Alduin, All Disappoint: Skyrim Confuses Non-Linear Questing with Non-Climactic Storytelling
So I finally finished Skyrim's main story quest, where you must find and defeat Alduin, the existence-threatening "World Eater" dragon god -- yes, it took four months -- and here's my reaction encapsulated in a single image (SPOILERS if you haven't finished yet):
After 60-plus hours of world-exploring and questing, throughout which you're informed by multiple characters that Alduin threatens all Skyrim, and you -- only you, Dovahkiin! -- can defeat him, but only if you become as powerful as he, you finally get to confront him and... he rolls over in about five minutes. I defeated him while only level 25 (mid-range, for a player character), and did so on my first attempt. Thinking that might have just been luck, I tried twice more -- and beat him two more times, with even less difficulty. This final battle only deepens an existing disappointment, because it's actually the second time you fight Alduin -- you have a brief skirmish with him several quests before this battle -- when he's also easily defeated. So what the player experiences with Alduin (lightweight opponent) is totally at odds with what the NPCs say about him (World! Eater!) Does Bethesda know how to create a super-villain?
I'm really surprised there's been such a gamer outrage about Mass Effect 3's ending being anti-climatic and disappointing, while I've heard hardly any fuss about Skyrim's utterly meh climax. Thanks to Skyrim's non-linear quest design, I still have maybe twenty random, unfinished quests which now seem pretty pointless. I know Bethseda wants the game to be as non-linear as possible, but the central mission thread should have required a lot more progress on the other quest lines before a player even gets a chance to get into the final conflict. (There's a literal gatekeeper guarding the entrance to the final battle. It would be trivial to add a requirement that a player have to complete X quests or reach Y levels before being allowed to fight it.) The player should feel like he's mastered the world before he can deserve to try mastering the, you know, world eater.
Make no mistake, Skyrim is still a masterpiece, but I'm perplexed why a studio so talented as Bethesda would put so much effort into a storyline with such a major shortcoming. My only guess is they wanted to make it relatively easy for less hardcore players to finish the main story quest. If you check Steam's player stays for Skyrim, only about 30% played long enough to defeat Alduin. So curiously, most players lose interest in the game before the 50-60 hours it may take to reach the end of that quest line. But if defeating Alduin felt more like an absolute accomplishment and a summation of all that you've done through the entire game, and felt so fully epic that you wanted to tell all your friends that you had done so, I bet many more than 30% would make the effort. Or at the very least, the 30% of us who did would feel a lot less disappointed.