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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released in November 2011, but its sheer size and seemingly unlimited game-play possibilities have ensured that it remains a subject of conversation to this day. Although it was just another improvement on producing company Bethesda’s standard formula, Skyrim got so much right, and felt so different, that game designers everywhere are paying attention. These are five of the main reasons Skyrim became such a success, and how they can be applied to other titles.

Character Customization Heightens Player Investment

Most games have a pre-set protagonist, complete with back-story, personality and appearance. In story-driven genres, it’s almost an imperative. However, as games like Skyrim have proved, there’s nothing like a blank slate to get players’ imaginations going. Skyrim, by way of its fantasy setting, allows users to not only tweak their characters’ faces and hair styles, but also their body shape, gender and even species. If someone wants to play as a sneaking, conniving lizard-man, they have the ability to change their avatar’s form to accommodate their own mental image of how that should look.

There’s More to Role-Playing Games than Fetch Quests

The fetch quest is a common, and much maligned, trope of the common RPG. The protagonist’s mother sends him around the village to gather baking supplies, or a witch requires a number of ingredients to brew a rare potion. It can be done well, but is usually a lazy way to implement a tutorial or wring out a few more game-play hours without creating expensive new content. Skyrim has its own share of fetch quests, but the vast majority of side plots are exciting, well-crafted and send the player off to dangerous new locales. By exploring other options and putting in the effort, Skyrim makes its users look forward to each new quest.

Class Restrictions Limit Player Involvement

A common trend in MMORPGs and similar genres is the class system. At some point, a character must choose what to specialize in, and from then on all skills earned from leveling directly relate to that class. It can feel confining and restrictive; what if a particular thief is also interested in casting spells once in a while? Skyrim solved this problem by offering every player skill trees, which can be increased after gaining a level. It takes consistency to reach the most powerful perks, but it also allows for complex builds to suit every gamer’s style.

An Open World Creates Immersion

As computers become more powerful and programmers find ever more innovative ways to save memory, game worlds are growing larger and larger. Not only does this create a sense of scale and realism, but it also presents new opportunities to explore a land entirely alien from our own. People don’t spend hundreds of hours in Skyrim for the main storyline. They plunder lost dungeons, collect rare items and even spend hours tracking deer through the mountains. The kingdom feels real, because it doesn’t just exist to facilitate one story.

The Main Story is Only the Beginning

Following the last point, the main draw of open-world games like Skyrim or Fallout is that they feel like so much more than other games. The world doesn’t just vanish once the main story is over. There are still quests to finish, people to meet, places to explore and techniques to learn. Players have the option to climb the world’s tallest peak or swim to the bottom of the ocean regardless of where they’re at in the plot.

Although there will always be a market for tightly scripted games with a defined beginning and end, the momentum has shifted in favor of titles that feel more like simulations than games. By allowing players to lose themselves, game designers can guarantee that their customers will always come back for more.

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Posted by Lou Walton

Lou Walton is a computer programmer and guest author at Best Computer Science Degrees, a site with information and guides to available online computer science degrees.

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