Game Design Talk – Is Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Too Big?

There is nothing about the Skyrim experience that you can describe as “small”. Everything from the size of the world, to the number of quests, to the number of ways to play that game are too large to quantify. Because of how much stuff there is to do in the game, I’m fairly certain that the majority of Skyrim players will never finish the main quest, let alone experience everything that game has to offer.

In spite of its girth, it amazes me how great Skyrim is on almost every front. With that said, could Skyrim have been an overall better game if it wasn’t so grand?

Hear me out on this one. As much as I love this game (review on the way), it’s not a perfect experience. I think you can point the source of its deficiencies to the same grandness that makes the game awesome. For one, it’s been widely reported that the game has a number of technical issues. Some of which are hilarious, such as backwards-flying dragons. My experience has been fairly smooth, though I’ve run into a weird minor bug where when I enter a menu, sometimes the game will lock up and take upwards of 20 seconds before the game will let me do anything. Other glitches are more serious. My brother so far has had the game crash on him twice. You’re one Google search away from finding a number of videos and anecdotal stories of the game being sketchy or broken.

Outside of the buggy stuff, there are other elements of that game that arguably suffer for the same reason. Melee combat, which was weak in Oblivion, still suffers from the primary issue of not having any weight behind hitting anything. Companion AI for whatever reason always seem to block a door you need to get through. NPCs all seem like they’re voiced by the same 5 people. Even the NPC models get heavily recycled. During the quest where you first learn the shouts, I was trained by four mages: Arngier, Einarth, Borri, Wolfgar. They all used the exact same character model and all had the same voice. For a game that does such a great job most of the time immersing me in this world, stuff like this really takes me out of the moment.

Had Bethesda chosen to shrink the scale of the game, would Skyrim ultimately be a better product? Could they have used the time spent on making everything about this game huge on something else, such as addressing everything above, to make it a smaller, yet tighter experience? If most people aren’t going to see most of what’s currently in Skyrim anyway, wouldn’t that ultimately be a better approach? Or is that scale necessary and the jank just comes with the territory?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Game Design Talk – Is Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Too Big?

  1. JimmyK January 13, 2012 / 7:39 PM

    While your points are valid, I think you’re missing out on the even bigger picture, their target audience.

    For the gamers who wish to take part in great Melee combat or wish to be guided down a somewhat linear path to help them stay focused on the primary story line, they have the demon/dark souls and final fantasy series of the RPG world to satisfy their desires.

    This game IS about exploration! Put yourself in the main characters shoes for a moment. If you were him/her, would you stay true to the main story line or would you branch off to that which was more in tune with your play style / interests? I personally abandoned the main story line early on and was drawn towards the side quests, as that was what held my interest. Sure, I would go back once and awhile to complete a main arc in the story.. but my primary objectives were tied to my own PERSONAL adventures, that I was having.. because I CHOSE the route, path and “lifestyle” I wanted to lead.

    If you want great combat, go play street fighter or demon souls. If you want to stay true to the story line, play final fantasy.

    Being able to express yourself in a game and have it somewhat tailor itself to your individuality makes for a really immersive and incredible experience. To me, that’s what this game is about. I think they nailed it pretty good, despite it’s few glitches and flaws.

    • Jett January 15, 2012 / 6:50 PM

      Thank you for the comment Jimmy!

      I agree with you on the fact that the game is all about exploration. That’s what makes that game tick. The way you described how you play it lines up with my experience perfectly. I love just wandering around and seeing what trouble I can get myself tangled in.

      With that in mind, when I asked if Skyrim could be better if it was smaller, I didn’t mean cut Skyrim to the point where it was a linear experience. That would kill the game’s biggest selling point. However, could the game stand to take cuts in overall scale to improve everything else, especially when the vast majority of Skyrim players will never come close to seeing everything the game has to offer? It’s more of a matter of degrees rather than extremes.

      This ladders back up to your point about melee combat. Just because Skyrim’s main focus is around exploration doesn’t mean it can’t have great melee combat. In theory, Skyrim could have great melee combat, IF Bethesda put in more time into making the melee combat better rather than making hundreds of quests that nobody will see. At least that’s how I see it.

      So let me re-ask the question to you. Could Skyrim be an overall better game if they made some cuts to the overall scale of the game and put that time towards improving other aspects of the experience, such as (but not limited to) combat, AI and overall game stability (ie. solid frame rate and less bugs)?

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