As South Africa enters its 21-day lockdown in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus, it has left many civilians in the isolation of their homes. Many see this as a great opportunity to spend quality time with some family and loved ones, while others cherish diving into forms of entertainment to occupy their time and pass the weeks (when not working remotely, in that case). To cushion some of the tedium, Nexus has decided to create a daily feature in which we recommend games of varying lengths and content that could pass the time. Our first recommendation in Lockdown Gaming takes us to the land of Tamriel with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
To date, Skyrim stands as one of the most content-filled RPGs of all time. When the game released in 2011, it was a smashing critical and commercial success for Bethesda, who previously brought us its predecessors in The Elder Scrolls series as well as Fallout (that Lockdown Gaming day is coming). However, Skyrim still holds up remarkably well today and somehow remains undefeated in its enormous melting pot of seemingly neverending content. It all starts on the back of a horse carriage as we ride to our execution in Helgen…
Picking up Skyrim again recently, I was absolutely astounded to still see how much content and freedom of choice the game presents to the player (on top of the game still looking absolutely stunning from an open world design perspective). In most RPGs, this means a steep learning curve and maybe after 5 or 6 hours, you can finally start forging your own path. However, Skyrim does this from the moment you leave Helgen and emerge in the wide open spaces of Skyrim.
You can choose to follow the main path and go to the nearest town to progress the main story, or just go off on your own adventures and make your own experience. There are a handful of classes to choose from in the beginning (or races, more like it) but unlike many other RPGs, you’re not shoehorned into picking a specific race for their perks. Basically, your race and character is just a blueprint. You have the freedom to make your character anything you want them to be, whether it’s a powerful mage, a two-handed swordman, a stealthy thief, or literally all of the above – the choices are endless and it bodes well to Skyrim‘s unparalleled player agency.
I opted to go for the two-handed swordman approach and ran with the Nord class for the initial bump in points and health. Thanks to the incredible flexibility of the huge but cleverly streamlined skill tree, I was even able to build on my lockpicking and magic abilities on the side. Straying off the main story for the most part, I found myself already tackling an assortment of fleshed out side quests across the various towns and villages. Before even climbing to the peaks of High Hrothgar to have a ball with the Greybeards, I was knee-deep in vampire hunts, a cult conspiracy, and handling magical business affairs as the new Arch-Mage of Winterhold.
My personal experiences aside, I’m still playing through Skyrim and enjoying the amount of freedom given to me – a quality rarely seen in most RPGs on the market. Yes, there are finer examples of games with far more in-depth “freedom”, so to speak (see Persona 5), but Skyrim never feels like it bottle-necks that freedom. At no point, in the odd 25-30 hours I’ve been playing thus far, did I ever feel like I was being shoehorned into doing an activity or quest, or even steering back onto the path of the main story. It’s there, sure, but it’s a suggestion – and I absolutely adore that.
The fun in that then comes down to what else you can do outside of the main story. The simple answer is… quite a lot. Dare I say, the best qualities, moments, and experiences of Skyrim hardly even come from the main story at all. Yes, it’s quite an epic high fantasy tale of chosen ones, evil dragons trying to bring about the apocalypse, and more magical artifacts and MacGuffins that would’ve given J.R.R. Tolkein a run for his money, but the devil is in the details here. The expansions that come packaged in the Special Edition consist of Dawnguard, Dragonborn, and Hearthfire. Arguably, Dawnguard and Dragonborn are the best ones to look out for. The former is mostly focused on the resurgence of an evil vampire regime and cult, while the latter takes us to further shores to uncover the potential existence of another Dovahkiin. It’s all riveting, well-written, and incredibly fulfilling stories that could easily make up entire games on their own.
Skyrim‘s morality system is open to pretty much every side of the coin. You can choose to be evil (like Dawnguard suggests), hunting down villages of people and, hell, even siding with the vampires and werewolves – and have all of Whiterun’s guards hot on your trail – or simply play the part of a carefree potato farmer out in the countryside who just so happens to be a legendary warrior capable of absorbing dragon’s souls. I think that might be the only thing that you can’t really escape (call it fate, I guess) concerning the main story: you are the chosen one. No choice. No buts. Just kill an ancient evil dragon and save the world. To that extent, the “fullness” of the role-playing experience is dialed down a notch or two, but not enough to force you into doing a character-altering action or decision (I’m looking at you, Fallout 4).
That said, why is Skyrim a quintessential game to play during this lockdown? It goes without saying that if you aren’t into RPGs, you may not find Skyrim to your liking, but it is one of the more streamlined and accessible RPG titles of its kind in a very good way. However, it also packs an astronomical amount of content. The base game’s main story itself should take you around 30-40 hours to beat, but outside of that, you’re easily looking at 100+ hours worth of content. Adding the three available DLC to the mix, each bringing another 20-30 hours each, and you’ve got yourself an RPG experience to easily last you 200 hours or much more. Taking into account replay value as well (which this game has a lot of, trust this from a guy playing Skyrim for possibly the fifteenth time), and the math can figure itself out. Best of all – and back when Bethesda wasn’t singing “Country Roads” with broken online games – Skyrim is prime, quality content.
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