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“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Genre: Role-playing

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

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ESRB Rating: M, for Mature

Grade: 5 stars (out of 5)

There came a moment last week when I completed a small task and realized I was two hours and five sub-quests from where I had started. I paused, saved the game and noted that “Skyrim” had thoroughly captivated me.

This game is massively sprawling and magically rendered. You’ll follow nearly a half-dozen paths off the main quest just to satisfy your craving for completion — and you’ll feel good about it. “The Elder Scrolls” franchise has thrilled fans for more than a decade, and its blend of dungeon-crawling, magic-casting and sword-wielding is as good or better than that of any expansive world game.

“Skyrim” has a bigger world to discover and is populated with a richer cast of characters and tasks than the successful “Oblivion” and “Morrowind” franchise releases. The main goal is to slay mighty dragons and capture their souls, but that simplicity is almost an insult to the grandeur and riches held in the towns and snowy peaks dotting the landscape.

Yes, the glitches and artificial-intelligence bugs these Bethesda games are known for return, and sometimes return at truly unhelpful times. Then again, when you are blazing through countless hours of delight from this game and you’ve barely scratched the surface, you can forgive a few blips.

Only a few entries are worth discussing as Game of the Year, and “Skyrim”ranks high in the discussion. Both RPG and adventure players will love this game.

“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3”

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Genre: Shooter

Publisher: Activision

ESRB Rating: M, for Mature

Grade: 4.5 stars

In 2007, the first-person-shooter landscape was repaved when the “Call of Duty” franchise left the 1940s and entered modern times. Since then, the series has been the gold standard for FPS games. While “MW3” breaks less ground than previous installments, you can feel confident it’s still the genre’s top dog.

Though not as long as one might hope, the single-player campaign is vastly superior to the rudimentary offering of its biggest competitor, “Battlefield 3.” The action picks up where “Modern Warfare 2” left off, and you’ll spend a great deal of the campaign traversing the globe trying to thwart attempts to level Manhattan.

Like with so many FPS games, the focus is less on delivering a compelling campaign and more about excelling at the online multiplayer. The action is brisk and exciting. Spec Ops missions are back from the previous game, and are quickly becoming the game’s highlight. These missions are intense, and whether you play them alone or cooperatively you are guaranteed to play them repeatedly. The rest of the multiplayer options are standard fare, but “MW3” gives you stellar maps and tweaks, no matter which match type you play.

This franchise has been imitated many times, but few match the original.

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