Bethesda create worlds. That world is Tamriel, a land of great beauty and breathtaking spectacle and Skyrim, it's northern province, is no exception.
The art design is fantastic, the soundtrack glorious, the quantity and quality of things to experience within it's cold, jagged enviroment are a testament to the ability of Bethesda to craft a living, breathing sandbox.
Character development has been trimmed and refined, stats are gone but the rpg element is not dumbed down. Progression feels far more natural with no need to game the system to pump up the stats you want, with each level providing an opportunity to increase health, magicka or stamina, along with a perk. Each choice has a tangible effect on how you play the game and beefing up a particular skills' perk tree is very satisfying. Combat, magical and melee, feel the best in the series yet, stealth and archery are also very well done.
Graphics are improved over Oblivion and Fallout 3, but not by that much, yet again it is the art design that is so much better. From the grimy, earthy look of the Nords to the sleek and deadly Dark Elf, the characters look more natural and less plastic wrapped and shiny than those of Oblivion. Voice acting too is better for the most part although there is one awful voice actor who seems a regular in these games who sounds like a teacher reading to a class of infants. Max Von Sydow and Christopher Plummer lend their talents to the game so the bad is certainly eclipsed by the good.
The quests come thick and fast and it is not long before you have a shopping list of tasks to complete and many will lead you to the underside of Skyrim, to the dungeons and crypts. I have enjoyed each and every barrow, temple, tower and treacherous cave i have assaulted. They are well designed and feel hand crafted. Each has a tale to tell and while there is no lengthy exposition explaining the back story it is perfectly illustrated in the details of the surroundings.
The game has the usual Bethesda glitches and bugs. Dragon corpses and other dead bodies you just wish would disappear sometimes seem to drop from the sky right before you, performing a shaky, shaky limb dance before they come to rest. I had one decapitated enemies head thrown at me whenever i re-entered a particular area, flung by his angry ghost perhaps. These, along with some other oddities, are little things and have become part of the Bethesda experience and is an easy price to pay for a game of such scope and depth.
So why two stars for such an amazing game?
The PS3 version of Skyrim plays progessively worse the more time you spend in it. The PS3 owners i know who have also bought and played Skyrim suffer from the same problem (we don't have a decent PC j/k) the game reaches a point, after you have sunk many hours into it, where it starts lagging. And the lag gets worse and worse. It effectively kills possibly one of the best, most well crafted and involving games i have played in ages. Maybe ever. Travelling outside or heading into a town becomes unplayable, controller functions non-responsive. It is heartbreaking.
If the lag problem was fixed i would recommend Skyrim without question to those with the time and desire to explore and experience a fantastic world. You still can for the first 20-40 hours of play but just as you start to really dig into the game it starts flaking out on you. Some PS3 owners seem to not suffer the problem as soon as others and maybe there are some lucky owners who haven't suffered at all with the lag. But for me unfortunately Skyrim is a masterpiece of gaming that revealed itself to be broken.