Originally in email, but truly, my genius meditations on video games belong here, as they are a treasure for all the world; part of the heritage of all mankind.
So I was playing some Stardew Valley, the Harvest Moon-alike that’s taken PC gaming by storm, and although it was fun, after the first three seasons I had spent 40 hours in the game. I thought “hmm, if I want to play two years of gametime, that comes to like 50-60 hours. If I’m going to spend that time on a game, I could finally finish Skyrim.”
So here I am, revisiting the 2011 Travis John Rumans Game of the Year. Skyrim has been widely imitated, but never really duplicated.
I briefly considered rerolling but I kinda like my Nord sneaky archer…she’s kind of like a skaldic Robin Hood, what with her membership in the Thieves’ Guild, Stormcloaks, and Bards’ College. Skyrim actually seduced me into roleplaying a more rogue-ish type, which is unusual for me (as I am the only human being on the planet that tends to roleplay good, upright people.)
(She also joined the Mages College, but acceptance standards at Winterhold have gone down a lot. “Oh, cast this one introductory-level spell. Don’t know it? Well, I can teach you!” For RP reasons, I sorta refuse to do the rest of the Winterhold chain…despite a lot of points in enchanting, this character doesn’t feel mage-y to me.)
I’m going to tell you what you already know probably: Skyrim holds up amazingly well. (Five years ago is, after all, not THAT old.) This is also a game that has gained remarkable longevity from its mod scene. I haven’t gone full Thomas the Tank engine yet, but even a few graphical tweaks and a PC-friendly UI overall have helped a lot in improving the game. That said, the mods are building on a solid core.
So many games have copied Skyrim in the past few years I I was worried I wouldn’t have the same taste for it. It’s clear playing a game like (say) Dragon Age: Inquisition the developers had “make this more like Skyrim” in mind, with the ingredients including lots of freedom, a large open world, and lots of stuff to do.
This last part – “lots of stuff to do” – is actually pretty tricky to do well. It’s easy to add tons of fetch quests, random collectibles, and grind. The Skyrim wannabees suffer from a surfeit of bland, pointless content that threatens to overwhelm the interesting bits. You might feel like the part you’re doing is boring and grindy, but you feel compelled to stick with the game because what if around the corner there was something awesome.
Skyrim’s genius is how engaging and organic it all feels. It is a full game, but at no point does it feel overstuffed with pointless filler (even the randomly generated “radiant” quests.) In most games of this type I end up consulting a wiki halfway through or so to see where the “good stuff” is, but in Skyrim it’s all pretty good.
A big part of this is Skyrim’s relentless focus on its own specialized setting – I think in games of similiar scope Vikingland might just be one area. Committing to the theme throughout the game gives everything unity, and shows a lot of confidence on the part of the developers that they can make various northern climates and different towns suitably diverse while still sharing a unified art style. Most (western) fantasy games have a pretty generic and forgettable soundtrack, reaching for orchestral and epic but all sounding same-y. But you’ve problably already started hearing “FUS…ROH…DAH…FUS…ROH…DAH…” in your mind.
On of my very few grips with Skyrim is that it lacks many memorable characters, but I’m wondering if I can forgive that some. The game is about its setting and exploration, not about developing characters and relationships a la Mass Effect. You might say, “can’t a game do both?” and there are games that have tried with different degrees of success. (I’ve heard so many good things about Fallout New Vegas, but I find it tough to get into…hell, I find starting any huge 60-80 hour game daunting nowadays, I mostly picked up Skyrim because I had a decently leveled character already).
That said, enjoying Skyrim has required me to let go of any completionist impulse. I am not a hardcore completionist, but I do like to do all the “main” sidequests. In Skyrim that would take a long time, but, perhaps more importantly, I would get bored with a particular character’s playstyle. I have a lot of fun sneaking about and shooting people with arrows, but right now my character progression has become about bootstrapping me into higher levels of +Enchanting and +Blacksmithing to make the gear with the most +Archery in order to one-shot everything.
Skyrim has a well-done, very flexible, classless character-building system, and I kind of want to do some melee/magic spellsword hybrid. Because Skyrim has so much STUFF (and a lot of the game I did, I did like five years ago), it’d be easy for me to see a lot of new and different things with a new character. I’m debating if I want a tankmage or a sneaky magic assassin. (I do want to play a Redguard, though, because the warriors from Hammerfell have curved swords. Curved. Swords.)
I have a few minor quibbles. I don’t know about crafting. I have decided in general I disliked crafting in games as meaningless busywork (rpgwatch.com/news/rock-paper … 34638.html), though of course exceptions can be made where crafting is the focus of the whole game (like Minecraft). On the one hand, crafting all your gear allows you more customization, gives greater options for non-combat progression, and makes the world feel more alive. (Of course, one thing Skyrimimitators have done wrong is a huge focus on collecting random herbs.) If the core of Skyrim’s appeal is about exploration, why isn’t the best gear found through exploration? In fact, I find I get most of my experience from crafting instead of questing. I feel like I can fudge on Alchemy and buy health potions and even +Skill potions from vendors, but blacksmithing is really useful and Enchanting feels essential. (One reason I DON’T want to roll another character is because those skills are kinda grindy.)
Also: The main plot is not really amazing. I am the Chosen One with a Special Power who must save the world from Ancient Evil, but first I must find the Mystic Doohickey. But even here, Skyrim’s setting helps elevate a bog standard fantasy trope with some local color, in this case the Civil War. I like how there’s an option to have a truce, but it’s only a cease-fire; the Stormcloaks and Imperials hug in the end, and there’s no option to make them be allies in a warm, fuzzy circle of campfire songs.
But anyway, Skyrim – alongside, say, X-Com 2, Civ 5, and Shogun 2: Total War – is on the short list of “games I could play forever on a desert island.” Tempted to pick up another Elder Scroll game, as I am a latecomer to the series – I’ve heard Morrowind is “the bestest”, and has a lot of mods for modern PCs. I’ve heard mixed things about Fallout 4 so I’m going to wait for a steam sale. Some day I’ll get to Witcher 3…some day…(OH LOOK GUYS DIVINITY ORIGINAL SIN IS ON SALE)