Bethesda has made a name for itself with its vast open-world games set in the Elder Scrolls and Fallout universes. The company has had worldwide success, but as of late, especially with the release of Fallout 4, there is an alarming decline in the quality of the gaming experience, particularly when it comes to role-playing, that has me legitimately worried about the future of both franchises.
The following points will look at games from both the Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises, from Oblivion to Fallout 4.
The first, most important thing that Bethesda needs to do is to ditch the Gamebryo/Creation engine and just get a new one. It’s an ironic situation when a game like The Witcher 3, which inspired its open-world direction from an Elder Scrolls game, does a much better job at creating a fun experience on it’s first try. Bethesda needs to invest in an engine that can handle open-world experiences better than the Creation Engine, and do it well and more convincingly. The current state of Bethesda games is nothing but buggy, boring combat, small and soulless cities, and loading screens all over the place (everybody’s sick of those). Its only saving grace, and what a saving grace that is, are the mods. I literally only play Bethesda games because they can be modded.
A new engine, however, is improbable. It’s more likely that Bethesda will just modify the Creation Engine and develop TES6 on that. I just hope the changes are enough to make the experience fresh instead of samey.
At this point, I legitimately hate consoles. All they do is ruin gaming on PCs, because developers make games mainly for consoles and then do a paltry port to the PC. The latest example I’ve encountered is Fallout 4, with the conversation system being limited to four options because of limited input on the controller. I’m not saying that you can’t have a more complex conversation system on consoles, but it’s painfully obvious that Bethesda developed Fallout 4 to work best on a controller, going as far as to strip down a vital aspect of an RPG to its barest form, which caused the entire game to suffer. I suppose it’s not fair to blame it all on consoles, but there’s a level of simplification brought to the game that sacrificed all the complexities of an RPG for brain-dead action. The most visible part of this is how the game feels so much more like a console shooter, with everything else just tacked-on to impart a semblance of role-playing.
So, enough with the consolitis, Bethesda. The next Elder Scrolls, or any other game for that matter, should be developed properly, with considerations to how you’re diluting the essence of your brand. Keep making boring, disappointing games, and your next sales will suffer. I’m actually considering not buying the next Elder Scrolls or Fallout if the result is going to be the same drudgery that Fallout 4 was.
While on the topic of consoles, I will never stop saying that first and third person shooters are atrocious with controllers.
I just said it above, but this is a point worth repeating and deserves its own section because it ruined Fallout 4 for me. Bethesda, your conversation system is abysmal. It was okay in Skyrim, but the sheer possibility that Fallout 4’s will migrate its way over to the next game you release gives me genuine nightmares. Having the same obvious pattern of yes/yes/bribe/no answers is an absolutely terrible way of making an RPG. Not only this, I also want to know EXACTLY what my character is going to say (like this mod does). I don’t care for summarised sentences that ultimately screws you over because the I interpreted the meaning differently than intended. In fact, go full Elcor-style and add a tonal indicator before each ambiguous option to make sure it’s all clear.
Please, for the love of Dagon, don’t use Fallout 4’s system again.
It’s always an exciting moment when your character levels up and you get to choose a Perk that will change the way you play, but then you look at the list of Perks available and they’re all boring stat improvements. Perks need to feel rewarding – or game-changing, even – in the sense that when you pick one, it should open up new role-playing possibilities or alter the way you play your character one way or another. Unstoppable Force is a good example of that.
Perks that have multiple levels are most prone to being dull attribute boosts and I’m in favour of getting rid of them. They just feel like work at a certain point which makes levelling up less significant, which defeats the core purpose of Perls altogether.
I don’t know what it is with the Elder Scrolls or the Fallout games, but the third person camera to me feels restrictive (though I dare say it’s been improved with Fallout 4). When I compare it to a game like Mass Effect, the difference is drastic, and it’s hard to pinpoint why. It may have something to do with the angle of the camera, but if there’s one game that Bethesda should look to for how to make a third person camera work better, it’s Warframe. That game also has this neat little feature where the camera can shift its angle of vision from left to right at the press of a button.
While on the topic of player camera, I would love it if my character in the next Elder Scrolls would have a body in first person mode and not just wander around Tamriel as a floating head. See this mod for an idea of what I’m talking about.
