Adventuring into the #15 Position…
If you really think about it, I bet there aren’t too many games you’ve played in your life that you could, without any pretense or justification, honestly call a “perfect experience.” Now, that’s not to say that the game is necessarily without flaws. Every game has a flaw somewhere. No, what I’m talking about is the sensation you get when you play a game that transcends it’s medium. It becomes more than a video game, and takes you somewhere new. I’ve played hundreds of great games in my life, but the ones that did what I’m describing above? That’s a really short list. For me, those games are Final Fantasy II (SNES), World of Warcraft, Baldur’s Gate II… and Skyrim.
EPIC FANTASY REBORN
That phrase is the first thing you see on the back of Skyrim’s box, and if pretty much any other game I’ve ever played had tried to get away with that shit, I would’ve scoffed in it’s fucking face right before I put it back on the shelf. But having played Morrowind and Oblivion, I knew what the Elder Scrolls series was capable of in its best moments. The problem I had with both of those games was that, to a certain extent, they felt like unrealized potential. The world of Tamriel was brilliant, but the mechanics always felt a little clunky, the characters never looked quite right, and there was always a sense that Bethesda had shot for the stars and missed by a fraction of a centimeter. That might sound like an unfair statement to level at two games that are still regarded as some of the best work ever produced by one of the best developers in the industry, but I’m just being honest. Personally, I think Bethesda always had greater ambitions than what the available technology would allow. It wasn’t by much, but it was just enough to throw things off a bit. Skyrim was the first time that everything felt perfect. So when I see that line, “Epic Fantasy Reborn”, I don’t think of them reinventing the entire genre of the fantasy RPG. I think of them reinventing Elder Scrolls and making it the franchise it was always meant to be.
FUS RO DAH
I wish Skyrim’s progression, (Elder Scrolls in general has always been brilliant with this, but for the purposes of this review I’m talking specifically about Skyrim), existed in every single game everywhere always until the end of time to infinity and back again. Someone needs to make this happen. Traditionally, when you play an RPG, you’ve got a few choices: Race, class, gender, and probably some abilities and skills. You made decisions to suit the game. Bethesda took that trope and threw it in the fucking dumpster. Skyrim changes to suit your style of play. If you want to run up and bash a dragon in the face with an axe, you’re going to level your melee. If you want to throw spells and summon elementals and demons, you’ll level your casting abilities. If you want to sneak around and snipe with a bow, you’ll evolve into a stealthy archer. And if you want to do all of that stuff at once, you absolutely can. Every single ability in the game is available to every player; all you have to do is play however you want. It’s fantastic.
You’re doing all this in what is the most beautiful open world setting I’ve ever seen. Whether or not Skyrim is the best open world game ever is something that’s open to endless debate, but in terms of sheer physical beauty I can’t think of anything else that comes close. From the opening sequence when you’re being taken to the execution block to the peak of the Throat of the World, I never stopped saying “Holy shit LOOK AT THIS!” The sense of adventure is palpable. On top of being gorgeous, Skyrim is massive. From the snow-covered hills of Winterhold to the forests of the Reach, there’s so much to do and see in Skyrim it’s honestly mind-boggling. How the hell Bethesda crammed all of this onto one disc is one of the great mysteries of our time, right along with what exactly is it that Meatloaf won’t do for love and where in the world is Carmen San Diego? If you’re under 25, go look those up. You’ll be impressed with how clever I am.
THE HERO’S JOURNEY
The only problem, (and I don’t really think it’s an issue personally), with Skyrim is that it’s so damn big that it can feel overwhelming. I’m actually having the same problem with this review; there’s so much to say about this game that there’s no way for me to cover it here. It simply can’t be done. The Skyrim strategy guide that’s sitting on my shelf is over 500 fucking pages long. So, yeah. Suffice to say that the journey you take in this game takes you from lowly prisoner to the greatest hero (or villain) in Skyrim. Along the way, you may become a dragonslayer, embroiled in political intrigue, the world’s most powerful mage, the head of the Thieves Guild, a great warrior or a dreaded assassin. The choice is yours.
THE LAST STAND
One of the most satisfying moments of my gaming life was when I finally felt like I had conquered Skyrim. Some people might think that’s kind of an odd thing to say, since the game technically doesn’t end. You can keep playing for as long as you like and there will always be stuff to do. But at a certain point, I felt like my character’s journey was over. I won’t spoil any story details here because you absolutely should go experience this for yourself, but after many, many enjoyable hours spent in Skyrim, I knew my time there was done. I went to the peak of the Throat of the World, the entirety of Skyrim spread out before me stretching off to the horizon, and I exited the game. I haven’t logged back in since that moment, and I won’t. That’s how I wanted my journey through Skyrim to end, and that’s the way it will stay. I left Skyrim having had one of the greatest gaming experiences of my life, completely fulfilled and on my own terms. Go start your own journey, and you’ll understand. 5 out of 5.