CONFESSION: I have not played enough of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to be all authoritative about it. Realistic explanation: I don't think anyone has.
Maybe the developers at Bethesda have, but otherwise? Skyrim is so goddamn huge, and there's so goddamn much to see and to do, that it helps to think of it less as an RPG and more like a world simulator. With a unified tone, aesthetic, and vision that's rarely seen in open-world games not made by Rockstar, Skyrim essentially turns your TV into a window to an overwhelming fantasy world.
Welcome to Skryim, where you can spend days tearing dragons' souls out of their bodies, sweating in a forge making crappy little daggers, doing inane errands for villagers, reading a library's worth of invented lore, or wandering the 400 billion square miles of terrain—from damp, shadowy caves to craggy, cloud-swept mountaintops. You can explore Skyrim like you're playing a game, sure, burning through quest after quest—but where the experience really opens up is when you simply wander for hours, finding time-worn ruins and deadly challenges.
But none of that is that different from recent Elder Scrolls games like Morrowind and Oblivion. What sets Skyrim apart is that Bethesda seems to be firing on more cylinders. The first-person combat, so awkward and flailing in Morrowind and Oblivion, feels significantly smoother; character animations, while still retaining about 20 percent jankiness, aren't nearly as clunky as they used to be. Things simply feel more organic and convincing, from the gameplay mechanics to the plants, streams, and dragons of this alluring, dangerous world. True, it's no Middle-earth or Westeros—but Skyrim's as beautiful and interesting of a world as I've seen in a game. So I'm going to end this review. Because I want to go back.