Skyrim is bland and shallow. That may seem a very odd statement to a lot of people, but I’ll stand by it. Games as a medium are constantly evolving yet, in another fashion, devolving. The sense that ‘bigger is always better’ is one that has always been in the gaming psyche; even when games just became longer, contained more levels, hundreds of collectables etc, there was always a want for more. This to me, is where Skyrim falls down.
The game is huge and there is a lot to do, but at no point do you have to delve very deep to do any of it. It actively throws activities at you. In Oblivion, when you found something new it felt like you’d walked miles and talked to hundreds of people before getting to this point. It wasn’t a case of going from point to point, but a great sense of discovery. With the latest entry to the series Bethesda managed to make one of its most interesting franchises bland and highly repetitive.
There is something to uncover every two feet in Skyrim. Sure that’s fantastic for anyone who wants bang for their buck, but for me it made the idea of spending hours exploring the landscape extremely unattractive. Half the wonder of finding something undiscovered, is just that: it’s undiscovered. When you walk two seconds, in any direction, from a town and are met with five or six different ‘exciting explorative options’ it’s hard to suspend your disbelief that no one else within the world has been here or seen it.
With Oblivion the world felt less lived in and nature seemed to be as big a character as any Daedric prince or Dark Brotherhood assassin, which lent a more organic feel to the world. Unfortunately, Bethesda’s latest effort feels cold and bland. Maybe this is exactly what they were going for when choosing the territory of Skyrim, but the constant grey and white landscape that a lot of the game is set in, gets old very quickly. A game you’re supposed to be spending countless hours in cannot be unexciting to simply look at.
Besides art direction, the world of The Elder Scrolls has always felt very alive due to its characters. Cyrodiil was somewhere I wanted to get to know people, the characters were larger than life and all, while a little stale at times, well voice acted. This is a remarkable feat considering the small number of voice actors (fourteen in total) that the main game used. I don’t know if it was the constant familiarity of the voices that made the game so entertaining or if it was the actual writing, but I enjoyed conversing with the inhabitants of Cyrodiil a lot more than those of Skyrim.
I’m by no means a ‘hardcore’ Elder Scrolls player, but I still feel like some of the magic was lost with the higher production values. I would be foolish to argue that Skyrim had a worse control-scheme than its predecessor, as it’s something that really needed changing. But for all of its improvements, all I was left with was the sense that I wished Oblivion could have this control scheme and not how good Skyrim was because of it.
I feel both games will be remembered fondly, but for myself, dragons, snow, civil war and even an arrow to the knee couldn’t make me play Skyrim any longer than I already have. And when it really comes down to it, I would much rather fight alongside Sean Bean to avenge Patrick Stewart, by going through portals to an ungodly plain, than flailing around trying to kill a dragon every two feet.