Skyrim plays into one of the biggest stereotypes in video games: you, as the character, are an all-important being and it’s up to you to stop whatever impending doom will slowly descend onto the universe. Sometimes you know why you are this one in a million character and other times you have no idea.
I’m going to be honest: after playing Skyrim many times, I still don’t understand why I am the Dragonborn. I don’t know if I missed the memo, but I just can’t seem to get a grasp on it. The game lays out foundations for you to be an ordinary person in the Skyrim universe, then you’re tasked with defeating a dragon. Upon defeating the dragon, you absorb the dragon’s soul. You are now the Dragonborn. That’s it. Quick, right?
When you hear the word “Dragonborn,” you feel powerful. You feel almighty. You feel like you should be able to rain down hell upon your enemies and dispatch them with pure satisfaction. However, that’s not the case. Being the Dragonborn merely gives you access to two things: some measly shouts and repetitive dialogue from the guards. There was a lot of potential to make you feel like you’re this “god among men” type of character and instead it’s just an underwhelming experience from start to finish.
The shouts are okay. They do have some impact and, in some cases, can be quite funny, like launching an ice troll off a cliff. However, I don’t feel it’s enough to justify being a Dragonborn. It’s just not powerful enough and it doesn’t work for me. After my first playthrough, I barely used the shouts. They didn’t aid my gameplay and I felt no need to gather more of them. I don’t understand how the Dragonborn can be such a pivotal role within the game and provide you with gameplay features that have the same impact as a balloon being thrown at a window.
Take God of War, for example. It’s a newer game and he actually is a God, and the character development in that game is unique. Despite already being badass, you can gain new abilities, equipment, and moves that really mould your playtime into pure satisfaction. You feel unstoppable. By increasing your power and armour limit, nothing stands in your way. God of War has a progression system that actually makes you feel like you’re progressing. The upgrades you make, the armour you wear, they have different ways to enhance and change your abilities and how you play.
Skyrim does this, but not very well. When I spend a skill point in Skyrim, I don’t feel like I’ve grown stronger—I don’t feel like my character is progressing. The only thing that feels like it changes is the slight modification to your stamina, health, and magicka. As a progression system, it just doesn’t work very well. God of War is one of many prime examples where a game has successfully made you feel badass. Marvel Spider-Man also features this brilliant character development. I mean, it’s Spider-Man; I didn’t think you could get any more badass but by the end of the game I really felt like a superhero.
That’s where Skyrim falls. What are YOU in Skyrim? Are you a superhero or a god? A villain or a nobody? As an open world RPG, it’s difficult to really be able to push the main protagonist, as you are the one who is meticulously crafting that character. I can respect that—what they did with the world is an incredible feat. I just think it needed a little more substance and depth.
For me, the Dragonborn quota isn’t pushed enough overall. If I’m the Dragonborn, I want to feel like I’m having an impact on this desolate part of the world. Players enjoy seeing development. They enjoy seeing how their own actions can change the universe you’re absorbed in. It gives us a sense of freedom and pleasure.
In real life, changing the world is a difficult task. We change the world in little bits, day by day, but there’s not always feedback. That’s why games like Skyrim should be pushing the boundaries of what you expect from a game—to feel like you are part of another universe, this character who has come from nowhere to now change the world of the Elder Scrolls. Skyrim is an older game, but Bethesda have made games before that have pushed the boundaries, like Oblivion, Skyrim’s predecessor. I enjoyed my play time with Oblivion more than I did with Skyrim. The character progression and story progression just struck me more. I was more taken away by the world of Oblivion. It feels like Skyrim is a step down from its predecessor and it’s sad because it really had the potential to be so much more, to really cement itself in the industry. For many gamers, it has. But for me, it just hasn’t.
Sometimes I wonder if the Dragonborn was a good addition to this entry in the series. You don’t need to be the Dragonborn to help Skyrim. The quest NPCs try to make you feel like you’re important because you’re this super-being; in reality, they don’t make you feel any different from the multitude of NPCs you come across in the game. That’s this game’s downfall. If I wanted to be an NPC, I’d go stand outside and watch everyone go about their day.
Bethesda has some work to do with their characters—not just the protagonist, but the characters around them. Make me feel like I’m involved, like I’m important. It all starts and ends with us. We are the deciding factor. We are the dragonborn.
So why doesn’t it feel like that?