Skyrim: Everything A MMORPG Should Be
I’m quite enamored with Skyrim. Partially because it makes me say things to my wife like, “honey, I’m going to play Skyrim, come get me in three hours” but mainly because it gives me everything I’ve always enjoyed in a RPG and always wished for in a MMORPG: freedom, immersion, exploration and a real sense of satisfaction.
Skyrim’s not perfect. The UI is awful, the combat is a little clunky and a lot of the voice actors sound like poor Arnold Swarchenegger impersonators but all of these things, for me anyway, are easy to overlook as you get sucked into a pure, honest and unashamed role-playing experience. The game doesn’t pander to you and it doesn’t patronise you but neither does it make your life hard for the sake of creating artificial challenge or immersion. There’s no mandatory grinding and practical concepts like fast travel and providing exits at the end of long, winding dungeons keep you from getting frustrated. It’s the perfect blend of hardcore and casual (something I’m hoping MMOs will get right one day).
But this post isn’t a review of Skyrim and if you want to check out in-depth thoughts about it then I’d recommend heading over to Nils’ wonderful blog for the excellent articles he’s written on the subject. What do I do want to write about though is two fundamental things Skyrim does very, very well and how, until it came along, I didn’t realise how much I missed in MMORPGs: a true sense of exploration and a lack of abundant and obtuse gamification.
I’m not going to harp on about MMOs of old and get all teary eyed and nostalgic for them but I honestly haven’t experienced a true sense of free exploration in them like I have in Skyrim since the days of Everquest, Vanguard and, heck, even vanilla WoW. Maybe I’m getting too familiar with them, maybe they are becoming too formulaic or maybe I’m just lacking imagination, but I’m starting to feel contained and boxed in with the newer MMOPRGs I’m playing (RIFT, Aion, WoW expansions). Instead of offering vast, open worlds that you’re free to explore, they offer obvious and confined single points of forced progression, making you feel like you’re following a fixed path rather than being free to forge your own destiny. The effect makes you feel like you’re playing more of a game and less like an inhabitant of a fantasy world.
Something less subjective though is definitely Skyrim’s bold refusal to give into blatant gamification (assuming I’m using the word correctly here). It doesn’t poke you in the eye with big shiny exclamation marks over quest givers, it doesn’t patronise you by holding your hand through content, it doesn’t shove a big fuck-off experience bar right in the middle of your face constantly (although the UI is beyond crap, the HUD is very minimalistic and subtle, adding to overall immersion), it doesn’t distract you constantly with ridiculous content grinds, and best of all, it doesn’t have any, ANY, horrendous achievement system (at least on the PC) popping up every five seconds. “Achievement: Killed 20 wolves whilst jumping backwards and wearing only your underpants!”.
Yes, I’ve just realised how much I despise the concept of achievements.
All of this isn’t to say that I don’t like modern MMOs though. I do and they are a lot of fun. But I guess playing Skyrim has revealed to me just how much they have changed and just far they are from the original ideals of traditional RPGs. I’d like to see a new MMORPG that goes back to its role-playing roots and doesn’t try and cater to every type of audience and constantly try to cause our neural pathways to zing with artificial achievement rewards. I’d just like to see a MMORPG that’s honest, brave and confident enough to offer a good, solid, online role-playing experience without being incredibly hardcore or unforgiving.
I’m glad Skyrim’s been a financial success, not just because it will mean we’ll see another Elder Scrolls game in a few years but also because maybe, just maybe, someone will have the balls enough to try and turn it into a MMO. That would be truly glorious.