Is Skyrim Kotaku's Game of the Year?S

Oh look. Somebody is voting for Skyrim as Game of the Year. How shocking.

Truth be told, I very nearly voted for something else. Total War: Shogun 2 had me hooked for most of the year, and its near perfection of the series' blend of strategic planning and real-time tactics seemed to make it, for eight months of the year, a shoe-in for my vote.

Then Skyrim happened.

WHAT I LOVED

Freedom Run - As we've seen with Minecraft (bear with me), while some developers want the medium hauled towards short, linear experiences, there still exists a market for larger games where freedom, not cinematics, are most important. Something Skyrim delivers on, and then some. Once your character is created you can live your life however the hell you want it, whether as hero or villain, champion or thief, sexy lady or weird cat man. These days, that's something to be savoured.

Adventure Time, Come On Grab Yourself - I don't play games for competition, or challenge, or community. I play games for escape, and prefer those with rich singleplayer worlds which I can get lost in for weeks or even months at a time. Skyrim's world is, simply, the most lavish and finely-crafted singleplayer world in video game history. There's a depth to its stories, quests and people that we'll still be picking at years from now.

Mod Squad - I played the game on PC, and from talking to others who have it on console, it sometimes feels like I'm playing a different game entirely. My graphics look amazing, I have custom weapons, my inventory screens are vastly-improved. I'm sorry if you're playing on 360 and everything looks like mud, or you're playing on PS3 and it doesn't even work, but the game I'm playing was awesome when I got it, and gets better by the day thanks to the improvements made by modders. Improvements that are only possible because Bethesda allows it, unlike many other big PC developers these days. So thank you.

WHAT I HATED

Artificial Intelligence - It's less obvious in some places, but at times the citizens of Skyrim are just way too mechanical in how they approach and interact with you. This clockwork nature can sometimes yank you right out of any immersion the lush landscapes and soaring soundtrack had dipped you in, which is a shame.

Like I said above, you can keep your twitching and your boasting and your competition. My favourite games, the ones that really push my buttons, are the ones where I can lose myself in another world. No world has ever presented me with as many avenues to do just that as Skyrim, so for pushing my biggest button the hardest in 2011, it gets my vote for Game of the Year.


Stephen Totilo responds

I don't dispute that we've got a contender here, but it's not my GOTY. The world's amazing. The aesthetics of the game make me blue. No, I mean red. I mean...

WHAT I LOVED

A Vacation - I love playing video games that are descendants of chess or contemporaries of movies, but I also am delighted by those that are precursors to the eventual invention of the holo-deck. Games such as Assassin's Creed: Revelations and Skyrim transported me to worlds and eras I was happy to get lost in. That this one had dragons, cat-people and giants herding mastodons was a bonus.

WHAT I HATED

The Average Screenshot - Almost any moment I experienced in Skyrim might be worth telling you about. Very few of them would I be proud to show you. This game should look beautiful, but I deplore the framing of its shots during dialogue scenes, the look of its user-interface and the general sense that this organic world full of organic people looks, too often, like a mechanical construct populated by automatons. It makes Skyrim still feel, to me, like a progress marker toward a future GOTY, but not a splendid enough game for me to herald as the year's best this year.


Kirk Hamilton responds:

Skyrim feels like two games for me—the perfect fantasy open-world adventure that exists in our imaginations, and the actual game that got released. Both are great games, but only the imaginary one is true GOTY material. Let me explain…

WHAT I LOVED

The Ultimate Indulgence - If we go to games looking for a world into which to escape, Skyrim offers the ultimate indulgence. The massive map and its mess of interlocking systems are endlessly fun to play around with.

Watercoolness - I loved how Skyrim, like Minecraft before it, brought people together. It is "The People's Game" in every way: A richly-authored world just begging for us to break it open and discover its secrets. I'm more excited about modding it than I am about finishing the main storyline.

Proof in the Pudding - I've played it for dozens of hours. I'll play it for dozens more.

WHAT I HATED

The Least Sexy Game of the Year - Skyrim is clunky and weird. It is ungainly and bulging. It is profoundly unsexy. The dialogue and storytelling are delivered in a hilariously affected monotone; the big-picture lore is not interesting or human-feeling.

Just Not Quite There Yet - Too often, Skyrim's ambition outstrips its limitations. It feels like the developers hoped we wouldn't notice or care about the robotic characters, the jank animations, the weirdly empty world with its underpopulated cities. And yet I find that I did notice, I do care. I am happy to wander this world, but I do not want to live here.


