Skyrim: Five Years Later

I was a somewhat latecomer to the Elder Scrolls series. While most people I know had grown up with Daggerfall or Morrowind, it was Oblivion that I began my adventures in Tamriel. It amazed me how expansive and thorough a world can be presented in games, something I'd only previously been exposed to in literature. I came from a background of mostly playing first person shooters and racing games, so having a fully open-world RPG with distinctive quests and enemies was practically unknown to me.

I remember 11/11/11 well. There was a heavy thunderstorm on, and I had to trek halfway across town to get bread for my mum (thanks, ma). I knew that when I got home, I'd be able to dig my claws into a new videogame; The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It was immensely fun. I enjoyed to once again be able to explore a sprawling world and interact with the many unique NPCs that populated it. The combat and levelling was simpler than it was in Oblivion, but it was a necessary undertaking. It was clear to me that Bethesda wanted Skyrim to be more casual than its predecessors. and that's okay.

Oblivion's levelling system was incredibly flawed. Enemies levelled up with you in what is known as scaling; meaning that as you became stronger, so did the enemies. You had to run strictly with your class and couldn't experiment with hybrid builds. If you levelled up the wrong way, you'd be overwhelmed by how strong goblins or liches became. It punished those who wanted to become a jack of all trades, or decided halfway through a play-through they wanted to try a bit of archery. Fast forward to Skyrim, and things became a lot easier. Firstly, Bethesda ditched the major/minor skills system into a much more simplified perks system. You use one-handed weapons long enough, and you levelled that skill up. Get enough skill levels, and you'd level your character up and gain a perk point. Enemy scaling was toned down a lot, where it worked similar to Fallout 3; territories were assigned an encounter level. So for example, a level 5 character in a level 10 territory will be outmatched, but will have an easier time once they return to the area as a level 15. Ultimately, this is the kind of system players wanted in Skyrim; a combat and levelling system that didn't alienate players who wanted to experiment.

Arguably one thing that helped Skyrim survive as long as it has is the wonderful modding community. Years of community support through Nexus or Steam Workshop has allowed players to carefully alter and craft the game to their liking, whether that means adding a Deadpool follower, or an entire new questline in a new region. I remember being particularly annoyed about a certain plot point late into the game, to the point where I couldn't actually continue playing without acting on it - so instead I went to the Workshop and downloaded a mod that circumvented my frustration. The ever-popular unofficial patch has saved players a lot of grief with unexpected bugs occurring, and SkyUI helped alleviate problems with the HUD on PC that was criticised for being too console-friendly.

Looking back, however, I can't help but criticise Skyrim for how it handled the "role-playing" aspect of the game. Within the first few hours of play, you are the Dragonborn. The saviour of the world, a big hero and celebrity. Compare that to Morrowind where you're sort of let loose in the world and have to earn your badass status. On top of that, you can (and mostly likely will) also be a major player in the civil war, a vampire that resolves a conflict with the Dawnguard, an assassin that kills the emperor, a mage that becomes leader of the guild and the thief single-handedly responsible for restoring the Thieves Guild to its former glory. It's a case of too much agency. While more player freedom and choice is welcome in any game, it ruined my immersion that I could play through the entire Mage questline without ever casting a spell. The game is a sandbox, not an RPG. It allows the player to say YES to any opportunity without repercussions, but it's not like you can even avoid some of them; for example the main quest also forces you into the Winterhold College and Civil War storylines, which a player with some self-control may want to avoid doing for the sake of character-building. Compare this to Bioware's Dragon Age: Origins, where the player's class drastically affects how one approaches enemies and quests.

I love Skyrim. I have hundreds of hours in it and am still playing it five years later. But it's a heavily flawed RPG. There were never really any opportunities to play an "evil" character, the storyline was fairly linear and the radiant quests got repetitive. The game still looks beautiful, especially on the Special Edition upgrade. I think once we see some new single-player Elder Scrolls games, people are going to look back on Skyrim more fondly than its predecessors. Morrowind and Oblivion were very niche, and are more remembered for their crippling difficulty and horrible bugs. Skyrim fits the role of a casual pick-up-and-play game - something that anyone's nan will want (and one person's actually did).

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