Oh Bethesda, you glorious bastards, you did it again didn’t you? It wasn’t enough that you won the Game of the Year award for Morrowind, Oblivion and Fallout 3, you had to win it again this year. Skyrim, the latest iteration in The Elder Scrolls series, has received universal critical acclaim and won several Game of the Year awards on multiple sites. But did it deserve them?
This is a pretty delicate question since there are a lot of Skyrim fans out there, but the game simply didn’t do it for me. Yes, it is a visual masterpiece, yes it has one of the greatest virtual worlds ever created, but the fact of the matter is I did not enjoy it.
At first I thought there was something wrong with me. I mean playing through Fallout 3 was one of the best experiences I had in a game, and it’s certainly in my top 10 best games ever made. So when I was playing through Skyrim I was sort of surprised when I had this feeling of emptiness. Everything was there: the world, the dragons, the exploration, but something was missing. As I kept playing it I thought that maybe I was not going through enough of the side quests, or that maybe I haven’t reached the good ones. The point of complete disillusionment was when I did the quest for The Companions and I became a werewolf. My first reaction was:”That’s it?” And that is not the reaction you want your players to have when you have given them the ability to turn into a werewolf.
So I kept trying, but the more I played the more I realized that this game is not for me. I was beginning to accept my fate as a mutant, a creature not from this world but very similar to you humans. This was until I have read on some forums that Skyrim is a lot like Oblivion. And then I suddenly remembered playing Oblivion. I wanted to play and like Oblivion just as much as Skyrim, but when I got to actually playing it I felt the same empty feeling inside that I would feel years later. Needless to say the point of disillusionment came when I finished The Dark Brotherhood questline and found myself to be the same scrawny vampire lizard with a bow. Oh, I was the best assassin in the land, but that was only for me to know, not the lords, not the crime bosses, not even my companions from The Brotherhood, who still treated me like they were treating me when I joined them, even though I was their leader.
I began to realize that Skyrim and Oblivion are not games with depth. The analogy has been made, and I agree with it, that Skyrim is like a big lake that is very shallow. Sure it’s great to take a boat ride on it, but once you want to take a dive you see that the water goes slightly above your waist. And this ruins the immersion for me. At one point I was riding my horse around, even though I could fast travel and thought to myself “Hmm, this is nice. This world is great, I love the scenery.” And then a feeling came over that I used to feel when playing WoW. One of my greatest joys in WoW was exploring, because everything else except PvP was boring to me. And having this feeling about a single player game made me sad.
But Skyrim has received a lot of praise and for good reason. The land of the Nords is indeed one of the greatest virtual worlds to explore. But make no mistake about it, Skyrim is a fantasy sandbox game more than it is an RPG (because having RPG elements does not make you an RPG these days). And I’m okay with that. I enjoy sandbox games. I have played GTA IV for several months after completing the storyline, just driving around, exploring Liberty City and shooting prostitutes. But in a fantasy sandbox game, the horse is too slow and prostitutes are hard to find. I expect more from my RPGs. I expect an epic storyline, amazing characters and a world in which I have an impact. Skyrim simply is not that.
So to sum it up, Skyrim is not an RPG is it is fantasy sandbox game. It is for the player that has imagination. If you are like me however, and you gave up on your imagination when you discovered video games, Skyrim is not for you. Is it worthy of the Game of the Year award? Not to me.