I’ve been quiet about Skyrim on here because, really, I don’t have anything nice to say. I mostly rebought it on PC as a point of comparison to Dragon’s Dogma and found it unexciting. I still think it’s a technically impressive, if buggy, game, but it desperately needs an actual writer or at least somebody to explain that nobody gives a crap about Tamriel to the entire Bethesda team.
A friend of mine, a true evangelist playing the series since the DOS days, invited me over to try Hearthfire on his Xbox 360. This was new! This was exciting! This totally adds to the dynamics of the game! This will change your mind!
And he’s right. It did. This makes me want to find Alduin and code in a new dialogue tree that lets me team up with him to dragonshout Nirn out of existence.
If there’s one word I could use to describe Hearthfire it’s “self-satisfied”. This is really nothing more than the more boring parts of Fable smushed together with a poor man’s Minecraft. It’s fairly straightforward. Build a house, hire employees, adopt annoying little brats, marry somebody, and discover that this is actually all kind of horrible and unpleasant and draining. The game acts like you should be grateful to it for giving you this opportunity, for turning what should be fun into a job.
This isn’t a game mechanic. It’s a Tamogotchi with delusions of grandeur. Granted that this is entirely optional, but the entire appeal of the game was hunting down dragons, killing them, and generally trashing the place. Now you have to do all that, but you also have the almighty pain in the ass of maintaining a home and family while you do it. None of these people can, apparently, do a goddamn thing for themselves, as my friend demonstrated repeatedly. I haven’t seen a game so nakedly manipulative since Nintendogs, where booting it up after leaving it for a week showed you a sad, dirty puppy.
If you disagree with me, and I’m sure many do, play someone else’s game. When you have zero emotional investment in the character, suddenly a lot becomes clear about the game and Hearthfire, and none of it is nice. This is an attempt to get you to keep playing the game long after you should have dumped it by getting you emotionally invested in the “world”. Anything to keep you buying DLC, because selling twelve million copies of the game just wasn’t enough money.
That’s really kind of vile, and worse, the content is unengaging (children in Skyrim turn out only to be fun as cannon fodder). In general, there’s a tendency to upsell in gaming lately that’s irritating. I’m spending $60 on Borderlands 2 and Gearbox is already excitedly talking about the $30 DLC season passes they’re going to sell. Not to me you’re not, guys.
Meanwhile Blizzard is whining about how people aren’t obsessively playing Diablo III forever and ever like they’ve got lives or something, Resident Evil 6 is trying to get me to join a crappy version of Facebook so I can buy my characters fancy pants and show my friends how many zombies I’ve kicked in the nards, and now Bethesda wants to me to marry a goddamn game and make a life with it.
The pleasant thing about a game eating your life for a while is that eventually it lets go. You complete the quest. You beat the game. You win. That’s the entire idea. It’s part of why we game, to feel that sense of achievement, of completion.
Game developers apparently are no longer satisfied with that and want me to be their girlfriend, or at least what they think is a girlfriend. Instead they’re turning into a creepy stalker. So, come on, Alduin. Let’s do this thing. This planet has outstayed its welcome.