I put dozens of hours into Skyrim, but I couldn't tell you what I even did during that time. There was a lot of climbing mountains, I remember that, but despite putting so much in, I got very little out of it. I just sort of played it, controller fixed to my hand, eyes glued to the screen. At some point, though, I stopped, and had to ask myself: I've played a lot of Skyrim, sure, but... have I actually had any fun? And no matter how I tried, the answer came back as no. Skyrim was one of those games that baffled me when it came out, especially when awards season came around. I found the game boring, tedious, and empty- sure, there was a plethora of lore, but it's all presented so poorly. The combat was completely uninteresting, the story didn't grip me, and it was a buggy mess that rendered certain versions of it unplayable.
It was that last part that especially bothered me. We see games get disregarded for awards or higher ratings because of being poorly made all the time. Why did Skyrim get a pass? What was it about this game that made everyone go "hmmm I think we need to give our game of the year award to this game that eventually slows to an unplayable experience on the PS3! That represents the best of what games can do!" But when the game launched, reports of bugs and glitches were rampant. People talked about having versions that didn't work on their consoles, PS3 versions would eventually stop being playable after a certain amount of time, hard crashes, lost progress, even smaller annoyances like graphical glitches as character animation breaks and or audio glitches.
Even more, it wasn't an example of a game that DID represent the best. It had an uninteresting story, especially in a year where Bastion came out and did so many interesting things with narrative. Skyrim, meanwhile, was content to just leave things status quo- people talk at you and you look at them, or you find a book and have to actually just read text off of your screen.
The combat was largely the same as it was in Oblivion, which was terrible back then and hasn't aged any better. After games like Condemned and Zeno Clash, I don't know how you can launch a game with many times their budget that doesn't learn how to make first-person combat feel visceral and satisfying. Attacks never felt like they connected or did anything. Enemies might have twitched slightly, but it never looked or felt good, and it even took away from one of the major selling points of the games: fighting dragons.
So a dragon would land, and it would be all "grr I'm a dragon," but then what? You get to walk up and slash at it a bunch until it's dead. I was on the default difficulty, so I don't think it should have somehow been that much easier, but they would land and then stay there while you slashed at them. Maybe breath fire, but cast heal and you're ok. Or they'd fly away, and just circle while you stood there impotently, unable to do anything except watch it until it came back. Really riveting stuff.
I mean, how is it that they can have the budget and the time and the freedom of a new engine for Skyrim, and yet they can't even make an enemy flinch when you slice him in the face with a sword?
There were conversations going around when the game came out that also suggested the bugginess was a part of the series, and to not have it would be less interesting, and I can understand that, to a point. Something like horse physics is harmless. It's a laugh. But saying a game that crashes and has the aforementioned problems on a specific console would be worse off without those types of glitches? What kind of thought process is that? How do we reach that conclusion?
It felt like everything that's wrong with blockbuster games- and make no mistake, at 20 million copies sold, Skyrim is on the blockbuster level usually saved for franchises like Call of Duty. It did the same thing that we blame Call of Duty for: not really bringing anything new to the table, refusing to improve its lesser parts, and mostly being flashy and technical in place of the more involved and nuanced games that hit the indie scene. It's the same problem the film industry has, only replace films with an endless parade of high-budget games that a company stakes its entire existence on, meaning that it has to be unchallenging in terms of themes and content. When we ask "why don't we see big pushes for games that have more interesting stories and ideas?" we have to consider it just like when we ask the same about movies: those smaller games don't sell, but we flock to blockbusters even as we decry them.
In a lot of ways, I started to think that people were mostly floored by the ambition over the actual product, and that's a problem gamers have a lot. Just like I feel with the Uncharted games (a candidate for a future rant?) it seemed like it spent a lot of time making itself look good, making the big set pieces feel epic, but then didn't spend the time it could have to make the game really fun. When it's not falling apart, Skyrim IS gorgeous. The concept of a dragon flying down at random and you having to fight it is amazing in theory. And the world's size and scope and breadth of lore sounds intriguing. But it never coheres into something that really capitalized on it.
Playing Skyrim is, to me, the interactive equivalent of binge watching a TV show you only kind of like. I mean, it's there, and there's lots of it, and it's not entirely objectionable, so you keep going. You waste the hours away. In the end the past hours spent with it blend together so you can look back at a bunch of highlights and go "well that was good!" but between all of that, there was a lot of blandness, aspects already done better by other shows, and terrible bits you just gloss over for the high marks. I just personally don't know what those high marks are.
We all have games we hate and can't understand others loving, though, and vice versa. Skyrim does nothing for me, but then you might feel the same way about Minecraft. I think I give the latter a pass because I feel like it's much more successful at what it's trying to do, where Skyrim shot for so much more and spent a lot more time failing to hit its goals. Some people have fun where I can't, and more power to them; games are for everyone, and all that matters is that you have fun with the games you want.
Skyrim gives me no enjoyment to play or watch. It feels like a game that got a weird pass for having so much going on technically, despite the fact that technology was broken. It's everything that's wrong with blockbusters in games, and it embodies issues I have with how quickly gamers will look for graphics and tech over gameplay. Skyrim didn't innovate, barely improved gameplay over Oblivion, and is one of those games people love and I just can never understand.