You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’

Expressing opinion about a game is always going to be a subjective thing. There are so many variables when it comes to forming these digital entertainment entities, such that even a game which is almost universally proclaimed as being rubbish will still have its devotees. Indeed, cult status comes to many pieces of creativity which were once derided as kooky, mundane or obtuse. So when I tell you that Skyrim is very very good, you will have to take it with the proverbial pinch of salt: my opinion won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, especially if they’re putting a pinch of salt in it.

We use the term ‘universal acclaim’ in the same slightly naive, slightly arrogant sense that many people outside of the United States view the use of the term ‘world series’, because I’m fairly sure the Vegilons of Parsnipcheddarbake IV have no inkling as to the existence of Skyrim. Nevertheless, within humanity’s tiny sphere of influence in the universe, the near unanimous verdict is that Skyrim –as a form of gaming entertainment which the Vegilons of Parsnipcheddarbake IV could not possibly understand, being that they are semi-sentient parsnips– is a Very Good Thing.

But how good is Skyrim? Well, for me, it’s been ‘investing a stupid number of hours into it and barely leaving the first town’ good; also ‘every bad gamer stereotype about not eating, sleeping or socialising’ good; and ‘sitting cross-legged because I don’t want to get up and go to the toilet’ good; not to mention ‘I (like everyone else) received a SW:TOR beta invite and (unlike everyone else) laughed and deleted it’ good. I have been instilled with that fervour and fanaticism which I used to experience in the early days of MMOs, where I’d sit at work all day, dreaming of character builds and dungeon runs and adventures past, as well as those yet to be. I am possessed by the spirits of the game: adventure, wonder and possibility; I do not think that I will be exorcised of them for many months.

The game isn’t perfect, of course it isn’t, but those hairline cracks which do appear are easily plastered over, smoothed out by the deep layer of good will and respect I have towards a game which tries so hard to achieve that oft intangible sense of immersion. The world isn’t just beautiful and huge and wondrous, if it were then it could be compared to many a fantasy MMO, no, the important point for me is that the world is *alive*. I can look at a faraway mountain and know without question that not only can I reach its summit, but that when I get there adventure will be awaiting me, tapping its foot and looking at its watch, as surely as there is a shield on my arm and a sword readied in my hand. More though, the game drives that urge in me to head towards said mountain and find out what kind of adventure awaits; the game encourages my sense of exploration, for the simple reason that it has yet to disappointment me with what I’ve discovered each time I’ve accepted its challenge. I can, of course, collect quests from NPCs in a town, but so few of them feel like errands, and it’s the adventure that is to be had along the way which makes the game great. I set out to kill the leader of a group of bandits and three hours later remember that I had originally set out to kill the leader of a group of bandits – I should probably go and do something about that. Right after I’ve visited that monastery I can see on yonder hill. Twenty miles away. In the wrong direction. Even when I do eventually reach that bandit leader, it turns out that things aren’t quite as morally black and white as they had at first appeared.

There is a danger, as with the proverbial children in a chocolate factory, that I will find too much adventure. I will gorge myself on it, until my Escapade Spleen explodes from the abuse. Or I will go the opposite direction and fall to indecision, presented with such an impossible wealth of quest candy that I’m paralysed from the overwhelming potential of it; I can certainly feel the pressure of choice pressing in on me, the sheer epic nature of this expansive environment, but I have yet to crack under the many atmospheres of atmosphere the game presents. I feel it’s a testament to the game that someone such as myself, an ardent ‘on rails’ player who has enjoyed the theme park MMO for many years, can be coaxed into such an ambivalent attitude to ‘achieving’ or even progressing, like dropping Margaret Thatcher into a hippy commune and returning a day later to find her wearing a tie-dye wrap and preaching peace, love and understanding.

There is variety and depth here, excitement and amusement, energy and potential. What makes Skyrim exceptional is that I can escape to a world as vivid and real as I’ve yet experienced in a game, something which fills my imagination with the fire of possibility, where I am absorbed in a story which I write as I play, where I am hero, villain, anti-hero or ambivalent ‘just trying to make my way in the world, ma’am’ participant, as my whim dictates. And the game is happy, nay strains like the eager charger against the rein, to oblige me in this, to the best of its incredibly accomplished ability.

13 thoughts on “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’

  1. bhagpuss

    The fact that your avatar is the only sentient-at-one-remove entity in that world isn’t causing you immersion problems, then? Since I first played MMOs it’s been impossible for me to forget, when attempting anything offline, that not only does no-one know or care what I’m doing there, no-one *can* know or care.

