I’ve never played an Elder Scrolls game in my life, partially because I never had the correct console and partially because I prefer my fantasy games to be a little more candy coated, at least on the surface (Undertale and Kingdom Hearts, anyone?). That said, I’ve heard a lot about them – from gaming sites that sang their praises to friends who spent hours getting good at picking locks to random internet users who realized that taking an arrow to the knee was memetic gold and sprinted with it – so when Bethesda announced on Sunday that The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim had been ported to the Amazon Alexa, I figured I’d give it a shot.
Turns out the Alexa port of Skyrim is full-on ridiculous and I love it.
Bethesda is well aware that this port is unexpected and just shy of being an outright prank. The Alexa skill is entitled Skyrim Very Special Edition and is touted as “the version of Skyrim you never saw coming has finally arrived on the platform you never asked for” in its About section. Listed game features include:
Encounter people who constantly need your help
Guard your knees against arrows
Fatally harm mudcrabs
Fight another dragon
Walk straight up a mountain instead of going around
Fail to collect all the stones of Barenziah for like the 5th time
There’s probably mead in there somewhere
Which is to say, Bethesda knows exactly what it’s doing here.
But that jokingly obvious wink at its core audience is working out fairly well: Skyrim Very Special Edition is actually a lot of fun to play, albeit for short stretches at a time. The gameplay consists of Alexa describing a situation and giving you options, much like a voice-only Zork update. A quest tends to consist of you choosing a location to travel to (so far I’ve hit heavily fortified towns, spooky lighthouses, and small temples), accepting some flavor of fetch quest from a local NPC, having about three random combat encounters and a boss fight during the execution of said quest, and bringing the item back to said NPC in order to get paid and do it all over again.
I’ve played for about half an hour at a stretch – long enough for half a dozen fetch quests – and the biggest downsides I’ve come across are control limitations and repetitive gameplay. It’s not a D&D campaign, and you can’t ask Alexa for clarification: I once asked her if a spiral staircase was leading up or down, and all she did was repeat my options. (I took the staircase and fought a frost wolf, for whatever that’s worth.) Also, the sheer repetitiveness of quests means extended play gets fairly frustrating fairly quickly, given that Alexa lists all of your unchanging combat options for every round of combat regardless of how long you’ve been playing or how many times you’ve heard them before. Random encounters also tend to repeat. The first obsessive fanboy whose attempted hugs did five damage was hilarious; after I had to dispatch the third one in a row, I started to worry about the amount of wanton homicide I was committing.
That said, fanboys with damaging hugs is one aspect of the game’s biggest strength: its sense of humor. Bethesda seized the opportunity to poke fun at one of its most popular games and ran with it, scattering joyful little in-jokes everywhere along the way. Leaning into the joke works incredibly well for this Skyrim port, in a snide sort of fashion: upon her initial explanation of the combat commands, Alexa informs the player that, as the great hero, they’ll “obviously never need to flee or check [their] health,” a wink at overblown gaming machismo that also lets the player know that those commands are available if needed. Additionally, Alexa’s deadpan mechanical tones lend an extra level of snark to the narration. Upon completion of a quest, Alexa narrated me finding a secret passageway that led directly to the exit. The “boy, that’s convenient,” added at the end and delivered with zero inflection had me cackling.
At its core, Skyrim Very Special Edition is a fun game for short stretches at a time, perfect for a neat party trick or killing time during housework. It’s not a replacement for the full Skyrim game, but that’s okay – it’s not meant to be. It’s a fun little in-joke between Bethesda and everyone who used to be an adventurer like you until they took an arrow to the knee, made with love and delivered via Amazon. Happy questing, everyone, and beware of fanboys with damage-dealing hugs.
Skyrim Very Special Edition is available as a skill in the Amazon Alexa app.
— Katie Cullen