Yesterday, with minimal pomp and circumstance, Bethesda announced that there will be no more official expansions for Skyrim. Just like that, the era of the Dovahkiin drew to a close.
This is a good time to end it. It may have been somewhat unexpected that, a few months after releasing the Dragonborn DLC, Bethesda would just up and say, "Welp! No more Skyrim!" But really, the game's hour has more or less passed.
It does seem to be a time for ending eras, doesn't it? First Mass Effect, now Skyrim—two of the most talked-about, cosplay-inspiring, widely beloved games of this console generation have been put to bed. And as with Mass Effect, with Skyrim I think back to how I felt when I first played it, before the memes and the spoilers, before the glitches and the mods, when it was new.
We all knew Skyrim was going to be big. Work at this site long enough, and you learn to gauge how interested people are in a given game by the number of readers it attracts. Suffice to say: People were very, very interested in Skyrim. Every time we'd write about it, thousands of people would be irresistibly drawn to learn more. Even before it launched, Skryim was huge.
After it launched, Skyrim was even bigger. I don't believe I've ever seen a game capture the public imagination to the degree that Skyrim did, before or since. They had been showing trailers in which a Dovahkiin was taking on a dragon in a clearing atop a rocky mountain. You can go there, the ads would say. You will be able to do that in the game. And you'll be able to do so much more.
As it turned out, you really could. In this video game, you could literally ride a horse across a valley, make your way through a forest, stop off at a local inn, climb a mountain, and fight a mother effin' dragon at the summit, all in the course of about an hour. Then, you could go back to your job at the local mill, and marry the girl in town that you've had your eye on.
A vast world made just for you; that's always been the promise of Bethesda's games. It's a seductive promise. I've now sunk countless hours into Skyrim (truly countless—I've run the game through the mod manager and left it paused to the point that Steam's play-time tracking feels wholly inaccurate). But as with all things, familiarity has caused the magic to diminish somewhat. I no longer feel the rush I felt the first time I made my way to Riverwood, when it seemed like anything was possible. I'll never laugh again the way I did when that first giant blew me to kingdom come. I've farmed my armorsmithing and enchanting skills and wrought armor and weaponry that can fell the mightiest giant in seconds. But I'll never covet any of it like I did my first ebony sword.
Over the course of about a year, I more or less strip-mined Skyrim for all the gaming ore I could. I played my first dozen hours of the game on Xbox 360, since I didn't have access to an early PC build, before switching to PC and starting it up all over again. I dawdled my way through the main storyline, so often getting distracted by sidequests and exploration. I played until I fell asleep in my chair, and still there were scores of dungeons and cliffsides left unexplored. After several months of increasingly sporadic play, I got into modding, and the game was briefly reborn. I tried to make a new character, but it didn't really stick. I got even more into mods. I finally completed the storyline.
As I was doing that, the game infested popular culture. Memes came and went, then resurfaced. Dovahbear. Lydia the housecarl. Harp twins. "Fus-ro-dah." Skyrim COPS. Real steel helmets. Cosplay. More cosplay. "Like Skyrim with guns." Unnecessary Censorship. And of course, arrow in the knee.
It hasn't all been sunshine and procedurally generated butterflies. As time goes by and the magic wears off, the game's age has started to show, and even with a ton of mods installed it's really showing some crustiness at the seams. PS3 owners never really did get quite the same game as everyone else, and I would understand if those using Sony's console had a less than fond view of the game as a whole. And, after all Todd Howard's talk of how the DLC would feel like expansion packs, there's the fair question of whether the three packs we got lived up to that promise.
First came Dawnguard, which left Jason underwhelmed and which I, actually, haven't even completed. Then the homemaking tools in Hearthfire, which were actually a pretty interesting idea, if not a satisfying chunk of new quests or dungeons. I never really did make that house, though. And then, finally, the satisfying, meaty Dragonborn, which felt like the sort of expansion pack we'd been expecting for Skyrim all along. I'm sure I'll finish it one of these days.
Hmm. As it turns out, I never managed to complete any of the DLC. And when I think about why, the answer is pretty evident: I think I've had enough Skyrim. I boot up the game now and I feel a slight melancholy mixed with a vague feeling of paralysis. I may finally be beyond this game's ability to surprise me, but there's still too much to do.
Here I am, standing outside Winterhold, watching the snow blow in gusts down the path. There's that bridge to my right, and that mill to my left, and the docks beyond the bridge. I hear a dragon somewhere. I still have no idea what else is up in the mountain behind the city, despite having sojourned to its peak multiple times. I've still never collected all of the types of blood that one demon asked for. The Forsworn Conspiracy quest in Markarth is still glitched, and I'll never finish it. I've never really learned much about magic, and I never did get around to making any Dragonbone armor. There's still so much of Skyrim left to see, and so much Skyrim left to play. But I've probably seen enough.
That said, just because I've had my fill, just because Bethesda won't be making any more content, doesn't mean that Skyrim will stand still. Throughout the game's run, there have been two constants: The Skyrim Nexus and Dead End Thrills. The former provided a place for modders to organize and share their many tweaks and overhauls, and if past Elder Scrolls games are anything to go by, we'll be getting incredible Skyrim mods for years to come. The latter is where Duncan Harris stores his galleries of incredible in-game photography. Hopefully his galleries will continue to grow, as well.
Harris' screenshots of Skyrim (four of which are featured in this article) have always encapsulated the magic and promise of the game for me. Still shots, they mask the often ugly way Skyrim moved, and their careful composition displays the mountains and forests at their most evocative. Every time I scroll through his site, I find myself wanting to return to the game, to throw caution into the wind and make a new character, to see if I can recapture some of that old magic. The images are mysterious, lonesome, and iconic in the same ways that Skyrim so often could be: A lone figure, chasing a dragon into the night. A woman warrior, sword slung over her back, looking out on the valley below. A dragon breathing flame atop a mountain. You can go there, they say. And so we went.
Images via Dead End Thrills.