The Elder Scrolls (TES) games have timed up perfectly as touchstones for turning points in my life, and this may be a reason for my continued adoration of the series. TES III: Morrowind was a jaw dropping introduction to roleplaying games in general for me. TES IV: Oblivion was the first title I got to enjoy transition from one generation to the next. TES V: Skyrim was the first time I really felt like I knew I was playing something that was unquestionably “Game of the Year”. Ultimately, this series has had more of an impact on me over the last ten years than I even realized before beginning this feature. The lion’s share of that impact has come from the latest entry, 2011’s Skyrim.
It’s been a short two years since 11/11/11, the release date for Skyrim, Bethesda’s masterpiece. In the two years subsequent to release we’ve seen dozens of awards, impressive sales, and critics fawning to no end. With the exception of the PS3 version not receiving the DLC on time with other platforms, support for the game was flawless. Fans enjoyed the steady roll of additional content that extended their time in the snowy province of Tamriel, with several new features and locations, quest lines, and even new skills. It has been a trend since Morrowind, that these games have been so well received, that there always be a re-release of the game with all additional content packed together after everything has been released. Not only has there been a “Legendary Edition” released, but this year marks a milestone as Bethesda has seen fit to release The Elder Scrolls Anthology. This brings all of the TES titles: Arena, Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, to include all DLC and additional content together, in one package for PC.
To celebrate, in my own way, I began a new save, enduring the slow paced, grueling opening sequence, once again, only to be rewarded by that breath of fresh, untapped Skyrim-air at the end. After emerging from the tunnel underneath the city of Helgen at the opening of the game, I am quickly reminded of the almost trademark feeling that Bethesda has come to master with “the moment”.
If you’ve ever played Skyrim, Fallout 3, or even Oblivion, you’ll know what I’m referring to. The moment the game opens up, let’s go of your hand, presents you with a beautiful view of the world, and whispers in your ear “go, explore, do whatever you want, enjoy”. Even after two years of superb games, wonderful experiences and time, this great equalizer, this moment in Skyrim is still moving and resonates just as strong as the first time.
The most important thing Skyrim did was teach me things about myself as a gamer and my relationship with games. I have always been fond of open world games like Grand Theft Auto, earlier Elder Scrolls titles, and the Assassin’s Creed series, but I never really noticed this trend in my tastes until Skyrim came along. It was like growing up, going to random theme parks here and there throughout my childhood, when playing these other games, but Skyrim… Skyrim is Disney World.
It was the enormity and freedom that really took me back. The sounds of the windswept plains that made me feel like I was actually truly there, standing under snowcapped mountains, breathing it all in. The beautiful sunrises and sunsets changing the colors of the clouds on the horizon. The way the night sky was more than just a black skybox with some white dots in it, but a living, breathing body of celestial wonder. Looking across a valley and seeing mountains rise up over them on the horizon and knowing that, not only could I go there but chances are I’ll have to defend myself from dragons, wolves, thieves, trolls, and who knows what else before I even set one foot on those mountains. I love when a game gives me options, tools, and abilities to use at my own discretion to accomplish things. Skyrim does this beautifully. If I want to travel from town to town as a mercenary, taking jobs and securing bounties along the way, I can do that, however I like. I can do it as a sneaky thief, a silver tongued rogue, or a hammer wielding behemoth with a flair for magic.
All of this really drove it home for me that style of my game-of-choice is open world. The amount of freedom in this game opened my eyes to the possibilities of the future of open world games. This realization lead me to truly appreciate future titles like Batman: Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed III, and even Borderlands 2. Thanks Skyrim. Thank you for helping me learn a little more about myself as a gamer. With this new found addiction, I’ve found that my cravings will only grow when fed by more recent open world successes like Far Cry 3 and Grand Theft Auto V, and upcoming titles like Watch Dogs and Destiny.
Skyrim is both, the pinnacle of what Bethesda is trying to do with The Elder Scrolls series, and the gameplay they’ve come to be known for over the past decade. With The Elder Scrolls Online being handled by Zenimax Online Studios, the specter of Fallout 4 looming on the horizon, and the gaming world transitioning to a new generation, it could be a perfect time for Bethesda to step away and begin a new franchise.
One thing that even Skyrim has yet to shake loose of is the struggle between strong narrative and player freedom in an open world. Perhaps Bethesda could create a new franchise that lends itself better to the kind of worlds, storytelling, and gameplay they’ve designed over the last generation. Who knows, but I do know one thing, Skyrim has and surely can continue to stand as one of this generations truly greatest titles.