Normally my gaming habits are fairly scattered and it takes me a week or more to reach the 20 hour checkpoint even with a game I like. Skyrim is breaking my usual patterns, as I struggle to focus my thoughts from yet another night of playing entirely to late into the evening. As a result I can't cleanly break down where the 10 hour checkpoint stopped and the 20 hour started, so i'm combining both into this review.
A World not a Power Curve.
Skyrim has taken a step away from the previous Elder Scroll entries by reducing amount of level scaling that happens in the game. Instead of making sure you're always fighting level appropriate monsters, the difficulty of the enemies you face depends entirely on where you are. Ice Giant camps are around regardless of level, and some areas have Sabercat problems, while others are more overrun with Wolves, it all depends what you're lucky or unlucky enough to encounter as you wander about Skyrim. Instead of the monsters you meet arbitrarily changing with your level different areas seem to have preferences in wildlife that occupy the area, so it feels more like a world instead of a game and establishes a sense of immersion.
Procedural Generation as a World Building Tool:
My programmer background was intrigued by the mention of procedural content in Skyrim. While I was skeptical of how well implemented procedural quests would work, i'm fairly impressed so far. While I can tell certain quests are designed quests, others are more ambiguous, and I'm often not sure if what I'm doing is a procedurally generated quest or not, and that gets a passing mark in my book.
The world seems to change and react to your actions or inaction. I had an encounter when I first went to Whiterun where a group of the Companions were finishing a fight with a Ice Giant, and they came over and fussed at me for not helping. Later while battling a group of evil mages in a ruin I came under attack by a dragon. It's little events and details like that where you're never sure if what's happening is procedural or scripted that draw you into the world.
Combat and Playstyle:
I've been impressed that the game seems to reward a variety of combat styles, and different enemies are easier or harder depending on your combat style. Some enemies are easier to take down with a flurry of power attacks and melee techniques, while others reward magic use, and yet others are easier to pick apart at range. I've been leaning toward a stealth oriented style with a mix of both melee and ranged attacks, but it doesn't always work well, and sometimes spells are more effective.
It feels like the game is trying to reward the effort you make no matter how you choose to advance your character, whether it's magic, melee, or craft and cunning. Everything serves toward making your character stronger in one way or another, and it feels like there is no 'wrong' way to build your character, just more difficult ones depending on what you're dealing with.
I've explored several ruins, and yet it hasn't gotten samey the way the 'random' dungeons in Oblivion did. Instead of each dungeon feeling like variations on the same template, each dungeon and location seems to tell it's own story. There are little details that tell stories that make each thing unique, one place is 'haunted' by an insane thief with a potion that makes him look like a ghost, at another Dark Mages experiment on a group of captured vampires, each location seems to have a story to tell instead of being an excuse to fight things.
There are also other little details like the addition of killing blow animations and other minor improvements that add up to place Skyrim as easily my favorite Elder Scrolls game, and probably among my favorite RPGs.
While I am nowhere near completing the game, I'm looking forward to spending more time exploring Skyrim.
My quest logs seem to grow larger, with each area I explore opening into several new things to do and locations to check out. Even when I'm not on a quest and just exploring an area for explorations sake I'm likely to run into some manner of quest.
While nothing is perfect, and Skyrim does have some fiddly things to get used to, the good greatly outweighs the bad, and while it may not beat Arkham City on short term enjoyment, I get the feeling that the replay value of Skyrim while probably have more staying power. I sprung for the collectors edition of the game, and despite the rather high price tag the game has followed through and I have no regrets for dropping some extra cash to support such a great game.
If you've enjoyed any of the previous Elder Scrolls, Skyrim is a must. Even if you've never played them before this is an excellent addition to anyone that likes fantasy games, and might even serve as a good introduction to RPGs for gamers that have otherwise never been exposed to an RPG.