Bethesda was never really a company known for the quality of its animations. I don’t know how they go about making those happen, but my guess is that it doesn’t involve motion-capture… which it should. Games like The Witcher 3 should give a good indication about how good animations should be.
Hey, Bethesda. Ever heard of SMIM? You must have, seeing as one guy single-handedly improved all the 3D assets in your game. Hire him to work on your next Elder Scrolls, please.
Ok, let’s be real, the combat in The Elder Scrolls is… not the best thing about the game. It’s extremely floaty, which makes every attack feel as though you don’t even hit the enemy, especially in third person mode. It just isn’t satisfying, and the kill cams added to Skryim are hardly a solution. I’d also like to be able to parry while dual-wielding… like, I really, really would like to be able to do that. REALLY.
Despite my aversion to the idea of the Dark Souls series (which I’m pretty sure I’ll be bad at), the melee attacks do look like there’s weight behind them. It might be worthwhile to see how a system like that could integrate into the next Elder Scrolls game.
Also unarmed combat and knuckle weapons. I’d love to be able to make a monk-type character that goes around Tamriel, beating the shit out of bandits and what have you.
I’ll admit, I really do mean more magic weapons, like wands and enchanted gloves and tomes that directly enhance your magic damage, but it would be cool if players could gain access to a variety of different weapons that seem to have gone missing since the days of Morrowind. I’ve played very little of that game, but I distinctly remember poking something with a spear. Things like warhammers and polearms would make great additions as well.
That being said, I think a more interesting approach would be to have fighting styles that change the way you use a weapon. Imagine an agile Bosmer that uses a sword in swift, rapid motions, as opposed to an Orc warrior who would deliver more deadly strikes but at slower paces. Fighting styles would also influence finishers – the Orc can decapitate an opponent in one swing, but the Bosmer’s more agile form would end an adversary with several slashes instead. With magic weapons, they change the way you cast spells, not just by animating differently, but also by altering things like casting speed and maybe distance travelled by magical projectiles, etc.
As much as I bitch about the conversation system ruining Fallout 4, it did get other things right. The companions were fun, as opposed to the generic, uninteresting ones in Skyrim. Quality over quantity is the name of the game for this feature, and having a few but complex and compelling companions over a multitude of boring ones will always be my favoured choice.
Having said that, the conversation options in Fallout 4 were sadly lacking. I’ll say it again, the conversation system this game uses stunted the game’s ability to express itself. While your companions do have plenty of lines describing their backstories, your other interactions with them are limited; you can order them around or use them as pack mules, and then you can ask how things are between the two of you, which serves as a way for the game to inform you of how much that companion like or dislike you. That’s it.
Honestly, I don’t know how to make this better other than to pile on lines and lines of dialogue. Give companions the ability to provide feedback on ongoing quests or decisions you have to make. If you have a romantic attachment to them, throw in some affection here and there (I’m not saying put in a sex-scene, but you did animate third-person vampire bites in Skyrim. I’m just saying. Also, hire better animators.) Maybe a romantic companion might have a new AI during combat where they will want to protect you rather than chase down an enemy. This can be a liability, but that’s what RPGs are all about – making decisions and playing through them. At the risk of sounding patronising, Bethesda, you’ve done a rather good job of that already, but it can certainly be better.
I’m a bit sad that this needs to be said, seeing as it’s been a staple in pretty much every RPG to have graced this Earth, but it would be cool to have skills influence conversations, or offer additional dialogue options to choose from. Consider the following scenario: you obtain a quest to investigate a murder, and you notice many things about the body, one of which is a burn mark. Now, if your Destruction skill is high enough, you may recognise the burn mark as being magical in nature. When questioning the suspects of the crime, one of which is a wizard, an option prefixed with [Destruction] will allow you unnerve him and make him spill the beans. You know, like Persuasion and Indimidation checks in games like Neverwinter Nights. Hell, even older Fallouts had this, so to find that feature missing in Fallout 4 was extremely disappointing. I mean, at 10 Intelligence, I was still treated like a dimwit by the Institute scientists. I wasn’t given the option to engage in some techno-talk with them or impress them with my scientific acumen. My skills didn’t matter, and it should. Check out the video below to see how brilliantly Fallout: New Vegas pulled this off with a low-intelligence character (video by NcrVet on Youtube).
