Your journey will be full of many perils. Just as remnants of the kingdom’s shadow guardians, the Blades, will offer their aid, crafty agents of the Thalmor seeking to advance their own cause will impede your quest. Find knowledge and prove yourself, Dragonborn and even the revered Greybeards will allow an audience to learn of their ancient Draconic arts.
Now great adventurer, free yourself from bondage; take up blade or spell, bow or axe; fulfill your destiny or watch as the world ends around you.¹
Welcome to Skyrim.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the fifth installment of Bethesda Softworks’ award-winning series of RPG titles set in the mystical continent of Tamriel. Like its predecessors, Skyrim is a very open-ended game. You are not forced into a liner path of progression; instead, the entire province of the Nords is open to explore at any point you wish. Hundreds of quests, over 150 dungeons, and hordes of enemies will keep the player busy for countless hours, even if they choose not to pursue the main questline of the game. Skyrim is what the player wants it to be.
At the beginning of the game, you will be prompted to create your character. There are a wide variety of features to manipulate; your character can be one of ten unique races, male or female, with different advantages and drawbacks. Choose to be a stalwart Imperial, a lithe Khajiit, a brutish Orc, or anything in between. The sheer number of possible tweaks to your character’s look lets you mold just about any sort of character.
But it doesn’t end merely at your character’s appearance. Skyrim’s character development system has been radically altered from the methods of Morrowind and Oblivion, two earlier titles in the series. Like the games before it, the player does not gain experience in the traditional sense, as in World of Warcraft; instead, your character has two sets of “levels”. As the player, you can practice various skills to increase your skill levels, which will both increase that skill’s potency and add experience to your character level. Maxing out your character level experience bar will advance your character level by one.
However, unlike Morrowind and Oblivion, class selection (choosing the skills and attributes that your character will be most adept with) is no longer used. Instead, the player can utilize perk points gained upon increasing their character level to advance their mastery of a particular skill tree. With this system, you can choose to become a fearsome warrior, a powerful mage, a stealthy thief, a legendary craftsman, or any combination thereof. In other words, your character is whatever you choose it to be, and he or she will not be hindered by inefficient level-ups that plagued the residents of Morrowind and Oblivion.
Aside from basic leveling and allocation of perk points, you can further define your character’s potential further on in the game. One can opt to become a vampire or werewolf, or join a guild that suits his or her tastes. Some may prefer to adopt the persona of a virtuous hero, while others revel in the thrill of murdering indiscriminately. No matter what you choose to do, the land of Skyrim will change and adapt to the choices you make.
Skyrim bases combat on three attributes: Health, Magicka, and Stamina. Health is the standard “HP” system for nearly all RPGs; should your Health drop to zero when in combat, you will die. Magicka is the substitute for “mana” in similar games; your Magicka reserves dictate how many spells you can cast. Stamina governs how long you can sprint, the number of strong attacks you can make, and how much equipment you can carry.
You have a multitude of options in combat, depending on your preferred method of killing. One-handed weapons can be combined with shields to play a defensive role in battle, or two weapons can be wielded together to maximize damage output. A single two-handed weapon might suit your needs, or perhaps the allure of sniping a foe at long range with a bow or magical spell appeals more to you. Each type of weapon has distinct advantages and disadvantages; for example, one might encounter an enemy that is resistant to standard weaponry, yet falls easily to spells that utilize fire. Another might be immune to fire entirely, but vulnerable to the bow. Adjust your tactics to fit the given situation, and improvise when an opponent’s weakness cannot be easily exploited.
Skyrim introduces the concept of Shouts, which lets the player imbue their voice with various magical effects, all of which can turn the tide in an otherwise hopeless confrontation. For example, if you are faced against a powerful foe atop a cliffside, you could use a particular Shout to push them off the cliff and avoid battle entirely! Before you can use a Shout, however, you must first learn the words for it; these words can often be found in dungeons across the province of Skyrim, so be sure to explore wherever you can to learn them all.
However, even with the myriad of options at your disposal, sometimes you’ll find that you just cannot progress without being overwhelmed by enemies or other obstacles. Should you find that an area is too difficult for you to explore without perishing, you have a few modes of recourse. You can recruit various followers, AI-controlled allies that will fight alongside you for a fee (or even for free). Other times, you may want to return to the area when you are a higher level, but enemies in Skyrim will often become stronger as you do. If all else fails, you can modify the difficulty settings to make a particular encounter more manageable. As with everything in Skyrim, the choice is yours.
Perhaps the greatest reason for the ongoing success and longevity of Morrowind and Oblivion is the sheer amount of gameplay-enhancing mods; it’s inevitable that Skyrim will also enjoy the benefits of mods. Should you become bored with “vanilla” Skyrim, there are hundreds of different mods of any given type that you can install to rejuvenate your playing experience. You can enhance the textures in the world of Skyrim to make a high-resolution world; add a bevy of new weapons, armor, and general items; modify and even create new enemies, skills, towns, dungeons, and quests; and do essentially anything you could ever dream of to breathe new life into a previously dull adventure.
UESP.net: A wiki-type reference site dedicated to the Elder Scrolls series, with enormous amounts of information.
The Elder Scrolls Wikia: An alternate wiki site, should one find fault with UESP.net.
Skyrim Nexus: An essential site for anyone wishing to mod their game, with uploads of nearly all mods for Skyrim thus far.
¹Taken from UESP.net.