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I’ve been playing a criminal amount of Skyrim on my Switch lately. I’m absolutely addicted: 290 hours of being addicted, to be exact. By the time I’m through here, I may well have a playtime that rivals my Breath of the Wild experience: 430 hours. Both games are phenomenal, and have earned their places as paragons of the open-world adventure titles. Yet they reach their level of acclaim in different ways: in the areas that Breath of the Wild excels in, Skyrim flounders in, and vice-versa. I figured it would be fun to elaborate on what exactly one game does better than the other. First off I’ll be addressing what Breath of the Wild does better. Keep in mind that I am playing on the Switch version of Skyrim, so I can only speak to the console version.
This has got to be, without a doubt, the biggest problem plaguing Skyrim. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to move back to a former save – losing hours of playtime in the process – or having to restart my game entirely because of some damn bug that rears its ugly head; I recently had to restart a file that I was pretty far into(working on the Solstheim DLC) because I got stuck with some bug that made it so that all the enemies and followers in the game were stuck in place, unable to attack. I’ve asked around about it and been told I just have “shit luck”, so I suppose such a game-breaking bug is a rarity, but that doesn’t excuse it. And there are numerous smaller bugs littered throughout the game that can easily screw you over; a common one is not being able to receive certain quests from NPCs. Those of us with more completionist leanings will have an absolutely HELLISH time with this.
Breath of the Wild, on the other hand, is relatively free of such issues. That’s not to say there aren’t a few hiccups; the Blood Moon is known to glitch out, and there are a few chests that, quite frustratingly, are simply inaccessible. But by and large you’ll be able to enjoy your playthrough without having to combat sloppy coding, whereas in Skyrim you will have no choice but to deal with a swarm of bugs. It’s a tragic flaw that can really damage one’s experience with the game.
Breath of the Wild’s physics engine is an absolute delight. Whether you’re coming up with a creative solution to solving a puzzle or trying to find the most convoluted way to take out an enemy that you can, it’s a blast to see all the interesting ways you can interact with your surroundings. Breath of the Wild has a level of interactivity with the environment that I haven’t seen in any other video game; whether you’re chopping down a tree to use as a bridge across a chasm or using the gusts created by a fire to soar up with your paraglider, Breath of the Wild comes as close to making you feel like a part of the in-game world as any game I’ve experienced.
Skyrim, on the other hand… not so much. There are some amusing ragdoll effects to giggle at, but beyond that there isn’t a lot to marvel at. Unlike Breath of the Wild, you won’t feel like you’re playing in a living, breathing world; whatever immersion you might get from the game sure as hell ain’t coming from the environmental interactions the physics engine allows for.
Also “climbing” in Skyrim is a bitch.
I feel that this is a crucial aspect of open-world titles; having some variety in environments as you traverse the vast expanses of the land. Nobody wants to watch their character pass by the same sort of scenery again and again like a Flintstone’s cartoon. In this regard I can appreciate Breath of the Wild’s smorgasboard approach; Hyrule is comprised of sixteen different provinces, each with a distinct appearance and feel to it. Sure, you’ve got your basic expected environments such as your green fields and snowy mountains, but you’ve got some more interesting additions as well; the Faron Jungle and Akkala region, for instance. If I get sick of seeing the grassy plains of Hyrule Field, I can just move on and start exploring a rainforest. The towns, two, have unique aesthetics; no two settlements feel the same.
I wish I could say the same for Skyrim, but alas. The land is split into nine provinces(ten if you count Solstheim DLC) known as holds, and they don’t all feel unique from one another. The fact of the matter is that most of your time in Skyrim will consist of you seeing the same sort of thing over and over; running through green expanses, sometimes with trees around, sometime not. You’ll come across a lot of mountains too, sometimes with snow, sometimes not. They do attempt to throw a bit more variety in there with a marsh environment and Solstheim, though these still end up feeling like more of the same. I can’t help but find myself wishing for a nice beach setting or a tropical jungle. And the towns don’t all feel unique either; some genuinely stand apart – Windhelm, Markarth and Solitude come to mind. But a lot of them have the same exact appearance; a cluster of ramshackle wooden houses thrown together with the same sorts of amenities; an inn, a lumber mill, maybe a shop or two. Even some of the hold capitals, which are treated as separate entities from these basic towns, end up looking the same.
Perhaps this all seems like Skyrim bashing and/or blowing smoke up Breath of the Wild’s proverbial ass, but I can assure you that is not the case; an article that addresses what Breath of the Wild could learn from Skyrim can be read here.