Since its release back in 2011, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has undeniably revolutionized the RPG genre, revitalizing a type of gameplay that had fallen out of popularity in gaming circles back in the early noughties. Not since the days of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or Final Fantasy VII had an RPG been such a huge international phenomenon. It spawned an entire army of players and modders alongside countless re-releases and multiple DLC add-ons. Some publications have already made the plunge and said that Skyrim is the best game of all time, and the fact that the game has sold over 30 million copies since its release suggests that many players tend to agree.
However, Skyrim trades quality for quantity with an overabundance of NPCs, a generic plot, and a world which is overly repetitive.
The worst part about it is how quickly these features have become the norm in the RPG genre as a whole. Skyrim’s popularity didn’t go unnoticed by developers, and its impact has been seen across the board in games as far-reaching as Grand Theft Auto V and Final Fantasy XV, with very few recent game releases that encompass the traditional RPG space. Skyrim fans, prepare to rage: because in this list, we’ll explore the main fifteen ways in which Skyrim has basically ruined the RPG genre for everyone. Thanks a lot, Bethesda.
15 Plot Is Cliché
One of the great things about Bethesda’s other main franchise, Fallout, is its enigmatic plot. That series takes place in a post-apocalyptic world and follows a character who has just awoken to a dystopic reality. The culture shock of their newly dilapidated environment is central to the story. It makes for a game which continuously keeps you on your toes, looking around every corner for the promise of something new.
Skyrim maintains the formulaic part of this concept while scrapping any notion of mystery or creativity. From the first town, players know exactly what kind of a world they’re living in, because it has been created a hundred times before: not just in the Elder Scrolls games but in films like The Lord of the Rings and books such as Eragon. From the typical “chosen one” narrative, which emphasizes the main character's connection to the majestic dragons, to the war between the stoic humans and the snobbish elves. Skyrim offers very little newness to the fantasy RPG genre, leaving longtime fans of it little to be excited about.
14 Mind-numbingly Dull Side Quests
Given its relative brevity compared to the rest of the game, Skyrim’s main plot could, of course, be overlooked if it was supplemented by some exciting side quests. Sadly, apart from a very select amount of outliers, the majority of the game's side quests revolve around entering a certain location and killing the enemy party who lives there (generally consisting of bandits, zombies or vampires). The goal is typically either: to clear the area to a royal court's liking, or to snag an item which has been requested by an NPC.
Add to this the never-ending randomly generated fetch quests, which you can get from a bunch of different factions. The College of Winterhold, for example, repeatedly requires you to mundanely pick up an item of jewelry from one town and deliver it to another. These quests create a game which may be perfect for those who love grinding their characters up to insane levels for fun, but one which is severely lacking for lovers of traditional RPGs. It’s a mind-numbingly dull form of gameplay which becomes tiresome within the first ten hours of the game but which stretches on for a lot longer.
13 Lack Of Narrative Arc
It’s the fusion of a rather generic main quest and a series of repetitive side quests, that leaves Skyrim with a severe lack of narrative arc, offering little incentive for players to finish the game. One thing that more linear games can do with ease is force dramatic tension through their unskippable sequential scenes. However, when players can choose for themselves which quests they wish to follow at which time, it often leads to a fragmented experience. Sadly, this leaves dramatic tension consistently low, largely because exciting, game-changing quests involving dragons, are often followed by requests to pick tomatoes from a garden.
To make matters worse, players will often find that by the time they get around to the next step in a multi-part objective, they will have forgotten what it is that’s encouraging them to do that step in the first place, or the narrative significance behind it. At a certain point, you give up on asking “Why am I here again?” and simply progress through quests for experience points or rare items.
12 The Open-World
A lot has been made of Skyrim’s truly massive open world, and for a good reason. Bethesda really pushed their software to the limits with this game, creating an enormous and almost totally explorable world map, which allows the players to traverse snowy mountains, arid deserts, and lush wilderness.
Unfortunately, for the majority of these locations, there’s very little to do other than traverse — at least on the world map. Bar some randomly generated enemies (most of which consist of easily disposed of beasts like wolves or bears), and the occasional wandering NPC who you can chew the fat with for a minute, the world map is totally open but lacking in excitement or adventure. As a player, you feel like 99% of the side quests found while exploring, simply bridge the gap between major areas. The world, in Skyrim, appears to be huge, but is surprisingly empty. It lacks the sense of spontaneity that makes open-world adventures so fun.