    It really shouldn’t make any difference given the amount of non-social activity I undertake in MMOs, but it just does. There’s been so much hype about Skyrim now that I am probably going to end up buying it eventually, but whether I’ll actually play it for more than a few days before it just feels too artificial an enterprise is the question.

  2. darkeye

    I’m one game behind, spent the weekend playing Oblivion, having only played a few hours before abandoning it months ago, thought it was best to give it a better go, seeing as Skyrim is really piquing my interest. It took a while to grow on me, but it was worringly engrossing when I got stuck in. Don’t know if and when I’ll be getting Skyrim, but it could be some time.

  3. Melmoth Post author

    @bhagpuss: “The fact that your avatar is the only sentient-at-one-remove entity in that world isn’t causing you immersion problems, then?”

    In all honesty, no. The AI NPCs act more in character than the majority of players I’ve ever encountered in an MMO.

    The lack of circle strafed jumping alone is enough to merit an extra bonus KiaSA Immersion Award over most MMOs.

    @darkeye: This is my first Elder Scrolls game; for one reason or another (primarily because I was heavily invested in an MMO at the time, I imagine), I never played the previous games.

    I’ve no idea if Skyrim is a good place to jump in, but I’m terribly glad I did, regardless.

  4. Khoram

    I’ve played all of the Elder Scrolls games to some extent, and they all had their problems:
    – Arena: didn’t really dig on the very simplistic “slash in real time” combat thing when most of what I was playing at the time were deep turn based strategy games
    – Daggerfall: I remember staying up til about 4am to download the demo over 28k modem back in the day. Played the full game a bit, but it was very buggy, the random dungeons were way too maze-y, and I didn’t play much.
    – Morrowind: probably would have loved it, but was too into MMOs at the time.
    – Oblivion: had fun for the first 20 or so hours, then the scaling and sameness of the dungeons and oblivion gates turned me off.

    Skyrim is soooooooo much better than all of the previous ones it’s not even funny. Like Melmoth, I feel like I haven’t been this immersed in a fantasy world and game since probably original EQ1 back in spring 99. This is RPG of the decade for me. You also don’t need any knowledge of previous games – it takes place 200 years after Oblivion, and there are plenty of books in-game that provide history.

    I doubt I’ll touch anything else on my PC til Guild Wars 2 comes out or enters open beta.

  5. Melmoth Post author

    @Khoram: I’m glad to know that I’m not missing out on too much by jumping in at this point, and that this is indeed a suitably splendid point to jump in.

    I think I’ll probably be dabbling in other games before Guild Wars 2, but it may well be the half-hearted poking and prodding of an infant at a plate of cold vegetables, knowing that a giant cream cake is waiting for them when they finish.

  6. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Like the other Elder Scrolls games, I’m going to wait for a while to buy Skyrim when I can get the “Game of the Year” edition with all the expansions for a fraction of the price you paid for the main box. :)

    Also, thanks for bug testing the game for me! :)

  7. Melmoth Post author

    Ah well, those bugs are blog fodder, if nothing else!

    And that’s what comes of me being an Elder Scrolls newbie, no idea how to play the system yet, tsk!

  8. Oghma Eh

    I did the exact opposite.

    After not even coming close to completing the last 3 Elder Scrolls games, I’ve decided not to get Skyrim and continue the path of failure.

    That’s my failure, not Bethesda. I love the games, I just can’t seem to play them.

    Instead I spent my weekend on various planets, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

    I hope that beta invite gets you into the next invite, Melmoth. Not going to spill the beans, but BioWare might actually have something with this story thing…

  9. Melmoth Post author

    Interesting! I’m sure I’ll end-up playing SW:TOR at some point, and I have tremendously enjoyed the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games, so a Bioware Star Wars game in the same vein as their other recent offerings should be a pleasure.

    I’m just not sure about the combat side of things, which obviously also makes up a large part of the game. Doubly so now that I’m playing something as free-form as Skyrim’s skill levelling, where the choice is so wide I will have a hard time picking where to focus.

    I’m certainly trying to keep a ‘never say never’ attitude with respect to TOR, but alas it’s not terribly high on the agenda at the moment, what with all the competition, and the fact that I’m definitely tiring of the stagnation in current standards of MMO design.

    However, I look forward to reading about everyone’s adventure and impressions when the NDA is finally dropped. Do feel free to leave a comment or drop an email when the time comes!

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