You know it by heart but it never ceases to surprise you: this is why Skyrim, the latest chapter of The Elder Scrolls, never goes out of style.
It is not just a matter of snow, nor is the proverbial familiarity of the Nordic people with food and alcohol to do with it. The cold winds of Skyrim bring winter magic all over the world, but what makes it a quintessential holiday game is simple: Christmas, for many, is a time of comfort, celebration and fun. From the hustle and bustle of Whiterun to the lonely silence of Winterhold, it’s clear that Tamriel’s northernmost province has all three of these qualities in abundance.
Much more has come out, and perhaps better, but … –
In a way, it’s strange to write this article in 2021, ten years and two entire generations of consoles later the original launch of Skyrim. That’s right: Skyrim first came out on PS3 and Xbox 360. All of this just testifies to just how powerful Bethesda’s RPG is. Sure, bigger, braver, and more visually beautiful games have come out in these ten years, but at least part of Skyrim’s long-lasting impact is due to the fact that the other titles have failed to really surpass it.
This is an important point. Video games have come a long way in the years since you first set foot in Markarth and Mzinchaleft. Be Mass Effect 2 and The Witcher 3 they had better places in the ranking of the best Western RPGs, while from the East came giants like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild who have established themselves as the open world productions of our time. Skyrim is deeply rooted in collective memory as a monumental work, but its place in the sun now belongs to others. Or, at least, so it would seem.
Skyrim means home –
In fact, this is Skyrim’s greatest and perhaps unintended force. The reason this game is so comfortable, celebratory and joyful is because it is so deeply, reliably familiar. If you’ve spent a respectable number of hours in Skyrim – where “respectable is a very subjective term, in this case – Chances are you didn’t follow Ralof to Riverwood after escaping from Helgen.
Conversely, you may have gone east to Riften or west to Falkreath, or north via Riverwood without saying goodbye. You may have chosen the farmer’s field where the Companions first told you about a giant miles away, and you’ve probably had a good chance of figuring out whether this giant came from Guldun Rock or Secunda’s Kiss. Even ten years after exploring the land of the Nords, you will have recognized the way to Bleak Falls Barrow. All this is due to the fact that Skyrim is one of the easiest games to learn ever: not because it is simplistic but because it deceives you, making you think that its teachings are fun.
And what is the purpose of these teachings? To educate you on what you should be able to do, of course, but also to show you how huge and full of opportunities this world is. This, the real genius of Skyrim, is what makes it infinitely replayable and a beautiful place to specifically return to in the Christmas holidays. You know everything about this game, yet you never go ten minutes without it surprising you. The only thing Skyrim needs to shine is time, which is usually not lacking on holidays.
Skyrim as if it were a Christmas present –
A very common joke among The Elder Scrolls fans is that so many reinstall Skyrim once a year and do the exact same things they did 50 times before – common characters like battle wizards, vampire lords called Alucard, elves called archers. Legolas. There is some truth to this gag but the boring reality is that it’s impossible to play Skyrim twice the same way. You can walk in it the same way, hear the characters talk the same way, but it’s Bethesda’s RPG is an exceptional shapeshifter, capable of taking on different appearances an almost infinite number of times.
Imagined as a Christmas present, it’s like a new pair of shoes or a good aftershave: something that will be given to you once a year, every year, but which you will still use a good number of times. The great thing about Skyrim is that it’s a gift you can give yourself, for free. Combined with a week or two of vacation while sprawling on the couch, it’s perfect for the holidays, playing casually for two hours before being amazed (again) at the possibility of stealing without going to jail just by putting a bucket in. head to people.
The other “Christmas games” –
There is no doubt that there are other games that qualify as “Christmas games” – Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Batman: Arkham Origins are two obvious examples. But they are trivially games set during Christmas, not titles that fit particularly well on the Christmas period itself. When you approach it from this point of view, Skyrim is clearly the only winner: because it brings together familiarity and surprise, and manages to be both comfortable and consistently compelling.
Half of the time you will play with a lazy smile, lying comfortably on that sofa, but the other half you will be seated at 45 degrees, wide-eyed, incredulous to see the giant from before riding a dragon in the skies of Tamriel. Overall, this is the perfect synthesis of what makes the Christmas holidays special: a few rare days of unmotivated contentment, with an occasional burst of pure, almost stupid joy. In addition, the snow is a spectacle. Obviously.
Written by Cian Maher for GLHF
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