Skyrim first appeared on Nov. 11, 2011, and 11 years later, I still find myself going back to it time and time again. Something about this game keeps drawing me back in, sometimes after months or even years away. Why do I keep going back to Skyrim when there have been dozens of other fantasy RPGs released in the decade-plus since the game was released?
Ultimate Free-Roaming Exploration
After over a decade of playing, I’ve still never completed the main storyline. Not ever. Not even once. Sometimes I start a new save with the best intentions, planning to chase down the central quest from start to finish. But the main quest quickly branches into several other directions, each of which splinters even further. Before I know it, I’m off in some remote corner of Skyrim searching for a lost artifact for a random NPC I encountered on my way to deliver something to the Jarl.
And that’s one of the things that keeps drawing me back into the game, assuredly and repeatedly. Sure, I can go off hunting dragons and help the Jarl solve the mystery of why they’ve returned. But I can also go spelunking for treasures, forage for alchemical ingredients, assassinate evildoers, build a cozy cottage, fall in love, study magic, cook meals, run errands, go fishing, and so much more.
Sometimes I’m in the mood to unleash some frustration by hacking and slashing at skeletons, draugr, dragons, and bandits. But the real world is pretty stressful, and sometimes all I want to do is take a soothing hike through the woods around Whiterun, picking flowers and catching butterflies. Whatever itch I’ve got on any given day, Skyrim can scratch it in ways few other games can.
The other reason I’ve never completed the main questline, of course, is that I keep starting over. Character creation in Skyrim is so detailed and multifaceted that I could easily spend an hour or more building my protagonist (and mentally constructing a complex backstory for them).
Am I going to play a stealth archer Wood Elf out for vengeance against the ruling class that tried to execute them? Or I could roleplay a powerful Dark Elf mage seeking revenge against the government that tried to assassinate them. Or maybe, just maybe, I want to be a two-handed axe-wielding Nord with a grudge against the people who tried to have them assassinated.
Okay, maybe there are some similarities across my many save files, but that’s very much in character for me. Still, the imaginary backstory is only a small part of what makes each new do-over unique. Choosing a character’s race gives them some distinct advantages and disadvantages, but that’s just the beginning.
With 18 branching skill trees to choose from, it’s almost impossible to play the same game twice. Each level-up demands a new choice — what skill to invest in — inevitably leading me down a gameplay path I’ve never taken before, even if I embarked from the same starting point. No matter how similar my starting characters may be, every save is entirely unique.
It’s no secret that I’m a total sucker for cozy games and TV, and if you’re not familiar with Skyrim, it might seem like an odd choice for one of my all-time favorites. After all, at its core, Skyrim is a heavily combat-based fantasy RPG, which isn’t exactly the coziest gaming genre.
But the magic of Skyrim is that, despite the many choices you can make to change the story, the world is always the same. Every time I boot up the game and that iconic orchestral score starts playing, a wave of warmth and nostalgia instantly washes over me. Yes, in the vast open world of Skyrim, I can do whatever I want — but I also usually know what will happen when I do.
It’s like diving into one of my favorite comfort shows for the 27th time. The characters, the settings, and the dynamics are all familiar, and I know I’m going to have a good time. Except Skyrim adds a level of augmented reality to that because I get to choose the story that takes place in this familiar world. It’s like immersive, interactive fan fiction, and I can’t get enough of it.
Are you still playing Skyrim? What keeps you coming back time and time again? Let us know in the comments. And for more Skyrim content, be sure to check out the links below.