Games of the Last Decade - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bethesda's iconic RPG was released back in 2011, and still stands the test of time when talking about role-playing games.
The Elder Scrolls has garnered a reputation for being a series that only gets a full entry every once in a while. In fact, it's only had five mainline games, although we've had The Elder Scrolls Online in the meantime, a game that gets regular content updates in order to quench the thirst of fans. Still, it was all the way back in 2011 that we got the last full entry in the series.
Yes, Skyrim is nine years old, and now it's now known as the game that Bethesda can't resist releasing on different platforms. It's had updated versions for modern consoles that boasted a number of improvements, there was a Nintendo Switch port (if you remember, the game was also used to market the Switch itself), and it made its way into realm of virtual reality (with mixed results). Bethesda even made an audio version for Alexa. Simply put, it's the gift that keeps on giving, and fans can't seem to get enough. Even ESO and Elder Scrolls Legends have content themed around Skyrim, but why the fascination with Elder Scrolls V?
Well, it's because it was so impactful. It followed 2006's Oblivion and the five years in between allowed Bethesda to innovate on the open-world RPG formula. Sure, it was noticeably Bethesda and shared many formulaic similarities with the Fallout and Elder Scrolls titles that came before it, but it seemed like the most refined game from the studio so far, bringing players an immersive world with plenty to see and do, along with a truckload of choices and consequences.
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While Oblivion was colourful and eccentric (regardless of intention), Skyrim brought the series back down to Earth with a more realistic concept that threw us into a Medieval-style world inspired by Norse mythology and the Nordic world. The game was still packed full of magic and wonder, but everything felt a lot more grounded and detailed, especially when it comes to the locations we'd explore.
The land of Skyrim itself is perhaps one of the main reasons it's a game of the decade since it was packed with things to see. One could easily venture off the beaten track right from the beginning and ignore all of the mainline quests in favour of discovering locations, looting tombs, bumping into Draugr, and getting stomped on by a few giants. Most importantly, curiosity was rewarded, and those who braved the biggest dangers got grand loot worthy of a champion.
It also marked a graphical leap. While character models, animations, and more were shared between Oblivion, Fallout 3, and New Vegas, this was a step up and looked like a refreshed product, with a new lick of paint to make it sparkle too. Gone were the stiff characters of old and in came new faces with fresh personalities, many of which became an instant hit with the Internet too (remember the 'arrow to the knee' meme?).
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There were more drastic changes than just a bigger and more exciting world though. The shouts were a huge inclusion in Skyrim, for example, and these added to the player's arsenal powerful abilities like clearing weather, summoning allies, and even extreme force pushing foes backwards (Fus Ro Dah, if you didn't know). When added to existing spells and weaponry, this made the player feel even more powerful as the Dragonborn.
Speaking of dragons, these were a core pillar of the game and its story as well. These intimidating creatures made their appearance right at the start of the game, being responsible for your freedom as they attack your captors, and you have the chance to slay many of them as you make your way through the adventure.
The story itself had incredibly high stakes, as sees you discover your gift of being the Dragonborn while teaming up with the Greybeards to take down the returning Alduin. There are no gates of Oblivion to be seen, but you're still thrust into a position of power as the chosen one of the realm, although with the same freedom of choice as in any other game. Is your Dragonborn a stealth archer or a powerful wielder of two-handed weapons? You decide.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence of Skyrim being one of the games of the decade is that it's constantly used as a comparative point for RPGs. While others like The Witcher 3 have come along and received critical praise since then, Skyrim still set a benchmark that other RPGs are measured by. Sure, people may easily say that the Bethesda formula is a bit stale at this point, but in 2011 Skyrim was a huge release, rightfully earning the studio oodles of praise.
Perhaps we won't see The Elder Scrolls VI for a while, and that's okay. We're not saying we can make do with Skyrim until then, but Bethesda's nine-year-old RPG still stands the test of time on modern hardware, which is a pretty impressive feat. If the next game can do the same, fans should be in for a treat, and we can't wait to see it. For now, though, we'll keep exploring Skyrim because we're sure there are some secrets still waiting to be discovered.