Common Sense Media Says: Not for kids

Vast and violent RPG filled with moral choice and ambiguity.

What Parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a vast, open role-playing game with missions involving bloody, visceral violence and others that require diplomatic social skills. The game is largely what the user makes of it. Players can choose to act nobly, maliciously, or apathetically. Actions are typically accompanied by appropriate consequences, meaning players who do good will be rewarded while those who do evil will likely end up spending time in jail and facing loss of property and skill. The game is dense with mature themes involving sexuality, alcohol, and complex social, political, and economic problems.

Consumerism:Not applicable

Drinking, drugs, & smoking:Bottles of wine, ale, and mead are found all around the world. Players can have their avatar collect and drink from them, sometimes enhancing skills as a result. Some quests revolve around alcohol, such as one in which players help a merchant whose stock of booze is being held up by a bureaucrat; another that sees the player helping a wife retrieve her drunken husband's stash; and still another that involves a drinking contest with another character.

Educational value:Meant to entertain rather than educate.

Language:Not applicable

Positive messages:Looking beyond the glorified violence and mature themes involving sex and substance abuse, players craft their own story filled with its own morals. They must choose whether or not to engage in acts of evil, such as thievery and murder, decide which faction of a war they side with, and select for themselves professions ranging from kindly bard to deadly assassin. Players must also be prepared to face the repercussions of their actions, as their choices will alter how guards and citizens act in their presence. It is possible to spend significant time in jail for misdeeds, and lose skill development progress as punishment.

Ease of play:Controls are surprisingly straightforward and easy to figure out without referencing a manual. Beautifully designed menus, meanwhile, make managing inventories and character development simple and fun. It will take hours to master and fully understand everything in this complex game, but that's appropriate, given its length.

Positive role models:From marauders, thieves, and assassins to honorable soldiers, family-loving tradesmen, and conflicted nobles and royalty, there is a vast range of characters in this game. However, the personality of the protagonist is entirely up to the player. He or she can engage in acts of good (which will necessarily include some violence as many missions involve quelling threats to the population of Skyrim), become an untrustworthy and notorious villain, or even walk a path in the middle, doing good in public while conducting acts of evil in private.

Privacy & safety:Not applicable

Sex:Sexually-charged dialogue makes reference to "sultry" characters, as well as whores, the act of rape, and sex slaves.

Violence:Players use swords, axes, and hammers in brutal melee combat against human and fantastical opponents. Blood flies through the air, coating the floor and walls, and enemy characters grunt, scream, and spin like rag-dolls when struck. Slow motion kill moves see the camera move out of first-person perspective to provide a more cinematic view of the action. Players can also attack using bows and arrows and magic spells from a distance, to similarly bloody effect. Players explore scenes of past violence, including bloody torture rooms filled with implements of pain and death, and scripted sequences show the execution of non-player characters, who have their heads chopped off.

What's the story?

THE ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM is a fantasy role-playing game set 200 years after the events of its predecessor. It takes place in Skyrim, the oldest and northernmost province of Tamriel, a continent that fans of the Elder Scrolls franchise have been exploring in games dating back to 1994. As in previous entries, players have complete freedom to explore a vast, open world however they like, growing their character slowly through game-altering decisions and actions that could lead them to become a noble soldier fighting for an empire, a fighter in a resistance group that challenges the empire, or a member of several different organizations that range from a college of bards to a brotherhood of assassins. Along the way they learn that they are one of the dragonborn, a rare breed of warrior capable of slaying dragons and stealing their voices, which they can use in battle. This turns out to be pretty handy, given that the dragons have returned to terrorize Skyrim after centuries of absence, adding to a stack of problems that includes a burgeoning civil war and a potential invasion.

Is it any good?

A strong contender for one of the best M-rated games of 2011, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is perhaps the largest and most ambitious single-player, role-playing games ever made. Its world is startling in its scope, complexity, and beauty. More than 100 points of interest -- including cities, towns, caves, and ruins -- dot a Nordic landscape filled with towering mountains, beautiful wildlife, and rushing rapids. Blue skies and bright sun can in moments give way to pounding rain, deep fogs, and blinding snowstorms. Calm nights, meanwhile, are lit by mesmerizing starscapes and dancing Northern Lights.And there is no shortage of things to do in this world. Players are free to choose their own way through the tundra, hills, and marshes, completing or ignoring scores of quests at their leisure. Engaging combat mechanics combine with interesting characters, a rich and interweaving mythology, and the satisfaction that comes with the constant discovery of new places and things to create an experience that remains fresh day after day, week after week. Hardcore adult players can expect to invest somewhere north of 100 hours in this remarkable virtual fantasy world, and they'll adore every minute of it.