My nephew got it, and being a long-time Elder Scrolls fan, I started playing. Got about fifteen hours logged so far. Pretty much not gonna be playing any more. Sorry to say, huge disappointment.
Normal combat is boring. It was boring in Arena, and it's been boring ever since. I thought the death combos and dual-wielding would alleviate that somewhat, but they don't; the combos are just animations (ripped from Assassin's Creed, it seems) that get old after the fiftieth or so time, and dual-wielding adds nothing to the gameplay.
Arena, Daggerfall, Morrowind and even Oblivion made up for boring hack-and-slash with their extensive spell creation systems; I feel confident that essentially nobody ever played a purely non-magical character in any of those games, except as a challenge a la a speedrun, because straight combat is monotonous. The discarding of spellcraft entirely in Skyrim was a huge, perhaps the huge, fatal mistake. Fallout 3's combat is more diverse.
Sure, the spells themselves are be more diverse since they don't have to be able to be manipulated by the end-user, but for me and I think most long-time ES fans, spellcraft was where it was at. I'd've been perfeclty happy with a severely reduced spellcraft system, with most stuff like the Flames spell being changed to Powers. But to completely nix it? Huge disappointment.
I also thought fighting dragons would be amazingly fun, but it's unfortunately as boring and monotonous as fighting anything else, because the hack-and-slash combat mechanic is so old-school (in a bad way) and played out.
The world itself is awesome; a thousand times better than the generic crap they pulled in Oblivion. The most fun I've had so far has simply been exploring.
The dungeons are the best of any Elder Scrolls game by a wide, wide margin. I feel more like I'm playing something like Zelda and less like I'm wandering through a featureless maze (which is how dungeons felt in older ES games). I giggled like a little girl when I had to use what amounts to Samus Aran's Speed Dash ability to get through three auto-closing iron gates. And Whirlwind Sprinting off cliffs just for the heck of it is fun, too.
I love the item crafting, too; I'm much happier breaking down the spoils I strip off the chumps I murder into parts than selling them to a vendor who has 17 gold in his coffer, then spending an hour hunting down every other shopkeep in the area to try and sell off all my junk.
I didn't at first, but have come to love the Standing Stones replacing Birthsigns, since you can change them when you want.
I think the races were greatly improved and balanced, too. The improvement coming from every race having Powers, the balance coming from changing racial innates. In Morrowind, for example, you'd be stupid to play as anything but an Altmer Atronach if you were going for mostly-spellcasting. In Skyrim, every race feels equally valid for any style of play. Big improvement.
I love the way Skill Perks are handled. Oblivion sorta fudged it; it tried to just copy-paste Fallout 3, which I always felt didn't work well for an Elder Scrolls game.
But all of those things are minor, and don't make up for the fact that combat is boring, removing spellcrafting was a huge mistake and the gameplay is still ultimately the exact same as it's been for almost ten years now, since Morrowind; I spend more time rifling through crates and fingering dead bodies than anything else. In 2002, that was acceptable. It's nearly 2012; I expected more.
All in all, I'm disappointed because essentially, Skyrim is the exact same as Oblivion. All of the improvements - although there's some really good ones - are ultimately auxillary. The core gameplay is the same. Well, actually, worse considering the removal of spellcrafting.
As for random, equally-small nitpicks...
I like the Fallout style lockpicking, it's better than Oblivion style, but still thought they could've come up with something new. Or at least given the option for Arena/Daggerfall/Morrowind style; just click a button and it tells you whether you succeeded, and you can just keep trying until your lockpick wears out. Because I know there's a passionate minority who hates minigame-type skill checks. I'm not one of 'em, but still.
They did nothing new with Alchemy. Yawn. Again, it was fun in 2002, but I want more now.
Having no character stats sucks. The dungeons feel like Zelda in a good way. The Health/Magicka/Stamina bars feel like Zelda in a bad way. I mean, Skyrim is scarsely an RPG anymore; it's more like Bioshock: Medieval than anything. It really doesn't feel like an RPG, and I wanted to play an RPG.
Enchanting sucks. This is, of course, due to the fact that spellcrafting was removed, but still. They could have at least returned the ability for you to make cast-enchantments on clothing, and permanent enchantments on weapons, instead of forcing all clothing to make permaenchantments and all weapons on-strike enchantments. And dividing up what enchantments are allowed on what pieces of armor is even worse; it just adds a headache of planning and rifling through FAQs to do for me to get the kind of setup I want.
The voice acting is, once again, nails-on-a-chalkboard. Just utterly dead, lifeless, emotionless amateur amateur voice acting work. I can't take a single thing anyone says seriously. And this is one of the things Bethesda said they improved!
What the eff? No Levitate again! Why? Why why why? That's the funnest of the spells! If they were worried it'd make it too easy to sequence break, they could've just made it that you can only obtain the spell after beating the damn game, they didn't have to take it out again! WTF?
Five years from now, after the fan community has produced extensive, extensive mods (at least returning spellcrafting), I'll give it another whirl. As it is, I'm hanging up my horned helmet and lamenting the end of the Elder Scrolls series; Oblivion the death knell and Skyrim the funerary rites.
I wish I'd never played Morrowind. I'd've probably liked Oblivion and flippin' loved Skyrim if I hadn't been spoiled by Morrowind. Easily the second-best Western RPG of all time (the first being Planescape: Torment, naturally). Ehh, such is life.
Marry hatter ladle limb, itch fleas worse widest snore.
An ever-wear debt Marry win, door lamp worse shorter gore.