I have, thanks to my wonderful girlfriend, come into possession of a copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.  For those of you not familiar with the game (I suspect that’s about six people on Earth, none of whom have an Internet connection, but hey), Skyrim picks up 200 years after the previous Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, in a new province of the world.

You, the main character, are about to be executed alongside the leader of a Nordic rebellion when the first dragon in thousands of years appears and burns the town down.  You escape, only to find that you have to fight the same dragon shortly thereafter.  Defeating it, you absorb its soul and hear a menacing voice on the wind calling “DOVAHKIIN” or “Dragonborn.”  Guess what?  Now you can use dragon shouts!  Apparently fire breath, frost breath, and all the other cool powers dragons have are actually one- to three-word shouts, which you can learn by reading runes throughout Skyrim and power with the souls of dragons you’ve slain.  So that’s your quick plot summary without too many spoilers.

I’m relatively new to the Elder Scrolls franchise; I tried Oblivion a few times and just couldn’t get engaged enough to enjoy it.  I worried that the same thing would happen with Skyrim, but for some reason the same model that didn’t work for me in Oblivion is working for me in Skyrim.  I enjoy, or at least appreciate, being able to duck out of a quest line that’s slowing down and run over to finish another one.  Or, as was the case for me, ducking out of one recruitment quest when you find out the Nords are just a bit too racist to handle (Yeah, I rolled a dark elf).

I enjoy the improved graphics and character creation; Bethesda made the Argonians and Khajiit (lizardmen and cat people, respectively) interesting enough that I strongly considered rolling one before I stuck with my tried-and-true dark elf.  And the open world is fantastic.  My one complaint about the Dragon Age series has been their small, constrained maps and repetitive cave and building plans.  The hallmark of the Elder Scrolls series has been the huge breadth of their worlds, all of which can be explored.  It’s exciting, really, and feels like real exploration.

What has been putting me off, and keeping me from going further in the game, is how bloody difficult combat is.  I might have made a mistake in building my character, so I’m halfway between a Destruction mage in light robes and a two-handed warrior in heavy armor.  And every single time I step foot in a quest dungeon or castle, I start saving after every encounter because I know that I am going to die at least three times in the next one and I don’t want to have to repeat the one I just finished.  That gets old real fast.  If there was a difficulty setting somewhere, I would turn it down two notches and be perfectly content.  Part of me thinks this is just whining and says “Go level up and come back and kick their a**es, you wimp!” but the reality is that doesn’t work.  The world levels with you, so every combat takes you right to the limit of your skills, and usually beyond.  There aren’t even any truly poppable enemies — maybe the vanilla draugr (Norse zombie/mummy types), but there aren’t that many of those once you level.

If there were an easy way to progress the story line and keep me interested without doing the insane combat, I’d love Skyrim.  As it stands, I dread picking up that controller to face my death yet again.  And that’s a damn shame.