Early reviews of Skyrim were kind of suspect. Seeing as this is a game that takes a majillion hours to "complete" (note: it cannot actually be completed), how much could really be thoughtfully said so soon after its release1?

With the gift of hindsight and a lot more play time, a handful of better assessments have come along—with the most nuanced and lovingly critical one coming from Tom Bissell (of the worthwhile Extra Lives). He says the one thing that's probably worth saying about Skyrim (and Oblivion), the fact that it's great *despite* its lame NPC interactions and exposition—and the inclusion of those interactions is "incompetent" in 2011:

Why make every character a walking lore dump when lore can be more effectively embodied in the world and environments? After all, the world and environments are already there in Skyrim; they're quite literally everywhere you look, gushing all manner of wonderfully implied lore. And they're beautiful. Like most who play Skyrim, I'm greatly drawn to these incredible environments because the act of exploring them becomes uniquely my experience. When I'm listening to and watching Skyrim's interminable characters, I'm skipping through the same dumb cartoon everyone else is. Video games can tell involving, interesting stories — but they can't do it like this. It's high time we start thinking about another way or ways.

GRTWT. Like Extra Lives, it involves some thoughtful meditating on the state of video game art. (And FWIW, when it comes to game exposition, we still haven't experienced better than the Andy Serkis-powered cut scenes of the sweet, short Enslaved: Odyssey to the West—which came out a little over a year ago, and which you can pick up new for $15.)

1Um, we wrote the most recent STD post (before this one) the day before Skyrim was released. Coincidence? Sadly: no.

The Stranger Testing Department is Rob Lightner and Paul Hughes.