11 December 2010. Bethesda announces the fifth installment in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim, and fans are in a frenzy. During the Spike Video Game Awards, Todd Howard announces the sequel to the series and the following video is shown, which may have shown absolutely nothing, but it was enough to send the hype skyrocketing. There was only one thing left. To complete the prophecy. 11 11 11.
And the day arrived, as did the pre-order with the miniature of Alduin. I must have only felt similar anxiety and ecstasy with Wrath of the Lich King. And it is one of the few releases whose music still accompanies me to this day. Despite my excitement though, its hardware requirements were way over my computer so it was forced to be put on ice until I managed to get a similar machine to run it satisfactorily. I don't remember exactly when I was able to enjoy it. But I do clearly remember that during that whole time I had my ears covered against every negative review and the general abuse the game was receiving as a whole. I had loved Oblivion and as such its sequel could not have been anything subpar. How was I to know.
Coveted start-up moment of the experience and I've forgotten everything. I'm dripping underwear and covers at every sound of the title music and my only concern is to begin my journey into the icy Skyrim. And I consider its introduction to be one of the best in the series, putting the player in the mood that the entire game should be in. The exception is the final section, where once again they assign a critical mission to a human they are seeing for the first time in their lives. In Oblivion it tied in somewhat with the visions of Uriel Septim, here it's literally up in the air. The emotions that come from this as well as what followed is exactly what we call a rollercoaster. One minute I'm going crazy with the landscapes, the excellent side quests and the combat system that makes you feel every breath of the dragons melting everything in its path. The very next, however, I'm confronted with a literal theme park world. Here you do this, there you do that.
Nohelic dialogues, missions without depth and non-existent decisions. Small tracks that for the most part have nothing to do with the rest of the world. The whole picture shows a Bethesda that only cared about the wrapping forgetting to add the surprise gift inside the chocolate egg while leaving many ideas unfinished just to catch the long awaited release date. It was in this climate that I left the game on the shelf and didn't want to revisit it for a while. For a very long time.
The return takes place many years later, i.e. last summer. I don't count my contacts with total conversion mods as Elder Scrolls experience. In the interim the game has been gigantic. For reasons unknown to this day it is considered the standard of RPGs for the average gamer and pretty much everyone has spent at least a few hours with it. At the same time Bethesda has released a few DLCs as well as half a dozen versions for no apparent reason and generally never misses an opportunity to milk its audience. With the above in mind I begin my return to the cold in every way Skyrim loosely and marginally breaking fun. A few weeks later I find myself having completed everything but Dragonborn and being the leader of every faction in the game, large and small, in addition to Dragonborn. Another wound in the game's mottled body.
No moral satisfaction of accomplishment, no sense of progress and of course no impact of all these actions on his world. Whatever you are the Dragonborn, whatever you wear the rarest Daedric Artifacts, everyone, even people low in the ranks of the guilds you lead, treat you as they did before. All that's left are perhaps some interesting side quests, which precisely because they're disconnected from the whole setting make for an excellent microcosm. But are they enough hours counted on the fingers to equal the rest of the void? The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle, and below we'll see if in 2021 it's worth bothering with.
Comparing the two experiences, I can say that they had nothing to do with each other. As angry and disgusted as I left the first one, I enjoyed the second one even more. That's because, like me, the company itself didn't seem to take the world it created seriously. It butchered what I thought was an excellent lore, stripped almost all vitality from the characters and their stories, and emphasized constant stimuli after rewards to keep players engaged. So even someone who won't get serious about it but will have it to pass the time slaying various kinds of fictional monsters. He won't sit around busting his head about wars of other eras and will kill his time with quests ranging from mushroom picking to hunting the most fearsome dragon of all time. He'll spend some carefree hours and that's it.
Compared to the previous games in the series, what leaves the worst impression is the inability to identify with one of the game's characters. Any empathy goes out the window since little and even Skyrim's writing would have been completely limited to one-word questions and answers. Even Oblivion, which made negative history for its own reasons, had its moments, such as in Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood. What the two aforementioned titles share is the leap in quality that occurred with the release of their respective expansions. Both Shivering Isles and Dawnguard have infused stories far more interesting than those of their core games.
Putting the game in the present day, the truth is that it doesn't have much to say to a newcomer. Even for the sake of storytelling, it doesn't have much to show for its time. While Bethesda had some great ideas, such as the one with the Civil War forts, never followed through with them. Same with the minigames. They exist to justify some of our actions but beyond that they play no other purpose. Instead, it didn't miss an opportunity to sell seaweed for silk ribbons at every possible opportunity. At the same time, over the years, games have been released that have taken these ideas almost to their limits. On the flip side, what saves the day is the game's gorgeous graphics, which even today have almost nothing to envy from modern titles. In the same vein is the music, with Jeremy Soule once again composing highly fitting compositions to dress up the game's world. Coming up to today's anniversary, Bethesda has decided to release another version of the game, which promises to bring it a little closer to today by allowing us to... fish! Regardless of what they might be thinking there in Rockville about what the world might want one thing is for sure. They're trying to keep people's interest alive and the mentions around it high on social media trends, but for how long? How long will they keep the skeleton of Skyrim around for its devotees to worship?
Sure winning teams don't change, but maybe that much needed change should come at some point, Gamebryo in your eyes I look at you and sigh. And especially since after so many years of evolution, both in technology and the development tools available, if Elder Scrolls VI turns out to be one of the same it probably won't be able to lure people in with any more mirrors. Still, it's an anniversary, blow out a candle and stop by for a bit of sweetroll and if you have time it's worth a last stroll through Solitude. As we said, it may not have much to offer and is primarily aimed at RPG fans, but there's certainly still Elder Scrolls lurking behind the tacky façade and the Elder Scrolls flavor is waiting to be discovered.