On the best games of generation 7, part 4: Skyrim
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Looking at what I’ve written about Skyrim previously (mostly in my 2011 game of the year blog post on Giant Bomb), it’s actually a little surprising that this wound up being my favourite game of Generation 7. It was my game of the year in 2011, but at the time I would have rated 999 higher had it not been released in 2010 and had Skyrim not had so many technical problems on the Playstation 3. Time brings changes in perspective, however, and given the amount of fun I’ve had with Skyrim over the past two years, I’m pretty happy with how my feelings on it have changed.
When Skyrim was released in November of 2011, I loved it. I had been playing a lot of turn-based JRPGs and I desperately needed a break from them and to play something a little outside my comfort zone. I bought it on release day and quickly racked up about 120 hours on two different characters. I stopped soon after that, however, because the infamous PS3 save file bug began to make the game completely unplayable. Needless to say, I was pretty pissed.
I purchased the PS3 version of Skyrim because by 2011, I had decided that I was content to stay in Sony’s ecosystem. The PS3 was getting the Japanese games I wanted to play, I was enjoying a lot of late PSP releases, making plans to buy a Vita, and mostly choosing the PS3 version for multi-platform games. I owned, and still own, an Xbox 360, but even two years ago, I was pretty well ready to pack it away to save space in my entertainment center: it’s an early model with a 20 gig hard drive, so it makes loads of noise and requires constant storage management. I knew that choosing the PS3 version was risky. Media outlets were not sent review code for the PS3 version and it was pretty well known that Bethesda’s other generation 7 games had had technical problems on the PS3. Still, at the time I felt that choosing the PS3 version was worth it due to my X360’s limitations. I was willing to put up with a little extra Bethesda jank in order to play Skyrim on my preferred platform.
And then I realized that it wasn’t worth it at all since the PS3 version of Skyrim had serious problems. It wasn’t even just bugs — the engine that Bethesda used to build their games had an architectural incompatibility with the PS3’s save system that essentially made the game run worse as your save file became larger. So, really, the more I played the PS3 version of Skyrim, the worse its performance got. Not really an ideal scenario. I played as long as I could, and then traded the PS3 version in while I could still get a decent amount of money for it and asked for the X360 version of the game for my birthday in February. This particular technical problem bothered me a great deal for a number of reasons. But mainly I felt like PS3 had been out for 4 years and the time for excusing lousy ports on the platform was over. Bethesda’s response to the situation was also pretty irritating, and while I loved Skyrim, it all left a pretty bad taste in my mouth.
Over time, of course, my feelings about all of this have evened out and I’m now much better able to actually enjoy the game without thinking about all the drama that surrounded it. During the past two years, I have gone back to Skyrim again and again, settling in to it whenever I’ve needed a sure distraction or a break from the turn-based games I normally play. It can also be pretty dangerous for me to play at times, since once I get in to it, I’m hooked and have a hard time focusing on anything else. In fact, just last week I had to force myself to put Skyrim down so that I could deal with the dinner party and make more headway on Ace Attorney V. There aren’t a lot of games that do that to me, that grab me and refuse to let me go, and even less to the extent that Skyrim does. I’d say probably Persona 3 is the only game that’s gripped me as hard as Skyrim has in the past 6 or 7 years.
And to be honest, I can’t even definitively tell you why I like it so much. It certainly isn’t the main story, which I have never actually finished (though it is definitely a goal of mine that I would like to tackle it in the next month or two). For sure, I find the real estate part of it to be a significant motivator. I love buying and upgrading the houses, which provides me with a lot of incentive to explore dungeons and craft items to make the gold I need to buy them. I also feel like Skyrim’s skill system makes your in-game activities feel like they matter. I recently tried out Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and found that a lot of the skills I had available didn’t really matter, particularly the crafting skills. I could always find the potions I really needed from stores, was finding better weapons then I could smith or enchant, and I always had loads of money.
In Skyrim, Bethesda did a great job of allowing the player to choose their upgrade path, even if it wasn’t a typical archetype, and truly integrate that in to their own personal game story. My favourite way to play Skyrim is to duel-wield one-handed weapons, and craft weapons and armor that allow me to get by without any defense or healing spells. My trump card against tough boss characters was always a paralysis poison — something one might expect a thief-oriented character to use, but I played like a tank. For me, finding ways to compensate for my character’s weaknesses from skill trees I might not ordinarily think much of using is rewarding and fun.
Again, I could go on forever, and I still have no idea whether or not these choices I’ve made over the past few days will hold up for me, but I’m interested to see if anything I play in the next while can usurp something in my current top 5.