On paper, Skyrim sounds like your high school English teacher's ultimate fantasy. In practice, it is one of 2011's greatest adventures. That is, of course, assuming you can keep your mind on the quest at hand.
Nearly every inch of Skyrim seems designed to prevent Dovahkiin, the Dragonborn, from fulfilling his destiny and saving the world. The land of Skyrim is blanketed in forest, pocked by snowcapped mountains, littered with villages and cities and honeycombed with caverns and ruins. Minute details stand out in contrast to the vastness of the land, from the distinct architecture of a Dwemer ruin to the lazily discarded bottles of mead in a bandit stronghold.
So how, exactly, is a prophesied hero supposed to stay on task? What begins as the story of an unlikely savior soon becomes the legend of an unfocused adventurer drunk on the allure of the quest. Inside every tavern is a citizen looking for help. Over every hill is an abandoned mine, an overrun fortress or an ancient ruin begging to be explored.
Underneath the quest lies a deep and refined character building system, itself another distraction. Nearly every action bestows experience in a specific skill, allowing players to craft their own Dovahkiin without wedging them into predefined niches. From traditional fighters and thieves to unconventional brawling alchemists or sneaky conjurers, anything is possible, given enough effort. While the world remains in peril, and Dovahkiin's fate goes unfulfilled, you may find yourself grinding skills, gaining experience, all to unlock just one more perk.
And should you, by a herculean force of will, shake off all the quests, ignore all the tantalizing landmarks and begin to follow your destiny once more: there will be dragons. With an uncanny certainty, the moment distraction wanes and focus returns, you will hear the sound of wing beats in the sky, a leathery, scaly challenge to your courage.
Whether you stand your ground and fight or tuck tail and run, it doesn't matter. Skyrim has won again, determined to keep you blissfully off track and well off the beaten path.
Joystiq has revealed its 10 favorite games of 2011. Keep reading for every writer's personal, impassioned picks in Best of the Rest roundups. The final list:
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
- Portal 2
- Batman: Arkham City
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution
- Saints Row: The Third
- Shadows of the Damned
- Dark Souls
- Gears of War 3
- Mortal Kombat