Reach for the Skyrim
This is one of those games that I love to hate. It's equal parts frustrating, awesome, problematic, and everything in between. Skyim is the descendent of Morrowind and Oblivion, two games that very nearly bored me to tears and then some. I came to the Elder Scrolls games pretty late - I started with Morrowind, on the advice of a friend, and didn't even get a quarter of the way through it before I gave up. Oblivion saw me just about getting out of the first dungeon, and nothing more.
And then there was Skyrim, which I got for Christmas last year. I was finally sold.
You hit things with weapons and take their stuff.
Well, no. There's more in it that's pretty awesome. I spent a lot of time sneaking around and shooting things in the head, then taking all their stuff and anything useful so that I could make armour out of it. There are quests, and decisions, and moral choices, and other interesting events to partake of. And the dragons, oh man... the dragons. You fight dragons the way you think you would if they were real - you, teeny little humanoid, against giant flying fire-breathing reptile. It is such a rush to take those assholes down.
The skills are neat, and the customization options are damn near endless, but good grief does this game ever have a steep learning curve. You will screw some stuff up, and there's no real way to fix it. It's also crazy ass hard, in many places, and it'll drop you into really stupid fights that you might not be able to win at all - hence the frustration. Trust me, you'll want to throw your computer/Xbox/whatever out a window out of pure rage the first time some random bandit one-shots you after you just took down a fucking dragon.
OH DEAR GODS THE GRAPHICS. 'Atmospheric' doesn't even begin to describe this game. Play it on as big a screen as you can, with the best headphones you have. It'll be worth it.
Can you play a female character?
Yes. You can actually play male and female versions of cats and lizards too, I shit you not.
Are the women sexualized?
No. The women wear appropriate clothing for their character. Sometimes - in the case of Aela, for example - that means some bare flesh, but there is no overt sexualization going on. Higher level armour sets look roughly the same for both men and women, and they both cover all vital organs, as far as I know.
Is there a similar level of customization for the female characters as for male characters?
Yeah, and it's incredibly extensive. I'm sure you could create any kind of character you want.
Are the numbers of NPCs balanced between males and females, and do they have a similar overall level of power?
I felt that there was a tendency to lean towards male characters, overall. There are a lot of characters - lots, this game is huge after all - so there are a lot of women around, and many of them are involved in the plot of the game. One thing I did notice is that you were just as likely to encounter female bandits, for example, as male ones, which isn't something you see very often in fantasy games (they tend to only shove male cannon fodder at you).
I didn't feel that women were really disadvantaged, in the world of Skyrim. Despite the leaning towards more males than females, it seemed pretty clear that gender wasn't something that got in the way of women being warriors or blacksmiths or any other typically male profession - and vice versa.
Hoo boy. Yes, yes there are. You can marry any eligible NPC of either sex, so apparently Skyrim is totally down with gay marriage. Athough I don't recall seeing any actual gay characters about the place yet, they do apparently pop up here and there.
Skyrim is one of those rare gems of a game. It's challenging, absorbing, and very, very beautiful, and for a story-driven RPG, it does a good job of staying away from the usual sexist crap I've come to know and loathe. I'm still chugging my way through it, and so this comes with some huge caveats that it will frustrate the crap out of you some of the time, but it's good enough that you will want to stick with it.