Stories have their own world. Many of them may take place in a setting that quite resembles are own but nevertheless are separate worlds to that of reality.
Often the nature of this world can be a factor to the content of the story itself. A story set in medieval Europe is unlikely to deal with themes involving the terror of nuclear devastation.
When Tolkein released his book the Hobbit, it broke new ground by inventing an entirely new and original world.
Well, new and original if you ignore all of the plots, characters, themes and ideas he blatantly stole from Scandinavian literature and Judeo-christian scripture.
But anyway the point is that creating new worlds opens new doors to explore in narrative and can lead to epic tales that have few parallels within our world.
So, I cannot help but wonder why Skyrim is so boring.
Skyrim's basically the Tolkein of video games: its a big world filled with elves and humans, with an underlying black/white plot and most of it was copy and pasted from the Vikings.
I quite enjoyed previous Bethesda rpgs. Morrowind was an exceptional experience, (forgetting those fucking ass-hat cliff-racers) Oblivion was nice (well mostly the shivering isles expansion), Fallout 3 had some great moments and Fallout New Vegas was perfect in each and every way (although there might be a good reason behind that one).
When I first heard they were making a new Elder scrolls game I was quite pleased with the idea. Then I heard it involved the Nords: a Viking based people and my heart skipped a beat, then they added dragons and I had a major artery bypass the same evening.
But amazingly, despite aiming directly for my weakness, Skyrim bored the living hell out of me. This is quite a miraculous feat. It was like someone offered me an invitation to a banquet of all of my favourite foods and half way through devouring the tender hearts of my enemies I decided it was best if I go to bed early.
Moreover, Oblivion did not have any leg ups and I actually went into Fallout 3 with negative prejudices towards it and yet these games managed to sate my appetite better than others.
I ask for as much in games as I would in any other story telling medium: a story. Fallout and the Elder scrolls have the benefit of being able to tell stories whilst at the same time building up upon an already huge lore base.
But I'm pretty sure that's where Skyrim went wrong.
There was a lot of lore already present in the Elder scrolls universe prior to the release of Skyrim. And even then, Bethesda had its bearded (albeit of the neck variety) lore masters slaving away to make up for about 200 years of missed time-line.
I have fond memories of being buried in a lore book detailing the scandalous affair of Emperor Talos and his dunmer mistress only to go out into the world and find nought but ash and fetch quests.
Skyrim just doesn't take advantage of its lore when creating quests. Nearly all of them could be placed in another game and not seem out of place.
Skyrim had this weird concept that it would be a game where you could do anything. You can smith, chop wood, climb mountains, do basic mercenary work, pick flowers as you skip merrily through the fields with Todd Howard in hand until he whisks you off into the sky to whatever fantasy dream land he and Peter Moleneaux get their E3 briefings from.
Sorry, where was I.
Yes, skyrim can let you do a number of mundane tasks but isn't that what we're trying to escape? The point of an rpg is that you can do interesting things in an interesting world that you find fulfilling in a way the real world could never offer.
Skyrim has a large world with many quests, more so than Fallout 3, but most of these do not do anything to expand or take advantage of the lore. For example: how many quests relating to the dunmer were there in the grey quarter? One? Was that a fetch quest? It was? How unexpected. And now how many involved the lore behind why the dunmer were there and what was happening. None? Well, hello.
Now in all honesty this is simply my opinion which is fallible. But do you know what isn't? Statistics!
I took a look at quests in the main towns, ignoring the main faction quests and deity quests and came up with percentages of quests that don't take advantage of OR expand the lore at all. One should note that I was incredibly generous with these figures (I counted that spider killing quest in Markarth just because it gave the spider a name for example).
Now if those figures are not alarming one should note that 99 percent of those quests were simply fetch, slay or a few words quests lacking any sort of story at all. I also think I should point out that Riften has the lowest number of unrelated quests because any time Riften had a quest related to corruption I quite happily included it as part of the lore of Riften. One must also note that Morthal only had three quests with one of them being a quest to do quests for the people of Morthal.
So about now, I am starting to see the reason why the game is as interesting as a School mass. But as I could never figure out why my School mass wasn't made more interesting that time a horned monster appeared and set everything on fire, I can't quite fathom why Skyrim was a let down when it had dragons.
