With the re-release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I’ve finally gotten a chance to play what many call the greatest Western RPG of all time. It is strange that I somehow played the previous title, Oblivion, multiple times, and actually owned the original Skyrim on Xbox 360, but never played Skyrim until this re-release. Regardless, I can say without a doubt after having spent dozens of hours scouring the land of Skyrim that this game is all kinds of fun!
Western RPGs differentiate themselves from Japanese RPGs in several ways, but the one that stands out most to me is combat. In a Western RPG (usually) combat transitions automatically, meaning you really just need to draw your sword and start fighting. Japanese RPGs tend to have you enter a combat mode, forcing you into a battle and once said battle is complete you’re back to walking around and exploring. Both systems offer their advantages, and I find myself at times craving one type over the other throughout my playing cycles.
However, when a Western RPG has that form of combat combined with an open world exploration aspect, the two meld together so seamlessly to create a truly addictive game. Take Skyrim as an example: The world is so massive and there is so much to do in it, I actually haven’t touched the “main quest” line in ages. Instead, I find myself wandering from place to place, looking for new locations to explore, and just doing whatever I want.
And damn, is it fun!
By now you know what you’re getting from an Elder Scrolls game. So much so, I feel we as gamers judge the quality of other open world RPGs by comparing them to the Elder Scrolls series. Despite being the originator, if you will, of the standard open world game, Skyrim remains engaging through and through, even with literal dozens of others needed to just complete the main story.
So what’s the fun in going places and killing stuff? Well, the rest of the trimmings make the entire package astounding. Bethesda has done something impressive here, and made everything you do in Skyrim feel worthwhile. Whether you’re swinging a sword of smelting some iron, you are always improving your skills. Improving those smaller skills like blocking and alchemy contributes to your overall character level, and when you level up in that traditional sense you gain access to attribute points you can use to improve and gain other skills. Seeing a little popup let me know my one-handed skill has increased keeps me wanting to play and makes me feel better. Other developers take note: this is fantastic game design.
Gaining avatar strength is good, because it allows you to progress further and combat stronger foes that you otherwise coudn’t defeat, but that’s not all you learn while playing Skyrim. Paying attention to enemy attack patterns and how you yourself unleash your fury, you can actually be better at the game. Take for example one of the earlier stronger enemies you’ll encounter, an Ice Troll. They’re massive creatures with a lot of HP and can deal out a ton of damage. If you study their attack patterns though, and prepare yourself by blocking appropriately and casting healing spells when needed, you can easily defeat them. Knowing when to swing your sword and when to hold back makes a really big difference, and I really like that you have an impact on the outcome of battle, meaning it’s not just numbers.
Lastly, I want to talk about shouting. For those not initiated in the ways of Skyrim, shouting in the land of Tamriel is the ability some men possess that allows them to speak in the Dragon tongue. Skyrim’s entire plot is literally about men shouting each other to death (seriously, that’s what they called it, and the first time I heard it I just imagined one dude standing over the other guy yelling at him until he collapsed), and you, the Dragonborn, have an innate ability to Shout. At first these Shouts seem like additional spells you can use to slay enemies, but after you progress through the story and earn some more, they also help with exploration and explaining the story. I really like that these Shouts aren’t just meaningless abilities: the in-game world puts a lot of emphasis on these Shouts, what they do, and what it means that you can use them. Again, top notch storytelling and gameplay melding. Also, it’s just ridiculously fun to Fus Ro Dah an enemy and watch them ragdoll and fly away. It’s never gonna get old.
Currently I’m level 33 and like I said before have barely touched the main storyline quests. I’m having too much fun roaming around and doing other stuff to care about, what, the fate of the world? I think it’s a testament to the flawless execution of ideas and engagement that has me, and I’m sure millions of others, entranced with the world of Skyrim.