11 Overly Repetitive Environments
Its occupants aside, there are some sections of the Skyrim world which are truly beautiful to look at. Climbing to the top of a perilous mountain, or finishing a dungeon, and being rewarded with a beautiful environment truly makes you feel as though you could be the first person to discover the spot in decades. Which is entirely possible, given how massive the game really is.
The problem is that the majority of the world is simply too repetitive. The Skyrim developers did a great job at highlighting the environmental differences between races, which means for example that a bed inside a dilapidated dwarven ruin is going to look completely different from a bed in a Nord’s palace or a coffin in a vampire's manor (yes, they really do sleep in coffins). But once you’ve seen one Nord burial ground, you’ve really seen them all; and there are a ridiculous amount of them to see. When you get a quarter of the way through the game, and every location begins to look identical to the ones you’ve seen before, the game really begins to lose its momentu. Bethesda has a problem on its hands.
10 Lore Is Incomprehensibly Dense
Matching its open world, Skyrim’s in-game history is impressively large, and seems to have been particularly well thought out to fit in with past games in the series while still expanding on previously held knowledge. Unfortunately, most of this lore is presented in such a way that will turn off all but the most dedicated of Elder Scrolls fanatics. To understand the entire fiction of Skyrim, you need to be willing to sit through wall after wall of text explaining events that have no relevance to the quests at hand.
Some of this lore can be explained to you by NPCs, which —if you find a good voice actor— can be satisfying enough, but much of it is only garnered by reading books. Reading text on a screen is already worse than a book, but boring the player with convoluted language and explanations halfway through a dungeon is a bridge too far. This grinds the narrative to a halt as you’re expected to read an entire encyclopedia in the middle of a dungeon crowded with enemies. At this point, I’m struggling to even comprehend the White-Gold Concordat, which seems alarming given that it appears to be one of the main plot points in the game.
9 The Time Mechanic Is —Frankly— Useless
When utilized properly, time mechanics in a game can enhance the gameplay exponentially, encouraging a sense of narrative urgency or giving an incentive for players to explore different locations at certain times. Sadly, Skyrim’s time mechanic does neither of these things, with its day/night system becoming little more than an annoyance which forces you to wait through the long nights in order to speak to certain characters and it’s “day of the week” mechanic serving no purpose at all.
Time passing also has absolutely no effect on the outcome of quests. Take, for example, a quest which requires you to deliver food to the monks in High Hrothgar, who allegedly have no other way of receiving nourishment. In a game with a more fully developed time mechanic, waiting too long to to deliver this food would cause it to spoil, and delivering it too late would find the monks either angry with you for taking so long or dead from starvation; but in Skyrim, you can wait weeks or months to deliver the food with no repercussions whatsoever. It seems like a waste of a feature which surely took some time to develop, and at this point, we’re not sure why Bethesda bothered including it at all.
8 Amateur Graphics And Voice Overs
Judging by the graphics alone, it’s hard to believe that Skyrim was released in 2011, the same year that brought us beautifully rendered games such as The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Batman: Arkham City. The graphics in Skyrim are decidedly early 2000s, featuring boxy, emotionless characters walking around poorly produced landscapes. The multiple re-releases of the game offering graphical enhancements do little to help its cause. Despite this, many fans will say that the graphics are a necessary trade off for the huge open world, and they do have a point.
If the graphics can be justified, however, the voice-overs really can’t. While some of the voice actors do their best with the admittedly shaky scripts they’re often given, others sound like something right out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Overacted performances are a dime a dozen. What makes it worse is that it seems as though there are only about ten actors used again and again for hundreds, if not thousands, of unique characters, which can make the lesser voices really start to grate after a while.
7 Imbalanced Battles
One thing Skyrim does well is its opening sequence, which features the lead character being taken in chains to their own execution. Our hero chats to their imprisoned companions for some time before being taken to the gallows — but just when they’re about to be killed, a dragon, the first to be seen in years, swoops down and takes the executioners head clean off.
It’s an impressive introduction to the game and the intimidating concept of dragons as a whole, but sadly not one that’s sustained for the rest of gameplay. While certain elements of dungeons do appear to be scaled, and enemies can spawn differently depending on your characters level, most of the main boss fights aren’t. This makes certain points ridiculously easy when you’re playing a dungeon you were meant to have found earlier in the game. Say what you will, but it’s an issue when you’re being forced to reload your game to fight a particularly difficult bandit while dragons can be taken down by just one well-armed companion.