Evan Narcisse responds:

Despite being allergic to high fantasy, I've enjoyed Skyrim more than any other game in the genre. It's made me hold my breath and smile in awe. Yet, I just haven't liked it enough to make it my GOTY. Here's why.

WHAT I LOVED

The Weight of Ages - Whether it's ominous flying dragons or robotic dwarven centurions, nearly everything in Skyrim breathes with a majestic weariness, which makes the game feel like an alternate reality that was already alive. Bethesda's delivered a rich, layered nexus of possibility that seems to have been waiting centuries for your arrival.

WHAT I HATED

What's My Motivation? - All of the gameworld's texture doesn't translate into actual narrative impetus and Skyrim's random encounters—like routing a clutch of forest bandits—feel far more exciting than its scripted missions. For all the volume of the game's prophecy and the lore, I preferred the homebrewed sagas written by my own wanderings. Playing through the open-world content creates a desire to explore and a hunger for surprise that the main questlines don't live up to.


Owen Good Responds. It's super effective!

Skyrim is the kind of game I wish I could have discovered in the early spring, before L.A. Noire, DC Universe Online and multiple seasons of sports games vacuumed up my time. It's like trundling home a three-inch thick fantasy paperback and willing yourself to down the first 100 pages just so you become hooked enough to finish.

WHAT I LOVED

Endless Value - It sounds almost crass to praise customer value in judging a game's artistic merit, but we're still talking about a $60 game. Depending on how you approach it, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a title whose initial playthrough can last longer than the entire replay experience of other good games. Bethesda excels at this. They make my favorite genre: The Desert Island game. As in, with this and a console on a desert island, I'd be good for a long, long time.

WHAT I HATED

A Lack of Urgency—No singleplayer RPG has really solved the genre's biggest narrative problem: How to gracefully mesh a main storyline of any suspense or urgency with the player's prerogative to explore as much as he likes and take his sweet time doing so. Skyrim falls short in this regard, even among its peers, to the point that the user-created experiences and side ventures become more compelling than the story's main path.


Michael Fahey responds:

Skyrim was my pick for Game of the Year initially, though the more I think about it the more I'm leaning towards something else. Why?

WHAT I LOVED

It's Everything I Ever Wanted - Skyrim is a vast, gorgeous, wide-open fantasy world that I can explore to my heart's content, playing the way I want to play, doing the things I want to do, and, best of all, telling the story I want to tell. It's like stepping into one of the sword and sorcery books I read as an awkward teen, only without the risk of my math teacher taking the book away from me and refusing to return it until the end of the school year, that dick.

The Modders - They deserve mention here, the folks that get a new Elder Scrolls game and immediately set about making it better. When the time comes around to vote for Game of the Year, I have to wonder how much of the game I nominated is what Bethesda released and how much is the hard work the modding community put in making the PC version really sing.

WHAT I HATED

I've Had Everything I Wanted Before - I've had the same feeling I get playing Skyrim with each of the game's predecessors. I could have easily written what I did in the WHAT I LOVED section for Morrowind, or Oblivion. The graphics have improved, the storyline has changed, but essentially I am playing those two games over again. This one has dragons, of course, so it's bigger and better than ever, but that just leaves me wondering what Bethesda will do with the next game to one-up itself. That's really what The Elder Scrolls series is all about; Bethesda taking essentially the same concept and taking it a just a little bit further. Is a little bit futher good enough for Game of the Year?


Brian Ashcraft responds:

Oh boy, oh boy did I like this game. The world of Skyrim was vivid and a wonderful place to get lost in. But as much as I love Skyrim, I don't love it enough to be my GOTY.

WHAT I LOVED

Bang for Your Buck - This is the best video game value of 2011. Seemingly endless amounts of time get vacuumed up, and there's always still something to do. In an age when gamers are nickeled-and-dimed with DLC and expansion packs, it's refreshing to get hundreds of hours of content right out of the box.

WHAT I HATED

Ugly Ducklings - The people in Skyrim look better than those in Oblivion, but they're still ugly and have hideous hair. Is it too much to ask for a vast world populated with people that don't look so damn crude? Everyone doesn't need to be handsome or pretty, they just need to look less stiff, more alive, and more real. Often, I felt scope was traded for a pulse.


There you have it. Those are our arguments for and against Skyrim as Kotaku's 2011 Game of the Year. We'll have four more arguments this week, and then we'll vote and announce the winner on Monday, January 2.

Read the rest of our 2011 GOTY debates.

(Top image by Dead End Thrills)