To be two weeks out from the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition is to be in a strange moment. I can still recall the resounding glee that abounded when Skyrim was first released, particularly as it had broken street date here in Australia, and was available to get early when armed with an arsenal of please. It was another world back then, and we the lawless haven of pirates that we were, scoffed at a fixed release date when it meant we could get our goodies now.
There is an quantity of the unreal in the commotion, thanks to a break with a personal tradition that is buffeted some by it being a remaster. That is because for the first time in my longstanding relationship with the Elder Scrolls franchise, I will not be getting it day one. The last time that happened was when I found a curious case in a bargain box, containing the Game of the Year edition of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.
Morrowind was a game I had never conceived of – one I did not know I wanted, and of a kind that I never knew was possible.
The first time I learned of Bethesda Softworks was as the developer of a Terminator game, and not as the creators of Arena and Daggerfall. I experienced both of those in a fashion over a decade past their day, but far too late to gain an appreciation for what they were. There were similarities to genre brethren I had familiarity with, notably Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant and Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds, but those too belonged to a time that had gone.
If you head to a sale today and find a game that you are not sure about, the chances are high that your good friend Google will tell you more than you want to know. It is still a gamble, but not on the level that it once was. Often the high of a new purchase would last as long as the trip home, and barely minutes more. I rolled my die on Morrowind, expecting that the post-novelty outcome would be regret.
Only the Tribunal could be more wrong.
There were many facets to the hold Morrowind had on me. There had been a vacuum created in my explorer playstyle that was previously catered to by Everquest, and in a pre-WoW world, Morrowind filled every gap. The regions of Vvardenfell were a mix of alien and familiar, presenting landscapes that could only be some place other, and becoming a rose-painted yardstick for the realisation of an environment. The story of the main quest was tremendous, escalating the dramatic tension with a layered unravelling of events played out long ago (a favoured trope of mine) that culminate in closure of the narrative.
Most of all, it was the presence of choices. There are choices we take for granted in games now – the plays at colour-coded morality, or the breadth of activities on offer in an open-world environment. It may also be tinged by the hues of nostalgia, but the presence of the choices in Morrowind carried something greater. The choice to join a faction, to build a settlement or become a vampire, to steal, explore, kill or simply read.
Some of the choices were trim, colouring the experience with a touch of personal, yet rather than the open buffet of choice we have now, it was more akin to a set menu then. You could make a choice, but it could mean other content was no longer available. Not every choice mattered. You could read every book, make spells, and break the prophecy the game was centered on.
Even the physical map that came with the game was a thing of wonder – it was stylised, an exhibit on attractions to be found, and an invaluable guide that harkened back to plotting out maps to navigate a guideless game. As far as open-world RPGs were concerned, Bethesda was a lock for me from that day, fishy sticks and all.
I put weeks into Morrowind, across multiple characters and platforms. First on PC, and then again later on the original Xbox, always finding new dungeons, quests and experiences.
Morrowind was monumental, yes, but only the beginning. I was glued to the bizarre daedric countdown on the Elder Scrolls site that eventually turned into the reveal of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Rather than wait for a Game of the Year edition to find its way to the bins, I reserved the Collector’s Edition that came with a septim (though six house-moves later and it is a memory alone).
I journeyed to Cyrodil and Oblivion in search of the heir and then the Amulet of Kings, pushing a PC past its prime to do so, and then again on a 360.
I even nabbed most of the DLC that came out for the game, sometimes free or discounted, though never ever got the infamous Horse Armor download that brought us to the world of microtransactions we now inhabit.
It is through no surprising twist of fate that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is also in my game library. Neither should it be a shock that I had spent far too long creating all too many characters. I played the frigid fifth in the vein of its forebear Morrowind, with characters being individuals of unique temperament, play style and guild alignments, rather than all-conquering demigod masters of all. It too was ordered early, and across multiple platforms, PC and Xbox 360.
Although it is Skyrim that is the focal point, The Elder Scrolls Online is no different in the habit. It has not claimed as many hours as the rest of the Elder Scrolls family, but it still part of it – perhaps as an estranged cousin rather than sibling, mind you. Day one, present an accounted for, with the Imperial Edition to booth. First on PC, then Xbox One.
Separate to the lore, stories and game style, Skyrim itself holds a separate slot in my special gaming moments. It was the first game I played with a proper gaming headset.
Long before discovering sites like rainymood, soundscape apps or even knowing ASMR as a named phenomenon (and not just that weird feeling that happens for some reason), I went to Skyrim. It was the first feeling of being transported to another world like that, of closing my ears and really hearing another place.
I could push the volume up and hear the patter of rain around me, lulling me into soporific contentment.
Steady footsteps across the grassy plains outside Whiterun brought a sense of tranquility, the higher holds carried a gentle howl that could only be the wind, and a rest in Riverwood brought the sounds of the mill and the river to life.
Skyrim is not the only game that can do this, and as a parent who enjoys a game once the children are asleep, headphones are a gift beyond subtitles.
The exact model of that first pair will be a mystery for future historians, but that 360-paired wrap of Turtle Beach moulds gave me the first taste of a kind of virtual reality – albeit one I had to close my eyes for. I know they were lower-tier, nowhere near as flash as the 360 Afterglow Prismatics they were replaced with (not near their price), but the TBs were a revelation.
The kit of the day is not as glorious as the APs, and while serviceable, the comparably lower Afterglow Level 5+ is not one for indulgences. When my time with Skyrim: Special Edition comes, as a gift to myself, it will be a slow burn. It only seems right to wait until the gear can do it justice.