LTTP: Skyrim’s Main Quest


After three years I finally hopped back into Skyrim and completed its main quest. Coming off other recent open world games, Skyrim only entrenches my opinion that most of these games treat their main stories as secondary, even if their developers might not realize it.

I decided to do whatever it is I wanted to do with Skyrim before I hopped into The Witcher 3, perhaps to have a good frame of reference when comparing the open world RPGs, or maybe because I have a feeling Witcher 3 will alter my opinion of Skyrim if I ever try to return to it. In any case, part of this involved trying to bolt through the main quest in exclusion of almost everything else with a 100 percent vanilla PC install and an Xbox controller before hopping into mods.

Someone told me Skyrim really just wants you to wander around. That was pretty evident in 2011 from how it often gives you quests half-way across the land from where you currently are so you can run into a dozen more adventures on the way there. I only really noticed it though when I tried to remain focused on the main quest. I had to make great effort to ignore caves or bandit camps I might cross. This actually left me underleveled for one part in particular towards the end. Fast traveling anywhere I’d already been pretty much removed the entire “adventure” feel of the game, turning Skyrim’s main quest into a bunch of conversations, lore study, and a few dungeons worth of combat.

Bethesda’s recent games are actually the first RPGs I’d ever played not made in Japan, and the way games from each side of the Pacific treat their main quests is one of the huge differences between them. In most big JRPGs I’ve experienced the main quest is about half the game’s overall content and the main driving force in where you go. You typically stick to the main quest and do side stuff as it comes along, sometimes cleaning up anything left behind just as doomsday is hovering over the world in the final act.

I behaved with that expectation in mind the first time I played through Fallout 3. Eventually I started wondering why I wasn’t seeing much side content or why I hadn’t seen large parts of the world map yet. That’s another thing: a JRPG’s main quest usually takes you on a grand tour of the whole world. I had to forcibly rip myself form Fallout 3’s main quest to start to see the rest of the game, and then forcefully reinsert myself to finish it.

At least Fallout 3’s main quest climaxed with a sense of finality (especially before the expansions) and rolled the credits. After you beat the main bad guy in Skyrim everybody kinda just says congratulations and you go on your way, as if it was all just another quest. There’s no feeling that you “beat” the game, just massive sections of the map still unexplored.

I think I’ve said before I tend to like this balance of being able to finish an RPG’s main quest in 15 hours and then choosing to spend 40 or 400 hours exploring the game further. Skyrim however de-emphasizes its main quest so much I wonder why it’s even there. Could Bethseda or somebody else get away with making a game like this that just doesn’t have a main quest?

That’s kind of what No Man’s Sky is going to be — a massive universe with no constant impetus to do one specific thing. It and games like Minecraft are billed as worlds in which you sort of just hang out, and that’s actually how I’ve begun to see Skyrim. I’ve been told you never really feel “finished” with Skyrim and maybe that’s why. It’s kind of a virtual land you simply inhabit instead of trying to “complete.”

I already have plans to start a completely new character with the Alternate Start mod and just try to pretend the main story isn’t there.


  • Another interesting-looking mobile game that will never come out in English.
  • There’s this new space game coming out from the developers of some other good games.
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