Fishing in video games is tricky to nail. Many games offer such a mechanic, but few actually pull it off. Personally, I can’t even recall a single fishing mini-game I’ve wrung enjoyment out of in the last few years. Pokémon? Tedious, annoying. Fire Emblem: Three Houses? Zzzzz. Hades? The only thing resembling a flaw in an otherwise perfect roguelike.
Ubisoft map games are particularly egregious when it comes to the inclusion of fishing, often because they try to approximate the real-world frustrations, like having patience, that come with fishing. Last year’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla featured a requirement for testing out its aggravating mini-game before progressing the story. More recently, one Far Cry 6 side-quest tasked me with catching some fish “to chill out,” as if that’s what anyone plays Far Cry for. Like clockwork, I received an in-game call from the quest-giver, an alternative medicine guru, every 15 minutes or so, urging me to return. I eventually looked up several video tutorials to learn what to do just to get the quack to shut it.
And for the five-year anniversary of Skyrim’s five-year anniversary edition, Bethesda decided to add an inconsequential mini-game where you throw a flimsy string into a pool of water and sometimes get a salty cooking ingredient in return, if you’re patient. Though it’s been some time since I’ve played Skyrim, I was curious. Hey, maybe this one would be the one that finally changed my long-standing opinion.
To clear some confusion up: Though fish have always existed in Skyrim, the fishing mini-game is fresh, having first been announced during a stream aired at this year’s Quakecon. You further don’t need this week’s brand-new Anniversary Edition to fish in Skyrim. It’s included in that, yes—as one of the significant new features, alongside a survival mode—but also in 2016’s Special Edition by way of a free update (around two dozen GB, at least on Xbox). It’s part of the game as one of four free mods from the “creation club”—basically, a microtransactions storefront. At least on Xbox, where I’m playing, if your game is totally up to date, you’ll automatically have it installed in your game.
You will, of course, need to find a fishing rod before you can catch any fish. There’s one (damage: 4, weight: 3, value: 10) on a beach just down the hill from the Guardian Stones, a stone’s throw down the river from Riverwood. You’ll see it propped against a boulder next to a makeshift camp.
Can’t find it? You can also craft one yourself. Go to any blacksmith’s forge. (There’s one right at the entrance to Riverwood that, bonus, is relatively close to a fishing spot.) For one iron ingot and one firewood—a seemingly run-of-the-mill resource that I had a shockingly tough time finding today—you can make yourself a shiny new fishing rod.
The catch with fishing in Skyrim is that you can’t just do it at any body of water you find. You have to find predetermined posts of “fishing supplies,” more or less boxes of bait laying around. Interacting with those kickstarts the fishing mini-game. (There’s one right next to the fishing rod you can find on the beach.)
Fishing in Skyrim barely features any reel interaction, and mostly plays out much like gaming’s simplest fishing mini-games. You start with your line already cast. When your rod shakes, you tap A to reel in whatever you’ve hooked. That’s it. You have no freedom to move the rod around. You can’t select between various types of bait. You can’t customize your line or grip, though there are apparently fishing rods of fancier make that improves your chances of a catch. It’s all very rudimentary, certainly not to the level of something you’d expect from Skyrim.
You also can’t activate third-person perspective. Guess you’ll just have to use your imagination to see what my khajiit, Catman, looks like.
It’s no stretch to say that Skyrim is one of the most influential role-playing games of all time. Indeed, just hopping in for an hour to check out this fus ro dumb feature had me awash in the comfy nostalgia of how damn good this game is. That was quickly followed by the stomach-sinking feeling that I’m probably going to burn 100 hours playing through it again.Skyrim is a bona fide tour de force, a masterpiece of filling a game with stuff without letting it get bloated or shirking a believable sense of place. That one of highlights this year is a mini-game in which you press one button at the right time is a let down. I mean, really, fishing is thinner than horse armor.
But I gave it a fair shake nonetheless. I caught a spadefish, and was summarily told to go all the way to Riften for a quest called “Angler Acquaintances.” (I haven’t reached Riften on this save file and likely won’t for some time.) I caught a river betty and some other fish with names. I caught something called a pogfish, which I’m fairly sure is an internet joke that sailed over my head.
Then I reeled in a pair of hide boots. That’s fishing for ya.