It’s probably safe to say the Skyrim craze is over. It was released over a year ago, and for at least a few months afterwards was pretty hot shit. Supposedly it still remains one of the most played games on Steam, but it’s not everywhere like it was when it debuted. People seemed physically incapable of shutting up about it. They were hopelessly addicted to its vast, awesome, open-ended, and (gasp!) single-player gameplay. Millions of copies were sold, a fact which a game industry largely obsessed with cramming multiplayer into every newly released title seems to have ignored.
And yet, my first experience of it was on the PC, and because of that it largely sucked. The game was nakedly, brazenly designed for console play, with PC gaming an afterthought to the point where you weren’t even allowed to re-map the movement keys. In all my PC gaming, I use my mouse left handed and use the number pad for controlling my character, and the best I could do here was the arrow keys, which turned out to be a frustratingly shitty substitute in a game where maneuvering in real-time is crucial.
Sure, the world seemed kind of cool, but I was continually conscious of how fucking difficult it was for me just to walk around, much less explore or fight. Even character creation was a struggle as you tried to figure out how to navigate options clearly designed with analog sticks and shoulder buttons in mind. It was like trying to dance a waltz in snowshoes, and no amount of coolness was going to sustain that for me for very long. When The Old Republic finally released a few weeks later, I left and never looked back.
Until now. I don’t recall if Dawn added it to our Gamefly queue or I did, but earlier this month the Xbox 360 version arrived in our mailbox. So, hell, let’s give this another shot, right? It’s obvious the console route is the way Bethesda designed the game. Would the experience be any better?
Short answer: yes. Sweet son of Oblivion, yes. This is the exact same game I not only didn’t get into, but gave up on in disgust… and yet the simple expedience of using the gamepad it was designed for makes all the difference. Real-time combat is much more fun when you can dodge, aim, and switch weapons effectively. Exploring is more fun when you’re able to run and jump in a smooth fashion that doesn’t require you to take your hand off the thing that lets you keep your viewpoint steady. Radial pop-up menus aren’t as mind-boggingly annoying when they’re not the result of pressing the ESC key.
So now that the controls aren’t getting in the way anymore, yes, I can finally see what all the fuss is about. But it just goes to show how important an interface is. It’s just like how the system of a roleplaying game can help or hinder, video games, no matter how good they are, can live or die based on nothing more than how easy it is to control the action.
I honestly don’t know why Skyrim remains as popular as it does on the PC, I suppose because of all the modding that’s been done. I don’t know if one of those mods removes the key mapping limitations, which is something that should never have happened in the first place. But whatevs. I gave in and just played the game in its native form, and in that form I discovered everything good about it. All it took was for the interface to get out of the way.