“So, Skyrim was quite good, weren’t it?” has opened a fair few gaming discussions I’ve had recently. Two common themes I see, almost inevitably, following on from this, at some point in the discussion, are; “I preferred Oblivion / Morrowind…” and / or… “What do you think will be in The Elder Scrolls 6?”
(NOTE: We’ve now obviously had The Elder Scrolls Online confirmed so we’re linking this page up with our “The Elder Scrolls Online MMO… What We Know So Far” page, which you may also be interested in! )
Well, following much debate with many a fellow fan, I’ve decided I should assemble all the thoughts we’ve come up with in regard to any such sequel into one article for the enjoyment, flaming and derision of fellow “Elder Scrollsites”. Obviously what follows is not only highly speculative, but also contains lots of personal opinions, concepts and theories which are likely never to have any connection to any Elder Scrolls games whatsoever! You have been warned.
Bethesda have a long history of really delivering when it comes to truly open world RPG. They also have a track record of not quite delivering to their full potential in similar fields. For every Fallout 3 & Skyrim there is a RAGE & Hunted: The Demon’s Forge. (NOTE: I actually quite liked RAGE for what it was… a very linear shooter with fun mini-games).
But, credit where credit is due, over the last decade Bethesda have unfailingly delivered quality in the open world RPG field (Although we might want to avoid looking too hard at New Vegas). Furthermore, having “Elder Scrolls” on the box has, so far, guaranteed pure gaming quality.
But what now, where now? How can you top a game as good as Skyrim? Well, let’s remember that Bethesda have done this twice this millenia, improving on both the exceptional Morrowind and then on the really very good Oblivion.
If you chart the evolution of the “modern” Elder Scrolls games on the current gaming platforms you can see that we get a new Elder Scrolls installment delivered roughly every 4 to 5 years. This, even before we start thinking about features and feel, puts the next Elder Scrolls game into the next generation of gaming hardware. By 2015 we will have new consoles from at least Sony & Microsoft, with the prospect of Nintendo joining them with a Wii U successor increasingly likely. This obviously has a huge impact on what will be possible for Bethesda to include in The Elder Scrolls 6. (For more musings on the future of gaming technology, check out our dedicated analysis on that very topic coming soon!)
So “The Elder Scrolls 6: Skirrovion” is going to be an even bigger beast of a game than it’s predecessors, with more of everything available to power it on the shiny new hardware.
How will this change the experience? What can we expect to gain as gamers?
In addition to the obvious graphical improvements we can be fairly certain that we will also be seeing changes in control schema. For instance we can expect to be dancing round our collective living rooms, twirling our huge virtual weaponry to satisfying effect as we shout instructions to our merry band of misfit NPC followers… expect plenty of motion control and copious amounts of speech recognition to be the primary additions to your trusty wireless controller…
So what will we be able to do with all this additional control we have over our role in The Elder Scrolls game world? Well, beyond simply inhabiting a bigger game world, with more of… well… basically everything… There are some perhaps less obvious benefits of ongoing technological improvements in this domain. The Elder Scrolls 6 would be exactly the kind of game that could benefit hugely from full speech synthesis;
Morrowind; 2-3 actors voicing a few hundred lines of dialog.
Oblivion; 14 voice actors voicing over 37,000 lines of dialog.
Skyrim; 70 voice actors voicing over 60,000 lines of dialog.
Elder Scrolls 6; 100+ voice actors voicing over 100,000 lines of dialog?
How much easier would it be if Bethesda’s writers could just write the dialog and have the game generate the speech / audio for this on the fly. The huge cost of pre-recording, editing and packaging every line of dialog and the massive limits this puts on a game’s development could be hugely reduced, we are on the threshold of this approach providing sufficient realism to work practically in a game world.
AI, Movement and Grouping
Progress in the AI field continues a apace and The Elder Scrolls 6 will be well able to take great advantage of this. Everything from combat to pathing to tactics, and who knows, even dialog could benefit! In The Elder Scrolls universe we can expect to see far more sophisticated strategy employed by opponents, with flanking, cover and “mobbing” far more frequent and effective. It’s is rare in Skyrim that you are attacked on mass, or ambushed, expect far more of this as now possibilities emerge in the AI & group behaviour fields.
Additionally computational power will allow for true freedom of movement, with greatly improved “camera” reaction to this. scrambling up and down slopes will look and feel far more realistic, and I still believe proper climbing would hugely benefit the Elder Scrolls experience.
Increased party size is another big possibility. With the surplus computing power we could see Bethesda go down the BioWare path of increasing the number of characters you can actively manage live. But this will not simply add to your fire power, it will also enable much larger and more complex encounters. No longer limited to only supporting 2 characters on your “team” we could see the 4 or 5 members of your team defending an area from perhaps 40 or 50 foes, imagine the excitement, as you yell out commands to them and contend with the improved enemy AI!
