If you’re familiar with Skyrim, congratulations. You don’t need to be told. But for everyone else, this 2011 Bethesda game is a classic. There, I’ve said it. 11 years old, and it ranks as an all-time great. Frankly, it has been for a while. Even SIX years after release, the studio re-released it as a VR game, at a point in a game’s lifecycle where most companies would be looking at the sequel to its sequel.
Before I gush about what makes Skyrim such a great game, I’m going to start with possibly its worst feature: the plot.
Now, this may seem like a game-breaking, experience-ruining drawback, but it’s not. In fact, the somewhat lackluster, generic storyline about saving the world really nudges the player toward the important bits of the game. But more about that soon enough. The plot is simply: save the world. An old evil is returning. Only you can stop it. Git gud, kid, and kill you some dragons.
So what saves Skyrim?
First of all, the premise. While monster-slaying heroes are nothing new, you’re the Dragonborn. You’re not only capable of learning the magic dragons use, your power grows by stealing the souls of dragons you slay in combat. And the magic you use is shouted in clipped, powerful-sounding, commands that really FEEL like you’re calling on ancient magic.
Then there’s the look and feel of the world. Skyrim looked GORGEOUS at the time it came out. While the graphics don’t quite stand up the way they used to, that’s where the VR edition comes in. Those same early-2010s graphics look GREAT in 3D.
But the real treat in Skyrim, and the reason the main plot hardly matters, is the world.
Skyrim (which is the name of the geographic region you play in) is vast and filled with things to do, people to meet, organizations to join, and demons to bargain with.
You can join the wizards’ guild and work your way up to become head of the order. You can partner with various NPCs, taking them on as sidekicks, each interacting with your character in accordance with a unique personality. There are houses you can buy and fill with trophies of your conquests.
Side quests can suck you into entirely self-contained plots, or stretches that only touch on the “hey, isn’t the world in some kind of trouble” stuff going on in the background. There’s no timer, no prodding you along. If you complete certain story-oriented tasks, the game will open up the next step of the main quest for you. But there’s very little that prevents you from going back to your shopping/stealing/smelting/sacrificing/gardening/spelunking/murdering good time.
Plenty of games boast of an open-world sandbox style of gameplay. But many are either procedurally generated or empty wastelands.
Skyrim is a sandbox game that has SAND FOR YEARS. Most players who go back to Skyrim have only ever done the main quest once; some don’t even bother with it beyond certain key points that don’t trigger the climactic battle.
Modders have breathed new life into the game time and again, because what’s there to do once you’ve done it all? MAKE MORE!
Seriously, if you’ve ever been interested in the open-world RPG genre, check out Skyrim for the definitive take.