In another one of their "Burning Questions" features, a couple of Kotaku's editors proceed to dispute the virtues of the worlds we explored in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, though there is also some talk about The Witcher 2, Mass Effect 3, Game of Thrones, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and some JRPGs thrown in for good measure.
Kirk: I have noticed that in Trails in the Sky—every NPC has something to say that makes them seem like a real person, which in turn makes the world feel more real, despite the fact that it's a fairly generic airshippy monstery JRPG world.
Jason: Right—the world itself is nothing particularly special or interesting, but because it's filled with these lovable, charming characters, it feels exciting every step of the way. All I wanted to do was wander from city to city, hearing what everyone had to say. And, you know, that's something that's lacking in a lot of Western RPGs.
Kirk: Skyrim, for example. I still love that game, and bless its heart, but the characters are so screamingly superficial and wooden that it makes the entire world feel flimsy and strange. But then, the world of Skyrim is convincing in other ways.
Jason: It has its own charms. Like when you walk into an abandoned lighthouse, you don't need an NPC to tell you some shit has gone down in there. You have to piece the mystery together by checking cabinets and reading notes from the people who once lived there.
Kirk: Ha, I just found that lighthouse!
Jason: It's creepy, right?
Kirk: Man, who on earth would bring their family out to that desolate hellhole and expect to survive?
Oh man, let's talk for like five thousand words about Skyrim sidequests. (Wait, let's not do that.)
I think that the fact that I would happily do that says a lot about why Skyrim's lore and world interest me more than Amalur's.
Jason: For you, that lighthouse—and all the other moments of environmental storytelling in Skyrim—were enough to get you hooked. But if you never have those moments—and I presume you never had a moment like that in Amalur—you'll never really be invested, even when a game feels like it should be "good."