Skyrim and the Art of the Re-release
In retrospect, we should all have been more suspicious. 11:11AM on November 11th, 2011 was the best chance to make a wish for at least the next 100 years if you were of a superstitious bent, and so many of us went along with it. Perhaps we did so jokingly, but we went along all the same. Now, as with any good story about a wish being granted, we are left to rue our hubris. On that day, we were given what any gamer at the time would have wished for: a massive, open-world rpg with an extensive lore, 18 distinct skill trees, a classic high-fantasy setting, and sweet spells that let you shoot lightning from your hands. I am talking, of course, about Skyrim. Bethesda let this one cook awhile before launch, and while the game was and can still be a mess of bugs and glitches no one really seemed to hold that against it. It was and still is an immersive game with memorable characters, some solid if played-out memes, and the ability to trick a bear into fighting a giant walrus (if you’ve never done an illusion-based playstyle, try it). Skyrim was a worthy installment in the long-running Elder Scrolls series, and remains a charming game with great examples of story-based DLC.
If only we’d known then what we know now. Skyrim will never die. Like Alduin, it can only be cast forward on the currents of time to return and swallow the world. An incredible modding community has kept the game going for PC users since the last piece of official content, Dragonborn, was released in February 2013. If you want to replace the province of Skyrim with Westeros and engage in war to put your house on the Iron Throne, then you can go right ahead. The community is happy to oblige you. Sick of fighting dragons? Now you can fight a ravenous Charizard. If you want to explore Morrowind (the eponymous setting of the third Elder Scrolls game) while playing Skyrim, an ambitious project called Skywind has been ongoing for years and still updates fans on its progress regularly. If you can think of it, the Skyrim community can do it and has probably already done it.
This alone would have given Skyrim deserved staying power, but Bethesda has decided to take advantage of their community’s success. In 2016 we saw the (not all that different) Skyrim Special Edition released for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC along with limited mod support. The library wasn’t nearly as expansive as what you could find on your PC copy, but you could still do fun things like replace one of the moons (the world in which Elder Scrolls games take place has two) with the Death Star and the other with the moon from Majora’s Mask and give destruction magic a much-needed damage boost. Not yet done, Bethesda used the latter parts of 2017 to give the world Skyrim VR and a special version of Skyrim on the Nintendo Switch featuring items from Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series.
Is this a problem? It seems like a company releasing effectively the same game four times and proceeding to take Scrooge McDuck money baths as a result each time should be a problem. But is it? Bethesda has never been a studio known for its prolific output of games, but they have still published games regularly in the Dishonored, Wolfenstein, Evil Within, and Prey series in addition to their two largest properties Fallout and Elder Scrolls. It’s hard to say the company has been resting on their laurels. Still, there just seems to be something problematic about this number of re-releases. This has gotten to the point that when considering games to buy for our new Switch, my fiancée and I recently realized that between the two of us we have purchased Skyrim at least six times. If there is a problem, then we are definitely part of it and the responsible thing to do as consumers is to break the cycle by not purchasing this latest release of a game that would be old enough to be in the first grade this year. Even if the ability to play Skyrim on a portable device sounds cool…
While it may seem like a problem on a moral or philosophical level, I am not a philosopher. I am a gamer. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go create a wood elf named Link and see if acquiring the Master Sword is easier in Skyrim than it is in Breath of the Wild.