Skyrim is Not the Best RPG of All Time

Skyrim is Not the Best RPG of All Time

A brief rebuttal.

Lists are a necessary evil in our line of work. They're fun to write, they're fun to argue over, and they pay the bills. They're also mostly subjective, which is one reason I'm usually content to let them pass without comment. But I'm going to have to take issue with Game Informer choosing Skyrim as the best RPG in their recent Top 100 list: It's not.

I say this as someone with plenty of love in her heart for Skyrim, which retains a loyal following to this day. It's striking to look at; it's huge, and it's ambitious. Skyrim's dragon battles in particular are some of the most memorable gaming experiences I've ever had. But whether you judge an RPG on its story, its systems, or its raw roleplaying, Skyrim comes up short.

Skyrim in a nutshell.

So let's break this down really quickly. Skyrim is famous for being a huge open-world RPG—one that attempts to translate triple-A setpieces into a massive sandbox. At its best, it can be awe-inspiring. At its worst, it looks something like the image above.

Those who are critical of Skyrim—and Skyrim has a legion of detractors—tend to focus on its story. In typical Bethesda fashion, it sets up a really interesting conflict between the racist Nords and the expansionist Empire, then completely loses the plot about halfway through, forcing you into a binary decision in which you have to choose one faction or another. In a series that's ostensibly about the freedom to forge your own path, that's unforgivable.

Editor's pick

The 15 Best Games Since 2000: The Complete List

Editor's pick

Skyrim Remastered: Bethesda's Impossible Task

But that's Elder Scrolls for you: a series that cares more about the illusion of freedom than the actual substance of it. Sure, you can get married to a werewolf and join the Assassin's Guild; but when it comes time to make a real difference in the world, Skyrim flinches. Its determination to tell a particular story inevitably comes at the expense of the illusion of agency, railroading players into a choice that they don't want to make. This is Fallout 4's problem as well, by the way.

Bethesda RPGs of late.

For those who are more systems oriented, Skyrim is equally disappointing. You're overpowered almost from the start, able to easily jump between multiple skill trees while wielding magic and powerful attack abilities. There's little strategy to Skyrim's combat, which typically entails crouching in the shadows and sniping enemies from afar, then spamming the Dragonborn's Shout powers when they get too close.

Where Skyrim excels is in being, well, big. It features a memorable world with a ton of quests to complete. It has some really memorable setpieces, and it lets you do things like become a vampire. The Assassin's Guild and Mage's College quests in particular are a delight. For that reason, I've typically been one of Skyrim's foremost defenders on the USgamer staff.

But best RPG of all time? Oh no. Oh definitely not.

There are just too many superior experiences out there to call an RPG largely propped up by its modding community the best of all time. If you want a superior story, there's Planescape Torment and Persona 4. If you want great systems, you can play Divinity: Original Sin. And if you want an RPG with a memorable open world, then for god's sake, play The Witcher 3.

Skyrim will certainly live on as one of the most popular games of all time; but as an RPG fan, I'm loathe to overstate its relative merits. It's relatively successful in its (extremely ambitious) goals, but despite its ongoing popularity, it's too flawed to seriously call the best RPG of all time. And that's all I've got to say about that.

Love roleplaying games? Check out our weekly RPG podcast Axe of the Blood God, which updates every Friday! Subscribe to us on iTunes or listen to us on Soundcloud! We've also got a detailed look at the best Skyrim mods for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

Related articles

Kat, Mat, and Eric's Top 10 Games of 2020

Our favorites of the year, from those who remain.

USG's Top 20 Games of 2020

From thirsty gods to avaricious raccoons, these were our favorite games in 2020.

Cyberpunk 2077 Review: Death by a Thousand Cyber-Cuts

Even if you get beyond the bugs, it's just not worth it.

Need help?

Witcher 3: How to Start the Blood and Wine DLC and Meet Its Level Requirements

We explain how to get to Toussaint and what level you should be when you do.

Witcher 3: All the Correct Play Lines in "The Play's the Thing" Quest

We explain how to perform the Doppler's play with Priscilla, as well as whether to choose tragedy or comedy.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Mystery Gift Codes List (January 2020)

You can get free gifts in Pokemon Sword and Shield by entering certain Mystery Gift Codes. Here’s a full list of all the active codes available right now.

The Outer Worlds Shrink Ray - How to Get the Unique Shrink Ray Science Weapon

This is where you can get the Shrink Ray science weapon in The Outer Worlds, one of the unique weapons in the game.