Opinion – Skyrim’s Not So Great
Skyrim’s the fifth entry in Bethesda’s flagship franchise The Elder Scrolls. Hitting the market on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 2011, the game was an instant success; achieving critical acclaim and racking up numerous Game of the Year awards. Since its initial release the game has been remastered and released on virtually just about every console available – the most recent being the Nintendo Switch – a testament to the game’s selling power. However, in spite of all this, whenever I hear someone name it one of the best video games of all-time, I start to feel flustered and can’t help but become argumentative.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe Skyrim is a bad game per se. It’s just from my experience with the game I don’t understand how it can considered one of the greatest games of all time. Part of the reason for my disillusion with the game may come from the fact that I was several years late to playing the game, which allowed for an unreasonable amount of hype to build up around the game. 2011 was a busy year for games; not only did that year give us Skyrim, but Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Uncharted 3, Batman: Arkham City, and Portal 2, among others. Given such an impressive lineup of games, I think I can be excused for passing on Skyrim. Let’s also remember that Skyrim had a rocky launch on consoles, the PS3 in particular, which was my console of choice at the time. Couple this with the fact that my PlayStation 3 was already on its last legs, and you can see why I was content with skipping it.
As the years passed by though, I kept hearing about what an awe-inspiring gaming experience Skyrim is/was. I can’t tell you how many stories I read about people who spent hundreds of hours with the game and were still discovering new places to explore and quests to undertake. So when Bethesda announced they were remastering the game for current gen consoles, I was instantly sold.
Fast forward to when I actually got my hands on this remastered version, and after fewer than ten hours into the game I was already on the verge of calling it quits. My first few hours with Skyrim were pretty fun, but after that the game just became astoundingly bland. Right from the start you’re given access to the entire map and begin to pickup quest after quest after quest. The problem? Most of the quests felt exactly the same. I don’t know how many quests exactly tasked me with clearing out a cave or bandit camp in search of some random object or another, but it sure felt like a majority of the ones I undertook could be summed up that way. Meanwhile, just about every other quest involved trekking (or fast-traveling) back-and-forth to locations on the opposite ends of the map. I’ll give Skyrim credit for creating such a large world with unique landmarks and environments, it’s just too bad none of people of Skyrim or the places they inhabit were given the same distinction.
Almost every village and town I visited, despite their outward appearances, felt exactly the same. This is mainly because the NPC’s that live in this places are exactly the same people – and I do mean this literally. Due to a limited amount of character models and voice actors, I was constantly running into the same NPC’s over and over again, with their repeated use of the same lines getting old very quick. This goes beyond simply recycling guardsmen and villagers, but also includes more prominent story characters. I didn’t run into a single character during my playthrough, save maybe for Serana from the Dawnguard DLC, that felt like an actual person or could be described as a round character. There are over two dozen Followers you can recruit to join you on your adventure, along with the possibility of marrying, but none of them see any kind of development or even really react to what’s going on around them; my own character is an equally blank slate who I felt no attachment to whatsoever. Skyrim isn’t a living, breathing world like the developers want you to think, but a static one full of emotionless quest-givers.
I’m also not a fan of the game’s combat system. I found it extremely shallow; almost every encounter I had with an enemy boiled down either to me just mindlessly swinging a sword at my foe or with me backpedaling while shooting arrows in their face – giant spider, random bandit, dragon, you name it – every fight I was involved in felt the same. My brother told me the combat is more varied if your character is a magic-user, but I don’t like the idea that in a game that is supposedly about playing your own way, you have to play a particular way to avoid falling into a repetitive pattern.
Speaking of shallow, Skyrim’s story is exactly that, too. I purposely avoided the main story early on because of how generic it appeared, but that didn’t stop NPC’s everywhere from recognizing my character and referring to him as the Dragonborn, you know despite the fact I hadn’t done anything yet to earn such a title. For being a remaster, the version of Skyrim I played was startlingly buggy and full of errors like this. One especially comical bug I encountered during a fight with a mammoth and a giant, where both my foes took off into the air, somehow gaining the ability of flight.
Like I said at the beginning, I don’t think Skyrim’s a bad game. But for a game I’ve seen ranked as the best roleplaying game of all time, I can’t fathom how this opinion came to be for my experience with Skyrim was decisively average. And no, you can’t cite Mods for fixing the game’s shortcomings.
Dragon Age and The Witcher top it by far when it comes to character development, storytelling, and worldbuilding. Skyrim’s combat can’t hold a candle to mediocre titles such as Dragon’s Dogma or Bound by Flame, let alone any FromSoftware title. And when it comes to open-world exploration, which is admittedly Skyrim’s bread and butter, I vastly preferred my visit to Fallout 4’s Commonwealth.
But, hey, that’s just my opinion.