Skyrim Remaster Reminds Us That Today’s Game Design Is Still Largely Stuck In Last Gen

Skyrim’s remaster’s release is a sobering reminder that, five years later, games still haven’t quite been able to get it as right as this 11/11/11 game did.

Posted By | On 27th, Oct. 2016 Under Article, Editorials | Follow This Author @Pramath1605


This week, Bethesda releases The Elder Scrolls Skyrim: Special EditionSkyrim: Special Edition is actually a remaster of the 2011 blockbuster hit for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 (PC owners get the remaster, too- what’s more, if they already owned Skyrim and its DLC, they get it for free). Skyrim‘s remaster is a momentous occasion, one being treated with far more gusto by just about everybody than the release of the average remaster. Indeed, its release is getting about as much attention as the release of a Zelda remaster usually does, and that’s for a reason- Skyrim, you see, was a very special game.

In 2011, Skyrim took the world by storm. Not just the gaming world- the world. The game, its main theme, its main character, his signature move, its premise, everything became iconic and embedded in pop culture. Skyrim fever gripped the world, as even those who otherwise stayed as far away from fantasy, RPGs, and fantasy RPGs, found themselves fervently playing SkyrimSkyrim won top scores everywhere (to this day, it is one of the highest rated games of all time), won Game of the Year awards from just about every outlet imaginable, and is today considered to be one of the greatest games ever made. 20 million copies of the game were sold, and Skyrim became to the previous generation what Grand Theft Auto had been to the one before it.

There is a reason that Skyrim managed to take the world by storm, where no other RPG before or since has managed to do it. Even Bethesda failed to replicate the act with Fallout 4, which was their next game, and which released last year- Fallout 4 sales were massive, but fell short of Skyrim‘s, the modding scene faltered as people went right back to Skyrim, and Skyrim is played by more players on Steam than Fallout 4 is on a routine basis.

skyrim dragon

"Skyrim represents just about the best distillation of Bethesda’s ultimate vision- that of making an RPG that is simultaneously deep and accessible, appealing to the core and the mainstream gamer."

But yes, there’s a reason that all this happened. You see, Skyrim represents just about the best distillation of Bethesda’s ultimate vision- that of making an RPG that is simultaneously deep and accessible, appealing to the core and the mainstream gamer. Skyrim made a number of concessions to mainstream and casual gamers, from its combat to its leveling, to its removal of player classes. But its deft mix of skill based leveling, perks, loot, and specialization meant that it was exactly as extensive or as simple as you wanted it to be. Dedicated players could make highly specialized builds for themselves, replicating the classes found in older RPGs. Casual players could just focus on getting better at the skills they used most, simply by using them often, and focus on picking the perks that they wanted.

This kind of intersection of depth and accessibility is not present in any other game before or since- the RPGs before Skyrim are universally far more obtuse than it, but even the ones since haven’t managed the balancing act this deftly. The Witcher 3 is far more complex than Skyrim, in everything- from its combat, inventory management, skills, leveling, quests, dungeons, and more. Fallout 4, meanwhile, goes in the other direction, and simplifies everything so much that it is barely an RPG- leveling is dumbed down, dialog choices are dumbed down, combat is dumbed down, until it just becomes a shallow loot shooter.

But Skyrim‘s true impact on the gaming landscape was something else entirely, something that reverberates to this day- you see, Skyrim basically revived the open world for gaming again, bringing forth a new rush to capitalize on its success. Yes, Grand Theft Auto III had popularized open worlds in mainstream gaming originally, in the PS2 era, ten years before Skyrim– but it never prompted a shift in the entire industry’s game design philosophy like Skyrim did. True, there were some who tried to make GTA clones, but most did not, and those who did soon stopped trying after their attempts fell flat.

skyrim special edition

"The modern open world game craze owes itself to Skyrim."

Skyrim, though- the modern open world game craze owes itself to Skyrim. Almost every major AAA game released these days is open world, and that blatantly owes itself to Skyrim and Skyrim‘s success. Skyrim‘s success spawned a vast swathe of imitators trying to do what it had done. Bioware with Dragon Age: Inquisition, CD Projekt RED with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Square Enix with Final Fantasy 15, Hideo Kojima with Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, Monolith Soft with Xenoblade Chronicles X, and even a company as staunchly opposed to following trends as Nintendo, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, have all openly cited Skyrim as an inspiration for their games. The reason that games these days actually give you the choice to step out of a narrowly defined path is because Skyrim shifted the industry away from the linear game focus that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s success had caused. Skyrim is the reason that games tried to become something more, they tried to become worlds.

And with the release of Skyrim‘s remaster this week, we come full circle. No game that has followed Skyrim has been as successful- not critically, not commercially, and certainly not in terms of influence. No game has managed to mix accessibility and depth as well as Skyrim, falling either too much to one side or the other. Most games released since, at least most AAA ones, meanwhile, have continued to try and chase, to try and recreate, Skyrim‘s success.