This system could actually be made even more interesting by allowing you to engage NPCs in different way depending on your Speechcraft score. A mod for Skyrim called Immersive Speechcraft does pretty much just that, and quite brilliantly too. For those looking for a tl;dr, Immersive Speechcraft provides you with new dialogue options that allows you to ask for help from NPCs, ask them to follow you, mug them, or just ask them all sorts of stuff. I dare say for a role-playing game, having the option to role-play would be very much welcome.
One recurring problem I have with Bethesda games is that the way your character moves around in the world is clunky, especially in third person mode. It took Fallout 4 to be able to have your character jump while sprinting, which is just sad. There seems to be a steady improvement on that front, however, so I’m not too worried about how it’s going to turn out in TES VI. Still, it had to be said.
It was fun playing as a half-human/elf/lizard/cat, half-dragon-in-spirit thing in Skyrim, but that shouldn’t be the focus of the next Elder Scrolls. I’m also tired of dragons, so if you could do away with random dragon attacks as well, that would be super.
Having magic feature as a weapon rather than a separate mechanic in Skyrim was necessary because of Shouts, which had basically replaced the Oblivion magic system. While I don’t think Oblivion had a better magic mechanic, the way it handled spells meant that hybrid classes were more viable. In Skyrim, if you wanted to have a sword and shield, and occasionally casts some spells… well, you can’t unless you’re comfortable with swapping out equipment. This creates a rather bothersome game of scroll the favourites menu, which just breaks up the momentum of a fight.
As far as the content of the magic itself goes, the dumbing down needs to stop. Having quirky, crazy spells at your disposal is what makes a game fun, and while I’m not saying Bethesda should go all out on the silly ‘Saints Row 3’ style, Skyrim’s magic are just boring. Things like teleportation or leaping spells would significantly increase mobility for wizards and make hybrid classes like Spellblades more viable. Telekinesis could be use to interact with levers or steal keys from a distance, so not every single character needs to know how to lockpick to bypass a door. Conjuration spells could feature some neat necromancy magic, like assembling a flesh golem from body parts to create an additional follower, or use Alchemy to create a Homunculus. Make a pact with a Daedra, wrest control of summoned creature from their masters, create force-fields, etc. Magic needs to be fun, and learning new spells should not feel repetitive. Early game spells need to remain relevant by late game depending on how a player decides to build their character so that newer spells don’t just feel like a stronger version of an existing one.
Lockpicking (and Hacking for Fallout games) is quite easy, and I’m fine with that. What I think would make the unlocking minigame better would be to automatically succeed at it if your character’s Lockpick score is high enough and the lock you’re trying to pick is below a certain level. For example, if you have 50 points in Lockpick (Journeyman level) all Novice and Apprentice locks should be cracked automatically if you have a lockpick (the item) in your inventory. A character with 100 points in Lockpick (Master) will only have to contend with Master locks.
The above-mentioned scroll-the-favourites-menu can be circumvented with shortcut keys, but I often find myself short of a few ones in either Elder Scrolls or Fallout. My solution is to look into extending the amount of hotkeys the player can use with compound shortcut keys. For example, having your weapons bound to 1 through 9 is okay, but what if you wish to swap out spells, particularly if the system used for magic is more akin to Oblivion’s than Skyrim’s? It would help immensely if you could bind one-time casting to compound hotkeys like alt + 1. This way, you can swap weapons with 1, 2 or 3, and cast spells with alt + 1, alt +2 and alt + 3, etc.
Extending the amount of normal hotkeys available can also help. There’s a mod for Skyrim called Grimy Utilities (and more recently, FO4 Hotkeys) that does just that, and honestly, I can’t play the game without it. There are also other mods like More HotKeys Please that do just that. I have not personally used it, but it’s quite heavily endorsed on Nexus Mods.
Okay, this isn’t something I consider to be high on the list of priorities, since it can be a real pain to create modular spell elements that you can mix and match, all the while retaining a certain level of uniqueness and balance. It would be a nice feature to have in the next Elder Scrolls, but not the most important.
