Skyrim – RPG evolved or transformed?

With over 5 years of development under its belt, I was expecting a lot from Skyrim. But it all feels so familiar. The graphics, still quite beautiful, don't bring on the wow factor like they once did. Does this game deserve 93 on Metacritic?

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

It’s 200 hundred years later (5 in human years) and skies are once again ablaze, dragons terrorize tiny villages, and the High King has been assassinated. Yes, Skyrim has finally landed.

Arguably the greatest time sink of them all–perhaps even besting the short sessions of Angry Birds–I finally had a chance to spend some brief time with the PS3 version of the fifth installment in the Elder Scrolls series. I don’t game often, but the Elder Scrolls, Bioshock and Call of Duty franchises are dear exceptions. They are amazing works; transforming not just video games, but the entertainment industry. So I auto-buy new releases, just as I do with U2 albums. It comes out, I buy it el pronto.

As I watched the opening cuts (average), and spec’d my character (a dizzying array of personalization) I soon found myself in Helgen following an imperial soldier in and around dungeons and burning debris in a dramatic attempt to escaping a dragon. As the events played out, I found myself in an auto-pilot mode of sorts: turn left, follow guard down the path, turn right, open that chest, walk some more, kill that little bugger there with one easy slash, run some more…

With over 5 years of development under its belt, I was expecting a lot from Skyrim.

But it all feels so familiar.

I began to wonder, with slight concern: had Skyrim merely evolved the RPG genre, or had it once again wholly transformed it?

According to Metracritic, gamers and critics alike have spoken. With a score of 93, Skyrim now sits as the #2 rated PS3 game in the last 90 days, and–suitably–tied with Oblivion for #5 all time. Heady stuff.

The graphics, still quite beautiful, are familiar and being the second iteration of the title on XBOX360 and PS3 don’t bring on the wow factor like they once did.

The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
Uh, pleased to meet you. I didn't realize this was a James Bond movie.

Control-wise, count me as less than impressed… so far. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of this new full-screen, multi-directional menu system, but I liked Oblivion’s just fine. One oddity is the need to double press a button to get to a sub menu. Why the extra step?

No doubt, I have not spent enough time in Skyrim to weigh in with an official rule quite yet. These amount to some (admittedly knee jerk) first impressions. Still, I can’t help but wanting more.

Not every chapter will push the envelope as dramatically as the previous two entries. Morrowind (2002) stunned. As the first ever open-ended game of its kind, we were all floored by the possibilities. Combat was bold, in your face. Magic was sophisticated, and beautiful to behold. And the help system–those little pointers and hints we see all too readily now–were thankfully (and often frustratingly) absent. Morrowind was better for it. The epic soundtrack was icing on the cake. True, the long load times and frequent crashes were a PITA, but we didn’t mind because what the visuals were unlike anything we had seen before. It was the Avatar of RPG gaming.

Oblivion (2007) had similar impact; largely because the game coincided with the launch of next-gen consoles from Sony (PS3) and Microsoft (XBOX360). What was old again–hack and slack dungeon tours, leveling up, talking to townspeople and searching for exotic flowers–was all of a sudden glorious eye candy, aided by more advanced controls, and storylines worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster.

So where does that leave Skyrim (2011)…  Does it capably evolve the genre and series, or does it merely evolve what we’ve already seen, thanks to an updated skin and some new quests?

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  • Greg Banning

    I concur. Except for battling Dragons… I feel I’ve been there and done that. Although it is still worth it.

  • Dingo Dilon

    Well, given that for the first time in the history of the series you now have complete and total freedom over how and why you develop your character without class or restriction, and that they have provided over 120 hours (my count thus far and not even close to completion) of Original content it seems pretty apparent that Skyrim has evolved the genre. Granted that not all of the systems are pitch perfect. Granted that combat is still a little floaty, and granted that some of it feels familiar… but familiarity when it comes to TES is a great thing. I’ve had nothing but great feelings when it comes to the nostalgia and familiarity of a game whose predecessors were amazing and visionary. What’s important is that while there is some of that familiarity, the game remains radically different. As for comparing Morrowind to Skyrim… let’s be honest here. I don’t know about you, but I played Morrowind 4 days ago. It’s one of my favorite games of all time. But you cannot compare the two. Skyrim is bleeding edge. Morrowind was fantastic for its time, and as a game still is, but the only thing that is BETTER about Morrowind was the old school menu system that economized on space and item management. Really go back to Morrowind and jump in feet first. Play until you get tired of it. I did, and of course it took a few hours but ultimately with both games truly fresh in my mind I feel that Skyrim has finally made up for Oblivion’s faults, and exceeded the grandeur of Morrowind…

    Now let’s hope that TES5’s first DLC is either Morrowind, or The Summerset Isles… because I REALLY want to murder some Thalmor.

    • @10f1e19765f28d83b331f41cfc9b5f55:disqus Good point about familiarity being a plus. For those of us that have played TES throughout the years it’s like seeing an old friend again; the rapport is immediate, and you can burn hours swapping stories over a brew or two. I still think though the impact of Morrowind and Oblivion, at the time of their releases, was far greater in terms of transforming the genre. Regardless, I’m enjoying the heck out of Skyrim.

  • Anonymous

    I had the same feelings you do for about my first ten hours of play. Then, at some point the improvements went from feeling mildly evolutionary to feeling just shy of revolutionary. The simplicity and elegance of the menu system (you’ll catch on soon) and the new approach to character leveling create such a seemless experience that I can hardly imagine going back.

    There are still many things that need improving, sure (You can only afford five voice actors for your game, fine. Could you at least ask them to try doing different voices?) but it is still quite a leap forward in my eyes.

    • @bradsboards:disqus Thanks. I’ll be patient with Skyrim. I’m in no rush, and I enjoy the artistry and depth of gameplay. Maybe it’s like a fine Napa Cab… it just needs to breathe a little, before really opening up.