Like many, many people, I’ve played a lot of Skyrim. And then watched as it got repackaged and released for various new consoles (next gen consoles, the Switch etc). And waited for the next Elder Scrolls game. And waited.
Skyrim came out in 2011 and there’s seemingly no prospect of the next Elder Scrolls game coming out this year, so it’ll probably be an eight year gap at best. Oblivion, the previous entry, came out in 2006/7 (latter year for the PS3).
I enjoyed both Oblivion and Skyrim a lot, but must admit I’m wondering if the next Elder Scrolls game will stand up against the competition. Videogame franchises can decline either due to making poor changes, or standing still whilst the industry moves past them.
Plenty of new RPGs have come out since Skyrim. Many of them have had a strong focus on your choices making significant changes to the world (in Skyrim, the only real choice is in the civil war, with the Dawnguard expansion choice of good/evil, although both choices have similar paths).
The Witcher 3 and Kingdom Come Deliverance are particularly good in this regard, as is Pillars of Eternity. When we look at the most recent Bethesda RPG (Fallout 4) I think it surprised on the upside when it came to companions, but there was, again, a lack of significant choice. Most quests were simply run on train tracks rather than presenting serious options that changed things in-game.
It is worth pointing out that there is no single way to make a good RPG. Games might emphasise realism/survival heavily, as per KCD, but The Witcher 3 takes a more traditional/softer/easier approach to this aspect. Both styles work perfectly well. However, the old style of quests, where almost all of them (including major storyline quests) have one outcome and no player input beyond jumping through hoops is beginning to feel as outdated as fetch quests.
A good example of how this could’ve been different in Skyrim would be the Thieves Guild. At no point can you destroy this, or report it to the authorities. You *can* do this with the Dark Brotherhood, although that isn’t flagged up so most people were never aware it was even a possibility. And the same opportunity (reporting werewolves to the authorities, for example) isn’t possible elsewhere either. You can’t side with the Thalmor, even if you’re a high elf.
Now, it might sound like I’m having a go at Skyrim. I have sunk a lot of time into it and really like the game. But if the next entry doesn’t make some changes it’ll suffer by way of comparison with recent RPG entries, many of which are really rather good.
I do have some optimism. The settlement system is overdone in Fallout 4, but the bones of the idea are sound. And imagine it in Elder Scrolls VI. It’d be building your own castles, and that sounds fantastic, if they take the good ideas from Fallout 4 and remove the repetition, giving us fewer but larger sites.
Likewise, the companions improved substantially from Skyrim to Fallout 4, from a huge number of people with little character to a smaller number who were much more individual and had more depth. Continuing that pattern for the next Elder Scrolls would be another good, and obvious, step.
However, the key for me is choice in quests. And not just X or Y which alters nothing (yes, Redguard woman in Whiterun, I’m talking about you), but a choice that makes a meaningful impact upon the world and/or my character. If I piss off a local lord, that should have consequences beyond a line of dialogue.
The next Elder Scrolls game will sell like hotcakes regardless of whether this change comes about. But in the long term, Bethesda can’t just rely on churning out the same game when we’re seeing others make more interesting RPGs that actually allow the player to make choices that affect their game.