Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
Bethesda Game Studios gives a master class in video game design.
For you to understand just how good The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Skyrim hereafter) is, I need to explain to what ridiculous, dizzying, seemingly unreachable heights my expectations peaked at prior to this game’s release, so that when I say Skyrim not only meets but far exceeds them, you will understand the accomplishment. It started with the teaser trailer.
A mere 90 seconds, no in-game footage, some awesome narration by Max von fucking Sydow, a new version of The Elder Scrolls theme, and the reveal that dragons would be making an appearance. That was more than enough to kindle my enthusiasm. As the months went by thereafter, we got more details about the game, Bethesda released in-game footage, and game reviewers luckier than I got to demo Skyrim and wrote previews of what to expect. I burned through each new tidbit like a junkie with their drug of choice, never satiated for long, the itch always returning. Then, finally, along came 11-11-11, launch day.
Again, reviewers far luckier than I who had gotten advance copies of Skyrim published their reviews. Praise was heaped by the shovelful and Hosannas were sung to the rafters; everywhere I looked were stellar reviews with near-perfect scores. Among them was a review by Adam Sessler, writer for G4TV.com and co-host of X-Play. I have the utmost admiration for Sessler as a video game journalist (and yes, I use that job title in all seriousness), and I respect his opinion when it comes to game reviews. His review, which you can read HERE, gave Skyrim a 5/5 score and no shortage of praise. After the video review of Skyrim premiered on X-Play, co-host Blair Herter commented that it might be the best game of this console generation, to which Sessler responded (I’m paraphrasing), “Skyrim may be the greatest video game of all time.”
This was too much. It sent my excitement and my expectations into the stratosphere; the hype-train making circles in my brain was steaming along at supersonic speeds. How could Skyrim deliver on all of this promise? How could it possibly satisfy my out-of-this-world demands? I went to my local retailer, purchased a copy for the Xbox 360, went home and with a trembling hand, loaded the disc and started a new game. What happened next, and has continued to happen for as long as I’ve been able to play the game, has been nothing short of a revelation. I cannot say that Skyrim is the greatest video game of all time. I cannot say that Skyrim is the greatest game of this generation. I have not played every game ever made, much less every game of the current generation, so I don’t feel qualified to make such a decree. I think Adam Sessler is in a much better position to render such judgment, and as I said I admire and respect his opinion. What I can and will say is that, in the 20+ years I’ve been playing video games – from the Atari and NES to current consoles and most in between – Skyrim is by far and without any doubt or hesitation the greatest video game I have ever had the pleasure to play.
A Lesson in World-Building
Bethesda has led the industry in the crafting of quality role-playing games (RPGs) and has repeatedly set the standard for the open-world RPG, particularly with The Elder Scrolls franchise/saga. Each of the two installments that I’ve played, Morrowind & Oblivion, took the torch from their forebearer only to have it burn hotter, brighter, and longer. Each raised the bar, presenting gamers with improved sound and graphics, a bigger, more detailed world, more responsive controls and visceral combat, on and on and on. Or at least, that’s what they were supposed to do. And for the most part, they did. But for example, Oblivion, while possessing a bigger, more beautifully rendered world in Cyrodil than Morrowind’s region of the continent Tamriel, was strikingly spartan. To take advantage of the oft-used analogy, while a bigger sandbox is nice, it’s just a bigger pile of sand without a shovel and bucket, a toy bulldozer, and a couple of Tonka Trucks to play around with. Don’t misunderstand, there was plenty of fun to be had in Oblivion, it’s just that the fun often took similar form. There was a dearth of variety in Oblivion (and for that matter, Morrowind). Fortunately, with Skyrim Bethesda has learned its lesson.
Skyrim reminds me of Batman: Arkham City in that respect, albeit on a much larger scale. The cornucopia of content that Bethesda has packed into Skyrim, from the number of different quests, to the number and variety of dungeons, to the expanded voice-cast and improvements in graphics and design leaves me incredulous. I’m like a child watching a really talented magician; I have no idea how he is doing it, but I am amazed.