Dovahkiin, Dovahkiin, naal ok zin los vahriin! It’s time to celebrate as yet another version of Skyrim is releasing today! The “Skyrim Anniversary Edition” has released in honor of the games ten-year anniversary. Included is the game itself, all DLC expansions, next-gen enhancements, as well as all previously released creation club mods (valued at over 100$). To further celebrate this occasion Bethesda is also curating a digital fan art museum available HERE , and a live concert orchestra available at 2pm EST (with VOD available afterwards) available HERE.
If releasing a new version of Skyrim feels familiar to you, a well-seasoned gamer, that’s because it is! For everyone keeping track at home this marks the 6th time Skyrim has been released… well 7th if you count the super special edition released for Amazon Alexa smart home devices.
Skyrim releases so far:
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
- Skyrim – Legendary Edition (2013)
- Skyrim – Special Edition (2016)
- Skyrim for Nintendo Switch (2017)
- Skyrim VR (2018)
- Skyrim Anniversary Edition (2021)
That is more re-releases than most games get sequels, and while it is fun to meme on the amount of iterations of Skyrim there are, or the amount of devices its available on, it takes a special game to be able to pull this off… and I believe that a game like Skyrim is worthy. So come one come all, take a complementary sweet roll and huddle up near the Hearthfire while I tell the tale about why Skyrim is special.
As we know, video games are built with magic beyond most of our mere mortal understanding, performed by the worlds most skilled magicians for our enjoyment. However, what isn’t beyond our understanding is how video games are funded. A publisher thinks an idea could possibly make them money, so they pay what the magicians demand (kind of), and voila we have ourselves a video game. For this phenomenon to continue though the games being funded need to make money, and what gives investors the best opportunity for success? Basing your game around something that has already been successful. That is why game publishing, especially the big budget side of things, is built almost entirely on jumping on trends. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some video game hits over the last 20 years or so:
- Halo burst onto the scene in 2001. “Halo-Killer” became a marketing term and its concept was copied as much as possible with the likes of Killzone, Time Splitters, Haze and Resistance.
- Dark Souls essentially created the sub-genre of “souls-like”, spawning tens of games looking to cash in on the formula like The Surge, Mortal Shell, and even the newest Star Wars entry Jedi Fallen Order.
- Overwatch launched to great success and suddenly “hero shooters” were everywhere with the release of Apex Legends, Paladins, Rainbow Six Siege, and Valorant.
- The Witcher 3 changed our expectations of traditional open world Action RPG’s and now Assassins Creed, Horizon Zero Dawn, Greedfall and Biomutant all draw comparisons.
- PUBG broke steam records with its Battle Royale mode and that spawned the likes of Fortnite, Call of Duty Warzone, and the Halo Infinite BR mode that Halo Infinite must ship with or else it will be a complete and utter failure (apparently).
I could go on and on throughout history with several more examples, but the point remains that when publishers see a game that is successful they will be quick to fund games that are similar to it. They are sound investments, in fact the same exact strategy is applied in the modern film industry.
But then there is Skyrim, a game where you are the chosen Dragonborn, destined to save the world of Tamriel. But if you want, you can just buy a house, start a family, and plant a garden too. A game where you can randomly get in a fight with highwaymen trying to steal your cheddar, or randomly find yourself running away from frost giant when you get caught stealing theirs (mammoth cheese to be exact). A game where you can take a trip into town to sell all your junk and before you can blink twice you have signed up to to rescue a prisoner of war on the other side of the world. A game where just sitting in a tavern, listening to its insanely immersive ambience, will dynamically inform you of the towns problems as the townsfolk wander in after a long day at work eager to spread rumors.
It’s a world so vast, there are over 800 pieces of literature scattered around the land that most people will never even read, but are there if you want to. A world so detailed, there is a completely made up language, the dragon’s tongue, that is expertly woven into the gameplay. It’s a world where you can climb the tallest mountain and go everywhere the eye can see, regardless of the dangers you may face.
