For a game that's now 20 years old, that many people have played, replayed, rage quit, returned to, and bought across several platforms, you think Skyrim would have updated its UI. But alas, it has left itself open to be critiqued by me after being out for 10 years and no one asking.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a 2011 open world rpg developed by Bethesda Game Studios. It has been nearly 7 times in the last 10 years across multiple platforms. Love it or hate it, its hard to deny that this game is popular. But with all of these releases, they never considered fixing their UI! There have been articles already talking about this since the game was released, but hey! I have time to complain about a game I’ve played for the last decade.
Now, there is absolutely no denying that when it comes to bugs, Bethesda has made a reputation for itself. At least they’re honest about it.
Frankly, for optimal UI, your best bet is to download the SkyUI mod, which is available on PC and Xbox. The rest of us on PS4 and Switches are out of luck and left with this:
All of that space to showcase: a single key.
That's a lot of space for a singular item. The developers might as well have done this if they were going to troll us properly.
The main menu takes up 1/5th of the screen at best, the sub-menu takes up another 5th, and the majority of the page has nothing on it.
For such a beautiful game (to which, the graphics still hold up fairly well),
the menu is disappointing, to say the least. The text is too thin and there’s not enough contrast between inactive items and the opaque background chosen. There’s a massive amount of scrolling that has to be done to find anything in this game, and if you don’t remember the name of your item then best of luck finding it while scrolling. The inventory in this game is a mess. Alphabetical order definitely helps, but when you have 100+ in your inventory, it only goes so far.
An additional gripe: you can’t see what you have equipped in the menu. The only way to do so is to close the menu and change your camera. This same issue goes for sicknesses you may have gotten without realizing from a nasty fight with a vampire deep in the woods. Until an NPC gives you the cold shoulder or implies that you look like you’re going to keel over, you have to go digging through your spell menu to see if you have an active curse on you.
These issues are more prevalent in the crafting systems that Skyrim has. The only available potions or items to craft are bolded, but if you’re looking to make something specific, you scroll until you remember where it is, then have to remember what those ingredients are because there is no way to tag or favorite them. So yeah, best of luck there.
The one upside about the Inventory/Weapons Menu is that you can favorite items. Though, you have to remember that you can do that. I will admit that I love the general stats menu in the game. It's one of my favorite things to browse and see how sleep-deprived my character is or how high my local bounty is or how many animals I’ve slaughtered.
Ever selected more than one quest? Good luck finding it on these incredible maps.
Can you find your location on these maps at first glance? Imagine having vision problems since the 4th grade and trying to find it in the middle of a weekday.
Frankly, the graphics/visuals for representing the terrain is still some of my favorites because it easily shows elevation changes, the climate, and bodies of water. But all the landmarks are white. There’s no key for what each marker means, so you have to figure it out as you discover more places. Not the best resolution but it works.
What hurts the most is just how bland the map looks overall. Granted, Skyrim is the northernmost part of the continent, but the addition of only why icons on top of that easily blend into the surroundings, where the usage of brighter/warmer colors could help differentiate the icons from the terrain better, as well as tell the player where they are vs where their objective is.
The Skill System
So I have been playing Skyrim for almost 10 years now. My parents bought my younger brother my first game console in 2012, thinking it would be fun for him to play video games. So when I managed to buy my copy of Skyrim, I spent so much time on it that I maxed out my character in a few months.
Tell me why I still don’t understand where each skill is on that dumb map. Why? It's been a decade and I still get lost. I love the idea of upgrading skills as a branching constellation, but I HATE the process of finding those stupid stars.
The Good: The Loading Screen
Bethesda has had some of my favorite loading screens this last decade.
They’re simple and effective! You get a hint and something to interact with while waiting for your page to load. The models that they have presented are highly detailed and nice to look at. They’re weapons you may not have found yet with a tidbit exploring the lore. It's an enemy you’ve fought before with a hint on a better way to fight them.
Overall, they keep you entertained while waiting to go to the next screen. That’s good user experience.
When it comes to designing a HUD, I like saying that less is more. Skyrim understands that.
When not in active combat, the only bar you see is your navigation. And that? Chef’s kiss. Beautiful. Clear. Lovely.
Then you get into combat and wow! All the needed bars fade in to remind you to eat 3 cheese wheels before you die. They sit at the bottom of the screen to not get in the way of the combat.
Skyrim will probably get another 5 re-releases in the next decade. The chances that they will finally update their UI? Slim to none. But there’s nothing quite like sword fighting a dragon to the point where you can one shot it. Just to hit a chicken and get run out of the town you saved. If there was ever a Gaming Hall of Fame, Skyrim has absolutely earned its place.
And with that, Dovahkin, I’m signing off to find who stole my sweet roll.