I will have to reference The Witcher 3 again for this one; CD Projekt Red did quests right in The Witcher 3. You can approach them in multiple ways, and some even span great lengths of game time. As an example, there’s a blacksmith in Velen, whom you can speak to rather early in the game, that will ask you for better blacksmithing tools from a craftsman in Skellige. Skellige is an island that you can only access through Novigrad, which is in an entirely different area. Going to Skellige will require you level up Geralt significantly or otherwise everything there will murder you. All this means that a large stretch of time will pass between you getting the quest and completing it. This was a side-quest. While the main quest is of course important, side-quests should not feel like throw-away busywork for the player to grind at so as to artificially inflate the content the game has (like those infuriating fetch-quests). The outcome of a side-quest could affect how a portion of the main quest, or another side-quest, is triggered or approached but also what happens in that quest because of the events set in motion earlier.
Up the ante in the complexity of quests! Having multiple ways to approach and execute quests would be fun and would add significantly to the game’s replayability.
Factions are a staple in Elder Scrolls games. It would be cool if, as you rise through the ranks of each one, you would be able to influence its development. Maybe, for instance, you could become the Archmage of a reformed Mage’s Guild, and in the process reinstate Necromancy as a valid form of magic – or perhaps you dislike Necromancy and act to have it banned like it was during the Oblivion Crisis. As you do the related factions quests, maybe you gather followers to your cause and purge out the rest.
Since factions are significant entities in Elder Scrolls games, their influence should impact the world itself. A Necromancy-friendly Mage’s Guild would see a rise in necromancers, which in turn might open up new quests. Maybe a powerful lich turns up at your Guild and offers his services, or a new faction of Vigilants of Stendarr, or a champion of Meridia, will wage open war on you. If you reject Necromancy, that same lich could become your nemesis and now you’re going to have to deal with an undead invasion. In the end, the difference between those two versions of the Mage’s Guild should look drastically different.
While I’m on the issue of factions, allow your influence with those factions to have an effect on quests. Imagine you’re hunting a dangerous criminal, and you so happen to be a high-ranking member of the Warrior’s Guild – call in some favours and maybe they can team you up with a hunter who knows the region that can help you track down your query. Without those contacts, you’d be required to investigate on your lonesome and take longer to complete the quest. It could open up more avenues on how you approach quests and execute them.
Radiant quests add nothing to the game for me but boring busy work. Either make it mind-blowing good to the point that Radiant quests can generate a level of unpredictable complexity, or drop it altogether and focus your efforts on something else, like making existing hand-crafted quests better.
When Radiant AI was demoed for Oblivion during 2005’s E3, it was entertaining how crazy some of the NPCs could get. While it might have been a tad excessive to discipline a dog with fire, it would be nice to have more unpredictable NPCs to deal with – or perhaps more believable ones, like those in the Immersive Citizens mod.
One thing that always bothered me with The Elder Scrolls is the fact that the player character barely has any impact on the world. I distinctly remember during one playthrough where my Dovahkiin was the Archmage of the College of Winterhold, and also a werewolf. Do you know what happened when he passed by a guard in Whiterun? He said that my character smelled of wet dog…
All your accomplishments seem to have little to no significance. At least in Oblivion those titles were there in your UI so that you might at least contemplate them, like trophies. Even this doesn’t exist in Skyrim.
The only instance when being the Archmage mattered was when my Dovahkiin came up to Tsun and used his status to gain access to the Hall of Valor in Sovngarde. This meant I didn’t have to fight him and was thus given an alternative solution to a conundrum. To everybody else in Skyrim, my Dovahkiin smelled funny.
The player character should matter. They must have influence, thrust, agency! If you are the head of an organisation, you should be recognised as such. Like I said in the previous point, it would certainly offer you more options when trying to complete some quests where influence might come in handy.
One would expect unique items in any game to do something… well, unique. Alas, this isn’t the case in The Elder Scrolls. I can’t speak for Morrowind, but Oblivion and Skyrim’s uniques bored me. Sure, it’s nice to get Chillrend and start dishing out some serious cold damage, but when you can enchant your weapon to do better or similar, the item loses its value, not to mention they still have the same 3D model as any other weapon. This mod fixes that by giving unique items their very own custom appearance.