6 Repetitive Combat System
If there’s one thing most Skyrim fans and detractors can agree on, it’s that the combat in the game is seriously lacking. While some other modern RPGs have experimented with more advanced combat systems, Skyrim opted for a much more straightforward approach to battle.
The game largely relies on the typical button mashing found in the most basic of RPGs, with the only changes coming when you raise your shield or pull on the string of your bow. It’s a repetitive and shallow system which takes player skill out of the equation and relies purely on the power of your equipment, which makes for a much less visceral and engaging battle every single time.
5 Some Glitches Can't Be Overlooked
With a world as big as Skyrim’s, it seems almost impossible that every single potential glitch in the game could have been caught during beta testing, but I didn’t expect to find at least one every single time I sat down to play. Sometimes key items that are marked on the map are nowhere to be found. Other times, a companion suddenly goes rogue and begins attacking another ally at will. There are even bugs that simply crashes the game for no reason. I’ve definitely seen my fair share of glitches in the game, and it has made me pretty paranoid.
Now, I barely ever go five minutes without autosaving my progress, just in case. It’s an easy preventative measure to take, but given that Skyrim is one of the most popular games ever and has had multiple updates during which the majority of glitches should have been fixed, it’s not one I should be forced to take.
4 Over-reliance On Modding
One of the things you’ll often hear Skyrim superfans say is the phrase, “There’s a mod for that.” And it seems that they could be right, because no matter how often I’ll express a gripe that I’m having with the game to one of these fanatics, I’m always given around three mods that I could download that would fix the issue at hand.
But the fact is that for such a high-profile game from such a big name studio, the audience shouldn’t have to resort to fan-made mods just to have an enjoyable gaming experience. Even assuming that everyone is playing the game on PC —which would allow it to be modded— not everyone has the hard drive space, time, patience or technological know-how to seek out third-party mods. Skyrim’s ability to be modded is brilliant for exploring the creativity of its fanbase, but it shouldn’t be looked to as a fix-all solution for any issue people are having with the title.
3 One-dimensional companions
It may be doing Skyrim a disservice to compare it to Fallout 4, the latest in Bethesda’s line of flagship titles, but something that the latest Fallout did exceptionally well was its re-introduction of companions. In Fallout 4, the main character can form friendly or romantic relationships with their companions at will. Often these companions will have fully fleshed out backstories, and at least one side quest each which will humanize their otherwise one-dimensional personalities and allow the player to feel truly bonded to them as partners.
Sadly, Skyrim lacks this advanced take on companions, and features instead a plethora of characters who despite their physical differences tend to have rather one-note personalities. Many of them don’t seem to have any thought put into their backstories at all, and the ones that have been considered are only ever expressed through one-sentence statements made in passing at the arrival of a new location. It may have more sidekicks to choose from than Fallout does, but Skyrim’s companions are unlikely to hit the emotional high notes that Fallout’s seem to with ease.
2 Awkward Character Customisations
Like many RPGs before it, Skyrim has followed the trend of adding character customizations to its large list of features. While this idea is admirable in theory, it does lead to some particularly awkward looking characters who wouldn’t look out of place on an amateur’s DeviantArt page. Part of the problem here is the poor graphics mentioned earlier. However, the real issue at hand is the customizable features themselves, which encompass such obscure measurements as nostril width, but has limited options when it comes to lips, for example.
The awkwardness doesn’t stop at the customization screen. Even equipping your character is a minefield of chances to tarnish their long-contemplated appearances. Armour, weapons, and accessories can all lead to strange proportions, especially when clipping is inevitably involved. I may be the only one, but I’ve taken to simply covering my characters face with a mask and hoping for the best.
1 Underdeveloped Lead Character
One of the main issues with open-world games such as Skyrim is their tendency to create weak, soulless lead characters. Theoretically, the ability to create, name and mold your own unique character allows you to put some of your own personality into them. There may be something to this, given that my hero in Skyrim does seem more relatable than many of the hyper-macho protagonists that populate some RPGs. Still, the ability to choose dialogue options, which are one day saintly and the next sinful, tends to lead to a rather muddled character. The final result is a complete loss of character. If given the choice, I’d rather be given a clearly defined lead character with set viewpoints, and morals, who I can choose to love or hate, rather than a confused pantomime of a person who can change their opinions at the drop of a coin depending on the player's will.