Over recent years, I think it is fair so to say Bethesda has been somewhat underwhelming. Fallout 4 was a diluted, barren wasteland. Fallout 76 and ESO were some of the worst received titles, especially for a company of Bethesda’s prestige. Don’t even get me started on the Skyrim re-releases. They managed to save face with Tamriel Unlimited, but, all the lights are flashing at this point. I want the Elder Scrolls VI to blow us all away. But, nothing that I have seen Bethesda produce recently has filled me with hope.
ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK
It has been argued that over the years, and as the franchise has gone on, the Elder Scrolls has traded depth in gameplay for mainstream appeal. Since the days of Morrowind, Bethesda has removed many skill trees in order to have a wider appeal. Many skill trees have been merged into one in order to simplify progression. A key example of this being the ‘one-handed’ and ‘two-handed’ skill trees in Skyrim. In Morrowind, spears, axes, long swords and blunt weapons are all separate and had to be developed individually.
Skyrim also removed one of my favourite systems from the two prior games, classes. The class system in both Oblivion and Morrowind allowed for unique playstyles that a player would have to follow. This is fundamentally more immersive in a role-playing sense. If you are a mage and you learn magic quickly, you will have to adapt to play as a magic-user. When playing Oblivion, the player would pick seven ‘major skills’. These skills would receive a twenty point stat boost., plus these skills would develop faster. The player would also choose two favoured abilities; strength, speed, willpower, etc. These would receive a five point stat bonus. Players could design a unique class that fits their playstyle perfectly.
This was not the case in Skyrim. The fifth installment removed the class system and the ability development completely, instead opting for linear, periodic stat boosts to health, stamina and magic, the player choosing one to improve per level. A clear step backward in the eyes of many players.
IS SKYRIM REALLY THAT GREAT?
I feel that I have already established the fact that Skyrim was much more streamlined than prior installments, but one of the best-selling role-playing games ever can’t be that bad, surely? Of course, Skyrim isn’t a bad game. It is to many, one of the best RPGs of all-time. But does it represent the traditional concept of the Elder Scrolls franchise? Skyrim is the first mainline game that has a distinguishable mascot. The player is Dragonborn, being able to absorb the souls of slain dragons and harness their powers. That’s pretty cool. The prior games introduced the player as a prisoner who is not special by any metric. The accomplishments of the player in previous Elder Scrolls titles feel like achievements, but being told you’re the chosen one just feels generic.
Skyrim does a lot of things right. The faction questlines, such as the Thieves Guild are nothing short of sublime. The graphics are still good to this day, and all dialogue is fully voiced, a feat that cannot be sniffed at. The open-world is expansive and offers the player a great deal to explore, unlocking the secrets stored in Dwemer ruins and hunting necromancers in caves never seems to get old. But, the foretold dangers of Skyrim’s wilds are completely unrealised by the people at Bethesda. The harsh environments play no part in the survival of the player, eating isn’t a requirement and even when you’re climbing to the Throat of the World, the highest point in Tamriel, covered in snow, you don’t get cold, not even a chill. This is something that must be addressed in The Elder Scrolls VI.
To learn more about open-world games, head over to Mike Szoke’s article: The Appeal of Open Worlds
Source: The Elder Scrolls Wiki
HOW TO STOP THE DESCENT
Fans are speculating that the next Elder Scrolls title will be set in the land of Hammerfell. A dry, arid wasteland that features deserts and large expansive mountains. The region of Hammerfell is inhospitable, the deserts being home to large creatures, such as giant scorpions. Hammerfell is the home of the Redguards. The Redguards are gifted warriors, but the landscape restricts them from forming large armies, instead, they resort to working in small groups.
Source: The Elder Scrolls Wiki
It would be interesting to see diverse environments, due to the varying regions of Tamriel that Hammerfell borders, such as the chilling cold of Skyrim and the luscious grasslands of Cyrodiil. It is feasible that there is a wide range of weathers and climates across the land. Perhaps a system associated with the temperate of each respective region could be added. If Bethesda took into account the blistering heat of the Alik’r Desert, and punish players for mindlessly traversing the wasteland, without taking precautions. Have the player need water to survive in the sweltering temperatures, and if they don’t, then disadvantage them, have them hallucinate. This would make the gameplay of the Elder Scrolls VI feel more dynamic and challenging.
In Nintendo‘s Breath of the Wild, the player must craft potions or food that provide resistance to the varying temperatures, such as the biting colds or scorching heat, or to wear clothes that enable for temperature regulation. Breath of the Wild is a prime example of a title that offers emergent gameplay and player agency. Older Bethesda games, such as the original Fallout offered the player agency, the freedom to make decisions and deal with the consequences, whereas their modern design philosophy seems to be centered around fetch-quests and linear narrative progression.
THE NEVER-ENDING LOOP
In recent years, many RPGs have been met with critical acclaim and are already regarded as classics. Skyrim, Mass Effect 2, Dark Souls and of course, the Witcher 3. CD Projekt Red‘s Witcher series based on the works of Polish author, Andrzej Sapkowski, has received widespread critical acclaim. Most of that acclaim falls on the third installment in the franchise, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and its downloadable content.
Source: Windows Central
Both the Witcher 3 and Skyrim had a budget of around eighty million dollars, yet the world of the Witcher is significantly larger and more vibrant than that of Skyrim’s. In defense of Skyrim, it released on the 7th generation of consoles, ie PS3 and Xbox 360. The Witcher 3 released on the next generation of platforms. Regardless of the technical prowess of the consoles, the writing of the Witcher 3 is vastly superior to that of Skyrim’s. This is subjective, but many people believe that the quests and storyline of the Witcher 3 surpass even the best moments of Skyrim. Each quest in the Witcher 3 feels unique and as if it has been meticulously crafted. Each adventure adds something to the world and makes it feel alive.
While ambitious, the Skyrim radiant quest system leads to your quest log becoming clogged with meaningless tasks. If Bethesda really wants to create a compelling narrative and a world that feels lived-in, then my first piece of advice would be to remove the radiant quests from the Elder Scrolls VI. Write compelling questlines that add to the world, don’t just add filler content.
To learn more about the Witcher, why not check out: The Witcher: Influence of the Books on the Series
The release of Skyrim marked a distinct change in the Elder Scrolls philosophy. The game regressed in many ways but still offered the player a wide and expansive world to venture through. Moving forward I would like to see some of the older mechanics integrated back into the series. Bethesda should use games such as the Witcher 3 and Breath of the Wild as examples of how to craft a colourful and diverse world. When moving forward and creating the Elder Scrolls VI, Bethesda must provide more depth in gameplay. A good place to start would be to focus on developing characters and questlines rather than just adding in randomly generated content through the use of the radiant quest system.