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It’s been just over two years now since Bethesda released their open-world, RPG epic: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Since then, a plethora of other, big-budget, triple-A titles have graced our screens; but Skyrim still manages to feature daily on Steams list of top games by player count. Today alone, more than 57,000 users have strapped on their banded armour and marched for Tamriel in search of gold and glory. So what is it exactly about the Elder Scrolls experience that keeps players coming back for more after all this time? Everyone seems to have their own reasons. Whether it’s the staggering depth and detail of the lore, the beautifully composed orchestral score by series veteran, Jeremy Soule, or the Nordic/Tolkien aesthetic of the game world. There seems to be something in Skyrim for everybody.
For me though, whilst all these features have played their part in making Skyrim the award-winning classic that it stands as today, it’s biggest appeal lies in its freedom. Where other titles seem content to straightjacket their audiences with linear gameplay, and stories that move predictably from one set-piece to the next; Skyrim actively encourages exploration and lets the player craft their own experience.
From the moment your character emerges battered and scorched from the ruins of Helgen; you are presented with an objective: To go and speak to a man about a dragon. Whether or not you choose to do so is completely up to you. Your fellow escapee is already making his way down the road towards Riverwood, offering conversation and an insight into the civil war, and if you’d like to join him then you’re welcome.
Otherwise, he can wait until later. Catch up in a few days over an ale and goats leg at the Sleeping Giant Inn. In the meantime, you could try scaling one of those ice-capped mountains over there in the distance. Or maybe if you’re feeling a little vulnerable after that near-death escape from the World Eater himself; perhaps you should head into town and ask around about joining a guild. See if someone can train you in combat, or magic, or sneaking if that’s your thing.
Or if guilds aren’t your style, if you fancy yourself the lone wanderer type, then teach yourself. Head out into the wilds and get practicing with whatever your preferred method of destruction might be. Just open up the world-map, pick a spot that looks interesting and start walking. There’ll be no shortage of things to do on the way. Caves need exploring, bandits need bringing to justice, and all those abandoned forts aren’t going to loot themselves. The choice though, is yours.
Choice can be a dangerous thing however. And so can dragons for that matter. The quicker they’re dealt with, the safer you and the people of Skyrim will be. So if you like, forget about all that other stuff. Set a course for that big white arrow hovering over Riverwood and make some headway in the main story. It’s a quest rivalling that of a trip to Mordor, and one that will have you slaying dragons, infiltrating foreign embassies, and traveling to different planes of existence before you’re all finished. But completely optional of course.
It’s these choices that for me make Skyrim so special and so endlessly replayable. They make the game world feel like one the player has helped to create and shape; not just one they’ve passed through like some digital tourist. And in an age of gaming where ever-increasing emphasis is placed on multiplayer experiences, it’s incredible to see a two-year-old, single-player RPG maintaining such an active community.
A community that since 2011, has fanatically produced stunning cosplays, live action-shorts, musical tributes, internet comic strips and reams of fan-fiction. And thanks to the accessibility of Bethesdas creation kit, millions of mod-users and creators are still to this day, sharing their work online and producing content rivalling the official expansions in their scope and ambition.
All credit though to Bethesda, for crafting a world that we could really make our own and after this entire time, still not want to say goodbye to.
Here’s to another two years of dragonslaying…