One game that does legendaries well (although it didn’t at first) is Diablo 3. Yes, the genres are hardly comparable, but Blizzard Entertainment isn’t afraid to try crazy things. We’re talking full-on modification of existing spells that in some cases can subvert the way your character plays. Entire classes are built around legendaries because their effects can change a play style completely. In the context of a game like Skyrim, the sword Chillrend could cause its victims to burst into a magical ring of frost when they are struck dead, or perhaps make any Frost Atronachs you summon different. Maybe the more abuse you take increases the cold damage of the sword. Be creative, Bethesda!
Fallout 4 has a mod called Unique Uniques that does just this to the legendary items you can find on legendary enemies.
We often hear how the first hour of most RPGs is spent on customising your character to look the most badass and beautiful as possible. Fallout 4 did this rather nicely, but it was not the case with Skyrim. The character creation for that game was uninspired, to say the least, and was actually a downgrade from Oblivion. For the next Elder Scrolls game, it would be better to have something that’s an improvement on the Fallout 4 version instead.
Alternatively, the Race Menu mod is a great example of a very customisable character creation system.
My problem with playing Argonians or Khajiit is that they feel too human in shape. I understand that the point of this is so that you can play whichever race you want and have access to the same equipments, but is that really a good thing? What if your Beastman had digitigrade legs, and couldn’t wear boots, but instead had naturally better mobility, as well as a tail armor slot? Maybe they have special boots that only they can wear, and these convey bonuses that improve their natural capabilities. This could also apply to headwear, seeing as, especially Argonians, have largely different skull shapes from the other Tamrielic races. On top of that, it would be interesting to have Argonians that follow more reptilian conventions; at the risk of angering every gynephilic Scalies out there, lizards with breasts make no sense whatsoever.
Different bodies also mean different animations. An Argonian should swim differently (and faster) than a Nord, and both Argonian and Khajiit should run differently since they wouldn’t have human legs anymore. Maybe Khajiits could sprint on all fours! Imagine that.
While I don’t think that a Workshop Mode where you can build an entire town would fit in an Elder Scrolls game, creating an estate or small fort certainly could work. It would make for a great addition that if, for Elder Scrolls VI, you would be able to combine Fallout 4’s settlement building with Skyrim’s Hearthfire DLC. This way, those who want to can buy land instead of pre-houses in cities and customise them to their wishes. Players can then recruit NPCs that will come to work on their estates, and maybe even turn it into a small fort.
That being said, please don’t give us a follower whose sole purpose is to warn us that one of our estates are under attack and needs to be defended. Constantly. Damn Minuteman.
Alright, I know that this is a tall order, but the way all the dungeons in all Elder Scrolls games feel samey and repetitive just don’t do it for me. After you’ve gone through the tenth one, they all start to blend together. My reaction when I need to go through a Dwemer ruins or something is usually a groan since I know I’m just going to slog through another copy-pasted bunch of tunnels. I suppose one way that approaches a solution is to not have all these things always be self-contained little journeys and to not be afraid to mix and match the themes. Maybe one dungeon can send you to another one, or maybe that Dwemer ruin you found has been occupied by a bunch of vampires who built an entire settlement down there.
Fallout 4’s quick loot is amazing. Don’t let that go. Keep it, hold it close, cherish it, put a ring on it.
No one likes loading screens. I must again direct your attention to The Witcher 3, which has practically no loading screens – even in the giant city that is Novigrad. This place looks and feels like a proper city, both in size and activity. While I’m not saying that every city in the next Elder Scrolls VI should be as massive as that, something approaching at least a third or a quarter of Novigrad’s scale would be a vast improvement.
I can’t say I’ve ever been satisfied with the UI in any Elder Scrolls games. Those in Fallout games are even worse and seem to be victim of being bound to the lore where everything is restricted to the PIP Boy. The result is a clunky UI where any action requires multiple clicks and eternally scrolling through lists and lists of items. If you’re making a game for the PC, away with those infernal lists! Use a grid system and make the inventory management less of a hassle. Again, look to The Witcher 3, this game got a lot of things right.
The following is not a mod, but a fan concept of a UI for Skyrim that never got made: Skyrim UI PC Specific Redesign.
