So, I just finished the main quest for Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I’m a little surprised, honestly. Not about the ending. There were no surprises to be had there. In many ways the story is quite standard. This is not a criticism, just a fact. Anyway, what surprises me is the fact that I actually finished the game.
All told, I have logged an astonishing 93 hours on the game. I think I spent less than 6 hours on the main quest.
I have some problems with it. If you had asked me three weeks ago whether I was likely to finish the game it would have been an enthusiastic “yes.” I was enjoying the hell out of the game and I was hitting it hard for hours every night. The problem is, it soured for me somewhere around hour 50. As stunning and well-designed as the dungeons are, they started to feel repetitive. After a while, I even stopped looting these dungeons. There was nothing in them that I wanted. Nothing in there for me. I was the uber Dovakhiin who could shout a fucking dragon into submission and destroy it with nary a thought. When fighting a dragon is nothing more than a nuisance, there is something wrong.
Even Alduin was a trivial encounter.
Bethesda, in the months leading up release, was bragging about how the game would have so much content. The problem with having that much content is that when a player spends that much time in a world, he begins to see its flaws. I suppose it is a monumental feat that the major flaws did not become evident until so many hours had gone by. I spent far fewer hours on, say, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and I was entertained the entire time, but it was by no means a perfect experience.
To contrast, I have spent far more hours on Minecraft. Hundreds probably. But Minecraft still hasn’t lost its allure.
My experience with Skyrim is something like my experience with Family Guy in one important respect. It’s essentially the same exact show that it was in season one but where it was interesting and new and fresh back then, it is now stale, boring, and its structure is showing. It can get a few more yuks by making fun of its own formula to a certain extent, but that will only take it so far. Then again, the Simpsons has been doing that for years.
I feel the same about Skyrim. Unlike a TV show, there isn’t really a “jump the shark” moment. Just as there wasn’t a specific one for Family Guy. Rather, it was a gradual realization that everything is the same no matter where you are in the world or what you are doing. The sameness is palpable, oppressive after a while. Many of the small quests and stories are clever; don’t get me wrong. But almost all of them have you doing the exact same thing. Travel to a location, fight some fuckers, recover an artifact, return it for money. It doesn’t vary much.
An example of what I’m talking about is the flow of a dungeon. Almost every dungeon that you encounter in Skryim follows a pattern. I don’t care if its a mine, a bear cave, or a centuries old Dwemer ruin. You kill a few mobs outside and then enter the dungeon. As you pass a certain threshold, you may or may not notice a sealed door that would take you directly to the end of the dungeon. But it is inaccessible. Instead, you follow a more or less linear rail to the terminus of the dungeon where you fight some sort of boss, get some sort of quest item, learn some dragon shout, and/or complete some objective. There’s a door behind the blasphemous altar or ancient sarcophogus. Behind that door is a chest with some really sweet loot and some shelves with potions or soul gems or alchemy reagents.
You will then find that barred door or hidden passageway that spits you out at the beginning of the cavern or poops you out at the top of a mountain that would be inaccessible from outside. The structure is apparent. It’s a convenience, a mercy for the gamer, not to have to slog back through a now empty and desolate cavern, but when you iterate it sixty odd times or more, the game begins to feel engineered, rather than organic.
My understanding is that Bethesda had an entire *team* of dudes just designing dungeons.
Don’t get me wrong, the game is good. It might even be great. And it’s beautiful. My god, is it beautiful. But I’ve played it. I’ve done it before. It was like Oblivion (without the annoying Oblivion Gates) and Morrowind before it. But where Morrowind was unlike anything I had ever played before (think Season 1 of Family Guy), Oblivion was an iteration of Morrowind and Skyrim is an iteration of Oblivion. There is nothing inherently new. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that by streamlining the level-ups and the various crafting and combat systems, they actually managed to make the problems more apparent. There isn’t a whole lot of min-maxing to be done, which takes some of the fun out of it for me.
In fact, for the first two hours of the game, I was waiting for some stat assignment or detailed character creation screen to pop up. It never did. Maybe I’m still waiting for it.
In the end, I enjoyed my romp through Skyrim. I will probably even play it again someday. Perhaps even someday soon. But I will never finish the game again. I won’t ever be able to recapture the magic of it again. It just isn’t in me for this one anymore. It’s been exhausted.
Lastly, I would like to point out that Skyrim is not a sandbox game. A sandbox should have more options, more paths, a more vibrant world. Skyrim just has a lot of dungeons. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you can’t call it a sandbox. Your options are too limited. You can’t open a store. You can’t build a house. You can’t create a trade network. You can’t rule a nation. X3: Terran Conflict is a sandbox. Minecraft is a sandbox. Skyrim is not.
I sold the Elder Scroll to the librarian at the Winterhold College for 2,000 pieces of gold. I should have haggled.
Ein Freund der Teufel ist ein Freund von mir.