Many people's favourite experiences with the last Elder Scrolls game — Oblivion — probably revolve around dungeons, magic, horse-riding and Sean Bean. Mine are a little more sedate.
You see, while I appreciated the effort that went into crafting all those "unique" dungeons and the citizen's clockwork routines, I also quickly saw through the "cracks" in that artificial world, and it didn't do much for me. Neither did the game's main storyline.
The game's optional missions, particularly the guild ones, were much better, but my favourite missions were the ones I made myself. If you want to make me sound like a loser, call them interactive fan fiction, but if I had to give them a name, I would call them The Bear Grylls Chronicles.
See, for me, my best times with Oblivion (aside from the obligatory "OH MY GOD" moment when you first exit the sewers) came after I had completed all of the game's scripted tasks. I'd finished the main storyline, finished as many of the guild missions as I wanted to and had my fill of the seemingly endless "oh my wife needs medicine go kill three crabs" tasks for the common folk.
With nothing official left to do, and my thirst for the game's world unquenched, I decided to go make my own fun. Bringing up the game's map, I realised that outside of any areas I'd had to visit on official business, I'd seen what was probably only around 1/4 of the game world.
That. Would not. Do.
So I loaded up on supplies, packed my finest bow, jumped on my trusty steed and set off. Not to explore the game's dungeons, since once you've seen one of each type you have literally seen them all, but just to explore the wilderness of Cyrodiil. See the sights, hunt some game, you know. Rough it.
It's tough to put a number on it, but of the 300+ hours I've spent playing Elder Scrolls IV, I'd estimate almost half has been doing this: being content to scratch the surface of the game world, because the surface is probably the most enjoyable thing about it. And for those still playing the game five years after release, I'd wager you're doing much the same thing.
Few games can match the feeling of a sunny day in Cyrodiil, blue sky shining, grass blowing in the breeze and the self-made fun of hunting deer with a bow and arrow, or collecting ingredients for potions from a river bed, not because you got some arbitrary reward (I was well past the point of needing or caring about money or loot) but just...because.
To this day, I don't exactly know why I do it. I'm not a survivalist. I don't want Bethesda too include some crazy "hardcore" mode like we saw in Fallout: New Vegas, where you have to worry about eating. I don't like hunting in real life and I don't really give a shit about horses.
But combining all of those things in a game and letting me do them, without a script pushing me along, pager bugging me there's tasks to be completed or a timer ticking down, lets me truly escape into a game world and be free to do whatever the hell I want. I can boot up Oblivion, wake up at a campsite on the side of a hill, and just...wander around a world. People come and go, animals come and go, the weather changes, night turns to day and back again and sometimes a giant crab will try to bit me on the ass.
I guess, now it's been committed to type, that's exactly why I do it. I've never enjoyed games as competition. I play them for escape, and Oblivion let me escape with a level of immersion like no other game I've played has managed.
So when Skyrim is released later this year, I don't care how the fighting system works, how good the voice actors are, how long the main storyline is or how improved it thinks its character customisation is. So long as I can walk around the woods at my own pace, I'll be a happy man.
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.