I haven't really been hitting Skyrim hard lately. Unlike my favorite Neko who's been going retro (edited to remove the link; as Herculine apparently pulled a Nos and deleted the post while I was typing this one up), I haven't really been gaming much at all for reasons I won't bore anyone by going into.
Still, I've run this game up to just shy of 67 hours, and am currently level 39, I think it was.
I've explored most of the game map now (close to 75% by my reckoning), and have purchased houses in Markarth and Solitude, as well as the one I originally had in Whiterun.
House buying is more of a pain in the ass than I care for, all things considered. The Whiterun house is acquired after killing your first dragon -- or at least the first one encountered along the main quest; diligent players will probably be able to fuck over the quest progression somehow and encounter a dragon before then somewhere else. Apparently killing the dragon to protect Whiterun is considered your big good deed for the hold; and nets you permission to buy a house, and the title of Thane (which comes with a lackey -- Lydia in this case).
In other holds, it isn't so easy. You have to complete one big-ish quest for the Grand High Poobah of that particular little pond to get permission to buy a house; and then complete five quests "helping the subjects" of that hold. You do get followers for each title of Thane. They are not all moderately or better attractive women. The Thane title in Markarth came with the services of Generic Fantasy Male Fighter #1471A. Needless to say, he's never been adventurin' with his boss.
Solitude is a step up. It's an ungodly expensive house (I counted ~37k gold for the house and upgrades -- making it not as bad as Rosethorn in Oblivion, but still expensive as hell by Skyrim standards).
The thane title in Solitude also came with another female Housecarl:
Jordis, the Sword-Maiden.
Sadly, Skyrim is not written by people with an appropriate sense of humor. My first instinct on meeting Jordis was to ask if she was really worthy of the title of Sword-Maiden. Think about it a minute, you'll get it.
And to answer your next question: yes, I did suffer sometimes brutal physical reprisals for my "witty banter" as a teenager. In addition to simply being punched, I did actually get bitten a couple of times (hand and arm; pervs)... but that's neither here nor there.
I like Jordis better than Lydia; and not just because of her closer-to-proper hair color. Lydia always sounds... resigned; morose, even. Jordis' voice actress actually makes her sound like she's okay with being your partner.
Though Jordis does... concern me a bit. I'm not sure if it's the level disparity when they were recruited, but she's head and shoulders above Lyds' combat abilities. Jordis smoothly swaps between bow and melee; preferring ranged combat when possible, and often one-shotting bandits from a considerable distance.
While exploring a tower or something, we were attacked by Forsworn in the halls. It being too close to effectively use a bow, I swapped to my sword and shield and prepared to get medieval on some barbarian asses. As I moved to engage the nearest screw-head, Jordis suddenly appeared between us. She spun the primate -- who was at 100% health -- around, grabbed him with her offhand, and rammed her sword between his shoulder blades, insta-killing him. She then proceeded to step over the corpse, and enact holy terror upon the deceased's friends.
Note to self: do not ever stiff Jordis on her salary.
By this point in the game, I had acquired a small stack of Daedra hearts, and could finally finish out a set of Daedric armor for my new hench:
Not as stylish as the Ebony; but decidedly more intimidating. I've since also taken to leveling my enchantment skill, and enchanted her armor fully as well as using the 100 smithing skill and some buff potions to work over the armor to Legendary or Epic status; I forget which. She's not quite a battlemech; but the girl will fuck up anything shy of an Elder Dragon in short order.
Aside from the combat prowess, another reason I prefer Jordis to Lydia is her personality. I don't just mean the voice actress', either. Jordis seems...
Naive isn't the word; nor is innocent. She's... not jaded?
We were out on some godsforsaken mountain, hunting down the legend of some guy for reasons I never figured out; and had just cleaned out an enclave of Forsworn (animal-skin wearing savages are fucking everywhere south of Solitude). I was grabbing something off the blood-caked altar, when I hear from behind me:
"Wow. I've never seen anything like that before!"
I turn around, and Jordis is standing behind me, looking over my head at these rune-engraved arches. I mean it: her model was looking up, right at them. That. Was. Cool.
Pathfinding problems persist for her every bit as bad as they were for Lyds, however. I'm more convinced than ever that the game world was navmeshed in an extremely half-assed fashion -- which, let's be honest, would be par for the goddamned course at this point. When Bethsoft employees actually do something right (if they ever do) then I'll be surprised. Screw-ups and general laziness don't even make me blink, anymore. It isn't nearly as bad in interiors, but there seems to be a lag of several seconds between the time the player moves off, and the time the follower notices they need to move. This causes havoc of all sorts when trying to avoid traps (since it makes it impossible to keep your hench close enough to you to follow your exact footsteps and miss the traps' trigger plates -- which helpfully cannot be disarmed under any circumstances in this game), and can easily leave you without backup for thirty or more seconds if you stumble onto enemies. Crossing rivers is probably the worst, since bridges are infrequent at best; and followers flatly refuse to climb up and/or over rocks. They always catch up; but it can take awhile.
Beyond that, while I like the design of the Solitude house, the game itself has been more of the same. If you've made it to level fifteen or so, you've probably seen nearly all the game has to throw at you -- everything except the main quest is just various rehashes of the same half dozen quests; and you've only got six or so groups of enemies that you'll generally encounter: animals, bandits, forsworn, undead, Dwemer automatons, and dragons. Eventually, after picking a side in the war you'll also be considered the enemy of either the Imperial Legion or Stormcloaks; but they're just human NPCs with different equipment -- bandits or Forsworn in different outfits.
I've played a bit of all four "guild" questlines -- "Companions" (fighters guild), "College" (mages), Thieves guild, and Dark Brotherhood; and I'm not impressed at all. Dark Brotherhood was my favorite part of vanilla Oblivion, and Skyrim is a grave disservice to the organization -- fictional though it may be. Thieves Guild is just boring. Mages guild is same-old-same-old; "researching" ruins that always end in combat, finding books, listening to the prattle of people who need a sword in their aorta. Companions were the worst, though. After completing a couple minor quests, and not even proving yourself remotely; they initiate you into the inner circle (*train horn*) which involves making you into a werewolf.
Great, they want to make me take sides in the fucking Twilight fangirls' war? Like hell. As soon as I saw that I reloaded an earlier save and left the questline hanging. No big loss; I only joined the organization to get access to another armor and weapons vendor, anyway. I wonder somewhat idly if the mages' questline will involve becoming a sparkly, effeminate vampire.
The high point of the game continues to be the scenery, no question. From the balcony of your house in Solitude, you can see out over the north sea. As well, the view from Mehrunes Dagon's shrine is simply kickass.
While my opinion that the game is worth picking up hasn't changed, it nonetheless needs a toolset. Badly. Really badly. Really really. 'The community' could bang out fixes for most of the issues plaguing the game inside a week if there was just a way to read and modify all the entries in the main master.
The game also needs the ability to craft arrows. I know there are a couple mods floating around the Nexus that allow it; but it seems like the sort of thing that would have been in the base game. I'd think it would work piggybacked onto either smithing or marksman.