Game of the Year 2011: #5 – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Everyone talks about the dragon battles in Skyrim. The obsession with killing mystical, fire breathing beasts is seemingly unyielding. But (for me) that’s one of the least interesting things to do with ones time in Skyrim.
This may sound a little lame, but I prefer collecting flowers and concocting potions from them more than fighting dragons. Okay, that was more than a little lame.
The great thing about Skyrim is that, even though others may think you’re playing the game wrong or not getting the most out of it, it never judges or forces you to play in a different way. If you like picking flowers Skyrim is fine with that. In fact, it will reward you for it. Put enough effort into any individual part of the game and you’ll benefit more than you may expect.
I’m not a complete wuss, though. When I’m not picking flowers I like to trek across mountains searching for loot that turns out to be useless, score drugs from an Orc that lives by a river and wander into towns and villages while as high as Charlie Sheen and torch the place to the ground.
In summary, I’m a flower picking, loot hunting drug addict with a taste for pillaging innocents. Hmm… the true nature of oneself cometh through games, perhaps.
And that’s just one of my games. In another save I play completely differently, focusing almost exclusively on the main quest and only leaving the track when I’m sure it’s going to be profitable (through coin or items) to do so. While this approach to play is just about fun enough, it’s a long shot from providing the same level of enjoyment as the drugged up sadist approach is capable.
And that’s no surprise; Skyrim has clearly been designed with exploration and the freedom of choice as its foremost concerns. To stick to the main path is to miss the point of the experience in the first place. Yes, there is a story mapped out for you to follow here, but the real story is the one you craft for yourself; the one in which relationships are formed, weapons are painstakingly hunted out and certain battles are the stuff of personal legend.
I have to admit, before Skyrim I was bored to the point of coma by the very idea of getting stuck into another world of Orcs, Elves, horned helmets and people who include their place of birth in their name. Basically, I tired of Lord of the Rings and equivalent knockoffs long ago.
But Skyrim feels different. I suspect that’s because it doesn’t force elements you may find undesirable down your throat. Sure, there are Orcs and Elves around every corner but you can, for the most part, avoid them… unless they’ve got drugs on them, of course; in which case they suddenly become the most important thing you’ve ever laid eyes on.
There comes a point where you’ll want to embark on main quests in order to keep things moving and gain new skills that are available by no other means, but you’re free to choose when to do so.
Some open-world games suffer from being incredibly dull thanks to design teams that fail completely when it comes to filling the environment with interesting things to do. For those developers (you know how you are), you could do a lot worse than spending a couple of hundred hours in Skyrim and working out where it is that you’ve gone wrong.
As a template for DIY gameplay, Skyrim is a gem.