“Skyrim” is a video game of profound influence. It’s one of those names, like “Mario” or “Zelda,” that everybody seems to know. My non-gamer girlfriend says, when people ask, that she “doesn’t play, but played ‘Skyrim’ for a little bit once.” To say it’s broken into the mainstream would be a massive understatement — it’s one of the top 20 best-selling games of all time, at over 20 million units sold.
And it’s not just a commercial success. At an unheard-of 96 on Metacritic, it’s one of the most acclaimed video games ever. Last week, the game’s publisher re-released the game on current-gen consoles with a graphical update, and bundled the base game with all of its DLC.
I was going to review “Skyrim Special Edition” just like any other release. But what’s the point of me regurgitating praise for a game that’s already been lavished by every major gaming and non-gaming publication on the planet? You heard the opinions of the games press back in 2011, and I agree with them. It’s an extraordinarily ambitious open-world role-playing game. The overarching story is competent, but the sense of exploration and world building are masterful. The music is heart-meltingly beautiful. The graphics were unreal at the time. There’s a truly absurd amount of content to engage with. By any measure, “Skyrim” is a masterpiece.
But you know that already. My critical opinion of the game doesn’t matter at this point. Instead, I want you to consider the opinion of my roommate, LSA Senior Matt Kotrba.
I’ve known Matt for four years and lived with him for three, and I can safely say that “Skyrim” is the only video game I’ve ever seen him play more than once. In fact, he plays it all the time — and he’s been devouring the remaster since Bethesda sent me a copy. He would never self-label as a gamer, and he never seems interested in the many games I buy that he could easily play for free. Matt represents one of the many million mainstream purchasers of “Skyrim” — the guy who doesn’t read the trade sites, or listen to any gaming podcasts. He’s just an average guy who fell in love with “Skyrim.”
“It had to be during junior or sophomore year of high school,” he said. “Back when everyone else started playing it. Everyone was talking about it at school, but I didn’t get it until a year after that.”
Matt said his friend Jamie Brandon was the first to turn him on to it.
“One of my friends from high school just had the game on,” Matt said. “It was like, ‘here, you need to see this, ‘cause it’s so good.’ And she pretty much just forced me to start a profile and start playing. She played a lot more games, but I never played really anything at all. We had like, PlayStation 1 and all that for my brothers growing up, but I never played any of the games. They just never seemed interesting.”
I sat on the couch perpendicular to him as he booted up the game from the PS4 menu and buttoned through the start screen. I noticed that for whatever reason, everything was in French.
“Actually, it’s really helped me in practicing French. I’m trying to learn it, and this is perfect because it’s as if I’m going to France,” Matt said. “Everybody’s speaking French to me, I’m going to towns and French vendors and guards and people are talking to me. And you respond with questions and stuff. It’s good ‘cause you read and listen and hear and talk.”
The North American version of “Skyrim” includes language options for English, French, Spanish, Italian and German.
“Just look at this — it’s beautiful!” Matt said, as his character peered over a ledge at the rising in-game sun. “I mean… it’s different from other games, I guess, like you don’t go into it thinking ‘okay, I’m gonna do these things to beat this part of this game.’ You can just enter it thinking ‘okay, cool, I’m gonna see some cool shit, do some cool stuff, and we’ll see if we can run into people and learn about storylines.’ It’s like a folk tale or something.”
Matt said he’s beaten the game a couple times. “I just keep going back as different characters,” he said.
Over the years, I’ve attempted to get Matt into games that are similar in genre to Skyrim, maybe so I could have another gamer around the house. I made Matt sit down and try “Far Cry 4,” “The Witcher 3” and even Bethesda’s follow-up to “Skyrim,” “Fallout 4.” The attempts were unsuccessful.
“I guess those games … I don’t know. (They) just seem like a lot more intense. (“Skyrim”) just feels a lot more original, and it’s not specifically a story, it’s just a world to explore. Exploration, I guess, is the biggest difference. Other games, it’s just a lot of taking over enemy territory.”
Matt also never played “Skyrim” ’s predecessor, 2006’s “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,” but watched his brother play it.
Checking that the conversation recording was still going, I watched Matt kill a rabid wolf, called a “loup” in the French translation. Matt then expressed his disdain for always having to kill stuff while exploring “Skyrim” ’s overworld. He felt it interrupted the pace of exploration.
“The combat is the worst part,” he said. “That’s why I usually play as a guy with a bow and arrow or magic. It’s just like, being a cool sniper. Then, I can just keep looking around.”
To conclude our conversation, I asked Matt how he felt about the upgrades included with the new version of the game.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “I feel like the visual aesthetic is a big part of what makes this a game. And the improvements are awesome. Yeah, I definitely noticed them. It just makes the world seem more real. The light effects, the cool sounds and stuff.”
I pointed out the deep red sky in the background of Matt’s mountain voyage. I didn’t recognize the way the sky looked from the original version of the game.
“That’s a big thing in this one. The sky is always different.”
Matt said that if he were in my position, he would give “Skyrim Special Edition” an A+.
“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition” was reviewed using a post-launch digital copy provided by Bethesda.