Bethesda‘s highly-anticipated game Skyrim was recently released, and I have spent a fair amount of time playing it. And I must admit that I am on the fence about it.
On the one hand, the game looks gorgeous. The developers pushed the envelope on their previous games as well, but this one severely improves upon them. Not only because the world looks fantastic, but also because there are so many different views to take in. While in previous games after about 10 hours of playtime I had seen everything there was to see, and only had to expect more of it, I have spent about 40 hours in Skyrim now and I still get dazzled by new panorama’s and interesting recombinations of previously encountered elements. And I am sure there is still more to come.
On the other hand, the world feels so empty. There are dozens of towns, populated with hundreds of people, but none of them I find interesting in the least. They are meaningless answering machines who rattle off a prerecorded message when pushed a bit. The developers have not taken a single step to try to get me to empathize with any of them. A good example are the companions that help out during quests. These characters are just there, occasionally swinging a sword, carrying all the stuff that is too heavy to put in my own inventory. But they are not engaged with me, nor with my quest, nor with anything that is happening in the world.
Mechanically, the people of Skyrim can do a lot. They get up in the morning. They go to work. They go to a bar. They get into bed again. And the programmers have taken care to allow various interactions with these characters. If I feel a fancy, I can even get married to one. But why would I? If I take a roleplaying action such as marrying in a game, I need to roleplay that I actually like my S.O. And what is there to like about these zombies?
A lot of people love Skyrim. And a lot of people complain about it. What they complain about are mostly Skyrim‘s bugs. And there are bugs; plenty of them, and pretty serious ones too. To that extent, Skyrim is like all previous Bethesda games. But to me, the bugs are a relatively small problem; bugs can get fixed, but Skyrim‘s people cannot be made more engaging by patching the game.
For their next release, I hope that Bethesda will invest more into bringing some spirit to their characters. If need be, at the expense of the beauty of the surroundings. Because all that shaping of the world is clearly intended to bring it to life. But it will never actually come to life if it remains populated by the dead.