Dragons are my favourite mythological subject. And they are a difficult thing to get right in fantasies. Either a dragon will be portrayed as a dumb animal that a shiny teethed twat of a hero kills to save the day or they will be an unstoppable doomsday beast that is killed with a single arrow (see Smaug the impenetrable).
Skyrim manages to do both.
This is sort of surprising given the complex lore behind dragons in Skyrim. The dov of Skyrim have not only their own unique culture and psyche but also come with their own language, something that the writers made for skyrim and the developers neglected to feature no more than once or twice in the game.
Frankly the dragons were a gold mine of quest opportunity however they seem to feature as nothing more than a side note and are entirely confined to the main quest.
There are only three dragons that talk to you in the game (1 additional if you pay for DLC) and only two of them give you the option to talk back. The one you can't talk back to, by the way, is the main antagonist of the entire bloody game!
Of course you will encounter dragons outside of this, but then they will be no more than the next evolutionary step for cliff racers rather than actual worthwhile experiences.
Ironic that dragons feature so little in the game when this was the concept that Bethesda based the entirety of Skyrim around.
Dragons in the trailer, dragons on the main menu, a song about dragons, come to think of it the box art shows a big dragon as well.
Its hard to believe that what is actually going on is Skyrim is supposed to be a dragon apocalypse of a scale similar to the oblivion crisis.
Especially when none of the npcs even see the dragons as a threat. Nobody outside of the main quest really give much of a shit and nothing gets burned down outside of Helgen. I even remember Tullius referring to the dragon crisis as a “nuisance”.
Compare this to the main quest in Oblivion where an entire town gets wiped off the map and you run the risk of being shanked by that friendly neighbour you once trusted with your hedge clippers because it turned out they were secretly an agent of the dark lord all along. Oblivion was like how extremist terrorists think they are seen by the world and Skyrim is like the reality of the matter.
Actually, on the subject of Oblivion and Skyrim, there seems to be a big gap in content between the two.
In Oblivion you had the huge Imperial city surrounded by different towns all differing between each other in their culture and architecture.
In Skyrim the cities are all rather small and a lot of assets have been reused; making Falkreath, Morthal and Dawnstar identical.
Actually, come to think of it, a lot of the cities in Skyrim had conveniently suffered damage during the interregnum between Oblivion and Skyrim.
The huge cosmopolitan Riften had been burned down and rebuilt as a smaller settlement. The trade capital Whiterun had fallen into ruin due to recession. The civil war destroyed most of Windhelm and Winterhold fell into the sea for no well-explained reason.
A lucky thing the story went in that direction because it meant Bethesda didn't have to work as hard building Skyrim.
Now this obvious bullshit can only be explained by two possibilities.
1. Bethesda games studios has been body snatched by Aliens who don't understand human game design.
2. Bethesda games studios has gotten lazy or stupid or probably both.
Given the lack of substantial evidence for extra terrestrial visitors I would think it safe to go with the latter.
Frankly, this should be obvious, even when one takes a look at the little things.
In Oblivion I have a fond memory of meeting a terrifyingly paranoid elf and as I was role playing as the nosiest bastard on the planet, I broke into his house only to find that he kept a large battle axe at his bedside table. In Fallout 3 I had a similar experience of rummaging through somebody's house, (only in this case the house was abandoned and by abandoned I mean the previous occupant had come down with a serious case of three rounds in the eye) and when I went up to the bedroom this time I found not an axe but several tubes of morphine (sorry politically correct med-x) and then looked to the bed to find two skeletons holding each other. I went into another room and then found a child's bed with a some braces and crutches and various medical instruments. As I pieced together my theory as to what had happened, I had a poignant moment of sobering reflection as I checked under the bed for cans of dog food.
Compare this to Skyrim where if you enter a house you will find the exact copy and pasted cell of the previous house you entered.
This lack of attention to detail in the environment would have been forgiven if it were made up for in the NPC characters but by all the princes of Oblivion they are bland.
