I run full pelt against a beautiful dawn. The previous night I crept into a cave, mercilessly shooting bandits and spiders before they knew what hit them.
The dawn breaks around me and the mountains stand out in sharp relief. The view is breath-taking, and not for the first time, I am awed by my surroundings.
Skyrim is beautiful.
When The Elder Scrolls V was announced I couldn’t have been more excited. I watched the trailer over and over again and I desperately waited for my new laptop – custom built to match the Skyrim specs – to arrive before 11.11.11.
I’ve been playing The Elder Scrolls series since Morrowind and I couldn’t wait for the shiny new edition to the sequence – with picture-postcard graphics and exciting kill cams. I couldn’t wait to play as a sneaky elf who shot things, just like I had done in the other games. Who cares if I was in my last year of my undergraduate degree? All I wanted to do was kill another dragon. I thought about it so much that I had to force myself to surrender my Steam password (and my whole laptop) to my boyfriend until after my dissertation was finished, lest I be tempted to abandon the pen and pick up the sword.
But when I’d finally finished University and my laptop was returned to me (somewhat begrudgingly, as my boyfriend hadn’t quite managed to finish Mass Effect 3, and his laptop couldn’t run it), I dived back into Skyrim, and, over a year later, I finally finished the main questline.
I came out of the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary after the guild finale feeling inevitably disappointed, despite the awesome armour on my back. Was it just me, or did that go ridiculously quickly? I sighed as I mounted Shadowmere, and we faded away into a star-spangled night.
I was left feeling like this after other guild questlines, too. Apart from some decent armour, what else had I achieved? There was something about the storylines that made them feel too quick – they weren’t as detailed as in Oblivion, and nowhere near as in-depth as in Morrowind, a game in which every quest line felt like reading an entire novel. In The Elder Scrolls I always like to run around and find my own way, completing quests as I come across them, and saving the main questline, always the highlight of the game, right until the end. But in Skyrim, my reluctance to finish the main questline wasn’t because I wanted to savour it but because I wanted to avoid it completely. It felt like a nuisance rather than a natural part of the story. It was often boring and shallow when it should have been jaw dropping to match the surroundings.
As a result, I’ve only played the main questline through completely about three times, as a sneaky shooty female elf. In my last playthrough I tried to play as a strong man who just barrelled into everything. But I prefer sneaking and shooting though – it’s more interesting that way and so much fun.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this game. I love to play it – heck, I almost want to stop typing this and play it right now. But often I question whether or not it is actually a good game. I started playing the Mass Effect trilogy last year and I could instantly recognise that it was a good game, and a good RPG, despite the quite linear storyline. The characters and quests feel so real and fully formed and the choices I have made in Mass Effect so far have truly affected the world around me and the whole trilogy is impressive in its enormous scope. And that is where the problem lies with The Elder Scrolls V. The things that I have enjoyed so much about the previous Elder Scrolls games and about Mass Effect is missing from Skyrim – a really great and engaging storyline that puts you at the centre of the game. The story and quests in Skyrim are so inorganic that they almost feel tacked on. Skyrim is perhaps the greatest open world and free-roaming game ever made, but that makes up for the majority of the game. You can easily get lost in the world that Bethesda have created, and it is addictively fun to while away the hours killing monsters and stealing sweetrolls, but without a good story driving it, Skyrim just feels empty sometimes. It doesn’t feel like a true game.
It is probably for this reason that I decided early on to enhance my Skyrim experience with Mods. Bethesda went wrong when, in my opinion, they more or less simplified the game for console players. It made the game feel a lot shallower, with much less story in it.
I’m deeply interested in this world but the stories made me feel like I was barely making an impact. I’m currently slowly making my way through the DLC, which is already a whole lot more interesting than the base game, probably because they actually had time to think about a story rather than just focusing on the worldbuilding, and it makes you wonder how good Skyrim’s main quest could have been if they’d taken a little more time with it. YouTubers Samyoul Online and Sorcerer Dave explain the problems with Skyrim a lot more eloquently than I ever could.
Despite all of this, I still find this game ridiculously fun and, with the use of mods to enhance my world, I am building up something that is quite addictive. I can get lost for hours among the stunning graphics but I still find myself ignoring the quest markers. I love Skyrim, but I don’t think it reached its potential as a game, certainly not in terms of a compelling story. I sincerely hope that The Elder Scroll VI manages to successfully combine the in-depth story and engaging plot of Morrowind with the open world and free-roaming elements of Skyrim (the same stunning graphics wouldn’t hurt either). Now that would be a game worth playing.
I put down my quill and sigh. Heading out the door I smile at the mountains and the snaking river. The roar of a dragon makes my heart beat faster and I run, exhilarated, towards the sound and towards the joy of battle.