There's really no need to review Skyrim. Everyone's reviewed it, everyone's recording themselves playing it and putting it on Youtube, everyone's making funny videos of the glitches and command line exploits, everyone's complaining about the bugs (which are pretty darn bad for the people who have them), everyone's talking about Famitsu's perfect score -- a quasi-honor no other game has received.
So what more is there to be said that hasn't already? Well, not much I guess, but here goes.
I'll start with Oblivion. Please forgive me for everything I get wrong here, but I'm going on memory alone, and I ain't got the time or patience to move my cursor a few inches to the 'Google Search Bar' in my browser and burn the .024 calories it would take to confirm any of the facts below, because I am much too cool for internet school.
Right away, the whole leveling system in Oblivion was... weird. I want to say it was garbage, but I think this is an opinion thing, so let's just say I didn't like it at all. The main issue was that, if you didn't level your main skills faster than your other skills, you got fewer stat-enhancement points when you leveled up, and if you weren't playing perfectly by the rules, by max level, you were an unbalanced dorkface and you might as well kill yourself in front of your XBox and blame video games. It would make for a good news story, at least. And this time, other Oblivion fans would nod their head and say "Yeah, that was a reasonable response."
I want to regale you with the exact center of my dislike for the Oblivion leveling system, but I'll tell you what I DID like, and that was leveling skills by using them.
We fast forward to Fallout 3, which I like to think of as an improved Oblivion in the 23rd century. You got experience points for everything you did, lockpicking, killing people, killing animals, killing Abraham Lincoln (my memory is hazy, but I'm almost certain there was a cyborg Abe the size of a Super Mutant, and a giant pen that fired civil rights.) Anyway, now you didn't actually get skill by using said skill. Instead, you got to choose what skills you improved in at the end of each level. This was kind of convenient. You didn't have to pick a single lock, but by the end of the game, you could be a friggin expert on the subject. Also, at the end of every level, you got to choose a perk. A perk, if you don't know, is a nice little bonus skill, such as "Do 10% more damage with your farts" or "Carry 50 more pounds of irradiated roach meat."
This, of course, was from the classic Fallout 1 and 2. (I think the choosing-your-skillups thing was too, but this is all relevant to Skyrim
Fallout NV came along and had a very similar leveling system to Fallout 3. However, this time you could only pick your perks every other level. I love both of these games (And Oblivion, don't get me wrong. I loved it, but I also like hot pizza which always burns my mouth and I just feel poorly all day) but one thing bugged me that Oblivion had and they didn't. You couldn't practice your skills to level them. you had to spend precious points on them that ran out when you hit the level cap (a subject I'll get to later.)
Cue Skyrim. After a few minutes of playing this game (after adjusting the mouse in INI files until it worked somewhat properly) I said to myself something I rarely say. "I'm having fun." I just couldn't believe it. I picked up this game, and I was having so much fun. I could feel the fun particles pulsing through my joy veins right into my ecstasy heart. It did so many things right. The graphics were great. They were a huge leap from Oblivion, although, Fallout 3 was quite a leap from Oblivion, so I was used to breathtaking visuals.
The controls... well, I won't go down that road. A lot of people are having problems, and others aren't, so it's a weird thing. Otherwise it's your standard affair.
The locations: There are a bajillion of them. I won't give a specific number for possible spoiler reasons, but there are way more than even New Vegas. It's truly massive. And every location has its own fun little story if it's not part of a separate quest. It's all meaningful in some way.
Durability System: No longer do your weapons wear down and break. I was wondering how I felt about this, and I think the only emotion is 'relieved'. I'm not missing it at all.
The leveling system: Ahhhhh this is where I wanted to get to. This leveling system. I've played many video game RPGs in my day. Most of them consist of getting EXP for killing a monster, then giving you stat bonuses based on your character type. Some have the skillup systems that are either separate from the leveling system (Final Fantasy XI: Online), or completely integrated into it (Oblivion). Well, this time, the skillup system is integrated into the leveling system like in Oblivion. However, this time, it is done beautifully. Every time you gain a full skill level in any discipline (which is again attained by using the skill, a la Oblivion), you get some progress to the next level. Once you level up, you get a perk! You can save your perk points, or spend them right away (I strongly recommend saving them until you know what you like doing.) While some disciplines seem a bit too hard to level while others are too easy, this is a balance issue that really doesn't matter much in a single player game (It might in an MMO, but if we've learned anything, this is not the MMO you're looking for. *jedi hand twinkle*)
There's no hard level cap either. Progress becomes slower after 50, but that's extremely considerate, considering Oblivion, Fallout 3 and NV all released with low level limits, and full-stop ones at that. Here, you can level every single skill to 100, and the REAL level cap is due to simply maxing out all of the disciplines, and is at level 81. If you've not done everything there is to do in the game by then, you've just been focusing on skilling up instead of playing the actual game parts. That's fine if that's what you're into, but if you complain about a level 81 cap in a Bethesda game, I'm gonna come to your house and fart on your cats.
There's no wrong way to level up in Skyrim, and that's where it prevails over Oblivion, Fallout3 and FalloutNV. In Oblivion, if you didn't level the right skills, you didn't get enough assignment points at the end of the level. In 3 and NV, if you spent your skill points, that was it. You couldn't get them back. In Skyrim, you can max out every skill, if you have the patience!
However, with the Skyrim perk system, there are only around 100 total perk points (one for each level, plus 20 or so from elsewhere) but well over 200 perks. So, like I said before, be sure about those points before you spend them! There is no way to get those points back. I wish there were a one-time quest at level 50 for all the newbies who made bad choices, but I'm just a wishful guy!
I guess there's nothing else to really say about Skyrim. It's really fun to get to fight dragons (though I'm surprised they're the bad guys. I guess Smaug from The Hobbit was a bad guy, but I always kind of thought of Dragons as good guys.) The voice acting is good sometimes, less good other times. It has bugs, but Bethesda's working on them. I like being able to recharge weapons with gems (I don't know if you could do that in Oblivion, but I seem to recall lamenting a lack of that option.) Glad I can still rob a store blind. I don't like "The Chosen One" storylines as much as the "Average Joe forced to become a hero" ones, but they are equally valid. I wish it had 'Unarmed' perks, since unarmed is actually a pretty viable playstyle. Blah blah blah, et cetera.
If you liked Oblivion, but thought "This needs to be better," then Skyrim is certainly for you. But I'm sure I didn't have to tell you that.
Happy dragon hunting!