After Hours

Geek Gifts 2012: The Elder Scrolls V - Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is one of the most remarkable open-world RPGs ever produced and is destined to become a landmark game.

With the preponderance of massively multiplayer games, followed by the mobile device revolution, the single-player role playing game (RPG) has spent about a decade simmering on the back burner of the gaming public's collective minds. For many, the single-payer RPG was just not a genre worth paying attention too.

But all that has changed with the release of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Using the wisdom gathered from years of RPG game development, the team at Bethesda has put together one of the most remarkable open-world RPGs ever produced. It is on the short list for 2011 game of the year on just about any list that matters and is destined to be remembered fondly long after its best days have passed.


  • Minimum PC requirements (Retail box):
    • PC Processor Type: Dual Core processor
    • PC Processor Speed: 2GHz
    • PC Operating System: Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7
    • PC System Memory: 2GB RAM
    • PC Hard Drive Space: 7GB
    • PC Video: 512MB DirectX 9.0c-compatible video card
    • PC Drive Type and Speed: DVD
    • PC Additional Requirements: Acceptance of the Steam Subscriber Account (SSA) and Internet connection required for activation, Internet service required to access online features
    • PC Optional Requirements: Supports Xbox 360 controller for Windows
  • Platforms:
    • PC retail box
    • PC download
    • Xbox 360
    • PlayStation 3
  • ESRB: Mature - there is violence and lots of mead drinking
  • Cost: $50 to $60 - watch for sales


I don't want to give too much away, but your character starts the game with his/her head on the chopping block. You are saved when a very big and very angry dragon interrupts the proceedings. From that point on, you know that your character's overall destiny is tied to that event and to the "dragon problem." However, how you choose to unravel the mystery is entirely up to you.

Courtesy of Bethesda

What I like

  • Open-world: There are very few restrictions in how you play Skyrim. After your escape from the executioner's axe you are free to pick a direction and just see where it leads you. The primary epic quest, which you know right away involves you saving Skyrim from marauding dragons, is completely optional. The secondary epic involving a civil war, you can skip that too if you want. You can play your way - there is no correct way to play.
  • Open character development: After some tweaking of the character skills and development mechanics from the previous games of the Elder Scrolls series, the developers have given you what essentially amounts to a blank slate for your character. The general character styles are mage, warrior, and thief, but you are not limited to skills that only enhance those styles. If you want to be a mage that can pickpocket, go for it.
  • Graphics: When it comes to the environmental landscape, Skyrim is full of diversity, ranging from the cold, snowy northern regions, to high mountain bluffs, to raging rivers, to lush forests in the south. At night there is a beautiful star filled sky with northern lights and a moon so large you can almost reach out and touch it.
  • Storytelling: Besides the two epic quests, there are thousands of smaller quests, each with a story to tell. They range from the simple delivery quest to the help my son fight his way out of prison quests. In one of my favorite early quests, the demon demigod of mischief tricks you into a night of drunken debauchery involving a prize-winning goat, a giant, a woman, a ring, and a marriage proposal - none of which you can remember.
  • Vastness: The province of Skyrim is huge - it takes about a full game day to travel from one end to the other, assuming you don't get side-tracked by a random dragon attack.
  • Mods: One of my favorite things about the Elder Scroll series is the sanctioned ability of players to make modifications to the game. With the help of the Creation Kit and Skyrim Workshop, players can add quests, create new playing areas and NPCs, and even change the environment.

What I don't like

  • Interface: No game is perfect, including an otherwise polished game like Skyrim. The user interface in the PC version suffers because Bethesda chose to make it compatible with consoles. For a mouse user, this means that sometimes your mouse click does not hit its mark with frustrating consequences like accidently attacking a character you shouldn't be attacking.
  • NPC quirks: No matter what anyone tells you otherwise, the fact is, artificial intelligence is hard. Sometimes NPCs will find it difficult to negotiate the slightest of stairs or they will walk right into you while you are talking to a different NPC distorting your view. For the most part it is more comical than frustrating, but it does take away from the game emersion everyone would like to maintain.

Special notes

On a personal note, Skyrim's popularity is somewhat remarkable. The RPG-genre is typically relegated to the more hard-core variety of gamers, but Skyrim has seemingly transcended those boundaries to reach a wider ranging audience. I am a little surprised by this broader acceptance and I wonder if resurgence in the RPG genre reflects fatigue with the massively multiplayer games that have drawn the most attention from gamers in recent years.

That being said, it should be understood that Skyrim is a true RPG in that events unfold at a relaxed pace. This is a welcome respite from the frenetic demands of MMORPG high-level raiding and FPS deathmatches, so prepare yourself and learn to stop and smell the roses, or the trolls, or the wolves, or the whatever you come across in your travels across Skyrim.

For a glimpse at some of the visuals you will see in the game, check out the Skyrim Desktop Wallpaper Photo Gallery.

Bottom line

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the prototypical modern RPG and it seems destined to be regarded as one of the best games of the year and perhaps the decade. By concentrating on story and establishing a living and active environment, the game has tapped into a gaming need that has been largely unfulfilled in recent years. It has developed a large following in a relatively short period of time and with expansions and a mod crazy player-base, Skyrim is likely to be popular for a long time to come.

Geek Gift Score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: *****
  • Value: ****
  • Overall: *****

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Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to,, and TechRepublic.

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