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Skyrim’s blueprint for single-player games

April 2, 2021

Kayla Snyder

To have been remastered is a point of pride for video games. The game gets updated graphics, more press and, most of all, a port to newer consoles. This shift to newer consoles reinvigorates the player base and introduces newcomers to the series while enticing veterans with a second playthrough. By mixing these types of players, the game achieves longevity.

In recent years, this type of renewal—a remastered edition or a re-release on another console—has become progressively skewed towards multiplayer games. However, there is one game that defies this categorization: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Released in 2011, Skyrim is a single-player game. It has undergone multiple re-releases and updates for current consoles, and the player base is still strong almost 10 years after its initial release. To this day, Skyrim is well-recognized in pop culture and continues to appear in memes and all over YouTube.

The only other single-player game to claim this sort of longevity is Grand Theft Auto V. It’s a game with a sprawling open world, a complete 30-hour main story and limitless possibilities—but that’s not the reason it has been so successful. Rockstar (its producing company) implemented a multiplayer mode. Now, all of that single-player fun can be explored with a friend. There are new quests and heists, which take days of planning and hours of gameplay to complete. This change has made Grand Theft Auto V virtually immortal. Originally released in 2013 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the game transitioned smoothly to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. In the following years, it became such a phenomenon that Sony used the remastered version during its PlayStation 5 launch event.

Games normally achieve this kind of immortality because of multiplayer options. The randomness of solo queuing in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, released in 2012 and one of the most played Steam games today, is an example of a multiplayer rush that’s hard to top. But this will get boring against bots, no matter how much programming goes into the game. Multiplayer has the allure of unpredictability—a virtue that players obsess over.

This phenomenon makes the emergence of a long-lasting single-player game very rare. While most Triple-A single-player titles will have the dedicated few gamers who pour hundreds of hours into its open-world, those games will generally see their player numbers dwindle within the first year. I’m writing this on a weekday afternoon, and Skyrim is, at this exact moment, the 40th most played game by Steam concurrent players. Of course, it only counts PC players, but those players make up the majority of the console-gaming population. More people are playing Skyrim right now than Cyberpunk 2077, a recent single-player release, and The Witcher 3, a 2015 well-renowned game in the same genre as Skyrim.

So, why Skyrim? Over the past decade, there have been numerous single-player experiences, ranging from the big-budget Triple-A titles to shorter indie games. None of them has come close to achieving Skyrim’s longevity. In a sentence, Skyrim is just able to capture this magic. The feeling of escaping a dragon within the first hour and being unleashed upon this continent is tough to replicate. There are also more technical reasons, such as the simple-but-clear user interface and the abundance of full side questlines, as well as the modding community, where players create free, downloadable packs to add weapons, clothing and quests. But all of these attributes still pale in comparison to that first feeling—a feeling Skyrim is able to maintain for your entire first playthrough (over thirty hours). The game keeps things simple: you have an item, three bars on your screen and a world to explore.

When looking back on the successful single-player titles, simplicity is key. You want to be able to go back to a game after a year and be immersed right back into it. Maybe the controls take a little time to remember, but the understanding of your character is there. Skyrim and the Dark Souls series do this beautifully, with a simple set of controls and a straightforward inventory management system. The Witcher 3, arguably the most critically-acclaimed single-player game ever, has nine separate menus within the inventory. The bounty of items and abilities is entertaining on a first playthrough, but it bogs down return players if they want to pick it up after playing other games. To be remastered, you have to be accessible. Skyrim is the bar against which any game’s longevity will be measured—and boy, is it a high one.


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