Most games have the good sense to treat the release of a new Call of Duty game like a nuclear blast: get as far as way as possible, stockpile canned food, and only come up when you know for a fact that the air is clear.
But most games aren't The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Releasing Friday, the enormous, dragon-packed role-playing epic from masters of the craft Bethesda Softworks comes from a long line of open-world hits, each seemingly bigger and more complex than the last. These are games so wide and so deep that most gamers set aside weeks to explore their environments.
Skyrim, however, isn't just about being large. It's also about being, well, anything you want to be -- and critics can't get enough. It's currently enjoying a 96 rating on Metacritic with a stunning 18 'perfect' scores, blasting past Call of Duty to become not only the best reviewed game of the week, but an immediate frontrunner for Game of the Year consideration.
"This is the deepest, loveliest world ever created for a single player to explore, and one that no one should deny themselves," raves Joystiq, who are stunned by the sheer amount of content. "Bethesda has created one of the only games I can recall where the world is so steeped in "stuff to do" it creates the illusion of a world completely without limit. Its scope defies the very notion of "completion" as we've come to think of it relating to games." The verdict: a perfect 5/5.
Wired, meanwhile, puts it in more timely terms.
"If choices were dollars, your average videogame would be occupying Wall Street right now, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim would be the 1%," they write, adding that "its greatest accomplishment is that it is a paradise of escapism, a lavish love letter to immersion." Unsurprisingly, it's another a 5/5.
Want more perfects? Try GamePro, or Giant Bomb, or The Escapist, or even the notoriously hard-to-please Eurogamer. From its superb storytelling to its amazing soundtrack ("one of the best in recent memory," according to IGN's 9.5/10 review), Skyrim seems to get everything right.
Really the only gripe is one that has plagued open-world games for years: it can be a tad buggy.
"Bethesda makes headway in delivering a more stable product, but I ran into numerous bugs that forced me to reload previous saves," says Game Informer in an otherwise glowing 9.5/10 review, though they quickly add that the glitchy bits don't keep Skyrim from being "Bethesda's finest release to date." As past Bethesda games include Game of the Year contenders Oblivion and Fallout 3, that's saying a lot.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Skyrim's reviews is the overall consistency. At press time, out of over 50 reviews, only one publication has rated it lower than a 9/10. You don't see that kind of unanimous praise very often in gaming, but then again, you don't see a game like Skyrim very often, either. If you're looking for a brave new world, this is it.