I don't have much time to play computer games anymore, but in honor of those suffering at the hands of Hurricane Sandy, let's stow politics away and take this opportunity to briefly ponder the current state of, well, let's call it interactive commercial escapism.
Let's talk about "Skyrim." I have a problem with it, but there's almost no meaningful criticism out there for it. I don't criticize "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" because I'm trying to be contrarian, or just to knee-jerk hate on something popular. "Skyrim" is worth playing and I know exactly why people love it (a global community of people to enjoy and share the experience with doesn't hurt, i.e. MEMES), because I am head-over-heels for this genre. The genre that offers a limitless kind of game where there are literally no limits regarding how it can catalyze pleasure by being, essentially, a novel simulation of reality.
In fact, the commercial success of "Skyrim" is a relief to me on a number of levels, primarily because it demonstrates the huge viability of Open-World Massively Single Player RPGs in a market where the data is pointing to "semi-competitive" games like "Call of Duty." But I won't apologize for being a little critical of it. I've worked for hundreds of hours modding TES III-V and their engines, becoming intimate with every gameplay system and their patterns of implementation over the years, from how the worlds are physically built, to the enemy/item/player/companion leveling, etc. — not to mention story and quest arcs.
It's not the systems themselves, but the rate of refinement in the implementation, that frustrate me about "Skyrim."Things like enemies and items still being leveled to the player with painful predictability and ordered hierarchy. I think they have a creative mandate to themselves and their fans, if only because of the amount of real, quality feedback each one of these games generates, to expand the formula instead of just how good the interface looks. Go to skyrim.nexusmods.com to see to what extent Bethesda ignores content feedback of every category.
Zenimax stubbornly maintains this template that by all established standard is increasingly devoid of ideas and contributions promoting the limitless possibility for evolution of open-world, free-form RPGs. The genre itself, the almost seamless freeform style, the dynamic class system, has so much to thank Bethesda for, but my main argument is that the intoxication of the open-world formula can thank the human brain for its success, conditioned to love explorable, first-person open worlds suspiciously similar to our own perception.
Bethesda doesn't own that phenomenon. Developers own and are responsible for the layers of complexity and immersion they create for that interactive template that transcends branding, and perhaps it's my own problem that I've personally grown very familiar and bored with Bethesda's brand. I'm frustrated by knowing firsthand the sheer power the smallest addition or modification to these existing systems can have on just these games, for the creation of pleasure and immersion.
In conclusion, all of the game's noted improvements, its plot intricacy, its visuals, the number of voice actors, and the combat can be linked to things like production value and the new engine, not independent creativity. Based on the series's own benchmarks, it simply hasn't improved. If anything, I felt more like the world revolved around me as opposed to inspiring me to take risks to overcome challenges, in combat or otherwise — and more like I was handed success (not just in regards to guild progression). Global leveling systems have a place in the periphery, but it should not be the main focus. Any system should feel like it is innate and of the world, like it's a system that isn't tailored to the player character — but you can open the hood of a game like "Skyrim" and understand the systems in just a few hours, with triggers and scripts that are totally player-centric. Let's demand more from our entertainment.
— Wiley Robinson is a senior in ecology and evolutionary biology. He can be reached at email@example.com.