The latest in an endless string of remakes, rereleases, HD remasters, and ports for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim probably seems like a total joke, but somehow the Skyrim Very Special Edition that brings Skyrim to Alexa-enabled Amazon Echo devices is 100 percent real. And it’s somehow kind of delightful to play.
During Bethesda’s E3 showcase, the company aired a commercial starring Keegan-Michael Key during which the actor-comedian played an audio-only version of Skyrim by interacting with Alexa via an Amazon Echo smart home device. “Skyrim and life become one!” the commercial’s narrator says.
For anyone familiar with both interacting with Alexa and playing Skyrim, the video is full of relatable predicaments like Alexa not hearing Key properly, and when he runs out of Health Potions so he decides to eat a ton of cheese instead.
Shockingly, the Skyrim Very Special Edition video is much more than a good comedic bit meant to tease fans before a genuine The Elder Scrolls VI teaser. You might as well consider the video a legitimate launch trailer because you can really play it on Alexa devices. It plays like a low-key audio Dungeons & Dragons experience, which is sort of perfect in a way.
The bulk of the experience feels like a procedurally generated choose-your-own-adventure. You pick between two or three options every few moments.
Do you want to go to the fishing village or small shack? Go deeper into the smelly cave or through the wooden door? There’s a degree of sameness to each “new” experience that we often ignore in regular Skyrim because of the visual spectacle. What’s “Very Special” about this version is its honesty in that regard.
The formula is identical for every quest: Encounter generic NPC who sends you to “Scary Place” to retrieve “Prized Possession.” I’ve already had to find a priceless family heirloom, a lost journal, and a stolen wedding band. I’ve been in caves, ruins, and dark forests. I’ve fought wolves, Mudcrabs, and even a “Deranged Khajiit.” In each battle, I can attack with a weapon, a spell, my Shout, or flee.
The E3 commercial oversells how complex your interactions with Alexa can get. The real experience is much more streamlined: You can’t choose your weapon, what spell you use, or interact with an item inventory in any way. I encountered more than a few Flame Atronarchs, but I couldn’t choose the Frost spell that would be effective.
The bland repetition of combat is inherently mindless, but there’s a certain charm to this game being such an uncomplicated and novel parody of the normal Skyrim experience, which can get quite complex and overwhelming in its scope.
In a very real way, Skyrim Very Special Edition feels like you’re playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons with Alexa as your Dungeon Master, except she’s been programmed to offer sassy commentary and meta-analysis at every step. It’s boring, but it’s boring with intent. And it helps that you can scream at Alexa if you want, and the game will keep going.
The bland repetition and lack of more nuanced choices regarding your character’s loadout might seem too dull in the Very Special Edition, but Alexa’s excellent meta-commentary along the way really elevates the experience.
Like “real” Dungeons & Dragons, the quality of the Skyrim Very Special Edition is limited only by your imagination and the creativity of your DM. Here, that creativity manifests as excellent robot dry humor.
From one quest, I got an ancient key as the reward. “Good luck figuring out which door this belongs to,” Alexa said to me immediately. Later, after I killed a Mudcrab with a spell, she said, “Winterfell College really paid off.” When I encountered the aforementioned “Deranged Khajiit” in a dank cave full of giant cobwebs, Alexa noted that he looked like a frightened kitten (“Which makes a lot of sense when you stop and think about it.”) We get it, Khajiit are cat people. After I defeated the Khajiit: “You hop down a ledge and find yourself at the cave’s entrance,” Alexa said. “Neat!”
Alexa’s at her best during the interludes between quests, when Alexa freestyles and I lose all control. Once, I went to a nearby village and “ignored” the minstrel in the tavern at night. Instead, I broke “into several innocent people’s homes” and was “run out of town” after they caught me “stealing their worthless possessions.” This kind of experience peak Elder Scrolls no matter what the medium.
If there’s a complaint to be had for this ridiculous Skyrim port that shouldn’t even exist, it’s that it could be genuinely good if it had just a touch more nuance. Choose-your-own adventures are fun in any medium, and encountering an interactive audio-based one narrative by Amazon Alexa feels like a fun and totally bizarre approach to the subgenre.
Skyrim Very Special Edition is currently available as an Alexa Skill for Amazon Echo devices.