The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim – is it overrated? (pic: Bethesda)
A reader explains why he doesn’t like Skyrim and delves into the psychology of game criticism and why no game is a classic to everyone.
The recent debate over the quality of Deathloop has really interested me, for one because it has been conducted with surprisingly little vitriol and secondly because it shows that there will always be people that like things you don’t and vice versa. As a case in point, I really liked Deathloop and it’s currently my game of the year. And yet here I am today to talk about a game that is widely regarded as a classic and yet which I think is anything but: Skyrim.
I don’t hate Skyrim, that would be far too strong a word, but I have tried to play it numerous times and have never managed to get to the end without getting frustrated and bored by the way it works. For me it is a 7/10 at the very best and, personally, far less if I’m being honest.
I’ll try to explain why but one of the things I think is interesting when we critique games is that sometimes there’s just an indefinable atmosphere to the game that just does not click with you. We hear about the opposite of this all the time, when talking about a game that has that special magic, but I think the reverse also exits. Sometimes you just don’t take to a game and it’s actually a little hard to tell why exactly, as it seems to be doing everything okay.
I first played Skyrim, not at launch but within about a year of its release, so it wasn’t that it was too old to be appreciated at that point. But I was immediately put off by the poor quality graphics that seemed well below the standards I’d expect of a high profile game, let alone one that was as well reviewed as Skyrim. Bethesda’s low tech facial animation is often criticised but the whole game world, to me, looks strangely amateurish and under-detailed.
Another thing that put me off was how seriously the game – about dragons and magic – took itself. Which is funny when you begin to realise just how bad some of the dialogue is and how terrible the voice-acting is, even for quite important characters. I know this game is almost 10 years old, but it sounded terrible right from the start, let alone now.
What is also terrible is the first person combat, especially anything to do with swords. To be fair, this is a difficult thing to make work in first person, since it’s hard to judge distance and make impacts seem real, but Skyrim does it so badly it probably stopped other developers from even trying.
Even just moving around the game world feels janky and awkward, as if Skyrim itself is just a mod for some other game and was never meant to be doing the things it does. And then of course there’s all the well-known bugs and glitches on top of that, which seem to be par for the course with Bethesda games but which, for some reason, everyone seems to tolerate.
I will say that the open world is impressive, at least for the time, and the variety of quests and secrets hiding in unexpected places is very good. Skyrim isn’t a terrible game, and Bethesda are certainly very good at building an open world, but anything to do with gameplay or storytelling they seemed to be well behind the curve even in 2011.
And yet there’s an Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5 version of the game coming up this year and I’m sure that will be getting all the usual accolades, that will leave me feeling like I must’ve played a different game. But that’s fine, different things for different folks and all that. A lot of criticism of famous games is just trolling, because this is the internet, but I think it’s fair to point out that there’s not actually one game that everyone agrees is a classic. And certainly not Skyrim.
By reader Combi
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