When talking about a game critically, I constantly have this crushing pressure to say something meaningful, to explain in cursive exactly why a game resonated so hard with me, poring over every possible element of discussion to find a poignant, eloquent point worthy of reading. But sometimes it's just nice to say you played a lot of a game because you simply like it.
Under normal release date rules, my game of 2021 would be Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart. Aside from it being a complete visual showstopper, a triumph of design and a total delight to play, it was the first release in many years to make me feel like a wide-eyed kid, sat cross-legged on the floor in complete awe. However, as the GamesIndustry.biz team's Games of the Year picks have historically shown (and continue to do so), we can't always keep up with modern churn -- so I'll take a rare opportunity to own some personal truths. My actual game of the year is Skyrim.
This year was crowded by remasters, re-releases and reruns -- Mass Effect Legendary Edition, GTA: Definitive Edition, Pokémon Diamond & Pearl -- to name just a few. All of those were crowned by the tenth anniversary of Skyrim dropping on November 11th -- ten years to the day since we all glitched up to High Hrothgar to banter with some bearded oddballs. Skyrim's arrival on literally anything you can plug into a wall has been a joke on the internet for years now, but an anniversary release of such a revered game is hardly unusual.
Skyrim: Anniversary Edition introduces few new tidbits -- such as a fishing mechanic and accompanying questline, allowing players to sift through the rivers of the region catching fish properly, rather than sloshing through water and spamming A to grab a salmon with your bare hands. Hardly optimal immersive role-playing unless your Dragonborn is an actual bear.
It also adds over 500 bits of community content, ranging from new bosses and dungeons, to full blown quests, weapons and treasures. Again, that's not all that enticing when you've already turned all your Mudcrabs into Zoidberg and what not, but it's a chunky parcel of curated stuff for new and returning players alike.
And of course, it has received the next-generation graphics buff, so PS5 and Xbox Series X players can experience the buttery-smooth 60 FPS Skyrim that PC players have been enjoying since the last re-release.
But in a year that was brimming with great releases, and me having a games backlog longer than an Elder Scroll, why the f**k do I keep going back to Skyrim?
When people say the phrase "cosy games", my mind usually conjures up an image of some twee indie game set in a nice village filled with little animals, or an arty, mesmerising romp slated to change my life in the space of four hours. This time, however, cosy means something else. It's nostalgia. It's returning to those huge open landscapes you wasted months on end in, those roads and mountain ranges you ventured through during formative years, the worlds that welcomed you when life threw something you'd rather forget. It also means "buying a game you already own for the fourth time."
"Skyrim has always embraced its own flaws, and stands tall on the sheer strength of its world"
Skyrim was never a perfect game. Its main questline is acceptable, but for the most part, the joy comes from its side ventures. It's famously not a very stable game either; much like your estranged uncle at the family Christmas party, your character is often flailing and falling through walls. It doesn't have the most dynamic open world ever created; the AI still seeks to shatter immersion as a random NPC clatters into a door or a rogue potato spins at warp speed. But Skyrim has always embraced its own flaws, and stands tall on the sheer strength of its world.
But for me, there is so much to love about Skyrim, and I was more excited to cosy up with the anniversary re-release and sprint through familiar snowy settings than I was about any other 2021 release. Skyrim's grandeur remains intoxicating to me. I will never get bored of peering out across The Reach and knowing I can explore every cavern and crevice that the light touches, I will never cease to be mesmerised by Jeremy Soule's orchestral delights tying every adventure together.
Some parts of the game I've seen and played repeatedly -- I'll always flit between an Imperial or Stormcloak run, before remembering the dark elf racism in Winterhold and siding with Imperials as the lesser evil. Restoring the Thieves Guild is an absolute must because I can't not do crime. But Skyrim always has something new, even after hundreds of hours. The new content sees to that, too. If you've exhausted every corner of the region, the fishing quests are a fresh source of content for everyone.
Returning to Skyrim doesn't feel like nostalgia, because every replay feels like a new journey. There's countless old games I can boot up and have a great time in, ones that incite those feelings, but nostalgia is often never as good as you think it's going to be when you're actually playing the thing you've been thinking about playing. Skyrim doesn't suffer from that, for me.
In another year cornered by uncertainty, I am more than happy to be welcomed back to Skyrim, a world that hasn't changed.