The Skyrim special edition hasn’t much moved me in terms of upgrades, but in fairness that’s at least partly because, the last time I played it, I had so many graphical mods installed that the place looked better than Bethesda could reasonably achieve with an update primarily intended to achieve 1080p on current-gen consoles. That said, I do keep firing it up now that I’ve got my old saves working. Whatever ancient interests I had in levelling and questing and, particularly, crafting, are now long burned-out, as it’s simply too hard to get a grasp on what my motivations were so many years ago. If I started afresh, it would all happen again, but I don’t want to, because revisiting it with my ridiculously overpowered level 50 character but no particular place to go is immensely liberating. I like a walking simulator and a lovely environment, but Skyrim’s pinata of fights and quests and loot meant I could never treat it as simply somewhere to explore, despite best intentions.
Now, I have the double-whammy of having forgotten all my concerns and a character so powerful that there is almost no realistic threat to me. I can explore.
Look, I’m not going to pretend that this magically means I don’t end up killing a whole lot of animals or rummaging through corpses for coins. Some habits you just can’t break. But I really am doing it directionlessly, just seeing what’s out there rather than feeling I have to achieve something specific – be it levelling up a particular skill, improving a certain weapon or polishing off some guild quest.
It’s genuinely liberating, and thanks to whacking uGrids all the way up to 11, I’m stopping to admire the scenery a whole lot more. Whatever its other problems, Skyrim has wonderful ambience once you’re in the mountains, away from people and towns and just taking in the scale and loneliness and the sound of wind.
I’ve often found that my feeligns towards Bethesda games corrupt over time. I start off with awe at the scale, fall into a trap of obsessively pursuing loot and upgrades, then have a Truman Show moment where I become conscious of the tricks used to fake the illusion. My feeling morphs from fondness into contempt, and while there a just reasons for it, it’s never been entirely fair.
I had a great time with Skyrim until it became the Arrow To The Knee game, and I realised that all I’d really done is kill. Feeling that Oblivion was a little bit embarrassing makes even less sense – some of its presentation was ridiculous and it leant too much towards generic fantasyscapes, but it was a better game for mining strange things out of. (Their Fallout games a different. I never enjoyed 3, and 4 I thought was a huge improvement but became quickly fatigued by its relentless kill focus).
It’s good, really good, to go back to Skyrim with my feelings almost reset. I have zero intention of investing dozens of hours into it again, but I am looking at its cold world with clear eyes anew, appreciating what was built and why so many people fell for it in the first place.
This article was originally written for the RPS Supporter Program.