2011 wasn’t brimming with originality or revelations about game design, but it sure was a hell of a year for games. Hits like Uncharted 3, Resistance 3 and Gears of War 3 tied a nice, satisfying bow on some of the most successful franchises on the current console generation. Bastion and Shadows of the Damned, on a different note,had enough creativity and style to suffice for the entire year. The Wticher 2 even managed to show just what the PC can do in a console-centric market.
I could blather on about the year that may even challenge 2007 in quality, but there’s an obvious game that will be referenced whenever people talk about 2011. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim had gamers vigorously chatting about their characters, choices and unique experiences like no other game before. I couldn’t tell you how many times someone described their abilities, weapons and amour in gruesome to me – even though I don’t ever recall asking for their story. Millions upon millions of hours have been spent in Bethesda’s latest epic RPG, and while there are still a slew of technical issues that have popped up (I’m looking at you, backwards-flying dragon), this seems to be the developer’s most complete package. Skyrim is the game that the studio has been trying, and trying hard, to make for years now, and its critical and commercial success speaks for itself.
So, what’s my opinion on the game? To be honest, I don’t have one.
I’m yet to play Skyrim, and after seeing and hearing quite a lot about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll probably never sink my teeth into this massive adventure. I know, I know – “I’m really missing out.” I’ve heard it again and again, but I want Skyrim to know that it’s not her, it’s me. I absolutely believe that this is a fantastic game, but after some serious thoughts and exposure to a few key titles in my backlog, I’ve realized why these types of games just aren’t for me and probably never will be.
Let me spin you a tale of a young lad with too much time on his hands. I was once a completionist, and from my N64 to PS2 days, this was a completely manageable sickness. You know all of those pesky collectables in Donkey Kong 64? I’ve found all of them. Twice. My characters in Final Fantasy VIII have all reached level 100, my weapons in every Ratchet & Clank game are as beefy as can be, and each of my blades in the Onimusha series can kill a demon in a single swing. Back then, I had the time and desire to put that much of my energy into a single game, and I was honestly quite good at it. Yet, as the times change, so does technology. What I once thought was a momentous virtual world is now puny and standard, as open worlds in hits like Grand Theft Auto IV and Oblivion can take hundreds of hours to be truly appreciated.
As a college student with a part-time job, full-time girlfriend and commitment to a website, I don’t have hundreds of hours just sitting around. It’s strange to say, but I’m an adult now (mostly), and my responsibilities prohibit the style of play I once enjoyed. Because of this, my tastes in games have slightly changed. JRPGs that require weeks of my time are still a joy to get involved in, but if I can complete an action game or shooter in a few sittings, I’ll probably lean toward that experience. It’s also nice to just sit down, play a few rounds of a game online, and walk away. No commitment or series of hoops to jump through.
I’m still a “hardcore” gamer, though, so I do have a love for almost every genre out there. If you don’t give a specific style of game a chance, you’ll never know if it’s what you’re into. My curiosity and propensity for all things gaming is exactly why I haven’t purchased or even barrowed Skyrim. Not long after picking up my PS3, I found Oblivion for $10. Now that’s some value, right? I dropped the cash faster than Tim Tebow dropped his recent thunder and popped the game in as soon as I got home. It had a strong opening, wonderful character creator and brilliant writing. I was going to fall in love with this game, I just knew it. My first hour flew by, followed by the second and third, until the world really began to open up. All I could think about was how far games had come, seeing the map for the first time. I thought I was really starting to witness the true scope of the game and could handle all of the quests that were beginning to build up, but the “opening up” didn’t stop. The more people I talked to, the more stuff I had to do. Fetch quests and item deliveries needed to be done all across the world, and while none of it was required to move the narrative along, I knew I couldn’t push myself forward unless I cleared up some of my duties. This never really happened. For every quest I finished, I picked up three more along the way.
To put it simply: I was overwhelmed. I wanted to do absolutely everything I came across as soon as I stumbled upon it, but I just couldn’t. I stopped playing Oblivion after about fifteen hours and am yet to go back. I tried a little bit of Fallout 3 and watched one of my roommates play far too much New Vegas. I tried and I tried to find the appeal in these huge, fully-featured adventures, but all I saw was a sandbox with too much to do and a gamer whose quickly-moving life couldn’t keep up. I wouldn’t give up, though. These were the style of game that everyone was talking about, so I needed to join in the conversations. Maybe the joy would just take a while to sink in.
Instead of focusing on the big daddies of the genre, I began to dabble in some smaller, yet still open, experiences. Bioshock took a tight grip on my imagination, and refused to let go until I reached the finish line. I enjoyed every narrative-packed moment of it, and the looting system was very reminiscent of my time with Oblivion. In 2010, I played the hell out of Mafia II – a game which incorporated a big city with little to do besides the main quests. It was another step in the right direction, and one that led me to something much bigger: Red Dead Redemption. Was I overwhelmed? Maybe once or twice, but that didn’t detract from Rockstar’s shining western gem.
It was time to take that final step, right? Move onto the next Elder Scrolls game and finally experience what I had been missing all along? Sadly, the desire just wasn’t there. The reveal and subsequent trailers just did nothing for me, and no matter how hard those around me tried to express why it was going to be the second coming of Christ, I just couldn’t get behind them. Deep down, I knew that expansive open world games just weren’t my thing, and that conclusion wasn’t drawn without years of fighting.
Is it Bethesda’s fault? Not in the least. They’re the best at what they do. For me, though, I just don’t enjoy the style of game that they produce. There’s too much to do, and my once completionist brain just can’t handle that. Because of this, I doubt I’ll ever slay a dragon or shout at a foe. I’ve come to grips with this, and while I’ll still be out of a few of the big gaming conversations for a while, I feel content knowing that at least I tried. I’ve given it my best, and I still sit here and salute Skyrim for what it accomplishes.
On a side note – arrow to the knee jokes are terrible. Scratch all of this, that’s why I’m not playing this game.