“Radiant AI” will be improved and will support far more complex and flexible “decisions” about the game world. Better understanding of where you have and have not been, smoother movement of quest characters within new, current and future quests, better integration with the increased complexity of NPC emotional life and faction based factors, etc.
In the wider game world of Elder Scrolls 6 these improvements will also lead to far more dynamic “faction” based changes to the political landscape. Expect to be both loved and loathed by different peoples but also that outposts, villages and towns will change hands as rival factions fight it out. But most importantly expect to have a more realistic & subtle impact on this; forge treaties, make alliances and establish preferential trade with each group separately, the opportunity for intrigue and deception is huge.
A bigger role. Your effect on the game-world will be stepped up. Expect to make tough decisions about the band / outpost / village / town / kingdom you are responsible for. With each bigger responsibility built on what you learnt from the one before.
Ultimately you will need to decide if you will “manage” a kingdom as it’s ruler, champion a kingdom as it’s… well… champion, or give it all up for a humble family life in an estate you must care for and with a family you must nurture and defend.
Relationships and Characters
Deeper customisation is bound to feature and I expect to see this extend to your companions. An optional feature to tailor and manage your companion’s skills, load-outs and tactics (which can optionally be set to “auto-evolve”) only adds to your investment in them, but again, this will not be all about making your life easier. Expect to have to manage your new found band’s wants and needs and balance them against your own.
Relationships with characters will hold more meaning and be far more important. They will not simply follow you around, but rather engage in ongoing debate about your actions and make decisions about their involvement with you in the short, medium and long term. I can definitely see you starting as a member of someone else’s band, following them around and at some stage deciding to split form them, perhaps taking some hard won friends with you when you go. It will no longer be a simple case of “picking” who you would like to befriend or romance, they will also have to “pick” you. How far will you go to win someone’s favour / love?
Know your weakness. In almost every game you are the “ultimate weapon” for any task which needs completing. In The Elder Scrolls 6 you will need to understand and use the strengths and weaknesses of companions, factions, races and classes. It may be that a task that needs completing is best assigned to a group of companions which does not include you. Do you dispatch them and wait for their return? Or do you take control of one of them for the duration of the task? Will you have a choice? Bethesda it’s over to you!
Environment and Fauna
Environmental impact will be more obvious and impactful. You will have the opportunity to do things like break dams to flood areas and drain others. Build bridges and temporary / permanent structures. Improvise defenses and use things like fire more pro-actively. Place traps and push boulders, destroy walls and who knows maybe even “undermine” (in the original sense of the word) opposing defenses… in a tribute to the game that has inspired these approaches! (Go Notch!)
Animal interaction will be more integrated. From pets to mounts you will be able to tame and provoke animals to great effect. A trusty war dog yes, but a bear as a steed? A friendly troll bodyguard? And of course my much beloved dragon riding. My personal favourite here would be the ability to imbue animals with higher intelligence so they can function as a party member. Will this happen? It’s certainly technically possible…
In a continued move towards more MMO like crafting approaches, and based on the success of other games in this regard, we can expect an increase in crafting options. Expect the ability to break items & equipment down into constituent parts and, in addition to “enchanting” and “sharpening”, more complex recipe like functionality for a wider range of consumables and equipment. Looking at the ability to create a “Blessed Flaming Ebony Sword of Swiftness”, etc. To further enrich this we could see a move towards item specific experience / “leveling” leading to something like a “Venerable Deadly Blessed Flaming Ebony Sword of Swiftness”… luckily we can also very much expect to retain the ability to rename all equipment and armour!
Combat and Magic
Combat will be moved on to the next level. Beyond the huge progress being made game to game already in this regard there exists the possibility for a step change here. The concept that you can be a master with a one handed sword but an idiot with a two handed one just makes no sense. Expect skills and abilities to be more closely and subtly intertwined. But with the new more varied behaviour of opponent’s AI you’ll need it. Not only that but expect “per item” skill progression as you “learn” each individual weapon. Did people swap weapons at will or keep their trusted blade in times gone by? Of course they kept their favourite weapon and became all the more adept with it. Yes they can use other weapons, but it’s never quite the same. The balance between “your weapon” and all others will be tweaked. Add to this motion control options and things get really exciting. defense and attack can be clearly communicated in so many ways the only limit is the flexibility of the combat engine, which will, of course, be improved significantly.
Magic will also see a revamp. Here is the single largest opportunity to do something really special with motion control. No more “A+B+X+Y+A+A” to freeze your opponent. In The Elder Scrolls 6 you can expect to get them in your sights and then blow on them strongly… or perhaps stamp on the ground to cause an earthquake, or push strongly towards them to knock them back with a gust of wind… and breathing fire? Well, expect that to be by intuitively breathing fire! The possibilities here are endless and allow for a massively improved sense of cause and effect. You will “feel” like you really are deploying your skills all the more directly.
Of course this is only a tiny flavour of what we might be seeing in The Elder Scrolls 6, some of the possible ways Bethesda could go, so what would you like to see? What have you been longing to do in the world of The Elder Scrolls?