The One Thing Skyrim Does Better Than Any Other RPG

Yesterday was November 11th, marking the first birthday of Bethesda’s fantasy RPG The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Think about that…a whole year. I remember the release of Skyrim pretty clearly; I got out of work, hopped in the car, and drove to the nearest Wal-Mart where I grabbed both a copy of Skyrim and a bag of Dove Dark Chocolate squares to prepare for the evening (don’t judge).

And once I was finally neatly tucked into the couch in front of my TV and started the game, I was instantly struck by the one unique quality that Skyrim has over all other RPGs: the quality to completely immerse players in a well-constructed world.

Eeven from the very beginning, when you’re sitting on a cart with the other prisoners heded to Helgen to face execution, it’s clear that Bethesda understands what it is that makes their RPGs so impressive.

Maybe it’s the first-person perspective, the unique creation and ingenuity of the world, the impressive expanse of lore and back history, or even the complex relationships between the game’s different races, but there’s something to a Bethesda RPG that makes it more immersive and personal than any other game in the genre. Where other fantasy games see you controlling a character in a stylized and interesting world, Skyrim gives you the opportunity to become whatever Dovahkiin you want, giving you more freedom and choice than most.

One of the many things that Skyrim masters is its use of randomized events and happenings. No two experiences in Skyrim are the same, and the game yields the equivalent of gamer war stories as players talk about encountering the assassins, dragons, monsters, friends, and hilarious glitches that arise throughout the progression of the game.

And there’s something to be said about the world of Skyrim and how well-realized it is. I remember watching interviews during the game’s early development and being amazed when one of the creators pointed to a mountain in the distance.
“See that?” he said to the journalist. “That mountain isn’t just a backdrop. It’s there, and if you walk long enough, you can reach it and climb to the top of it.”

And it’s true. In that game, there were several times that I’d pick a direction and start walking, just exploring the gorgeous environment and enjoying it for all its beauty and mysticism. I’d encounter enemies, discover new locations, pick up new loot, and be amazed by the game’s breathtaking vistas.

Games like Skyrim offer us a unique opportunity to create our own stories. Sure, there’s a main story line you can follow, but you could play a hundred hours in that game without ever taking on a single main story mission or side quest and still enjoy the hell out of it.

And it’s probably not just one single thing that makes it such a unique game. In fact, it’s probably  the masterful combination of all of the conventions the game has to offer that makes it the immersive and revolutionary experience it is.

Happy Birthday, Skyrim. Enjoy yourself some cake.