Last Generation Gamer: The Beautiful Loneliness of Skyrim

Last Generation Gamer is Seed Sings way of reflecting on the greatest video games that were released before the current gen systems.  These are not necessarily reviews.  Let's look at these thoughts as a walk down memory lane.  If you have any ideas for Last Generation Gamer contact us

So you know there are SPOILERS of the plot to Skyrim in this article.

When Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios, 2011) begins you are not alone.  The first person view all the Elder Scroll games start with show the back of a horse drawn cart with prisoners being escorted through a rough mountain road. Through the dialogue of others it quickly becomes clear that you are a prisoner going to execution with your fellow cart travelers.  Although you are with others, you are not part of their group.  One man is a horse thief who will not factor into the plot.  The other two men are rebels who are fighting the empire (one of the men is the leader of the Stormcloaks, I assumed the reader knew this but I did not want to leave important info out).  You are not a thief (yet, if you want) or part of the rebellion (again yet, if you want).  You have no identity. You are alone.

I purchased Skyrim in 2015 to see all the fuss.  It has been heralded as one of the greatest video games ever made.  I played Oblivion (not yet finished, but still loving the game) and I purchased Skyrim on a Gamestop buy two get one free deal.  My plan was to finish Oblivion, but one day I decided to pop Skyrim into the X-Box 360 to see if it lived up to the hype.  It begins like most other games, a big event facilitates you taking control, then a simple dungeon so you can learn all the basic controls.  Once you complete the first dungeon, the world opens up.

It is the most magnificent first look at the open world in any game I have ever seen.  Cyrodill in Oblivion looks majestic, mostly green, and bright.  Skyrim feels, rocky, cold and isolated. I can remember going north in Oblivion through the Jerrall mountains and seeing the wasteland beyond the horizon I could not cross  The first unassisted view of Skyrim makes you feel alone in that challenging wasteland. There is a rough, partially snow covered, stone road. Once you look around you see snow dusted trees and massive mountians all around you. This is the land of dragons, there is no doubt.  I feared any creature early on in the game because I thought anything that could thrive in this environment is going to be tough. 

I want to take a quick detour and elaborate on why my visceral reaction was so strong.  My parents grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan right near the shores of Lake Superior. When I was young my parents would take myself along with my brothers for vacations in the U.P.. On the way to my parents homeland, the highway stops about a hundred miles out.  The rest of the trip is a two lane road through dense woods and quaint towns.  We mainly went up there in the summer, but on a few occasions we ventured there in the winter(once for a cousins wedding the first week of October, I slid my Dad's car off the road because it had snowed a few feet the night before).  It was bleak, desolate, and cold in the U.P. those winters.  I was truly surprised that anyone lived there year round (like my grandparents).  My first look at Skyrim reminded me of the U.P..  The first person I talked with in Skyrim sounded like a retaliative. This was going to cause a little bit of extra immersion during my gaming sessions.

I do not want to make it sound like Skyrim's grays and desolation make it unattractive, it is gorgeous. The first time you trek up the Throat of the World, and take some time to look out over the expanse, it is breathtaking.  When I approached Solitude and saw the grand tower built on top of a natural rock bridge formation above me, I simply stopped and stared at my television for a few minutes. Walking through the quiet snow packed plains in the middle of the night on my way to Solitude was strangely tranquil.   I have spent over half my time in Skyrim just staring.  There have been other games with beautiful vistas, but none of them have put me in a state of awe like Skyrim.

The other part of Skyrim the game that makes Skyrim the territory so overwhelming is the loneliness. The majority of your journey can be done all alone.  There are plenty of opportunities to pick up people who will help you on your quests, but they are not required.  A novice player, like myself, will not even know how to bring an ally around.  When Lydia was assigned as my Housecarl in Whiterun, I unintentionally had her stay put.  I did not find her again until I bought a house in Whiterun.  Once I had her join me, she was killed within the next hour because of my exploring.  Most of the game I have been alone, and Skyrim makes you feel isolated.  There is a quest option to join the Imperial Army and bring down the rebellion.  There is an alternative quest option to join the Stormcloaks and bring Skyrim independence.  Both of these quests may bring you new friends, but neither is necessary. The introduction of teammates may seem anti isolationist, but the ambiance of Skyrim will always make you feel alone.  The low tones of the noises in dungeons,  the ambient noise of the outdoors, the sudden break of silence due to a wolf, all of these atmospheric touches make Skyrim a jumpy place. Feeling like you are a lone soul in this beautiful and dangerous vista is Skyrim's crowing achievement.

I have not finished the main quest of Skyrim. I absolutely adore this game and do plan on completing the main storyline, and then dive into some of the DLC (I hear you can ride a dragon, that in it self will be worth the effort). While the quest may not be completed, I do get the urge to load Skyrim up and just walk around for a while.  Most of the time I tell myself that I need to do some character development, but the real reason is I just would like to enjoy the views in quiet solitude.

RD Kulik

RD Kulik is the Head Editor of Seed Sing.  Thanks to reading a random book in Skyrim he knows how Oblivion ends.  That will not stop him from completing the game, it just might have to wait a few hundred hours until the last dragon soul of Skyrim has been absorbed.