note: i've used the "multi" prefix because this game is available on both major consoles and PC, but i have only played it on ps3.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a game. for real.
a game that offers a nearly limitless expanse of characters, locations and content. it's so expansive that it's hard to know where to begin, so i'll break it down into sections: Story, Perks, Combat, Characters, Differences From Previous Games and Soundtrack.
i hate using this word because it's entirely over-used, usually in reference to minutia that doesn't come close to deserving the title, but there's only one word that fits: Epic. The main storyline offers the player the chance to do nothing less than save the world from complete destruction. and if that's not enough, the mighty adversary that you face off against is an immortal evil that takes the form of a black-scaled dragon that breathes streams of fire and shouts people to death. are you excited yet?
you begin the game as a nobody about to be executed for... something, it doesn't really matter. then your adversary, Alduin the World-Eater, swoops down and starts wrecking everything. you can choose to follow the imperials, who rule everything everywhere, or the stormcloaks, who feel that the empire is encroaching on their Nordic way of life and want to see them exiled from Skyrim. i always choose the Imperials because i like my indiscriminate slaughter to be organized and calculated. the stormcloaks are just rag tag fighters who care more about brotherly love than extermination of their enemy. but i digest.
after you escape the dragon attack, you're free to go pretty much anywhere. it can be overwhelming to a player new to the TES franchise, having that vast territory opened up and ready for exploring. but stay on track, it's about to get even better.
on your way to see the Jarl of Whiterun, the Greybeards, an ancient cult of dragon enthusiasts, call to you in your tongue - the tongue of the dov. for you are Dovahkiin, or Dragonborn, and the blood of that immortal race runs through you. you are part of an ancient (everything's ancient in this game dontcha know) bloodline of dragon slayers, and once word gets out, everybody wants to be with you. where was i?
so, as Dovahkiin, it's up to you to stop Alduin's ambition of ending this world and ushering in the next. man, why does everybody wanna end the world? first it's Dagoth Ur, then Mehrunes Dagon, now it's Alduin. why can't they find a hobby, like badminton?
okay, so now you start learning the dragon tongue, which is how you unleash your Dovah powers onto unsuspecting townspeople and dragons. your first Thu'um, or shout, has been made famous by internet memes - Fus Roh Dah, or Unrelenting Force. sending people flying into the wild blue yonder never gets old.
The DLC's offer even more greatness. In Dawnguard, first you fight vampires, then you ARE a vampire, then... i don't know i haven't finished it yet. but the new Vampire Lord power is pretty frickin awesome, you turn into this... well, if you know what a Tyropterin is from the Blood series, you have a pretty good idea of what the vampire lord looks like. as a vampire lord you have two modes of carnage - melee, which sucks, and magic, which rocks. you can raise the dead to fight for you, summon gargoyles to... fight for you, drain life, paralyze targets and more. you can even use some of these powers when in human form, which makes you an all around cool guy.
then there's the Dragonborn dlc, in which you have to fight someone else who has the Dovah blood. his realm is called Apocrypha, and it reminds me of some kind of H.P. Lovecraft horror story. some amazing new shouts become available, such as Dragon Aspect, which makes you tough to kill and look pretty.
then there's hearthfire that... i dunno, let's you build houses or some crap.
so the new perk system is a well-thought-out ladder of skills and upgrades that let's you take your character in many different directions. want to make a sneaky assassin who can turn invisible and open any locked door? no problem. want to make a paladin, who strikes enemies down with an enchanted ebony mace, defends with a highly upgraded shield that blocks arrows and stuns enemies, and heals with powerful restoration magic? totally doable. that's what i did. i love paladins. or maybe a pure mage that summons atronochs and shoots lightning, flame and ice from his hands? yup, can do that too. pretty much any playstyle you can think of is available to you, and you can even deviate from these standards builds and make your own personalized class. like an archer-mage-warrior-smith. hell, anything is possible in this game.
the combat system in Skyrim is where the game really shines. the left and right hands can be equipped with any weapon, shield, spell or staff and used independently of each other, further allowing the player to mix things up in their own way. so you can equip a shield and lightning, two axes, a staff and a sword - any mix you can think of, you can do. the combat perks from any tree allow the player to become an uber powerful god of killin stuff, and using the right shout in the middle of a hectic fight can turn the tide in your favor. there's just so many ways to kill stuff in this game, you've got to play it and try them all to really appreciate the diversity.
