Released six years ago yesterday on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim still has an active player base and a strong modding community. How many games, other than classics like Civilisation or the like can say that?
Playing through Skyrim for the first time, one of the things that a number of players - this one included - noticed was just how utterly time-consuming it was. You could sit down, pick up the controller, pop on the headphones and without realising it, seven or eight hours would have passed and you're barely scratching the surface. The richness, the level of depth in the game, the choices, the haunting music, the scenery - it all added up to a unique and immersive experience that was so deeply rewarding for players.
The level of customisation and nuance that went into character building meant that you truly felt connected to your avatar. You knew them intimately; you knew how to make them sneak through and clear out caves and fortresses with only a knife or a bow - or you could smash right through with a warhammer in under five seconds.
What mattered was that it was your choice. The game was broad enough that it allowed you to play whatever way you wanted it - either violent and loud or silent and considered.
How many games have this level of choice nowadays? More to the point, how many games respect your solitude? No pun intended. The game was a singular experience in the most traditional sense of the word, and it was honestly kind of soothing. You were alone, in the wilderness, defined by nothing except what you wanted to do, and the game allowed for it.
If you wanted to be a merciless tyrant, crossing the plains of The Reach and hacking anything in your path, you could. If you wanted to wander aimlessly through the mountains near High Hrothgar, or along the shores of the White River, the game allowed for it. Leaving aside the graphics - which still hold up, even without mods to make it look more cleaner or more defined - the thing that makes Skyrim so relevant and still so playable, six years on, is that it didn't need other people to make it enjoyable.
There was no need to have always-on internet or multiplayer chats, no screaming teenagers buzzing in the pre-game lobby, and if you wanted to stop and quietly admire the in-game scenery, you could find a perch and remain still. Other than a quest marker in the HUD, the game didn't care if you made it to the marker or not. You picked up the main quest whenever you felt like it, dropped it whenever it became boring, and all the time, you decided how to play.
How many games nowadays allow for that kind of freedom? Moreover, how many games are worth staying in for hours at a time the way that Skyrim did? Horizon: Zero Dawn may have had a lush, beautiful landscape and Destiny 2's rich and bountiful loot will keep you coming back for it, but Skyrim had a depth and texture to it that was all of its own.
While some players may have grown cynical of Bethesda's constant porting of the game - Nintendo Switch being the most recent - instead of starting work on an Elder Scrolls VI, the fact remains that you can still pick up Skyrim today and enjoy it with all of its flaws and eccentricities, six years after release.