I have met horses with more character then the NPCs of Skyrim. To help you understand my plight: a character, that is a good character, is a complex web of personality traits; virtues and flaws, lusts and resents, pride and regrets; a huge number of things all eating each other in a great ouroboros of identity or (persona for all the Shin Megami players). And to make things even more complicated, these qualities all change over time and are affected by the character's experience.
This is not what you will find in Skyrim. In Skyrim people are sign posts displaying an occupation written in big crayon writing.
Here's a test: take a random character from Skyrim and try to pick out two flaws and two virtues of their personality.
(I say two, by the way, because everything has at least one flaw and one virtue, my chair has for example has the virtue of being a chair and the flaw of being the worst chair in fucking existence).
Now with the same character identify two relationships they have with two other separate characters (preferably a good relationship and a bad relationship).
Now this test may seem a bit simple but that is actually how bad it is in Skyrim.
Try this test with one of Bethesda game studio's previous games or even Obsidian's Fallout New Vegas if you want the full picture of how little effort they put into the narrative.
Now I am pretty sure this is simply laziness on their part. Bethesda game studio's are not incompetent: they proved that with Dawngaurd.
I was quite disillusioned with Skyrim by the time I pulled Serana out of that hole in the ground, and thought that all I would receive would be the relief I felt from finding that Bethesda had finally hired an actual professional voice actor instead of shoving a microphone in front of the closest celebrity as they took the bus home.
It was while I was in Morthal, (or was it Dawnstar? Falkreath? Rorikstead?! One of those towns that all look alike) alright lets just call it Forthstarstead, anyway I was handing over my daily allotment of garnets and ruined books to the Black smith when I turned to find Serana was not actually where she was before but had decided to sharpen her sword, all the while griping about how shit the weather was.
I felt a tear come to my eye and the moment would have been all the more poignant had Sigtrygg Turnip-Wrestler not leaped in front of my face to enthusiastically declare that he chopped wood for a living.
Serana broke the mould in that she had an actual personality and even had an entire development over the course of the main quest. Dawngaurd as a whole was also quite well done. The characters were fair, the plot was quite rigid and it went interesting places with the lore.
It had its flawes but compared to the rest of the game, this was like your dead horse suddenly leaping up and winning the grand derby.
A pity that it fell back down for the great Solstheim races.
But seriously, from the looks of things Skyrim was an utter farce in the building of an interesting world. Bethesda seemed to be pushing towards the old game's industry tactic of nailing together false promises and stupid gimics and hoping the fans don't put their boat on the water or at least know how to swim.
I really wish I did not have to point out how dumb this tactic is and why ignoring your story for good gameplay is the worst tactic one could possibly regurgitate but alas such is the plight of the historian to learn not to repeat his mistakes even as he watches everyone else waddle about repeating theirs.
Bethesda's exploration gimic will only make them special as long as other game developers don't follow suit. The only thing that keeps the Elder scrolls and Fallout special is their story. If one does not invest in the quality of narrative, their game series stops being what it is and devolves to the state of a mere representation of its genre.
Or in case there is a Bethesda employee watching this from the hive,
MAKE GAME LESS STORY = LESS MONEYS FOR DIZZY DRINK.
Actually, maybe I am being a bit harsh on Bethesda. Maybe they aren't being so lazy.
Maybe Zenimax has been bullying them again. Or maybe Bethesda has been too busy exploiting smaller games companies into being bought out (this happens look it up).
Perhaps Skyrim was just a fluke and it will be all better next time.
And then the dream dies with Fallout 4.
You know, I wrote this a few months ago and during the time I had no real insight into the inner workings of Bethesda. I have since been doing some research for other articles and have come up with some interesting premises regarding Bethesda's true intentions behind Skyrim.
From what has been said and done, it seems that Bethesda is more interested in creating a video game for all players. This has been used constantly in interviews, to which I will link in the description: an idea that they are making games that appeal to everyone and not just one group of persons.
I think that makes perfect sense, the blandness and uninterestingness of Skyrim and Fallout 4 are a result of Bethesda spreading itself too thin in an effort to appeal to everyone.
It may sound like a grand idea to make a game that appeals to everyone.
But if one bakes a cake while taking into account everyone's favourite flavour it will either end up tasting like nothing or tasting like shit.