What we want from The Elder Scrolls VI
The Elder Scrolls Online may be getting all of the attention right now, but for many of us, the soul of the series will always be Bethesda's sprawling, open-world single-player games. It seems likely that we'll see a new Fallout before we see a new numbered titled in the beloved fantasy RPG series, but that doesn't mean we can't start to dream, right? We've seen the series make dramatic leaps over the last decade, to the point that the textures and environments we once fawned over in Oblivion now seem laughably out of date compared to the snowcapped peaks of Skyrim, and enough time has passed to allow for better, bigger roleplaying experiences. But can the next installment deliver? Photo: Schastny Sergey
Skyrim, Oblivion, and Morrowind were all big, but there's no reason why Bethesda can't aim higher, particularly in light of the advances in both PC and console technology over the last couple of years. Skyrim, for instance, covered almost the entire gamut of northern climate conditions, but for many players, even the forests of Falkreath and the icy expanses along the Sea of Ghosts weren't enough to dispel the notion that each new locale was but a variation on a theme. The next Elder Scrolls game should thus not only be huge, but it should also present contrasts we've heretofore never seen in the series. Consider, for instance, the possibilities inherent in an Elder Scrolls game that focused on not one but two regions, particularly ones with such divergent landscapes as the woods of Valenwood and the deserts of neighboring Elsweyr. And if the two zones were in conflict? Now we're getting somewhere. Photo: Jonas De Ro
The Elder Scrolls Online grew out of a persistent desire for a cooperative mode in an Elder Scrolls game, but it may push the concept too far. The series seems at its best when it pits you against the entirety of the world it creates—thus abandoning chat logs filled with snide remarks about politics and World of Warcraft in favor of becoming a part of the world. Dumping a bunch of real people into Tamriel, paradoxically, spoils some of the series' best qualities. And that's why a multiplayer mode should be limited to two players. It would capture that two-adventurer dynamic that worked so well for Skyrim, and it would allow for key decisions that affect the storyline and landscape to unfold in such a way that will always be alien to an MMORPG. At the very least, a real person is far less likely to bungle stealth attacks in dungeons than the NPC companions. Photo: Christopher Livingston (PC Gamer)
Which bring us to the need for improved artificial intelligence for the NPCs. This extends not only to followers, but also to the other inhabitants of the world as there's rarely a sense that they're truly aware of your existence. Playing as an assassin probably delivers the most hilarious moments in this regard, such as when you send an arrow flying through the heart (or, dare I say, the knee) of an unsuspecting bandit, only to see his presumed lifetime friend stand over the body and declare, "It must have been my imagination." The next time around, NPCs should leave their guards up in such cases. Even if they don't band together and hunt you down (which would be realistic, but—erm—tough to solo), they should at least refrain from sitting back down and picking up where they left off in The Lusty Argonian Maid. Over my dead body, indeed.
Improved Morality and Consequences
And if they see you, what then? The Elder Scrolls series generally does a wonderful job of conveying the sense of a living world when you're just ambling through town or trying to figure out what foxes say as they trot through the woods, but it's less effective when you actually interact with folks. Kill a shopkeeper? Assassinate influentual citizens for the Dark Brotherhood? No problem! Just plunk down a few gold coins and you're off the hook. One has to wonder why all those bandits roaming the countryside haven't done the same. Actions should mean something; they often don't under the current design. Few things disappointed me about Skyrim so much as the way bandits would sometimes say, "I yield," only to continue attacking when you let them live. What if that thief met up with you later and gave you a gift? What if you bought from a poor hunter poaching on the lake, leading her to "tell" her friends about you and letting you have free access to bedrolls at their camps? And that's but the beginning of the possibilities. Photo: Jowain92
Interactive NPC Travel
Some of the finest "quality of life" changes wouldn't even be that hard to implement under the current design. Take travel. Even now, I still recall how disappointed I felt in 2002 upon realizing that the silt striders of Morrowind did nothing apart from look like giant plastic fleas. Imagine my sadness, then, when I realized that the simpler carriages in Skyrim performed much the same way. (It didn't help that the drivers' voices were usually cut off by the loading screens.) Why not let us see these long travels between cities? Enjoying the environs from a leisurely taxi ride worked wonders for Grand Theft Auto—and for our console cousins with carriages in Red Dead Redemption—and there's no reason we we can't see it in one of the finest open world series of all time. Photo: Max Nikolaev
Survival and Hardcore Modes
Much as with travel, it would only take a small push to make the need for survival more important, Take the many NPC fisherman and hunters abound in Skyrim. They're everywhere, but the game itself only lets you partake in simple, forgettable forms of these activities. But what if hunting, fishing, or even swiping sweet rolls were necessary to keep you fit and healthy? It could work, particularly if Bethesda limits it to a toggled mode before the creation of a new game. The popularity of "survivalist" mods such as Frostfall demonstrates that a healthy niche demand for such hardcore sensibilities already exists, and for Skyrim in particular, it'd require only the tweaking of certain systems already in the game. The possibilities for such survivalist experiences in the deserts of Elsweyr or the forests of Valenwood are staggeringly promising.
The Return of Spellmaking
Skyrim may have rendered the actual act of firing off spells more exciting by letting us dual cast them, but it robbed the series of Oblivion's pleasures of experimenting with and crafting the spells of our choosing. Bethesda's reasons for this removal partially spring from the godly nuke spells players could create, but such excesses could curbed by limiting the force of the spells based on a player's rank or aptitude within a particular school of magic. As it is, magic in Skyrim paled in comparison to its melee counterparts at the higher levels, and a single sword swipe could kill that which dual fireball blasts would only singe. With a smart reimplementation of custom spells, both schools of combat could achieve something approaching parity.
EverQuest Next may be an MMORPG, but it reminds us that we need not limit destruction in open world games to scripted phases. The Elder Scrolls series has always delivered the illusion of mutability through its interactive household items and weapons, but the new technology could allow for the irreversible destruction of fortresses or—in the hypothetical case of Valenwood—large swaths of trees. Not interactive enough? They could even give us the ability to repair.
An Optimal PC Experience
Looking over the wide range of mods available on Nexus and Steam Workshop, it seems foolish to argue that Bethesda gave PC users and inferior experience with Skyrim when compared to their console counterparts. But, admittedly, sometimes it feels like an afterthought. The inventory and menu systems seemed better suited to a gamepad, and indeed, many players found using a gamepad for the PC version to be far more rewarding than a mouse and a keyboard. What we're hoping for is a balance of the two styles. We're not asking Bethesda to ditch the gamepad friendly approach entirely, but we do ask that there be better systems in place for those of us who want to play an Elder Scrolls game with keyboard and mouse without having to install "correcting" mods. Have your own ideas about what should come next for the Elder Scrolls series? Let us know in the comments!