Real quick before bed, here’s my problem with Skyrim’s default autosave leading to regularly redoing chunks of the game: while fun at times, the combat isn’t particularly skillful or strategic, which means that if I die fighting (pretty much the only way to die as long as you don’t slip off of a ledge or into a trap), things aren’t going to be much different the next time around. I’ll simply get back to where I was, and do things slightly more conservatively and heal a bit more often. You essentially (almost) always have the choice to survive if you’re adamant on doing so, especially if you’re willing to run. Going into a fight, it’s easy to tell whether I can probably beat an enemy or whether I probably can’t (and have to come back later) – dying most often comes from carelessness.
To me, progress in Skyrim is measured in exploration, finding/seeing/doing/gathering new things, and advancing my character’s “story”. So when I’ve lost 20 minutes of exploring and accomplishing even minor things because I died, it’s entirely discouraging and in no way additive to the experience. I don’t really take anything away from dying (except to be slightly more careful when/if I get back to where I died), and I have nothing to show for it – either experientially, since my experiences within that time and my effect on the world are wiped from history (and so tied to the enjoyment of the game), or more tangibly, in loot/XP/quest progress. For me, it feels like wasted time, pulls me out of the experience, and is especially frustrating in a game where you’re otherwise constantly making progress of one sort of another just by existing in the world.
I had a similar problem with Deus Ex: Human Revolution when I tried playing it a few months ago. I would spend my time carefully sneaking through a level until I was seen by an enemy, try to shoot my way out, and inevitably die. As soon as I respawned, what lay before me was doing the exact same thing I had just done up until the point at which I made the mistake, and trying to do it better. I can handle trial-and-error, but when I have to go through the motions just to have another shot at the trial, count me out. If anything, it will make me even more careless, rushed and disconnected the second time through.
I put 140+ hours into Oblivion, and I’m quite enjoying Skyrim, but I just can’t understand that lingering punitive element in modern design. What’s the downside to – at the very least – letting me keep my XP when I die? Or only kicking me back to right before I initiated the fatal encounter? Or – and this is a very subjective suggestion since it would be right up my alley and few others’ – why not kick you back to the sickbed of the closest town you were in before you died? It may take longer to get back to where you were for another shot at success, but your actions in the world would always be wonderfully permanent. (And yes, I realize that some quests would have to be redesigned around this.)
Or hey, why not borrow the brilliant narrative conceit of dying/retrying in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, where the Prince/narrator would simply say “No, it didn’t happen like that” and let you reset to right before where you died? The storybook nature of Skyrim’s adventure seems like the next best fit for it. I just feel like there has to be a better way; I want to be immersed, and I want to be challenged, but I want my progress in such an impressionable, personal world to be permanent, rather than always only having the potential to be.