Oblivion had this great system where armour was divided into multiple parts from gauntlets, pants, chest piece, boots and helm. Fallout 3, which came after Oblivion, combined chest piece and pants into one, and cut down on the mix-and-match, to the chagrin of players far and wide. Skyrim followed suit, and it’s only in Fallout 4 that we had a return of an armour system similar to Oblivion’s. Between Oblivion and Fallout 4, I don’t know which version I prefer. Arguably, for a medieval fantasy game, Oblivion’s might be more suitable, but having the option to overlay armour pieces on top of clothing does sound like it might offer more customisation options. It might actually be better to have multiple under-armour pieces (like pants and shirts) that you can then overlay with actual armour. It would make playing as a battle-mage type character quite interesting.
It goes to say that the crafting system used in Fallout 4 would be welcome (improve the UI first, though). Imagine increasing your Blacksmithing skill and gaining access to enhanced customisation of weapons, like changing the cross-guard of your sword or modifying the limb of your crossbow or even changing the sigil on your chest plate. It’s a fun system that would undoubtedly enrich an Elder Scrolls game.
With every Elder Scrolls game comes the inevitable argument of whether Fast Travel should be a thing or not. As someone who likes having options, I never quite understood the people who wanted to impose their gaming style on others by asking that Fast Travel be removed altogether because, “muh immursion.” The most compelling argument I’ve heard against Fast Travel is that it tempts the player into simply teleporting around the world map and not appreciate the beauty of the game, but even on paper this sounds like it would get extra boring extra quick, not to mention that some people just don’t have the time to spare on such things. So, in an attempt to meet both sides halfway, here is my proposal: Fast Travel Zones (FTZs).
To explain FTZs, I’ll make a callback to Morrowind’s Silt Striders (like Skyrim’s Carriages). With FTZs, each ‘Silt Strider’ will occupy a Zone where Fast Travel is actually enabled – and each time you use Fast Travel, you will be charged a fee, which hints at the fact that you are actually using the nearby Silt Strider. The distance covered also influences the cost, so this might incentivise the more frugal player to Fast Travel shorter distances. The Zone of an FTZ itself is just a matter of convenience, allowing you to Fast Travel without having to actually go all the way to the Strider driver and starting a conversation and picking a destination. Additionally, Travelling will not allow you to just go to whatever point you’ve already discovered. Your choices will be restricted to discovered landmarks within an FTZ. Outside of an FTZ, Fast Travel is disabled.
Fast Travel Zones should be an optional feature that can be toggled on and off, just like the Survival features discussed below. It’s all about customising your gaming experience, which is what the extensive moddability of Bethesda games is all about.
This is down there with Spellcrafting in the list of priorities, but after experiencing radiation storms in Fallout 4 (which should have been deadlier, to be honest) the idea of having to take shelter from the elements sounds like a nice immersion factor. This might be a hardcore feature, however, as inconvenient timing might annoy people… like dragon attacks in Skyrim.
Difficulty settings are annoyingly arbitrary and, honestly, just make you sore in the pride when you can’t deal with them. Ideally, there should be only 2 difficulty options – Casual and Normal. If you’re the kind of gamer that only care about the story, they Casual difficulty is the way to got. Normal is the way the game is meant to the played, and that’s it. As a separate feature, Survival or Hardcore would enable certain things in the game, like hunger, thirst, fatigue, persistent injury, hypothermia, heat strokes, that sort of thing. It should not, however, affect how much damage you inflict on the enemy (or them to you) or the amount of experience they give when you kill them. Survival Mode should open up a new list of mechanics but not modify existing values.
I would actually go a step further and say Survival Mode should be customisable. Certain features would logically be lumped together, like thirst and hunger, but you could have the option to enable fatigue but not hypothermia and hyperthermia, or enable those but choose not to allow arrows you have weight. Some mechanics some players find immersive can be extremely annoying to other players.
Whenever Dogmeat shows me an ammo crate hidden behind some building that I probably would have missed, I am left with a sense of sadness in knowing that this loyal companion will never get a rewarding pat on the head or belly rub for a job well done. I want at least some believable level of interaction with the dog besides, “Carry my shit, pack animal,” or “Show me that one trick you’ve showed me a million times before.” I want to pet the dog. Why won’t you let me pet the dog?
Gameplay and Interface:
Unique Uniques (Skyrim)
And for the hardcore crowd: