In my third, and most important year of university, gaming saw one of its best years ever release-wise. The Autumn release schedule was ridiculous, featuring such juggernauts as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Uncharted 3, Rayman Origins and Batman Arkham City. And then of course there’s Bethesda’s epic open world fantasy RPG game Skyrim. Now I can be quite excitable when it comes to release dates and Skyrim was no exception. In my student house I was lucky enough to live with a guy who was as equally excited about Skyrim, and we decided to make an occasion of it. Fine cheeses and cigars were purchased and we waited in an hour long queue at midnight on the launch date. After which we separated into our respective rooms and delved deep into the Nordic mountain ranges and epic tundra plains.
My house mate and I were enamored with the game instantly. We would literally spend 8-10 hours a day playing it and only break for food in which we would meet up and discuss what had happened in our playthroughs. Within 2 days I’d sunk a whole day of my own life into my High Elf mage centric character. I was blown away by the freedom which Bethesda had offered us. If I wanted to go and pose heroicly on the peak of a mountain I could see in the distance then I could do just that. I was addicted and would often deny to myself that I had more important things to do, like you know, my final essays for university. Skyrim could do no wrong.
Until about 70 hours into my game when I suddenly hit a brick wall. I had no compulsion to play any further. I had instantly, and seemingly inexplicably, fallen out of love with Skyrim. I’ve thought through how this could have happened and I managed to compile a small list of things that ultimately ruined a game which had the potential to secure a place in my top 10 games of all time.
I’ll admit that creating a world in which players become fully immersed and lost is not easy. Very few games can manage to even come close to doing so. There are hundreds of aspects, mechanics and factors that are crucial in bringing to life such a world. But do you know one aspect that really doesn’t work? Having NPC’s “interact” with you EVERY SINGLE time you pass by them. I’m talking about the now infamous “I used to be an adventurer like you…” (see I didn’t even need to finish it off, you already know it), and other such quips NPC’s would blurt out as you wandered past. This isn’t how people actually interact with each other in the real world. Now obviously with players spending huge amounts of time in games there’s bound to be repetition, but they could easily change it so people would only interact with you every 10th or 20th passing. That way I wouldn’t scream “shut the fuck up” at these inhabitants of the virtual world occupying my TV screen.
This second gripe probably plays the biggest part in explaining why I suddenly felt only apathy towards a game I had previously been besotted with. Skyrim would often give me a feeling of dejá vu, a sense of “haven’t I been to this dungeon before?” And for an open world RPG game this spells big trouble. I know that the developers went to great lengths by trying to set out all the dungeons differently, but they kept all the aesthetics exactly the same, at least in the Draugr and Dwarven areas. Once you’d seen one spider infested moss covered dungeon you’d seen them all. The Dwarven places did manage to change things up a bit, but again, once you’d visited a few of them you weren’t going to find anything drastically different. Couldn’t Bethesda just changed the colour palette up a bit? Or given us a new theme of dungeon to explore? After a while I didn’t feel like I was exploring any more because seemed new to me, I had slain countless Draugr in the same dull corridors and it slowly took its toll.
Now this last one is a mix of why I actually loved the game and it may have simultaneously been the final nail in the coffin. Anyone who follows Bethesda games closely is wise to the fact that their games are often plagued with hilarious bugs, problems and glitches. I encountered a few of them myself such as being launched into the air like a firework by a band of marauding giants. But there is a fine line between being charmingly quirky and just plain frustrating. Being a Playstation 3 owner I was one of the unfortunate lot who experienced huge frame rate drops causing massive chug. This definitely ruined my immersion with the game. I know this is a very personal criticism of the game, but I also experienced other game breaking bugs such as my character floating off into the clouds while in 3rd person mode. These various bugs and problems with the game invariably tarnished my experience.
Don’t get me wrong, I really did enjoy my initial 70 hours with the game. Well and truly loved them. But I feel the game gets a lot of credit and a lot of these criticisms are simply paved over because the rest of the game is so well put together. It seems like the things which the developers had implemented to flesh out the game actually became their Achilles heel, and left me disappointed that a game came so close to perfection and failed.