As someone who loves story-driven games, I find the only thing that makes them better is being able to create my own character and chart my own path through the tale.
BioWare games excel at this, which is why BioWare is my favorite developer. Their stories take me down a fairly scripted path, but I’m able to navigate certain forks in the road, in the manner of a choose-your-own-adventure. It’s character development, but a very guided kind. For instance, in Mass Effect, the biggest character choice you make is whether to be Paragon or Renegade… or in between. Those are your options. Either way, you’re pretty much going to save the galaxy.
But there’s one game series that keeps me coming back for more, and one game in particular that I just can’t seem to pry myself away from: Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. I started playing it shortly after its release in late 2011 and was hooked for months. I had a female Dunmer who became Archmage at the College of Winterhold, married a kick ass mage named Marcurio, bought a bunch of houses but lazed around mainly in Riften, and eventually got a brave little dog named Vigilance who died on his very first mission with me. Then I left Skyrim for a while. Like, for six months.
When I returned in the fall last year, I made a brand new character with completely different choices. She was a Bosmer. She joined the Stormcloaks and bought the Windhelm house. She married Scouts-Many-Marshes. She restored the lost glory of the Thieves’ Guild in Riften. Mostly, she liked to kick around in the Thieves Guild armor — enchanted all crazy for stats — and the Stormcloak officer headdress, because it looked like this:
I was mildly addicted to Skyrim during that second playthrough. I made as much progress with my second character as I did with my first, in about 1/3 the time — one month as opposed to three. I’ve already talked about this on my blog here, but there is something addictive about sandbox-style games that really reward you for leveling, leveling, leveling… instead of just story progression.
This spring, I started a new playthrough of Skyrim with my very first Khajiit character. I’ll build her a lot like my Bosmer, with archery + sneak + one-handed. I do miss my Dunmer’s two-handed wielding, because there’s nothing sexier than a battleaxe, but I’ve come to embrace being able to sneak through missions without a fuss. And I totally want to marry Derkeethus and get a modded house somewhere.
I’ve complained a bit about Skyrim not having realistic consequences for actions. For instance, you can be BFF’s with Mjoll the Lioness, who hates the Thieves’ Guild, even when you’re in the Thieves’ Guild. She just don’t seem to know about that part of your life. If you have a quest to get started, you can go do dozens of other things, taking months of in-game time, only to have the quest still waiting for you as if no time has passed at all.
But that’s okay sometimes. Skyrim triumphs the sandbox, and for me, the most fun aspect of that is building characters from scratch and seeing where life takes them. Each character is different. I’ve only completed three full quest lines over the course of two playthroughs, and I’ve never finished the main quest line. Skyrim offers so much to do and so many choices that the exploration — including that character exploration and development — never seems to end.