of day in time for finals.
Whatever your role-playing preference may be, the game itself is beautiful, boundless and – to summarize using one colloquial Internet phrase – epic.
Simply put, the game's world is massive. Somewhere in the ballpark of 16 square miles, this dragon-infested territory represents one of the most expansive game maps in the history of the genre, though surprisingly, not the largest of the series.
The winged lizards that inhabit Skyrim's airspace both mold the game into an unforgettable experience and intentionally insult players, as dragons mostly come at inopportune times.
Escorting the raiding party to eradicate a den of thieves? Not anymore. Just came from a multi-level dungeon that drained every last drop of healing in your satchel? Skyrim doesn't care, meet dragon.
As a nicety, the game has taken companionship to new heights as picking up a compadre is more of a benefit than a hassle in the game's abundant skirmishes. Early in the game's main quest players pick up a housecarl (Read: underpaid lackey) that would follow the character on quests from here to the gates of Oblivion and back.
The game's main quest consists of stopping the dragon lord Alduin, The World Eater, from doing what he does best: eating the world. As the last Dovahkiin, players must join forces with the land's greatest heroes of old to conquer the keep and stop Alduin from receiving his entree. As a dragon-born, players will conquer the scaled monstrosities and devour their ash-encrusted souls, providing the player further insight into the dragon language and a usable Thu'um – Dragon Shout – to cast on any who oppose their raucous wrath.
What really separates Skyrim from its dungeon-delving competitors is that its main plot is merely a drop in the cauldron compared to what's available for the player in the game. Factions like the stalwart Companions – Skyrim's equivalent to the fighters guild – The College of Winterhold, and the decisively deadly Dark Brotherhood are just a few of the possible coalitions and causes the player can join.
Leveling in the game has undergone a serious evolution in the past five years. Players are left with fewer skills than they remember but compensated with a perk system that is both innovative and streamlined. Instead of perks getting assigned at skill levels 25, 50, 75 and 100, Skyrim gives players the opportunity to invest one point per level in any of the game's multifaceted skill trees.
Bethesda has done a phenomenal job following up its series after winning 2006 and 2007 Game of the Year Awards for Oblivion. For all intents and purposes, Skyrim will be a serious competitor (if not shoe-in) for this year's awards. Admittedly, Skyrim can't seem to shake the plague of bugs that littered its predecessor, and at points, enters near unplayability. For many PlayStation 3 owners, the game's code often slows to a crawl at points, bottlenecked by the game's stunning environment.
In a world rife with ore to be mined, armor to be forged and weapons to be crafted, Skyrim has enough content to keep meticulous gamers occupied for eras to come. The sheer amount of content Bethesda provides to the player and the feeling of contentment that comes from indulging in Skyrim's wintry world, is unrivaled.
Ready your blade, saddle that horse and pick up a case of your favorite energy drink, it's going to be a long few months in Tamriel.