I finally dived in and bought the latest masterpiece from the craftsmen at Bethesda Software, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It is everything I wanted from an open world game and more. That being said there are still some issues I have with the game, but mostly it is polished to a sheen that is unmatched.
First and foremost the skill system is amazing. Leveling up your character based on how you perform actions is still very intuitive and seems like a common sense way of leveling up. More games should adapt this, especially those that are open ended. It is much better than looking at a stat sheet and saying "In (X) amount of XP I will level up!". Sure there are still numbers associated with Skyrim's level up system, a necessary evil, but everything is pretty ambiguous to the point where you aren't watching each individual skill because there are so many skills that relate to one another that you will level up skills that you aren't even trying to, but make sense for your character to gain ranks in. I am constantly leveling up my Alchemy skill, despite hardly ever experimenting on alchemy tables. I am leveling simply by picking up random ingredients because I feel forced to interact with every item on the ground.
The stories are decent, nothing to write home about, especially considering the high quality stories the fantasy realm is used to receiving (LotR). However, the story is more supplemental to the gameplay as apposed to a vice versa situation such as Mass Effect, where the story drives the gameplay. Gameplay drives the story in this case. There are some cool things, such as a surprise twist in the Companions source of power, but it isn't really world changing. Most of the storylines are condensed into individual regions and it rarely feels like you are making a world impact as apposed to a local impact. This influence that focuses on the smaller stories is great if you were forced into a small portion of land, but this being a Bethesda game, if you can see it, you can get there. Your exploits as a Companion might feel long and winded to you, but it isn't relevant to anyone else in Skyrim. It feels disappointing because given the main storyline of you being a returned bloodline of legend feels half-baked because of the realms of influence.
The combat is pretty solid, but I still find much to be desired from the melee system Bethesda has been using for their games. It just seems like you mindlessly swing as your character jerks forward, which makes it very hard to control. At least the third person camera has improved from Fallout 3, but there is still much to be desired from the clunky animations. The ranged combat still kind of holds up, but firing one bow is still the same from every other bow. There was no effort to add to the repertoire of ranged weaponry. I would have loved to seen some other weapons, like maybe javelins and crossbows, just to mix it up a bit. Magic has a strong revamp if you use all classes together, but focusing on one specific type of magic, such as destruction, often yields mixed results.
The dragons are the hallmark of the game and they don't disappoint early on. One you hit your stride around level 30 or so though dragons simply become a minor nuisance that offer a minor change in combat from the bandits and thugs that you normally fight. It usually boils down to waiting for the dragon to land and then hitting it a few times, having it take off and dodging the aerial attacks, having it land and hitting it, rinse and repeat. At lower levels when you have very little in the way of power it is a challenge, but later on they just show up and you take care of them, moving on. I wish they would have scaled better.
All in all I can't wait to keep playing Skyrim to finish all of the various quest lines, and the mods on the PC end give it infinite replay value. Once the first DLC hits I am sure it will help bring me back in. All in all it is a stellar game and I am glad I finally took the plunge.