After much hype, four prequels and a rap video, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is finally here with additive gameplay and plenty of freedom.

The Elder Scrolls, a fantasy role playing game series, is back and better than ever.  Skyrim now offers more freedom, improving vastly from previous Elder Scrolls, which were all excellent in their own right. Skyrim takes the best parts of those games and makes some considerable changes to the formula, building on the best parts of past games while adding new elements. The result is a familiar system that feels fresh and new.

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A dragon charges in for a fight.

The game's story has to do with dragons returning to the land of Skyrim. The player's character is a dragonborn with the ability to speak the language of the dragon. This results in the new dragon shout mechanic, which are a variety of spells players can cast without the use of Magicka (the resource need to cast spells). But players need to kill dragons and absorb their souls to unlock each shout. This is the main engine of the game's story, as players are compelled to travel across Skyrim, learn the shouts and slay the many dragons of the land.

Though fun and epic the first time, the dragon battles get a bit tedious after a few encounters and crop up at inopportune times. Dragons will swoop in, fight for a bit and fly off, leading you to run for a while to catch up. Though the main story is decent, it almost more fun to ignore it and play through the game's side quests or just explore the vast land of Skyrim.

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A Draugr Lord wakes up ready to fight.

The best part of Skyrim is the sense of freedom it gives players. No matter what the player decides to do there is something interesting to find and endless distractions to take the player off course. You may be asked to recover a lost family heirloom from some bandits, but when you are done clearing out the thieves' den you'll find a treasure map. Before you find that treasure you are attacked by a pack of wolves, and then a dragon swoops by, screaming fire on the whole scene.

The game also gives you time to explore its mechanics without forcing the player to paint themselves into any corners. In traditional RPGs, players get experience from killing enemies and then putting level up points into skills. Also, most of the decisions about what your character will be are made by players at the beginning of the game, when they know the least about the game system.

But in Skyrim you improve your skills by practicing them and the process of building your character is much more organic. When you swing a sword, your sword skills improve. When you forge some armor, your smithing skills go up. When you improve enough skills you then level up, which allows players to invest in perks that helped out your fighting skills or potion making. You can spend the points immediately or wait until you know what you want to do with your character.

Another welcome change is the ability to map different actions to each hand. You can go with the classic sword and shield combo, or throw a healing spell on one hand and a fireball in the other, or you can go sword and then spell. There are tons of different permutations, and the system allows players to discover their own play style.

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A Wood Elf, one of the many playable races in Skyrim.

Overall, Skyrim is a massive game with tons to do, and a review just isn't enough to fully assess the game in its entirety. (A doctoral thesis may do the job.) There is some good storytelling in the game with excellent moments that managed to surprise me. Combat is pretty fun with plenty of ways to dispatch foes. Sometimes when you finish off an opponent with a melee weapon, the camera will switch to the third person and your character will finish off opponents with a little flourish, which is always satisfying.

The most additive feature of Skyrim is improving and shaping your character, which the game gives you much freedom to do. Exploring the game world is also a joy, with plenty of surprises around each bend. The game is rich and deep with plenty to do and offers a lot of replay value. A gamer can spend hundreds of hours exploring Skyrim and then make a whole new character and experience the game in a completely different manner.

I would recommend this game to anyone who has ever played an RPG or enjoys sandbox-type games. Skyrim provides a deep and satisfying expense with plenty to do and tons of surprises.

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One of the many locations in the land of Skyrim.