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Game of the Week: Skyrim

The elder game.

There are big games, there are massive games, and then there are this week's two banner releases.

It's a foregone conclusion that they'll both be big hits, but it's a similarly foregone conclusion that one of them will outsell the other by an order of magnitude: Modern Warfare 3. There's a persuasive argument that Call of Duty is bigger than Mario now. As far as the world at large is concerned, this is gaming.

And do you know what? That's not the worst thing in the world. I'll admit that COD's tightly scripted campaigns and frenetic multiplayer aren't to my personal taste, and nor is the way its crowd-pleasing bombast plays fast and loose with political and moral realities.

On the other hand, I have huge admiration for the technicians at Infinity Ward and the other studios who have, despite a supposed personnel meltdown, delivered a superbly polished game. As Rich Leadbetter often points out, their dedication to smooth, fast, 60 frames-per-second performance and ultra-responsive controls is as uncompromising as it is sadly rare in this day and age - and probably a bigger factor in COD's success than many would credit it with. These are important standards which used to be at the core of video game engineering but are currently in danger of getting lost - and they mean more to me than any fancy new engine tech or graphical effects.

Modern Warfare 3 is lots of fun and extremely well made and - just like Activision Blizzard's other financial motor, World of Warcraft - its dominance was earned on merit long before anything else.

"With such a well-rehearsed recipe to follow, there's more room here for innovation than there is for improvement," wrote Dan in our Modern Warfare 3 review. "There are plenty who would love to see Call of Duty dragged through the mud for its lack of new ideas, but the game itself is too confidently constructed, too generous with its pleasures, to deserve any lasting vitriol. This is a ferocious and satisfying game that knows exactly what players expect, and delivers on that promise with bullish confidence."

But Modern Warfare 3 isn't the biggest game in the world right now as far as Eurogamer is concerned. In fact, when it comes to games that have held your attention and enthusiasm on the site this year, there's no contest.

The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim

For heaven's sake, Tom's picture of a cat he made in Skyrim is one of the most popular articles we published all year. Tens of thousands of you turned up to read Alec talking about leatherworking. Within minutes of John's Skyrim review being published, it was more or less the only thing on the site anyone was looking at.

So if we were going to be democratic about it, Skyrim wouldn't just be your game of the week, it would very probably be your game of the year. It's certainly odds-on favourite to top our annual readers' poll.

What amazes me is to see Bethesda's sweeping progress from nerdy specialist to blockbuster heavyweight since the last Elder Scrolls, Oblivion, came out - and all without betraying one jot of its hardcore role-playing ethos. These games can be dry and they can be buggy, but they never sacrifice player freedom for anything, never put the play before the stage.

"What strikes you very early on in Skyrim is that the world itself is the story," John wrote. "As you work through the game, the discoveries and side quests that pepper the map become compelling explorations, and the world map that initially appears vast for vastness' sake simply comes alive. Focusing on the 'main quest' becomes an exercise in futility - everything feels connected and worthy of its place in the world, even if only tangentially connected to the game's overall arc."

And that's why you react to Bethesda's games the way you do; that's why such staunchly single-player games generate so much community excitement. Where other developers offer you a journey, Bethesda offers you a place, and the journey is your own to make. That's one of the most noble things a games studio can do. (Now someone do it at 60 frames per second...)

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