Lost in the Sandbox

In a relatively rare bit of Skyrim criticism, Chris Sims talks about how the open-ended nature of Skyrim, combined with the mutability of its many choices, led him to lose interest in the game. I think this is a good critique of many of the things I say arguing for open worlds, options, player choices, etc. Some of it is specific to the game, other bits apply more broadly. Most people seemed to take to Skyrim as their own little world, but I suspect we have heard less from those who found the setup less compelling.

: Zubon

I’ll pick up the PC version at some point.

12 thoughts on “Lost in the Sandbox

  1. dndhatcher

    I had the same experience with Oblivion. Played most of the main storyline but lack of having any real objective left me bored.

    This emphasizes my one real fear about GW2. Once again we will have an open world with localized problems at every turn, but no major objective outside of a personal story that is only a small chunk of the game.

    I’ve always been motivated by getting to the next region, getting high enough level to do some instance or quest chain that looked interesting or learning how to farm some boss for a piece of gear I want. GW2 will have enough of those that I am going to buy it, but I am not confident it will be a 1000 hours played the first year addiction like GW1 was for me.

  2. Jeremy Stratton

    Coincidentally, I have a friend who loves the Elder Scrolls series, has played through every bit of Oblivion, and just told me he’s lost a lot of interest in Skyrim, before getting very far.

    His reason was he thinks he power-gamed too much, from the starting gate.

    But, he still considers it the Best video game out, right now.

    1. darkeye

      I made that mistake with Oblivion, relying too much on the wiki, and needing to know everything right away. Power-gaming makes these game too easy. Avoided the wiki/guides as much as possible for Skyrim, and it is a more enjoyable experience, just to wander around and take what ever I find.

  3. Ethic

    I’ve pretty much ignored most of the game’s systems. Did a very few quests. Mostly I’ve been wandering around aimlessly and, at least in this game, I really love the lost feeling.

  4. Telwyn

    I agree both with your summary and the original article’s main points. I bought Skyrim as a PS/3 game to play as a break from always sitting in front of my PC on MMOs.

    In the end I lost interest after about 15 hours max. It is very free and sandboxy but all so bland. The story there is for the most part forgettable (other than the core dragonborn bit).

    Funnily enough I think I’d enjoy Kingdom of Amalur a whole lot more despite that games possible technical flaws – the combat is more compelling and even from the demo I felt more connected to the game world.

  5. cschwarz

    Yeah, I have to agree. I’m over 70 hours in, also playing a stealthy character, and I just can’t get myself psyched up to explore another cave or redoubt. I think it’s too free, and the main questline is just sitting there waiting to be done whenever I care to get to it, which may be never now. I have to say, the dragons are really well done.

    So, this issue is what I’m waiting to hear about with Kingdom’s of Amalur, more than any other.

  6. Jezebeau

    I enjoyed the story in a few of the main quest arcs. However, most of my experience was that of playing in an enormous, beautiful world full of filler-quality content backed by a somewhat tolerable combat system.

    It pains me to see it get such high praise. Publishers will continue to think we want graphics at the expense of all else.

  7. AlexTaldren

    I can definitely see this. The same thing happened to me with Fallout New Vegas and Oblivion. Not so much Skyrim, but I can see how it might be that way for some.

    In the end, sandbox games are much better as online games. While the choices in a single-player sandbox are left for you to discover, playing online with others allows you to define what your choices are, or at least react to the choices made by others. While the same does happen with AI and scripted events in single-player sandboxes, the longer you play, the more apparent and obvious the patterns become. When this happens, the sandbox world loses its sense of wonder, because events don’t appear as random or engaging.

  8. SynCaine

    I always wonder about the ‘filler’ claims for Skyrim. While it certainly has its fair share of copy/paste caves and such, more than a few contain some very interesting stories. The story bits are not thrown in your face like in most games, but they are certainly there in the details. I suspect many miss those details while ‘grinding’ to the ‘end-game’ item/boss at the end of the cave.

    I’ll also say that while the main storyline is good, I’ve found that many of the much smaller stories are much better IMO.

  9. Curuniel

    Interestingly, I definitely had that issue in Morrowind and Oblivion and expected the same in Skyrim – but Skyrim has kept my attention a lot longer. I can’t put my finger on what it is that’s different (if anything), but I feel like from my experience they must have improved on the formula, because I’ve done a lot more than usual and I’m not bored yet.

  10. Jeremy Stratton

    Before this fills up with nothing but anti-comments, I will add my opinion from a new-player perspective.

    I was out of the loop with anything except MMOs, for 5+ years now. I just haven’t played any console or PC games, since around 2005.

    My friends and I share the same opinions that some of today’s games: Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas and Skyrim are the best games in the world and nothing comes close to how good they are. That’s really layering on the cheese, but it’s to contrast the anti-comments building up, and it’s still accurate to say.

    Side note: I t;hink Skyrim serves to point out a wonderful habit of players – gaming the system.

    Can you grind in Skyrim? Yes. Can you get tired of grind? Yes. Can I get bored and tired of Skyrim, because it’s nothing but a grind? Yes.

    To me it just further puts into perspective what is actually part of the players input, perception or problem and what is effectively bad vs good game design.

    1. Jabberwockist

      A woman walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, “Doctor, you’ve got to help me. Every time I feed my husband strawberry jam, he goes crazy and acts like a chicken. He scratches up the carpet, tries to perch on the counter tops, and embarrasses me and little Jimmy in front of the neighbors.”

      “Gee, that sounds horrible,” says the doctor. “But why don’t you just stop giving your husband strawberry jam?”

      “Well, I would,” says the woman, “but we need the eggs!”

      Will apologies to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, the moral of the story is: Humans will continue to perform the action that rewards them with eggs (or gold or XP) long after that action ceases to be fun. Part of good game design is putting the eggs where players have to slog through the fun in order to get them.

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