Skyrim’s Lost Potential

We expect a movie critic to actually have seen a film’s ending before giving a rating. Food critics who eat only part of their steak and skip the side dish altogether won’t really know enough to give a review on their meal. Likewise, a major video game in modern times like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim cannot be judged properly until it has run its course. It stands as a perfect example of how such games are expected to have at least one major DLC. This expectation is built into the pricing model, the game design, and even the expectations of the fans. We don’t just judge a game, we judge a game’s promise, how much enjoyment we expect to receive from it in the future. Thanks to Bethesda’s announcement on April 15, we know that we have seen the last of the Skyrim DLC, and while many of us may still be spending countless hours with it over the next few years, we can now look back and judge whether Skyrim’s potential was realized. Upon doing so, however, I can’t help but conclude that this seems like a game which stills needs one or two more additions of DLC to be complete.

The ways Bethesda could have resolved the civil war quest line are as numerous as they are exciting. Whether it’s the Empire finishing off the Stormcloak resistance, the Stormcloaks securing their borders, or some less orthodox third option, it doesn’t seem complete without players getting a chance to ensure their choice becomes High King. We only got four missions dealing with the Eight Divines; that doesn’t seem right. That whole thing with the Forsworn and Madanach just sort of ended. What about the under-utilized Orc strongholds, and all those teasing loading screens about how Orsinium was rebuilt on Skyrim’s border? As AKB wrote in his April blog entry “Consequences Matter”, many of Skyrim’s quest lines “don’t conclude, they stop”. Clearly, there were many areas ripe for new or expanded storylines which would have added significant depth to the overall game.

Instead of fleshing out these areas which felt, for lack of a better word, unfinished, Bethesda pulled the plug on Skyrim DLC. We can only speculate on their reasoning for doing so. Perhaps the profits from the first three were lower than expected due to the technical problems encountered with implementing them on the PS3, and maybe the economic downturn was a factor. They may have wanted to focus on making a launch game for the next generation of consoles. But I don’t think the notion that Skyrim had run its course creatively holds much merit.

Despite its unrealized potential, I think Skyrim stands as one of the best games ever made. I just wish the artists had made a few more brushstrokes on their masterpiece.

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