We’re still a couple weeks away from the busy season, so as I usually do around this point in the waiting cycle, I picked up an older game on my shelf. This time around it was diving back into The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I mentioned last week that I hadn’t completed the main quest line across two 100+ hour characters. Over the weekend though I finally went in and completed that series of quests, as well as tackling the main Expansion – The Shivering Isles. Oblivion has always had a real special place in my gaming heart – it was one of the very first games I played on the 360, and I still find a lot of fun in playing it even eight years later. Beyond that, the next game in the franchise, Skyrim, was the game that allowed me to really break into freelancing for G4 after its release. I still love the games as they stand today, but over the last few months, really since the Destiny beta, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about just how much that game could shake up the RPG world. So with that mindset I decided I would dedicate this week to the genre – four days, four series – leading up to Destiny‘s release in two weeks. Today I’ll hit the Elder Scrolls games, mainly looking forward to the way I really hope that Bethesda approaches the next game.
At their core, both Oblivion and Skyrim by design are solitary games. There are plenty of shared experiences that any player has, but how they actually go about navigating those sections differs greatly based around how those players have created their characters. A very integral part of any RPG to me is the character creation process – allowing the player to craft exactly the character they want to play as tremendously helps further immerse the player into the world and story. There’s a fine line between being too in-depth and losing players though, and I think of the two Elder Scrolls games from this generation, Oblivion actually did it better. One of the things that Bethesda did with Skyrim was really streamline a lot of the more high-level RPG aspects of the game, the first that players would probably experience being Racial Traits. One of the reasons I like the character building in Oblivion is that each Race has different inherent characteristics that make playing specific archetypes easier or harder. Orcs are by default sturdier, making playing a warrior much easier, while playing them as a mage provides the player with more challenge. That aspect alone adds to the gameplay by adding in a level of difficulty on top of just the typical videogame “easy, medium, hard” difficulty; but beyond that it also adds in an extra layer of role-playing. A player might decide to play a specific race and strive to set themselves apart by playing as a character-type that wouldn’t be normally found with that race in game. I did that with my latest character, playing a High Elf character, but forgoing playing as a mage, which their inherent traits would suggest and played instead as a heavy armor knight. I was able to use my built in magic skills as a High Elf to help me deal damage, but as an Elf, I had to deal with an inherent fragile nature. That level of thinking is all but gone in Skryim – the different races still have different boosts to skills, but because the Attribute system from Oblivion is gone, there really isn’t a functional difference beyond whatever power or ability they have. In general, I think Oblivion allows for deeper role-playing, but Skyrim’s updated mechanics make playing the actual game a bit easier.
The other area where these two games’ differences really impact how a player approaches the game is in the skill/leveling system. In Oblivion there were 21 different skills, in Skyrim there’s now 18. In general, the skills that were removed really weren’t the ones that players set as their characters defining skills. I still think that there really is a middle ground between the games that allows players to choose from a wide variety of skills, while still being easily accessible. The other major change that Skyrim made to the leveling is that there is no longer a major/minor skill distinction; instead, any skill you level will affect your overall player level. This is actually a change that I think is good, it doesn’t restrict you with major skills being the only ones that impact your player level, which lets you have a bit more flexibility, which is important, especially in the middle levels. With that change, they also added in a “perk” system – instead of just getting a new bonus at skill levels 25, 50, 75 and 100, each skill now has a perk-tree associated with it that’s tied to a constellation in the game world. Every time you level your player, you get one perk point to allocate in any skill, assuming you have the appropriate skill level. This let’s you specialize within the skills that you use the most, with the items/spells you like using. For example, within the one-handed weapon skill tree, there are perks that allow you specialize in either swords, axes or maces.
The final area that I think defines a modern, Bethesda developed Elder Scrolls game is in fact the most identifiable aspect – Freedom. It’s a calling card of the games – as soon as you finish off the starter dungeon/quest – the Imperial Sewers in Oblivion or Helgen in Skyrim – you have ultimate freedom. You have a vague direction to start tackling the main story, but at the same time, you have the freedom to do whatever you want. That main quest can sit in your journal as long as you want – go tackle the faction quests, or just explore the world, diving into dungeons as you want to find some loot.
Beyond all of that, which I expect to stay in the forefront of any new Elder Scrolls game, I think the time is ripe for Bethesda to maybe make a huge change to the franchise. Any new game would obviously be on the Xbox One/PS4, which I think should not only result in a much better looking game, but also impact where this game is set. Ideally, I would love to see a game that is set covering all of Tamriel – I think that the power is there to accomplish that, and it’s a decision that fans would love. It opens up even more role playing options – you can pick and choose not only your race, but also your homeland, which could allow for different starting areas, most likely based around the same basic structure. The other major change that I think Bethesda should look into is all a reaction to Destiny. Bungie has on their hands a system that allows for a great single-player game, but at the same time is populating the world with other players. Applying a similar mechanic to a game like Elder Scrolls would make the world, which already feels alive with NPC’s, feel even more so. Players could become recognized as traders, carrying large amounts of gear and gold, and by doing so take on not only the role of supplying others, but the inherent danger that would come with. I’m not a developer so I don’t know exactly how it would work, and the actual Destiny formula probably wouldn’t work, since a big part of the Elder Scrolls games is player freedom to play any kind of character – including one that partakes in some unscrupulous activities. Oblivion and Skyrim were both two of my favorite games on the entire console, and I fully expect that trend to continue as the series moves to the next gen, all I have to do now is wait – there are tons of questions that still need answers, and I don’t see them being answered any time soon.