Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. Some of these are forgotten gems, some you will guess straight away. Others cover more than one game in a series, or compare two similar games.
Today we look at a massive hit that has positives and negatives with the sorts of trends that its popularity may have led to. But the game itself has a reason for being so popular: it’s really good!
#37. SKYRIM, by Michael Cripe
Roaring music built from powerful Viking-esque vocals, a setting paved by mountains covered with the bitter cold, and enough lore to fill a library are only a few of the elements that lay the groundwork for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Skyrim is the culmination of just enough great elements that the end result is an immersive world that changed open-world games forever.
An announcement for the fifth entry in the Elder Scrolls series came during the 2010 Video Game Awards, nearly five years after the previous game, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, released to the public.
The footage below came in February of 2011 and was the world’s first look at what would engulf video game culture for the next eight years.
Blood curdling dragons and a song to lift the dormant spirits of Elder Scrolls fans was all that was needed to accompany a proud November 11 release date.
Both Oblivion and Skyrim debuted on the seventh generation of gaming consoles and the differences in graphical quality alone were enough to send shivers down the spine. Skyrim was—and in most ways still is—beautifully daunting in all of the most magical ways.
The game sold seven million copies in its first week and dropped players into the world the developer had been promising for nearly a year.
Dragons reign in the province of Skyrim, where players take on the role of the Dragonborn. The story is straightforward enough to get the ball rolling, as it mostly has to do with a prophecy, the end times, and a quest to stop the bringer of said end times, Alduin.
If you have never heard anything about Skyrim’s narrative, the developer has surprisingly a good reason why. Bethesda Games’s home run of an RPG is the success that it is because of the stories players make on their own, not the story given by the developer. Despite hundreds of hours of story and side quests, creating a unique adventure has always been what keeps Skyrim in mainstream discourse.
“I used to be an adventurer like you, until I took an arrow to the knee,” is not one of the most famous lines in gaming history only because it is from Skyrim. The line is famous because it resonates with anyone with war stories from Whiterun. Everyone who has touched Skyrim has a unique story of their first encounter with a dragon.
What did you do to find the crafting pieces necessary to forge that last daedric armor component? If enough searching is done, players can find out how to turn themselves into a werewolf no different than the ones seen in movies. Skyrim is about getting lost in another land that expects the world of you and the groundwork the game offers breeds narrative.
After months of success stories, Bethesda eventually dropped Skyrim’s three DLC packs: ‘Dawnguard’, ‘Hearthfire’, and ‘Dragonborn’. The first two packs introduced new narratives and gameplay mechanics but are looked back fondly on due to new areas to discover and search through.
‘Hearthfire’ sacrificed story content for the ability to let players create and customize their own homes at set locations in Skyrim, but ‘Dragonborn’ reintroduced the isle of Solstheim, from the Bloodmoon expansion of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.
Skyrim’s sounds make even the most mundane enemy encounter feel harrowing and every victory leads to triumphant pillaging for rewards. Composer Jeremy Soule is a seasoned Elder Scrolls veteran and has produced some of the more memorable tracks in recent memory. Aside from the main theme from the game, Soule has written for the original Prey, Guild Wars 2, World of Warcraft, and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
Modders have taken Skyrim past even what DLC introduced by integrating custom campaigns and more ways to diversify moment to moment gameplay. Bethesda has taken note of the modding community and has a section on console versions of the game where players can download and use some of the more popular modifications.
Where Skyrim received most of its criticisms, however, is the result of combat that is less than engaging to say the least. Rarely do different weapons impact gameplay in a dynamic way, so grinding for a special sword can feel fruitless at times. Sure, magic lends its otherworldly hand to remind the player that they are in a fantastical setting, but spells are often only truly vital in specific instances.
Thankfully, a redeeming and deep skill tree helps flesh out gameplay enough to vary enemy encounters. Even if Skyrim lacked a coherent skill tree, the engaging world Bethesda offers is where the core audience would find their reason to return to Skyrim’s home continent of Tamriel.
Before Elder Scrolls V, most open-world games failed to live and breathe the way Skyrim did. In a post-Skyrim world, mainstream media began to use phrases like “Skyrim with guns” for titles such as Far Cry 3 and 4, denoting an open world representative of quality as high as Skyrim’s.
One of the ongoing jokes still living in the gaming to community today is Bethesda’s desire to continuously port Skyrim over to other consoles: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, and even Amazon Alexa each have playable versions of Skyrim.
This barrage of ports is only the result of a market that is hungry for what Skyrim gave to players back in 2011. With the exception of the Fallout series, nothing else offers what The Elder Scrolls brings to the table and it is likely that nothing will for years to come.
PERILS OF PROGRESS
Mitchell here. Thanks to Mike, we have wrapped up a mini-trilogy of some of our favourite fantasy RPGs, all enjoyed in one way or another here at OnlySP, and hopefully by you too.
But to the other RPG lovers—maybe you played a lot of Morrowind or Oblivion, or maybe you are just a bigger fan of talkier, more linear RPGs like the last couple of weeks’ Dragon Age or Divinity: Original Sin—I did not want to leave you out if you thought Skyrim was missing something.
Because, as enormous of an achievement these open world games are, you are not alone for wishing they had not dominated the western fantasy-RPG landscape for the past generation. Some of the changes between The Elder Scrolls IV and V really make a lot of difference, and that is unavoidable thanks to the pressures of an ever-shifting industry, always trying to serve changing demographics.
Truly, Skyrim smoothed out some of the interesting edges from Oblivion, but when Oblivion came out, the same could have been said of the changes made since Morrowind. Looking at these games as a one-way progression hurts, because some of what we love from the earlier entries has been sandpapered away.
Thus, highlighting these different kinds of RPGs has become so important. If we learn from the success of Divinity, Pillars of Eternity, and other resurgent old-school RPGs, gaming does not need to have a linear progression from niche to mainstream, or from PCs to console, or from easy to hardcore.
The way that retro crazes evolve (and the way companies always want to work on nostalgia) gamers today might be mere years away from seeing 3D, open world RPGs that hearken specifically to Morrowind or Oblivion—if not from big publishers or established indies, then maybe some new developer, right as you are reading this, is working on its own tribute to the older Elder Scrolls games.
Heck, someone reading this post might be working on their own old-school RPG right now. Go get ’em!
Thanks for reading once again, and if you know of any interesting trends in the world of fantasy RPGs, share them in the comments below. Next week, we take a look at a timely but very unexpected game for OnlySP.