Skyrim‘s remaster’s release is, then, revelatory. It is a chance for us to celebrate this great game, which was a success on a scale very few games manage to reach, and the legacy of which endures to this day. But it is also a sobering reminder that, five years since its release, no other game managed to strike the same chords that Skyrim itself did. Five years later, we’re still not as good as this 11/11/11 game was. Five years later, Skyrim‘s remaster proves that this generation’s game design is stuck trying to chase and recreate the game design of the previous generation of gaming.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.


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  • JonasCampos

    Skyrim is the ultimate game. Nothing never will bet it.
    Fallout 4 is not a shooter, just have the perfect gameplay. RPG gamers like broken gameplay.

    • leanton31

      I like equally – or even more dare i say – The Witcher 3, but its’ a different kind of open world RPG.

    • True FF Fan

      That’s what people used to say about FF7, now look at how terrible it is nowadays, same with skyrim, so no, it is not the ultimate game and yes plenty of games are much better. You might need to play more games before declaring a game the ultimate game.

    • ProAssassin84

      There is no other game on Skyrims level yet. Witcher 3 came close but fails in many ways except story and dialog.

      Witcher 3 is not a RPG as there is no role to play. You’re a Witcher with only swords and magic and its world is nowhere near interesting as Skyrims.

    • kevin

      Lol the Witcher 3 world is way more interesting and unique than skyrims generic fantasy world number 450. The quests,animations,dungeons, characters,dialog,main story,gameplay,etc are way better in Witcher 3 than skyrim. I love skyrim has much has the next person because of the freedom it allows but Witcher 3 is just better in almost every way

  • Riggybro

    A timely article.

    I remember the rot setting in around the Watch_Dogs era then it got progressively worse….

    People were all hyped for next-gen then we got bombarded with bland fps, Assassins Creed part 20, average games and countless remakes/remasters.

    I have friends who are feeling pretty flat about gaming this gen (but hey at least they are getting out more now).

    The AAA business has just got too big for its own good. It’s eating itself alive.

    Only indies are keeping things interesting.

    • Jay Dog

      The good news is that may be coming to an end. Games like Titan Fall 2, Battle Field 1, Final Fantasy 15, Dishonored 2, Mass Effect, RE7, Horizon, GOW, etc. are all looking very good. This is how it always is at the beginning of every generation, that’s why it sucks to be an early adopter. it really is best to wait until mid cycle because that’s when developers start to really understand the hardware and can deliver more polished games.

    • True FF Fan

      That is some seriously flawed logic. Waiting until midgeneration is pointless, all it does is keep you away from great games for a few years. You need to drastically improve your analyzing skills.

    • leanton31

      Uncharted 4, Metal Gear Solid 5, The Witcher 3, Gears of War 4 and many – many other AAA titles are great, so this AAA doom and gloom is just an urban legend.

    • Riggybro

      One of those games you mentioned has already been labeled Game of the Year…. 2006.

    • True FF Fan

      are you even paying attention to games recently? Indies blow 99% of the time and there are tons of great games this generation. Sound like you are just complaining to complain, leave that behavior for the chics, guys should have more pride than that.

    • Riggybro

      “leave that behavior for the chics”

      Wow.

    • Stephen O’Toole

      I feel like Watch_Dogs is another example of a game which doesn’t owe its open world design to Skyrim.

      It resembles closely the same structure as other open-world action titles that they established with success in 2009 (two years before Skyrim) when they released Assassin’s Creed II.

  • IDCboutu

    This looks to me like a shady site filled with cheap ads from sketchy sources, so I’m very surprised to read such a great article. I’ll come back to read more once I run some malware / adware cleaners on my system.

  • ProAssassin84

    Great Article. Firing this up on my PS4 today I was immediately immersed in the world again. Bethesdas attention to detail in this game rivals any next gen game out. Yes even Witcher 3. The Art and world building are second to none. Everywhere you look there is something awesome to look at and explore. This is quality other developers thrive for and fail.

    Honestly I have forgotten over the years what a Masterpiece is until I played this again. The immersion has yet to be matched and the gameplay as you can literally be what character you want.

    And let me also say the graphics are breathtaking and elevate this game tremendously. Skyrim Game of the Year again? lol

    This isn’t a game its a work of art.

  • Stephen O’Toole

    How did Skyrim influence Xenoblade Chronicles X?

    It follows the same scale and structure as Xenoblade Chronicles released a year before Skyrim. They are two vastly different RPG games too. They barely resemble one another in mechanics, design or even the sub-set of open-world design.

    I enjoyed reading this article, but I feel it generalizes way too much in exactly ‘how’ Skyrim was influential. It is, but not in the way the author recites.


 

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