All cards on the table: I’m a huge fan of the Elder Scrolls series. I spent months playing Morrowind and even longer on Oblivion. When it comes to sandbox games, few can top these for the breadth of possibilities they offer.
However, the Elder Scrolls series isn’t without its problems, and although Skyrim has received loads of accolades, I think it may be the worst of the bunch. Here’s why:
1. Visually, it ain’t much to look at. What was great about Oblivion — one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played on any platform — was the variety of landscapes it offered. From mountain highlands to golden meadows to gloomy swamps, Oblivion had it all. And on top of that, there were the Oblivion gates, which gave a glimpse of even more radical worlds.
Skyrim, on the other hand, was mostly an assload of ice and snow. Yes, there was some variation: each hold felt a bit different, and the landscape changed a tad from here to there, but it all felt kind of muted, and nothing ever blew me away. The trip to Sovngarde was fun and pretty, but it couldn’t compare to stumbling across the wonder of Vivec City in Morrowind. Detailed? Yes. Stunning? No.
2. The quests are as repetitive as ever. The one thing that’s bugged me about the Elder Scrolls series is that the quests have felt slightly interchangeable. When push comes to shove, “Please go wipe out this group of vampires and retrieve my heirloom sword” isn’t all that different a task from “Please go wipe out this group of falmer and retrieve my heirloom shield”. Maybe it’s because more than a year later, I’m still stinging from the lame-ass Fable 3 — which should’ve been called Fable 3: Errand Boy — but the world of Skyrim felt inhabited by a bunch of lazy ass hookers who couldn’t be bothered to walk down the block and pick up their own goddamn magic potions.
3. Worst of all, the storytelling is weak. The reason I play games like Skyrim is because, at their best, they’re like really good movies, with interesting characters and a compelling plot. Assassin’s Creed is the best of the lot where this is concerned: like Elder Scrolls, there are plenty of side quests to keep things interesting, but Assassin’s Creed‘s strong central narrative holds everything together. Skyrim was so bad, I had to check an online walkthrough to see if I’d finished the damn thing.
Let me repeat that: I finished the main quest of Skyrim and didn’t even know it. That’s lame. Even in Morrowind and Oblivion, NPC comments told me when I was done. Hell, in Bethesda’s other masterpiece, Fallout 3, the game basically ended at the conclusion of the main quest, with a really clever overview of my character’s life. Maybe Bethesda can call in Dan Brown for the next one.
4. I finished Skyrim really fast. I love the Elder Scrolls series so much that I tried very hard to pace myself in Skyrim. I spent a full week ignoring the main quest and focusing on miscellaneous tasks, just to savor the game. But eventually, I found that there was little else to be done. Once returned to the main quest, it was only a matter of a day or two before I’d polished it off. (Though as I said, I didn’t know that immediately.) The other games in the series — and even Fallout 3 — gave me many, many more weeks of gameplay. Maybe Bethesda can make up for that with downloadable content.
Bottom line: if you’ve got other games to play, wait on Skyrim — at least until the Game of the Year edition comes out. By then, it’ll be cheaper and maybe a little fuller. Let’s hope the next Elder Scrolls installment is more satisfying.