Note: This article assumes that you are as obsessed by SKYRIM as I am, so spoilers abound. I am also referring to the vanilla, un-modded version of SKYRIM as well.
When SKYRIM was initially released in 2011, it came on the cooling heels of some wounded fans unhappy with the dramatic and practically knee-jerking redevelop in its game design from MORROWIND to OBLIVION. The hardcore fans accused the developer, Bethesda, of dumbing down the game for the console crowd, and in a way, they were accurate. OBLIVION was definitely a more console-friendly affair, nixing many of the more complex (and by their definition, audience-limiting) mechanics, such as:
- Complicated dialogue trees
- Head-scratching puzzles
- Lack of clearly marked objectives
- Importance of faction identity
- Ability to permanently fail missions
- Killable Essential NPC’s
Too much choice is overwhelming sometimes, and a game that is too open-ended often ends up being confusing. Remember Dragon Warrior or Ultima: Exodus? Those games were ostensibly, unapologetically RPG’s and had little to zero direction about what you were supposed to do, even at the beginning. Is that a bad thing? Not inherently. That’s like saying the crappy starter pistol in an FPS is a bad thing. In a game console culture dedicated to casual play, quick game sessions, and constant action-oriented gameplay, yes it most certainly is. SKYRIM, coming a full five years after OBLIVION, successfully navigated the choppy waters of hardcore player expectation versus audience appeal to ridiculous sales numbers, critical acclaim, and even some GOTY awards.
Yet strangely enough, after over 350 hours on two platforms (Xbox 360 and PC), I’ve discovered that SKYRIM’s main game mechanics are often unrewarding in an RPG space, in favor of grind and instant gratification unbecoming of a proper role-playing experience. I wander through the various Holds, killing the same beasts, running the same types of quests, grinding the same stats, and even though I’m continually playing the game, the dreaded b-word began to emerge.
That’s right kids, when you take a good, hard look at it: SKYRIM is kind of boring.
I can feel the Internet Hate Machine roaring to life, so let me qualify that statement. I know for a fact that my growing ambivalence towards SKYRIM has nothing to do with how much I’ve played it. I’ve dumped over 100 hours into FINAL FANTASY VI, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: SHADOW OF CHERNOBYL, BORDERLANDS 2, and other various RPG’s each over the years. I would pick them up any day of the week and play them all the way through until my girlfriend dragged me into the bedroom for sleep or hanky panky. Recently after a 6 hour binge on a Friday night, I took an intentional leave of absence from Tamriel and spent a week not playing any PC games at all. It gave me time to think about SKYRIM.
The dreaded b-word arose again from the deep.
If SKYRIM doesn’t have much behind its ebony-forged luster, why do I keep playing it? I’ve beaten the dull campaign twice, participated in both sides of the civil war, cleared nearly every main storyline, as well as innumerable side quests. What is drawing me back into the world? I give casual social media games a lot of flak for being mindless mental exercises that often cost real money. Zynga Media and Activision, the dark lords of game “developers” have this addictive game-playing methodology down to a multi-billion dollar science. Note, I used quotes around the word “developers”. Zynga Media has a checkered history of just ripping off other’s people games with their WhateverVille franchises, and Activision just photocopies last year’s version with GUITAR HERO or CALL OF DUTY equally.
So I ask the question: Why is SKYRIM so boring? Why do I keep playing it?
(Cont’d on Page 2)