this is one part of the game that i don't really pay attention to, but the characters i find most interesting are the dragons you can interact with and the Daedra. these beings each have strong personality traits, and are usually somewhat insane or eccentric, driven mad by eternal existance and ultimate power. the Daedra are especially interesting, each having traits that are specific to the aspects that they rule over, such as tasks, pestilence or debauchery. they usually ask you to perform a task, and reward you with a powerful artifact when you complete it.
the human characters aren't so memorable. they're mostly pretty subdued and droll, unless you make them mad, then they start screaming things at you and trying to bash your skull in. they serve their purpose for the story and that's about it. in the DLC's it gets better with more eccentric characters that have stronger personalities, like Noloth, the irritable dark elf who constantly belittles you and makes you feel stupid.
Differences From Previous Games
so there are some glaring differences from previous TES games that some are happy with and some are disappointed with. i'll name a few.
unlike oblivion and morrowind, spellcrafting is no longer available. this was one of the huge downsides that disappointed me the most. i loved creating spells with multiple powerful (and sometimes hilarious) effects. in morrowind spellcrafting was most potent, allowing you to, say, create a spell that fortified your speed 100 points and allowed waterwalking for 180 seconds, so you could quickly hike to your destination. throw in levitation to get over those pesky mountains and you're set. in oblivion it was nerfed a bit, and in skyrim they did away with it altogether. a real shame, in the previous two games i always made characters capable of making and using useful and powerful spells, and looked forward to when i was able to make something i had an idea for but wasn't able to create yet.
the biggest difference between Skyrim and Oblivion is the combat system, which i've already touched on. Skyrim's system is a big upgrade, but many weapon types have slowly been disappearing ever since Morrowind. Oblivion got rid of spears, throwing knives and shurikens and all sorts of strange and cool weapons. Skyrim did away with even more, such as the short sword. things have become more and more dumbed down with every game, to appeal to a wider audience. in some respects it makes the game easier to enjoy without having to worry about all the little details like attributes, but more hardcore players like myself miss tinkering with our characters to get the perfect setup.
another difference is the way your character levels up. in Morrowind, at the creation of your character, you could choose five major skills and five minor skills. when you increased any combination of either or major or minor skills ten times, you were eligible to level up.
in oblivion things got simplified - you chose seven major skills, and when you increased any combination of these ten times, you could level. however, you had to sleep on a bed to do it, which was always a major annoyance for me. i never understood why you couldn't just take a bedroll with you and flop into it whenever you wanted to.
in skyrim, things are further simplified. you do not choose major/minor skills - leveling any skill will contribute to your character level. the "level a skill ten times to level your character" system is gone. instead, each level you attain in a skill will contribute that much character XP to you level. so say i just increased smithing from 23 to 24. that means 24 XP will be added to my character's XP pool. so leveling a lower skill will not have as much effect as a higher one. also, over-training skills has no negative consequence as whatever XP you earn once you're eligible to level is put towards your next level requirements.
man, this is where Skyrim stands head and shoulders above other games. the scores are perfectly suited to whatever situation you're in, from serene, soft music for galloping uninterrupted across the countryside, to thrilling, sharp scores that get your blood flowing when you're fighting bandits, to the soaring, choir-filled scores that accompany a dragon attack. the minute details in these scores can be fully appreciated only if you pay attention to them - they usually supplement the action, not overpower it. the only game i can think of that has a more powerful soundtrack would be the Dark Souls franchise - but that game is endless silence punctuated by thrilling music that lasts until the boss battle is over, then it's back to silence again. Skyrim offers its soundtrack consistently, and each track blends seamlessly into the next.
this game has won the hearts (and free time) of many gamers. despite being an older title, it still commands a respectable player base, and thanks to a dev-supported modding community, i don't see this game sinking into oblivion until the next TES arrives.
so there you have it. if you haven't played this game (and that would be hard to believe), you're missing out. who doesn't want to slay a dragon? no one. everyone wants to slay a dragon. except maybe Obama, he's got better things to worry about.