Basically you have a main quest (which you don’t even have to stick to) that gives you a lot of options for what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it, and a half billion side quests, which are spread across a humongous map that is extremely detailed and completely interactive.
Within the first 5 minutes of the game you get the quick, what-you-need-to-know history of what’s going on in this map. Books and characters throughout the story will tell you a lot more. You’re able to make your own opinion based on what you’re told and take certain sides or say certain things based off of your opinion. Your character is dropped in the middle of a civil war, you can join either side or attempt to stay neutral and uninvolved. It’s completely your choice. and the game really doesn’t push you to believe that one side is evil and the other isn’t.
The world history is remarkable. There are thousands of books spread out throughout the map. Most of these books will tell you a bit more about the history behind the continent that you are on. They will tell you about the different races/species that live on this continent, what they believe, and how they came to be where they are.
You get to choose your character’s species, fighting style, personality, gender, and appearance. Unlike games like the Legend of Zelda, Mario, or Halo series, you aren’t set playing a specific character, and unlike games like Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect you aren’t stuck being human when there are so many other things you’d like to get a chance to be. Skyrim gives you 4 species options, Elven (or Mer), Human, Argonian, and Khajit, and the elven and human species are divided up into races as well. Bosmer (wood elf), Dunmer (dark elf), Orsimer (orc), and Altmer (high elf) are all playable elven races, with two others, Falmer (snow elf) and Dwemer (dwarf), left unplayable. The human races are Breton, Imperial, Redguard, and Nord. So you’re given 10 choices for race, after that you get to choose appearance, which, unlike KOTOR but a lot like Mass Effect, is highly customizable.
Fighting style is way too customizable for me to really get into it. Basically there are 18 skills that you are able to advance in. The more combat related ones are Archery, Block (used for shields and blocking blows with weapons, if you aren’t using a shield), Heavy Armor, Light Armor, One Handed (used for one-handed swords, axes, maces, and daggers, including dual wielding), Two Handed (battle axes, greatswords, and warhammers), Sneak, and the 5 magic skills (Alteration, Conjuration, Destruction, Illusion, and Restoration). You also have 6 skills that are rarely used in combat, these being Alchemy, Enchanting, Speech, Smithing (imagine forging a new set of armor while fighting a dragon... that would work...), Lockpicking, and Pickpocket.
You are given the option of living in any of the 9 “holds” (basically a county) within Skyrim. The 9 holds are, The Reach (Markarth), The Pale (Dawnstar), Hjaalmarch (Morthal), Eastmarch (Windhelm), The Rift (Riften), Haafinger (Solitude), Whiterun, Winterhold, and Falkreath Hold. In all of the holds except for Falkreath Hold, The Pale, and Hjaalmarch, you can buy a house within the capital city. In these other three, if you have the Hearthfire DLC, you buy land outside of town and build your own, extremely customizable, house. What this means is that your character is given the chance to be more than a passer-by, or random adventuring murder hobo. You’re given a chance to put down roots, get married, buy a house, adopt a kid or two. You get to be part of a community, not just protect, or, if you are a darker character, destroy it.
So the game is highly customizable... So was the Sims?
Well, I’ll talk more about that in a bit, cause the fact is that Skyrim is just too epic a game to get only one article on how awesome it is. ;)