Traditionally, role-playing games are of Japanese origin. In fact, up until recently, almost all quality RPGs were from the Land of the Rising Sun. In the past 10 years, however, one American developer has been edging closer and closer to perfection with its ongoing RPG saga “The Elder Scrolls.”

That developer is Bethesda Softworks. And, with the release of “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” it has come as close to RPG perfection as any American developer has before.

The “Elder Scrolls” universe was born way back in 1994. However, until the third installment of the series, “Morrowind,” the series gained only critical acclaim – not mainstream popularity. That all changed with “Morrowind,” and the commercial success ramped up with the next installment, 2006’s “Oblivion,” which was the first to be simultaneously released on Xbox 360 and PC.

Fast-forward five years to this year’s release date of “Skyrim,” Nov. 11. “The Elder Scrolls” has grown to a multi-platform, worldwide phenomenon.

The plot of “Skyrim” begins 200 years after the conclusion of the events of Oblivion. So, like all the games in the “Elder Scrolls” series, it is not a direct sequel but more of a spiritual successor.

The story is set in the fictional province of Skyrim, which is contained within the continent of Tamriel. It starts with the player as a prisoner (a familiar position to veterans of the series) who is sentenced to death. With your head on the chopping block, it seems all is lost when the player is rescued by the appearance of a dragon – a creature that has been naught but a myth for as long as anyone in Skyrim can remember. Upon escaping from the dragon and laying the town to waste, what to do next is entirely up to the player.

Gameplay will be old hat to anyone who’s played any entry in the “Elder Scrolls” series. For those new to the experience, the player starts out selecting between nine different races of characters. Once the player is turned loose upon the province of Skyrim, they may wander anywhere and do anything.

Along the way, the player will encounter enemies such as bandits, wild animals, mythical creatures and more. When these adversarial encounters arise, the player may fight back with any combination of magic, medieval melee weaponry or archery.

Unfortunately, while an improvement on the past games, the combat in “Skyrim” is little more than a hack-and-slash affair. Certainly, it is more complex than “Golden Axe” of the ancient arcade days. But, in most cases, little strategy needs to be applied to win a battle. The sheer freedom of options between weapons, magic and even the shallow tactical approaches alleviates this problem somewhat, however.

As with any RPG, performing actions – archery, lockpicking, sneaking, etc. – repeatedly level up the skills that govern these actions. Eventually, the player’s overall level increases. This is where the new “perks” come into play.

Those who have played Bethesda’s “Fallout 3″ or “Fallout: New Vegas” will understand perks from the get-go. But, put simply, perks allow you to pick an ability or an increase in stats toward making your character stronger.

Most players choose to play from a first-person perspective. However, in a first for the series, it is possible to play in third-person and not feel ridiculous at how the animations look.

The real beauty of “Skyrim” is not in the combat, the quests or the interactions – with approximately 1,000 non-player characters. The beauty of “Skryim” lies in how all of this fits together, in combination with the amazing world of Skyrim itself.

Bethesda has built an incredible, gorgeous 16 square miles of territory ripe for exploration. Although this is the same size as Oblivion, the world is infinitely more diverse, and, as a result, beautiful. Never before in a game could one spend time traipsing through the forest without any particular goal in mind than to admire the scenery. The real world has a run for its money in Skyrim.

This all sounds amazing, but it may leave those on the fence wondering: What can I do in Skyrim? An easier question to answer would be: What can’t I do? The game affords you the opportunity to be a member of an elite assassination guild, the chance to be part of a thieving ring, the challenge of choosing a side in the Skyrim civil war and leading it to victory, the “prospect” of drinking entirely too much and having to search for your possessions ? la “The Hangover;” the list goes on and on.

“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” is not perfect, however. There are bugs here and there, though Bethesda is usually quick about fixing them. As always, when playing a Bethesda-made game it is important to save often, especially since the game allows you to save anywhere at any time. Some animations are a bit awkward, some textures could use work and the voice acting is spotty at times. These flaws, however bothersome they may be, are not game-breaking, and the sheer brilliance value of Skyrim makes the flaws negligible.

In its first week of release alone, more than seven million people entered into the mythical realm known as Skyrim. Anyone left out should now be convinced if there is one game to buy this holiday season, it is” Skyrim.” While there are flaws, they are few and unimportant enough to be hardly worthy of mention. Skyrim’s creators promise it offers 300+ hours of gameplay; if one does the math, that is one dollar for every five hours of beautiful, fun, immersive and addicting gameplay. A better deal would be hard to come by.

Regen McCracken is a junior intending to major in journalism. Questions, comments and Skyrim intervention help can be directed to [email protected].

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