Bethesda’s main franchise will always have a special place in my heart for all it buggy, awkward brokenness. But going back through them, age is starting to show. Here’s a little breakdown of which ones deserve your attention.
Double Yes: Skyrim
There’s a lot you can say to decry this choice. It’s simpler, dumbed down, more repetitive, and less feature-packed than its predecessors. But it’s Skyrim.
It’s still the breath of (freezing) fresh air it was when it came out, and still enthralls me with the many adventures I can go on to this day. I’m still finding little touches hidden away in the dungeons, little set pieces put there specifically for me to notice. While greatly less complicated than the next choice in the list, its strength is just how playable it is. More adventures, less fiddling around.
I’m going to be perfectly honest here. For all I admire the unique and interesting setting of this one, I’ve never gone so far as to actually finish it. Maybe its my spoiled, modern gaming instincts that leave me fumbling blindly when I’m not given a quest marker. Or maybe it’s that sense of constantly screwing everything up forever. But for all it does well with its setting and open-endedness, it stands above its sequel for being an alternative to Skyrim’s design, rather than just an inferior version of it.
Though at the time of course I was quite impressed by this one, looking back on it I can’t help but find my memories turn increasingly hostile. At an awkward midpoint between Morrowind’s openness and Skyrim’s cohesiveness, it sets itself in the most generic of fantasy settings with its green fields, wolves, and skeletons. It’s more dumbed down than Morrowind but less accessible than Skyrim. But I think what really does it are those truly awful character models, coupled with the cringey acting and writing. It’ll alienate those who prefer the old formula, and with Skyrim out there’s no reason to go back to it again.
Double No: The Elder Scrolls Online
I’ve always liked the idea of MMOs, but I’ve yet to find out I can truly enjoy on all levels. And Bethesda’s shot at that doesn’t even come close. While it has at least a sense of exploration that can earn some fun, it feels like a budget ripoff of its own franchise. Plus, that MMO carrot-on-a-stick design means none of the brokenness that makes the real series so much dumb fun is present. Everything is tightly controlled and regulated like some sort of Thalmor prison, with only a small maximum allotment of fun per day. Other players are a nuisance and nothing it does is particularly interesting. The series would have been much better served by coop functionality rather than the full MMO treatment.
Not Included: Arena, Daggerfall, Redguard, Battlespire, etc.
I’m not going to bother grouping these into a category. Either you’ve played them before, and will enjoy them for their nostalgia factor, or you haven’t. Incredibly dated, they’re likely not worth the hurdles it will take to get them working on a modern system. With the possible exception of Daggerfall – old-school types might find something to enjoy in its sheer scale, but take away the nostalgia filter and these just aren’t good games anymore.