In proper Elder Scrolls fashion you start the game as a prisoner and events unfold that set you on your quest. In this case your execution is interrupted by a Dragon attack when dragons haven't been seen for centuries.
The tutorial is handled in the form of your daring escape from the dragon attack, teaching you to jump, fight, cast spells, and sneak about, introducing different styles of play so you get a feel for what you want to do. At the end of the tutorial you emerge blinking into the realm of Skyrim and are told to meet someone in the nearby town. You are then turned loose on the world to do as you see fit. If you played Oblivion this may sound rather familiar, however the idea wasn't really broken so they saw no reason to change it.
The Leveling Overhaul:
Despite the tutorial being similar to Oblivion, the mechanics of Skyrim have gone through a considerable change and while many of the core ideas from Morrowind and Oblivion are intact, the stats and skill system has gone through a major overhaul. Instead of customizing a class with preferred skills and raising a dozen different physical and mental stats, Skyrim has simplified things with only three main stats, Mana, Health, and Stamina. The skills are still intact, however the movement skills have been removed, focusing instead on the main combat, magic, and stealth skills, allowing for a more focused presentation.
Leveling has been completely changed, where in Oblivion only your class skills would raise your experience, in Skyrim all skills give you experience toward your next level. Instead of getting stronger through an increase of dozens of stats you gain Talent points you can spend in the various Skill talent trees. These talents require a certain level of skill to be taken, so as your character grows at a certain skill you are rewarded with better talents.
Both Hands Ready:
Skyrim is built on the idea of using both of your hands in combat, whether its a sword and shield, a two-handed battle-axe or a combination of spells. As a result you can have a sword readied in one hand and a spell in the other, and can use both at the same time if you are so inclined. The various talents you gain as you level can help further improve your dual wielding ability, and encourages a variety of spell and weapon combinations.
Where previous Elder Scrolls gave you the framework of classes to build your character out of, and barraged you with a landslide of options and stats to worry about. Skyrim seems to be trying to make things easier and allow you to make a truly unique character that grows exactly how you want them to, anything and everything you do is making your character grow stronger. Grinding up skills to try to gain an optimal stat increase has been done away with, and everything seems remarkably streamlined so as not to detract from the game.
While sometimes 'streamlining' can be a dirty word in videogames, often equated with dumbing things down, these changes seem to actually enhance the game and cost none of the customization and depth that the Elder Scroll series is known for.
Overall Impressions at 5:
I didn't want to stop playing to make this review. While I have been a fan of the Elder Scrolls series for several years, despite the changes to the old stat heavy presentation of the previous games, I think Skyrim is quickly becoming one of my favorite iterations of the game. Leveling is cleaner and easier, removing skill grinding to reach optimal stats, combat is more interesting with larger variety of play styles readily available, and the story quickly thrusts you into the center of events, while still encouraging exploration. On that note, back to playing Skyrim for me.