This is a weekly column from freelancer Rowan Kaiser, which focuses on "Western" role-playing games: their stories, their histories, their mechanics, their insanity, and their inanity. This week Rowan explores the one-year anniversary of Skyrim, a game that – despite critical and commercial success, including a 5-star review from Joystiq – he still can't get a good handle on.The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim hit the first anniversary of its 2011 release this month. Despite a year's worth of play, criticism, mods, and add-ons, I still don't have a good handle on Skyrim in its entirety. It's a game that I'm happy to have played, and recommend highly to anyone who might enjoy it and can afford it. But it's also a game that I give up on fairly quickly, every time I start a new character.
The reason I want Skyrim to hold my interest is because I have a strong, positive gut reaction to much of what Skyrim does. Some of my favorite occasions in games occur when you come to an overlook and catch a moment of sheer beauty. When you wander into a snow-covered town and the music gently plays in the background. When game systems combine and something new emerges from what had been previously predictable. In these moments the experience feels just right. Moments like this help to enhance the experience, unfolding into something grand.
And Skyrim is full of these occasions. Bethesda's latest title in the longstanding franchise has the relative beauty of Ultima VII, the magic of Daggerfall, and the emergent narrative of Far Cry 2. I get sequences in Skyrim where I'm faced with an impending dragon attack, introducing a beast much too powerful for my character. Worried about my survival, I duck into a tomb for safety only to be greeted by the most powerful undead adversary I've yet to meet. Stuck between both, and at the edge of a cliff, I fall and hope to catch tiny ledges on my way down. If I survive, the music calms and I can limp into town to lick my wounds and consider my next step.