The Elder Scrolls series recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. An update for The Elder Scrolls Online and a quick note that, yes, The Elder Scrolls VI is still in development. The anniversary virtue signaling was more of a dull thud than a bang. But it did get me curious as to what returning to the world of Tamriel would feel like. Especially after investing far too much time into 2023’s Starfield. So, for the innumerable time, I installed and begun replaying The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim once again.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim screenshot

My Previous Skyrim Experience

Straight off the bat, I have to declare that I have previously played Skyrim a lot. ‘Yeah, we all have!’ I hear you scream. But when I say ‘a lot’, I don’t mean I have sunk innumerate hours into the game. Though that is also true, I mean I have played many different editions of the game.

Back in 2011, I attended preview events to experience the game before launch. Then, that same year, I reviewed the game on Xbox 360 for a now defunct publication. In 2012, I reviewed all three of the DLC packs, Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn. In 2016, I reviewed The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition for Xbox One. That’s surely enough replaying of Skyrim for any one man, right? Of course not.

2017 rolled around, and two new editions of Skyrim arrived. Skyrim VR and Skyrim for the Nintendo Switch. Then in 2018, we received Skyrim Very Special Edition; a self-referential joke about how the game – now nearly a decade old – had been delivered on almost every format imaginable. But it doesn’t stop there!

2021 saw the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Anniversary Edition. I have also dabbled with Skyrim on PlayStation 4 and PC over the years, for good measure, but now it is this edition of Skyrim I am currently replaying, via Xbox Game Pass. So yeah, ‘a lot’ is as appropriate a metric for the amount that I have replayed Skyrim as any.

Cyberpunk 2077 keyart

How Western RPGs have Progressed since 2011

While many imitators followed in the wake of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, game development costs have increased dramatically in the last decade. There are very few studios even attempting to create worlds on this scale. Of course, Bethesda are still busy working in this genre (more on Starfield later), but the only other studio coming close is CD Projekt Red.

Cyberpunk 2077 arrived in 2020, and we all know how that went. I’m not going to flog a dead horse here – surely the fact that I’m replaying Skyrim yet again is doing so enough – but instead I’m going to look at what Cyberpunk 2077 has become.

Spurred on by the release of DLC Phantom Liberty, Cyberpunk 2077 now provides a much more cohesive and dependable experience. It’s very close to delivering on what was originally promised, leading many to believe that this is essentially how the game should’ve been released in the first place. Regardless, what we have now is an all encompassing experience in which a world revolves around the player. A network of systems that push and pull you in different directions, giving you the grand illusion of freedom whilst maintaining your status as pivotal to the world.

The game provides numerous different play styles (read: character classes) and traversal options. Movability is key to a game that delivers some of the slickest combat seen in a western RPG. Dialogue options have also seen a significant overhaul. While it may share the same roots as The Elder Scrolls series and is just as inherently limited, it’s no longer a straightforward positive or negative. There are areas of gray, which is arguably the biggest leap in western RPGs over the last decade.

Replaying Skyrim in 2024

I’m coming back to Skyrim after having invested a not insignificant amount of time into Bethesda’s wannabe opus Starfield. While Starfield was considered ‘Skyrim in space’ by many, that wasn’t quite the truth.

Starfield demonstrates what a conditioned gamer will accept as norm, and what stands out like a sore thumb. There are so many ways in which Starfield improves upon the formula that it would be impossible to list them in a single article. Yet, it does exactly that: improves on an already established formula. Perhaps worse however, is the amount of regression experienced.

The character depth, combat systems, progress signposting and many quality-of-life improvements are everywhere to be seen in Starfield. Yet, the universe simply doesn’t feel as cohesive. In Skyrim, it’s believable that all of these fictional characters and incidentals coexist within the same universe. The acknowledgement of misdemeanours I committed in other cities spreading like rumour. The random events, assassination attempts, recalls to quests I’d completed elsewhere in the world. And then there’s one specific mission that references the events of Oblivion. I had completed this questline many times in the past, but upon replaying Skyrim now, it felt more impactful than ever before.

Skyrim makes an effort to ensure everyone in the world knows you’re the hero. But they don’t all have to like it. Having witnessed the progression of the genre through the likes of Cyberpunk 2077 and Starfield, the strings pulling the weight of Skyrim are of course easier to see. But that doesn’t mean the ride is any less enjoyable.

The Elder Scrolls VI logo

What’s Next for The Elder Scrolls?

As stated above, we can expect to see The Elder Scrolls VI arrive… at some point. Exactly what form it will take is not yet known. In fact, aside from rumours, fan guesses and the above logo, nothing is certain.

What we do know however, is that Bethesda Softworks will have learned a lot of lessons from Starfield. The fairly muted response to what was intended to be the studio’s biggest ever title will not have gone unnoticed.

Should the rumoured The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion remake ever come to fruition, it will need to not only improve upon the graphics but also have fundamental changes to the mechanics of the game to avoid feeling outdated. Upon replaying Skyrim, I realised that this is a far less significant issue. If all The Elder Scrolls VI does is build a better Skyrim with modernised combat and more explorative dialogue options, I’ll simply have no choice but to get lost in Tamriel all over again.

Categories: Games