Skyrim unleashes its magic on videogame lovers, opening a boundless world of medieval adventure complete with death-dealing dragons, Nordic gods, and foreboding prophecy.
The hotly-anticipated new installment in the popular Elder Scrolls series is being hailed by critics as a standout game amid an army of must-play titles launching for the year-end holiday season.
Skyrim was crafted by Bethesda Softworks game designers who produced open-world post-apocalyptic shooter Fallout 3, so players are welcomed into an expansive mountainous kingdom that they are free to explore at their peril.
Innovative software perpetually generates missions such as saving villagers and righting wrongs, meaning that the game is technically endless even if players complete the main story campaign.
Skyrim opens with a player in the role of a nameless prisoner being carted off to a village for beheading.
The axe man is interrupted by a dragon attack that triggers a harrowing escape into a rich, fantasy realm torn by civil war and treachery.
The land bears signs foretold in the Elder Scrolls as marking the return of a Nordic god of destruction that will come in the form of a colossal dragon and devour the world.
As luck would have it, the player's character was born with the soul of a dragon and chosen by benevolent gods to stop evil from prevailing.
"In Elder Scrolls, dragons have been in the lore but they haven't been in the game," Skyrim director Todd Howard said in an online interview.
"In this game, dragons have been reborn," he continued.
The virtual world of Skyrim spans 16 square miles (41 square kilometers) from mountains to open plains that players can freely range on horseback.
The grand, immersive design of the game and the allure of endless numbers of missions promise players will be tracking game play by weeks instead of days.
Players can opt to be elves, orcs or humans, with game makers even letting them become vampires as it did in Skyrim predecessor Oblivion.
True to role-playing titles, Skyrim lets players deeply personalize characters from looks to fighting styles.
In-game characters are also held accountable for their actions, with who they help or hurt changing the flow of play.
Game mechanics allow for two fisted fighting, whether it is with a pair of blades or by casting magic spells with one hand and wielding a sword with the other.
Skyrim was priced at $60 at launch in the United States.
Explore further: Encryption made easier: Just talk like a parent