Around once a year, every year, a weird, unexplainable phenomenon occurs. It starts with a pang, a world-wounding wallop to the brain that appears to come out of nowhere and everywhere at once. Before you feel its impact, it dissipates into a sleepy haze, shrouding everything around you in a sort of sombre fog. The next thing you know you’ve been sacked from work and missed your rent. People are telling you it’s July, but deep down you know it’s only June. You take out your phone and charge it - it’s dead, obviously - and to your dismay, the calendar reveals the truth. Once again, you’ve gone on a monstrous, month-long Skyrim bender, and you have absolutely no idea how, why, or when it even started.
Skyrim is a good game - I’d even go as far as to say it’s a great one. It blew my teeny-tiny 15-year-old brain into the stratosphere back in 2011. I took a week off school just to punch Alduin in his big draconic mug. I can’t for the life of me understand why I’ve since punched him around ten more times, though. There is very little reason to replay Skyrim, a game that teems with more bugs than an insectarium. I know all of the stories, and, if I’m honest, the characters aren’t half as compelling as I thought they were as an angsty little teenager. It’s a good, important, beloved RPG, but I’m not sure what value or meaning I obtain by half-arsedly replaying it for no reason other than ‘just because.’
Earlier this week, I got the pang, but this time around I caught wind of it before it connected. ‘Ah ah ah!’ I said, wagging my finger at this ethereal, otherworldly force that exists nowhere outside of my own brain. ‘I’m playing Yakuza 4 at the moment - I’m not falling for your dirty little tricks again.’ Crisis averted, I thought to myself. I checked my Xbox Series X just in case and, sure enough, Skyrim wasn’t installed. Cian: 1, Skyrim: 0.
Now I’ve got a bit of critical and literal distance from that situation, I thought I’d have a little think about why Skyrim in particular is a game that so many people constantly return to. There are games with much better stories out there. There are games with better worlds, better characters, better art, and better combat. Hell, there are plenty of games that are better than Skyrim at all of those things at once. Weirdly, though, I’m not being annually sucked back into them via some unquantifiable gravitational pull. I might replay them once or twice - or in the case of the new Witcher 3 DLC, around 500 times - but the big silly arrow-to-the-knee game continuously lures people all over the world back into its trap time and time again.
In some ways, I understand. There’s a certain comfort in familiarity, and if you know your way from Riften to Rorikstead without a map, Skyrim mostly becomes a kind of calming, humbling, and encouraging experience. It’s the perfect backdrop to just sitting there and taking a deep breath - but it’s also a bit mind-numbing. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to view Bethesda’s flagship series in an increasingly dim light. What’s so special about Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, great big money-printers of games that, for the most part, don’t have a whole lot to say. I mean, Fallout is set in a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland but is completely ill-equipped to deal with that context. “War never changes” - deep shit, brah. Do you read books or something?
I’m only poking fun, mind. I’d play Fallout 5 in a heartbeat and I’m excited for The Elder Scrolls 6 - which shouldn’t have been announced - whenever it does finally drop. But replaying Skyrim over and over again when there is such an enormous wealth of indies and hidden gems out there feels like a waste of time. It’s like eating the same meal for dinner every night, or watching the same movie every Saturday afternoon at half three. I’ve managed to get far more hours out of Skyrim than any person reasonably should, but in retrospect I’m convinced that, somewhere along the way and completely unbeknownst to myself, diminishing returns set in. It’s just sort of listless now, and I don’t really know why I regularly get this weird urge to play something I’m not even sure I enjoy anymore.
Again, though, I’m probably going to pump another 100 hours into The Witcher 3 later this year, despite already having amassed like, thousands of them already. Who the hell am I to talk, eh?
A feat only a true Dovahkiin could pull off.