Quest Updated: Getting Over Graphics
The island has vast tracts of forest, corners of desert, tiny islands, and a huge volcano. There are floating rocks, mushroom cities, buildings made of beetle carapaces. A cross-island journey is one across a vast collection of environments, sceneries and enemy types. 9 years later, you ride across tundra, snow, tundra, a forest and more tundra. With snow. Always snow.
A good friend of mine is a huge Morrowind fanboy, and raises the same complaint with both Oblivion and Skyrim. The two later games, especially (he says) Oblivion, just don’t match up to the variety of locations and scenery in Morrowind. I haven’t really played Morrowind (shock horror!), but from what I can see from screenshots, I have to agree. The cities are all vastly different from one another, and there definitely is a large amount of variety throughout the Morrowind province in terms of ecology.
But I think to limit a game to simply its landscape is to cut out the heart of some of the best games, and Skyrim is included here. In fact, it’ll be my example. Yes, it is predominantly snowy tundra. Have you seen Denmark? Any game set up north near the poles is going to be dominated by an overwhelming sense of white and icicles on your nose.
What makes this sin of similarity forgiveable is the aesthetic and atmosphere of Skyrim. The creators have been incredibly faithful to the idea that inspired the Nords — the Viking style. The names are best said a Swedish accent. Arcane monolyths and henges (as in stone-) dot the landscape. The country feels hostile, defiant and resistant to civilization. As are the people who live there. The place feels steeped in history, with ruins and worn-away roads. Even the taverns have odd stories for how they got their names — many involving Nord mead and hunting trips. And the mythic and folkloric feel to the storyline are fantastically in-tune with Norse myth — it practically feels like it comes out of one of the Eddas.
We gamers are a very visual group of people. Most reviews will spend a good paragraph or three on the graphics of a game. It’s one of the first things gamers will complain about. I know it’s what has prevented me from going back to some older games like Morrowind. And hell, that’s shallow of me. What we need is the gaming equivalent of the blind-date preparation line: “well, they have a great personality.”
I’d like to see gamers openly appreciate the deeper aestheticism of games. The immersive worlds that some can create are unparalleled. The open-world nature of games allows for a kind of depth that most books, TV shows and movies can never achieve, maybe with the exception of Middle Earth. You can take the time out to explore each ruin, from the collapsed Imperial watchtowers to the creepily deserted Dwemer ruins, to the infested mines. You can discover the back-story to taverns, and you can feel the impacts the climate and surroundings have on the fiercely independent people who live there.
Take in the atmosphere along with the scenery.