by Diego Beltrami
There are two maximums to Skyrim. First the good news is that it’s not Oblivion, and the other is that sadly it’s not Morrowind either.
For the record. I’m one of those people that thinks that Morrowind is the best Elder’s Scrolls made to date and that Oblivion was a terrible change of direction.
From what I’ve seen The Elder’s Scrolls series means a lot of different things to different people. Everyone finds a particular characteristic that defines the series for them. In my case is the exploration, being left alone to my own devices in a whole new world. That mostly explains why I find Morrowind so endearing. It’s an alien place with something strange around every corner, full of wonder. From the pyramids of the city of Vivec to the mushroom buildings of the Telvanni mages, in which you need some way of levitation to navigate through, everything is different and interesting.
Oblivion on the other hand takes the most generic part of Tamriel and does… nothing with it. Even the oblivion plane is boring. Now, going back to Skyrim, the change of setting to something akin to the nord myths is a welcome change. Problem with Skyrim is what it does with these myths, and sadly the answer is ‘not much’.
While the land is pretty -you can’t argue that the world is well crafted- every dungeon feels the same, locations are pretty similar. Even the dwarven ruins, which at first feels like wonder, quickly turn out to be quite generic as all of them look the same. It doesn’t help that all the dungeons have some evident design decisions, like always having an exit near the entrance. It does that to avoid backtracking but it ends up feeling cheap always having a secret passage or a tunnel near the entrance to the dungeon that’s just too high to enter through but perfect to exit from. It makes the hand of the designer explicit. It breaks immersion.
Exploring ends up being a methodical thing. Go to X place, enter dungeon, clear dungeon, exit dungeon. There are almost no unique things to find.
There is a reason for this. Most of the interesting stuff was moved to the quests, which have a lot more importance now. While in Morrowind quest felt more organic as there was no quest log beyond the messy journal, Skyrim system, with each quest broken into easily followed parts each with it’s own marker that is quickly pointed at with an arrow. There are a lot more setpieces here, and much better crafted than in previous games but there is no sense of discovery within them, they feel too rigid sometimes. And even though you can deactivate the markers, the game doesn’t make any effort in guiding you without them, so there is no explanation about the quest that could help you find where you have to go to complete it without the magical arrow in the map. So quest are more interesting now, and have a lot more flavour, but feels so much like ticking boxes from a to do list. It also doesn’t help that a lot of places are closed and impossible to explore if they’re related to a quest the player didn’t get yet. So you might be going around, see some interesting structure which you decide to explore only to find you can’t do that because you need some magical key or something to access it.
And this is not the only problem I’ve found with the game. Another part of what made Morrowind unique was its magic, and particularly its magic items. Skyrim’s items are also unremarkable, even those special ones you get from quests. This, I suspect, has to do with the changes in enchanting. Not only there are less spells to pick from and less stats to affect, but there aren’t negative effects any more. You can’t find something like the boots of blinding speed because you can’t affect neither speed nor apply a negative speed like blinding. You can’t find stats breaking spells like the Scrolls of Icarian Flight because it can’t affect attributes in that way. So you end up with much more generic items which only deal more damage, or certain damage effects, drain magicka and the like but nothing that spice things up in a different way.
Skyrim tries to steer the series into a better direction, and it works, partially. It certainly is much more dynamic than Morrowind, and it’s undoubtedly better than Oblivion overall, but still falls short on the expectations of the people who enjoyed Morrowind like me, it’s still plain and superficial. It’s lacks personality.
Still It’s a good game and I enjoyed my time with it but if I ever have an urge to play more TES I see no reason why I should go back to Skyrim when the shores of Vvanderfell are waiting for me.