The Elder Scrolls VI

Skyrim, the fifth game of the renowned and awesome game series “The Elder Scrolls” has been released to a lot of general praise (only darkened a bit by the many bugs). It has gotten several “perfect” scores and on every top ten of 2011 list, it is number one or very close to the top. Not bad. I am huge fan myself1. But is this really all this game series can offer us?

In my opinion, the last big innovation in the Elder Scrolls series was Morrowind (The Elder Scrolls III). An entire island, carefully hand crafted, a lot of story lines, a very deep interaction and the most beautiful water ever — Morrowind was extremely impressive. With Oblivion (TES IV), they’ve improved and expanded upon Morrowind in many ways. And so did they with Skyrim, always optimizing the interface, the gameplay and the experience. With Skyrim, I think Bethesda has managed to make the perfect Morrowind. Well, almost: They could get rid of the mud crabs. And if you wanted, you could probably find twenty thousand other areas where they could make an even better Morrowind. But I think it is time to think about how the entire concept can be expanded.

Because for all the things that are awesome, all those games are characterized by shared limitations and issues. In some cases, Bethesda has tried to work around that; in others, they just pretend they don’t exist. But there is room for more in the series than just polish and a new country and storyline. Here are some of my ideas.

Make the world our own

One of the greatest thing about all Elder Scroll games is that they are never the same for two different people. How do your build your character? What weapons and tactics do you prefer? What quests do you do and in what order? You can truly make your game experience your own and build your completely unique character. I’d like to see this expanded to the entire world.

Right now, you can buy houses and upgrade them. Morrowind allowed you to build houses, and both Skyrim and Oblivion had a huge destruction of a smaller town at the beginning. But those are replacing one pre-designed part of the world with another. I want to be able to build my own a small farm in the plains east of Whiterun, to construct a bridge over a river or to plant or destroy a forest. In all the story lines, I am the chosen one, so why shouldn’t I be able to form the country to my liking?

People, not NPC

The NPCs have gotten better over time, but that was mainly the interaction with them. The writing has always been quite good. But at the end of the day, they remain simple conversation-dispensers. They do not act, and it is not really possible to build a relationship with them. Actually, all games try to give you a way to connect with them, either with a “likes me” meter, or in Skyrim even by marrying them – and it is all horrible, feeling incredibly fake. Compared to other (admittedly less vast) games such as the Half-Life series, it’s disappointing.

This is a big request, and I don’t know what it would take. Maybe real gestures? Maybe people who do more than just stand around or continue whatever they were doing while talking to you? Maybe spouses who have more than five conversation options and show more care than an employee who says “my love” a lot? It’s difficult, but even though it improved on Morrowind and Oblivion, Skyrim is still not that good at making conversation engaging.

Use physics

Right now, there are two gameplay uses for the physics engine introduced in Oblivion: Make a noise to draw people away, and put a bucket over a shopkeeper’s head so he won’t notice you stealing all his things. It does not have to be see-saw puzzles all the time, but more interesting uses for physics would sound great. The game has magic; why not some telekinesis?

Partly related to that: Ships and water have always been a big part of the Morrowind-like games, but I can’t use a boat or sit on the dock of the bay and watch the ships roll in. I don’t think I could either, given the current game engine, and I think the game is missing out on interesting opportunities due to that.

One of many

In all games, I am the chosen one, destined to rise to the top of whatever organization I join2, and for good reason: I am the only one who can actually do stuff. I guess that makes sense: It would certainly be annoying to go on a quest but realize that another random adventurer has already done the job for me (even if he got an arrow in the knee). But it also makes the world empty, and it gets weird when I get a job that involves taking a letter to someone living maybe twenty meters away from the sender. I would like to see NPCs actually traveling, doing things on their own account instead of hiring me to go to the store for them. If I could hire some adventurer to do a boring quest for me, I really wouldn’t mind. In an ideal world, I could maybe even teach other NPCs things and get money for that (or not, if they are my allies. Lydia could really use a better sneaking skill).

Balancing that with the idea that the player should initiate all major actions, as well as the need for key NPCs to be available most of the time (e.g. Shopkeepers, people I need for a quest) will not be trivial. I just don’t think the world feels alive enough as it is.

The inside was outside

Skyrim is based on a clear and distinct separation between inside and outside. Any inside is a new level with precisely defined transitions to other areas and no interaction between them. As a result, if you are inside a house, you cannot expect to be able to look out, and things that happen on the inside have no influence on the outside and vice versa. You can easily flee a dragon attack by going into a house, and you’ll be safe there.

This is annoying in terms of graphics. I mean, what’s the point of having amazing, beautiful vistas like Markarth or Solitude if we can’t look at them from the houses we buy there? But in terms of gameplay, it is just silly. Bandits in a room do not notice if I kill all their friends right outside the door, for example. Those seams may be among the most annoying things about the entire graphics engine. Which, of course, needs to be replaced to make this request work.

The Rest

There are many other things one could want as well. More variety than just “go to a dungeon and kill everything there” for 50% of the quests would be nice. Wildlife that does not always want to kill you would be a plus (they already managed to do so for bandits). But by themselves, those would be optimizations on the current formula, not really something new.

  1. Although it did give me motion sickness at first. The trick, at least for me: Set field of view to 90°. You can do that in the console: Just hit the left-most key in the number row, type fov 90 and press the same key again to leave. 

  2. Except the Imperial Bard’s College. They send me on quests to gather instruments they accidentally left in zombie-filled dungeons, but will they ever teach me to sing or play music? Nope. Well, screw you guys. 

Written on December 29th, 2011 at 04:25 pm


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