It’s hard to think of a game that’s been subject to just as much revisionism as Skyrim. Maybe that’s to be expected, given its dizzying success. The game is everywhere and its cultural reach is almost insurmountable – so much so that the jokes about climbing mountains, taking arrows and porting to toasters have all been unfashionably irksome for much longer than they were ever funny in the first place. And with all that success comes the inevitable and insufferable “not that good actually” crowd.
But they are wrong! Skyrim is good, actually. Exactly as good as everyone says it is. And it is good for a lot of reasons but none of them as truly special, I think, as its world – or rather, more specifically, the ineffable rules that bind it. There is an intangible realism to Skyrim’s world that I haven’t really felt in a game of its budget and scope since. It’s in the mechanics of it – the literal mechanics; the basic billiard balls of the physics – and the best example I can think of, for some reason, is pushing people off a ledge.
Push someone off a ledge in a big-budget, big-sized, post-Skyrim open world game and watch what happens. Animations. They will stagger a bit, and then they’ll sort of shimmy themselves past the edge of the ledge itself, and then they’ll start a ready-made, very nicely animated falling manoeuvre – designed for precisely this moment, to maintain the realism and the immersion and all that – and then they will fall.