Books. So many books around Skyrim. The Nords of Skyrim are better known for their oral traditions, but their respect for the written word is immense. This time, as compared to past Elder Scrolls games, the books are more readable. Dry historical treatises are replaced by clever anecdotes and, at times, unreliable narrators. Across several written documents are passive aggressive squabbles penned by various authors using myriad voices across scattered time periods. Some books are quotable. Some are downright Twilight Zone in the tales they tell. Some dip into creation myths. Others anthropomorphize the star-filled night.

Your perks are mapped in the stars, and amidst those gaseous clouds are constellations’ worth of ways to strengthen your sword arm, nimble up your five-finger discounts, and use magic missiles to attack the darkness. There are ways to improve more social and negotiation skills as well, but I think Ria, a dirty warrior wearing studded leather armor, said it best when she told me, “This is life, brother. The struggle is what reminds us to draw breath.” I simply had to decide if I’d struggle hardest by taking hits to my breastplate--or to my wallet. There was a time or two when I whinced more in front of a savvy merchant than beneath a dragon's beating wings.

All of this in the name of defeating Alduin, the World-Eater, a nasty dragon god with a tendency to awaken other dragons vying for airspace over Skyrim. “Watch the skies,” is the watchword among every town’s guardsmen. And you should listen, even if you chuckle, when a weaponsmith bids you goodbye by saying, “Stay sharp,” because it’s a dangerous place. The previous entry in the series, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, may have opened up a fiery hell, but Skyrim opens up a deceptively beautiful and icy hell in response. Director Todd Howard revealed that Skyrim is indeed an endless hell with infinite missions.

Who you start as in Skyrim matters little, because who you’ll become means everything. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a native-skinned Nord, a lizard-skinned Argonian, or a thick-skinned Orc. It doesn’t matter if you’re partial to axes, arrows, or great balls of fire. What does matter is if you’re driven by your storyline destiny, or driven to incessant exploration, because when Skyrim opens up the four corners of its map, that’s when you’ll find that every path drives you to distraction--and we mean that in the best way possible.