Skyrim, for me, is long since over.
At first, I marveled at the level of detail put into everything; all those items, all those trade skills, all those dialogue choices, all those challenging dungeon crawles and random dragon battles. I liked the way you could simply ride around and ping something on your compass, follow it, discover it, pillage the hell out of it, and feel good about yourself as an adventurer. It was a legitimate challenge at some points during the lowbie levels to handle the quests you were arbitrarily being assigned.
Being a Fallout fan, I got a real kick out of the “random encounters” on the road – a pair of Thalmor escorting a prisoner, hunters chasing a deer, wolves hunting rabbits – much care went into the little details and this helps to elevate the game to the point of greatness. This may wind up being one of those games you’re telling your grandkids about. Granted, it’ll probably be in a phrase such as: “They just don’t make games like Skyrim anymore,” followed by the obligatory arrow-to-the-knee joke which they most certainly won’t understand.
I love open-world games. I love open-world RPGs even more. I love open-world RPGs with a free-form skill-up system as much as I would love an actual human child. At least, until I get bored with it and put it down for good. The game, not the child. Skyrim delivered on all counts, allowing me to take two distinct career paths with two unique characters. Each had its own fighting style, each had different “preferred” weapons (preferred meaning that I had the willpower to stick to one particular thing and not stray), each had its own stance on magic and moral outlook (again, more willpower and role-playing than game mechanics there).
If I wanted to, I could run halfway around the world in the opposite direction as soon as the game turned me loose into the world. I could have avoided every obligation and become a professional dungeon diver. I wouldn’t have progressed much and I would have died a lot at first, but the possibility was there. Every possibility was there. Every possibility was within my grasp the minute I was off the opening sequence track.
Therein lies my problem.
Since every possibility is, indeed, a possibility for the player and since there is no real restriction on class or skills, one could conceivably be all the things. You could be a plate-wearing, two-handed-axe-wielding, spell-casting assassin/theif/archer with ties to every hold, every guild, and every organization in Skyrim. You could, essentially, become the ultimate Munchkin (to use an archaic table-top gaming term). Do all, be all, one-shot all.
The main argument on most Skyrim forums to people with this complaint was: “It’s all in how you play the game. If you don’t want to be all the things, you don’t have to be all the things.”
True as this may be, it’s very difficult when playing a game you like to ignore the possibility of more quests, more content, more story, etc. Skyrim, being a tough game to want to put down, makes you want that additional content. Soon, even the most hardened “role-player” who only wants one path for their character will wander away and do something totally off-task. You fall in love with the world and with the great gear you accumulate and you just don’t want to start from scratch. It’s easier to have your Level 42 Warrior, the one with full Daedric Armor and retardedly overpowered alchemist-blacksmith loop weapons to simply decide they’re tired of bashing things about and they want to run off and join the Mage’s College. You have to cast a bit to gain access, so you do what’s necessary to essentially unlock the content, then you happily follow along with the quest giver’s instructions and dive into dungeons meant for casters to pursue and easily conquer them by reverting back to what it is you do best: bashing things about.
You’ll pardon my yawn.
You reach that top of the mountain (not the Throat of the World, I’m speaking figuratively) and look down realizing that you’ve made it here but there’s still “so much to do” down in the world. Having reached the end of the main story, you descend back into the realm and proceed to happily tromp from dungeon to dungeon, cheerfully frying everything in your path until it gets tiresome and boring. You get all the houses, you find all the daedric artifacts, you are the head of the Dark Brotherhood and Theives Guild, you’re the Arch Mage of the College of Winterhold (though your character has to know precisely dick about magic to actually gain that title), you’re the Thane of all nine holds, and you’re the Battlemaster of the Companions. Not to mention you’ve just slain Alduin and saved the world. What’s a Dragonborn to do? There are no new treasures to hunt because everything you pick up is going to pale in comparison to the crap you threw together from some ebony and daedra hearts and it’s all either costumes or garbage at that point.
This is where Skyrim lost me.
Open-world gaming is a double-edged sword.
Take GTA IV for instance. Even without expansion material, I spent tons of extra time in Liberty City because there was tons of stuff to do. Races, hidden jumps, hidden packages, insane stunt bonuses… not to mention the typical anarchy you can raise just by driving around town at top speed and mercilessly slaying pedestrians while evading the police. Not once was I bored, mainly because I could perpetrate random virtual acts of mass destruction at a whim. It’s a wonderful stress reliever and I still go back to play every once in a while even without purchasing the DLC.
Batman: Arkham City is another open-world that suffers after a while. Once you finish the story, all the side-quests, and find most of the (realistic) Riddler clues, the game is dead in the water. Sure, you can play through New Game + mode and up the difficulty, but you’re playing the exact same game over again. There are no choices you can make to change the outcome.
The Fallout series is probably the next good example. Made by the good people at Bethesda, home of the Elder Scrolls Series, the Fallout series has always involved more moral choices with consequences other than a bounty in a hold (which can be paid off and, at a point, WTF do you need with any more gold?). Plus, Fallout is more FPS, emphasis on the S. Sure, you can FPS bow and arrow your way through Skyrim (super fun, in my opinion), but your bow damage constantly increases. There are always dozens of arrows lying around. Get into Fallout and suddenly ammo for your favorite gun can become scarce or even impossible to find. Situations against multiple enemies can get very dire very fast if you don’t pack your gear accordingly, meaning multiple guns of multiple types and maybe even a close combat weapon or two just in case.
Where Skyrim fails for replay value (and it does, don’t kid yourself), the Diablo series consistently warrants it. It practically calls to you. I played Diablo II for almost five years, reinvigorating myself every time I could tell someone: “What? You’ve never played Diablo? Dude, you have to try this…”, setting them loose for more than fifteen minutes in the game, and sitting back and watching the addiction take hold. The infinitely re-structuring dungeons and stages… every replay having the same goals but with adjusted paths and destinations… every piece of loot different… every chest a constant mystery.
My next big purchase will be Diablo III, obviously, and I will be very happy upon its arrival as long as Blizzard didn’t change too much of the formula. The way I see it, the purchase of Diablo III will negate any necessity of a game purchase (barring the release of Mass Effect 3 and Bioshock: Infinite) due simply to occupied time and obsession.
Until then, I’ve laid down the mantle of Dovahkiin and have sent Skyrim to its final rest in Sovengard. Someday, I’ll probably pick it up and start from scratch again, but for now, it’s been too much too fast too soon. If they want to stay at the top of the heap for another year, Bethesda needs some SERIOUS DLC and fast. I’m talking deep DEEP DLC. Something to draw people like me back to it.
Until then, I have shouted my last Fus Ro Dah.
Keep fighting the good fight.