D-PADS AND DICE - Fight the empire – or be the empire

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A character in the Edler Scrolls V: Skyrim fantasy world video game.

Big is the word that floats to the top of my consciousness when I think of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

When you start the video game, it's hard to tell just how big it is since it pipes you through a choreographed sequence designed to establish the major conflicts in the province of Skyrim. Essentially, there are rebels and dragons. They may be related, they also might not be - you won't really be sure at first. You can totally ignore one or both if you want to; the game's OK with that as well.

In fact, the game is OK with you doing basically anything you can conceivably do within the bounds of its rules.

You can, for instance, sneak around in darkness stealing things if that sounds interesting to you. You can raise the dead or throw balls of fire from your hands if that's more your style. Just hit monsters in caves with an axe if you'd like.

Whatever you do you'll get better at doing it over time, both as you develop your ability to play and because your character will get bonuses to their performance the more they do something. Pick a lot of locks and you will have an easier time picking locks, for instance.

As interesting as all this sounds, in execution it does all feel a bit rough. It's filled with a lot of things that mostly work well, but occasionally don't. Fights range from boring to fun to randomly really hard, and it can be tough to predict which it'll be before you're neck deep in combat, for example.

I tend to not care much about these issues, however. Skyrim's gameplay exists less for its own sake, and more to give the Nordic inspired fantasy realm the feel of being a real place. You can work your way up the ladder of organized crime, or take classes at a magic school with more than a few eerie similarities to Hogwarts. You can fight the empire, or be the empire.

And all of it's in the larger context of a surprisingly detailed world filled with stuff to see and do that has nothing whatsoever to do with any of that. There are so many little details you'll stumble upon just wandering around the mountains of Skyrim too, ancient tombs and bandit fortresses, and sometimes people who will ask for your help.

I've probably played too much Skyrim recently, and if you like the idea of exploring a massive fantasy world, you probably will too.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was developed and published by Bethesda Softworks. It's suggested retail prices is $59.95, and is available for PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

Walla Wallan Noah Hinz is a tabletop and electronic games aficionado, studying graphic arts at the Evergreen State College. Send him your questions and comments at noahhinz@gmail.com.

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