It’s a world that is so your own that the one time you needed to kill a Glenmoril Witch, and bring their head to someone in Whiterun, you accidentally killed 10 Glenmoril witches and brought back 10 heads that weigh 4lbs each. That shit adds up when you are a kleptomaniac like me. So when you find out the shopkeeper won’t buy them off you, of course you throw them all over the floor of his shop in protest only to come back weeks later and they are still there. Can you believe the nerve of that shopkeeper? So you say to him that he will pay for this and then level up the sneak skill by completing the entire thieves guild campaign, break into his house, and stash those heads in his stupid closet. Take that Belethor!
Anyways, perhaps more in line with the point I’m trying to make is that it is because of these things, and many others, that Skyrim is a game that had sold over 20 million units in less than three years from its release, making it the best-selling RPG of all time on console and PC. A title it would carry all the way into present day as it currently sits at well over 30 million units sold.
So where are the Skyrim clones? With record breaking sales, publishers should be lining up to build their own vast open interactive worlds right? I mean if you take out Nintendo first party games, which no third-party could ever match sales-wise, Skyrim would be in the top-ten best selling video games ever. But yet here I am writing this article because there really aren’t any. In fact the only one I can think of is possibly Kingdom Come: Deliverance, a game that managed to get almost four times its required funding via Kickstarter on the premise of being an historically accurate version of Skyrim. And despite being criticized for its bugs it drew a lot of its praise for its similarities to Skyrim.
Why is this? Why is Skyrim, the most successful console/PC RPG of all time, not replicated by other publishers? Well, In my humble opinion there are a few reasons but perhaps the biggest one is that is just really, really hard to pull off. Broken down into its most basic parts, Skyrim is actually a very simple formula. In fact it only has two main ingredients and those are “An Interesting World” and “Freedom.” However despite such a simple recipe, it has been near impossible for another team to replicate, or even try to replicate, and that’s simply due to the experience of the chefs in the kitchen and how masterfully aged, cured, and seasoned this entree is.
Food references aside, you could make the argument that Skyrim has had a 20+ year development cycle. In an industry where studios close and open all the time, and where playing musical chairs with different employers is seen by most in the industry as a benefit, Bethesda Game Studios stands out. A lot of the people who spent long nights in the basements of the Bethesda, Maryland office boxing up thousands of copies of Elder Scrolls: Redguard in 1998, are the same people that spent long nights over a decade later working on Skyrim. Throughout each release over the last 20+ years Key figures at Bethesda like Ashley Cheng, Bruce Nesmith, Kurt Khulmann, Jeff Gardiner, Pete Hines and of course Todd Howard (among many others) were able to grow together as a team. Their successes forged the metal, and their failures sharpened the edge. Creating the blade that would carve out Skryim’s spot in the RPG genre, and place it where it now rests, atop the throat of the gaming world.
Are there games with better stories? Yes. Are there games with better characters? Yes. Are there games with better graphics? Better action? Better snow!? Yes, yes and yes! But are there games like Skyrim? No. Unless of course you count Fallout but I think you get what I mean. Bethesda game studios is a special team, and Skyrim is a special game. And the proof of that goes well beyond the sales numbers and anything else I have mentioned thus far. It comes from the fact that if you are a hardcore gamer you have likely played Skyrim. If you don’t play a lot of games… you have also likely played Skyrim. It comes from the mod community who have written writers guild, award winning story mods, that turn into full-fledged game releases in The Forgotten City. It comes from @InnAtCrossroads creating an Elder Scrolls cook book that has sold like crazy, resulting in fan creations still being actively shared to this day. It comes from the cosplayers, the lore masters, the podcasters, and even the world’s most famous gaming grandmother Shirley Curry. Skyrim is special.
So happy 10th Birthday Skyrim, and may the nine divines bless all who are joining in on the celebrations! I look forward to jumping back into some of the new content as the adventures of my character: Thoom – Dragon Born Orc, Glenmoril’s bane, Mammoth Cheese snatcher, The Hero of Skyrim… are never quite over, Fus Ro f-ing Dah.