It’s funny to be writing this article, as I had to tear myself away from playing in order to do so. Skyrim is almost a holiday tradition in my household - my wife and I have a number of games which we will break out during the dark months, and it had been a number of years since Skyrim was in the rotation. When I heard that this was the tenth anniversary of its release, I dusted off the disc (yes, I bought the disc and not just a digital copy) and popped it back in.
My first impression was a warm nostalgia - seeing the back of that prison wagon and looking at the other prisoners brought back an initial wave of memory that was almost immediately replaced with the thought “Holy fuck this is taking SO LONG. CAN I PLEASE SKIP THIS EXPOSITION THAT I’VE ALREADY HEARD MULTIPLE TIMES!?” By the time it came to character creation, I was already bored, but I ended up spending more time on customizing my character than I ever had before. Without the itch to dive into the game (because I already knew what was coming), I was more willing to personalize my features and think of a cool name for this character (a Dark Elf named “Akayoru,” meaning “Red Night” in Japanese).
I was almost immediately surprised to realize that during the initial escape from the dragon attack, you can choose to go with the Imperial guards or the Stormcloaks - a fact that I’d entirely missed in previous playthroughs as I’d always just run like hell and dove into the first door I came to.
My next biggest observation is that this game is SLOW. Almost cripplingly so. As someone who had played three previous characters (which I’m sure is on the low side for most players), I no longer cared about the story - I knew it already. Yes yes, Riverrun and the love triangle, then on to Whiterun and Dragonsreach and kill a dragon and absorb its soul blah blah blah… I know all this already. Every conversation felt agonizingly slow and I couldn’t wait to just bail out of all of this and run up to Winterhold to join the college of mages. Except I couldn’t - the game, I realized, is incredibly difficult if you don’t play through at least the introductory couple of hours and run the seven thousand steps to High Hrothgar and listen to the Graybeards babble on and on with their story of who and what you are.
The first time Lydia got in my way and blocked the path, I smiled at the memory of countless hours past, yelling at the screen for Lydia to get out of my way.
The second time Lydia got in my way and blocked the path, I went back to my old ways of yelling at the screen and calling her every name I could think of. My wife even joined in (remember, our playthroughs are a family event), and we laughed about it as best we could while screaming at Lydia to get the fuck out of the way.
(Side note: Literally every trap we came across, we’d deftly sidestep or jump over it and then look at each other and say “I don’t know why we bothered, Lydia’s going to trigger it” right as Lydia triggered it)
And while the game does open up to more open-world play after the first dozen hours or so, it’s still far more difficult than I remember…or rather, as a returning player, I don’t have the patience to work my way across the map and level up as I go — I know where to reforge the Gauldur Amulet and I want to do that now, dammit. If I die a few times along the way because I should be clearing out bandit camps and barrows along the way in order to level up, then…well, that’s on me, I’ll admit.
The corollary to this, however, is that you have all the knowledge of how to advance your skills far ahead of the game’s intended schedule. I remember my first playthrough (and even my second) took me far longer to level up the basic skills of smithing and enchanting, and alchemy was all but ignored entirely. This time, however, I am well-stocked with potions and hearty meals, and I know exactly where to go to load up on iron ore so I can grind out a hundred iron daggers and fifty hide helmets, then go blast through 150 petty soul gems enchanting them all before selling them back to vendors. I was able to buy Breezehome and fully furnish it in record time, and my armor, weapons, and their subsequent enchantments, are all well ahead of my level, which makes it just a little easier to tackle dungeons and quests that I probably shouldn’t be.
And that’s the fun of it now - taking the player knowledge into the game with you to make each subsequent playthrough a little easier and a little faster to get to the good stuff. It’s still a fun game, even if the graphics are outdated (not bad, mind you - but definitely a product of their time) and the controls are a little lacking (Bethesda definitely made big strides between releasing Skyrim and Fallout 4). But ultimately it is fun - hugely so. Only now the fun is in remembering key moments and revisiting key locations with that nostalgia reserved for old friends and tales of adventure told in a pub around a fire with a bottle of mead. The game is as good as it’s going to get at this point, but it’s really good, and worth rediscovering if you haven’t played it in a while. Personally, I’m going to take this chance to go try and pick up all the locations and quests I never got around to in previous playthroughs - try some new play styles, take on some different companions, and see exactly how much this ten year old game can still surprise me.
If you’ve ever loved this game, I highly suggest you do the same.
And remember: Skyrim belongs to the Nords!
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