Skyrim as a Standard

Bethesda’s sprawling open-world trailblazer, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, has pulled me in for yet another lengthy journey on the Nintendo Switch. I’m killing Draugr on the toilet, collecting Gauldur Fragments during my lunch break, and slowly chipping away at Alduin during long car rides to Holiday family gatherings. For the third time, on a third console, I’m falling in love with Skyrim all over again, but this time around I’m realizing that this game has become something of a standard. Since we last said our farewells more than five years ago, its presence has been felt in every game I’ve played since. From Zelda to Mario to Pokémon, Skyrim has made me rethink everything about what I thought I wanted to get out of video games, and has given me clarity about the games I’ve loved in the past. Looking back, especially from the vantage of the six years since Skyrim’s fateful release, I realize that I am not alone.

The term “open-world” is something of a staple in this 4K era of video games, and I think we can all agree that while Skyrim may not have invented this departure from linear game progression, it certainly played an integral part of bringing it into the mainstream. In doing so, Skyrim single-handedly evolved consumers’ bare-minimums for video games from just telling a good story and looking decent to having gorgeous graphics, a compelling but optional story, and an open, immersive world. There are so many examples of games that demonstrate this, but I think the most striking of them all lies with Nintendo and The Legend of Zelda series.

It’s no secret that Nintendo has struggled to stay relevant in gaming—at least where its home consoles are concerned—but right now they’re enjoying something of a comeback, and its largely due to their adaptation of the open-world concept in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If you’re a follower of the progression of the Zelda series, you know that Breath of the Wild heralds a huge change when compared to its predecessors. Skyward Sword, the last new Zelda game released before Breath of the Wild, came out in the same year at Skyrim, but the two games could not be more different. At the time of their release, while Skyrim heaped in praise, Skyward Sword was criticized for offering almost nothing new. Six years later, Breath of the Wild has not only ditched Zelda’s old concepts for ones that more closely resemble Skyrim’s, but it’s also sharing the stage with Skyrim.

Nostalgia is a recurring tactic amongst developers looking for more time and money during the empty space between new game releases, but I’m beginning to cherish these moments as an opportunity to see how these games have withstood the test of time. I’m really loving my return to Skyrim on the Nintendo Switch, but I’m cherishing it even more for the deeper meaning and impact it’s had on me and the gaming community at large. I can’t wait to see what Bethesda has in store for us in the next installment of the Elder Scrolls series, but more than that I can’t wait to see what new and innovative ways games adapt Skyrim’s concepts.

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