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10 Years On, ‘Skyrim’s Masterful Open World Is The Gift That Keeps On Giving

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10 Years On, ‘Skyrim’s Masterful Open World Is The Gift That Keeps On Giving

It’s been 10 years since Bethesda released The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and we finally woke up. That’s a decade of dragon slaying, lockpicking, stealth-archering action in one of the most remarkably rich open-world RPGs ever created. 

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Who could ever forget the first time they absorbed a dragon’s soul? Or slipped and fell off the side of a mountain? Or got rocketed into outer space by an angry giant? The memories we’ve made in Skyrim will undoubtedly last forever. 

But let’s be honest: plenty of video games since Skyrim have done open worlds much better. Plenty more have surpassed Bethesda’s epic in terms of combat, voice acting, story, RPG mechanics, and… well, pretty much everything else. Objectively speaking, Skyrim is a dated video game that started showing its age years ago. Yet it retains an irresistible charm, a depth to its world, that continues to pull in players old and new after all this time.

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I came to Skyrim a few years after its initial release in 2011. My family pretty much had the money for one console; a Nintendo Wii. Not that I’m complaining in any way, you understand. I’m just trying to establish that it wasn’t until I started university and got a part-time job that I was able to grab a second-hand PlayStation 3 and a copy of the game many of my friends had spent most of 2011 talking about. 

I was obsessed. Like many of you, my first month or two with Skyrim was a haze in which I shirked real-life responsibilities in favour of the game. When I should have been in lectures, I was tracking down the Dark Brotherhood, or picking pockets in Riften. It’s a miracle I ever graduated. Hell, it’s a miracle I’m still alive. I can’t actually remember doing much eating or sleeping around that time. Unless it was in the game of course - I had to take care of my character. 

I must have put hundreds of hours into Skyrim over the course of that first year. That would usually be enough time spent with a game to ensure that I’d gotten enough out of it for one lifetime, but I was just getting started. My total Skyrim playtime across various platforms has at least tripled in the last seven or eight years. I picked up Skyrim: Special Edition on PlayStation 4 and squeezed it dry. Just a few years, I later racked up another 100 or so hours on the game on Nintendo Switch. And now, as I write these words two days before Skyrim: Anniversary Edition launches, I find myself genuinely excited to start it all again. What the heck is wrong with me?

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim / Credit: Bethesda
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim / Credit: Bethesda

Crucially, I know I’m not alone in this. I’d be willing to put good money on the fact that most of the people reading this have played through Skyrim multiple times, and are either considering getting the Anniversary Edition or have already picked it up. But why? Why can’t we ever let Skyrim just die? In celebration of the game’s 10th anniversary, I decided to ask the GAMINGbible team why we can’t stop playing this damn game. 

“Well, because Todd Howard won't stop releasing the bloody thing any chance he gets,” GAMINGbible editor Mark Foster wisely observes when I ask him. “But also because it mastered one crucial mechanic: replayability.”

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He’s not wrong. Skyrim is such an incredibly open game with so many ways to play through it. While most of the game’s big choices in regards to the world and its fate are fairly binary, who you can actually be as a player is very much up to you: A cursed werewolf, a lowly thief, a warrior of legend - it’s your call. And the minutiae of the world is consistently fascinating, too. 10 years since launch, and places like the Skyrim subreddit are still filled with players excitingly discovering hitherto unknown features, secrets, and small Easter eggs scattered across the land that tell their own gripping - and often disturbing - environmental stories. 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim / Credit: Bethesda
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim / Credit: Bethesda

You don’t even have to engage with the main quest and deal with the end of the world nonsense if you don’t want to. Ignore Alduin entirely, build a house, find a partner, and spend your days catching butterflies with your dog. You can absolutely do that, if you want. That’s before you even begin to factor in the hundreds upon hundreds of player-made mods that are available on PC and newer versions of the game on console, which add to the overall experience in countless ways. That ability to personalise Skyrim - to really put yourself in the experience - has always been a key aspect of the game for our video editor James Daly. 

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“It's all about the character creator,” he explains. “I know it may sound odd when you consider all of the character creators out there, but something about Skyrim felt more personal. I was able to click with my Khajiit in a way I'd never experienced before, to the point where I can't ever imagine playing as someone else. I've tried Bosmer, Breton - you name it - but I always wind up going back to my sneaky fur ball. I guess Skyrim was the first game to make my adult self feel like I was really invested in the role.”

“No matter how many times I pick up Skyrim, I'm giddy with the possibilities that await me,” Mark agrees. “The decisions that I may take on a whim that shape the life I'm going to live within its digital borders,” Mark adds. “Will I play a powerful mage who dabbles in close-quarters combat? Will I create a hulking brute whose skills lie in decimating the enemy with sheer force. Or will I create a stealth archer and clad myself in nightingale armour as soon as the opportunity arises. Always the latter, but it’s still the choice that is the allure.”

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim / Credit: Bethesda
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim / Credit: Bethesda

For one of our writers, Imogen Mellor, Skyrim’s world nailed a sense of exploration and adventure that no other game has ever quite managed to recapture. 

Skyrim was my definitive eye-opening gaming experience,” she tells me. “Back in 2011, I didn’t know what games could do, what they could be, what they could make me feel. It was my first time having a full and open world to explore, quests to pursue, and NPCs to chat to and it has such a special place in my heart. To this day, I chase that epic feeling of coming over a hill and seeing a new city to explore.

 “I want to be wowed by great lakes, underground caverns, soaring dragons, and yet nothing has ever come close to that first time I played Skyrim. It probably ruined my standards for other games for years, I can’t tell you how sad I was to find Fallout 4 didn’t scratch that exploration itch, but I also have to thank Skyrim too. It taught me a lot about making your own decisions, nurturing your own curiosity, and trying to get horses up sheer cliffs.”

GAMINGbible channel manager Tom Ryan-Smith is a little more critical. He argues many of us are playing Skyrim over and over hoping to replicate a sense of nostalgia that doesn’t exist - and never will for as long as the game keeps being re-released. 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim / Credit: Bethesda
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim / Credit: Bethesda

Skyrim is released so regularly that we’ve never actually had enough of a respite from it to yearn for the old days when it was popular,” he argues. “Because it always has been popular, and always will be... until Elder Scrolls VI releases. 

“But does it really matter if they keep releasing it until the sun expands and engulfs the earth so long as we all continue having fun in Bethesda’s world? I keep playing it, you keep playing it, we all keep enjoying it. Let's just accept that Skyrim is forever and the only things left at the end of the universe will be re-releases of Skyrim and GTA V.

Featured Image Credit: Bethesda

Topics: Skyrim, Bethesda

Ewan Moore
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