I love Oblivion, but not because it was perfect. That and the previous Elder Scrolls game Morrowind were great because they tried more than they could do flawlessly - that's what made them so liberating compared to a lot of other RPGs. Now that we know Skyrim is coming, though, it's time to take a harder look at what the Elder Scrolls games could be doing better. This is what we want from The Elder Scrolls V.
1. A better level up system
If I want to be a good swordsman in Oblivion, the last thing I should do is pick Blade as one of my specialty skills. If I avoid it completely, I can still get better with a sword through practise, and it won't raise my character level. I can become the greatest swordsman in the world for any given level.
Improving skills with practise is a cornerstone of the Elder Scrolls series, and it has potential. But TES V needs to find a smarter way to blend it with the intentionality of character customisation.
2. Content that doesn't scale
We need to feel like leveling up makes us more powerful. If the whole world levels up with us, that sense is lost. It also makes the game world too even: nowhere is particularly dangerous in Oblivion because everything is so politely level-appropriate. Morrowind had some level-scaling, but enough fixed danger to feel wild, and enough genuine progression to be compulsive.
3. Vicious combat
At level 1, hitting someone with a warhammer feels great. They just crumple. In the late game, though, you and your enemies have such a vast pool of hitpoints that every fight is a war of attrition, which makes each blow feel meaningless. It needs to be quick, vicious and deadly, whatever level you're at.
4. A bigger voice cast
Unless one of them is Billy West (Fry, Dr Zoidberg, Professor Farnsworth, Zapp Brannigan, Richard Nixon, Abraham Lincoln, Leo Wong and Humorbot 5.0 in Futurama), you can't use the same few guys for a world with hundreds of characters. You don't have to stump up for big names like Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean again - their celebrity didn't make the game better. Spend that money on a dozen more decent, varied performances.
5. Better faces
Look what you did to Patrick Stewart:
6. No face zoom
Regardless of looks, it's not polite to get up in someone's grill to quite this extent. Particularly if it involves extending your neck more than three meters.
7. NPCs who know when to shut up
Hey guys, the player's here! Let's all make canned smalltalk at the same time! Make sure your reply doesn't quite relate to what I said, and it's one he's heard three times in the last two minutes! Good day!
8. A more exciting magic system
The Destruction school of magic I inderstand. Restoration: yes. Even Illusion - invisibility and whatnot, great. Then Alteration? Spells that alter things? Don't all spells alter things? And Mysticism - as opposed to scientific magic? Some of the spells are great, but the schools themselves are well overdue for an overhaul to make them more logical, distinct and exciting.
9. Weird places
Forests are great. I have no issues with hills. I love a good lake. But I hope Skyrim has some regions that are just a little off, a little alien, a little non-Tolkeinian. That's why there are hordes of Morrowind fans who never accepted Oblivion - that and:
10. A proper PC interface
Come on, nerdy stats and inventory lists are what the PC was made for. Let us at 'em. Oblivion's interface is capable of listing between THREE and SIX items at a time before you have to scroll. Same goes for the map - if Bethesda have any idea how important a really good map can be to the sense of being in a fantasy world, the size of the damn thing in Oblivion didn't show it. These aren't huge issues, but look: modders fixed them in a day or two. If you seriously don't have anyone who can do that before release, hire those modders.
I know every cross-platform developer loves to say "All three versions are identical," to wash their hands of the platform wars, but guys: they're not. One of them is played with a mouse and keyboard from two feet away. Notice this.
11. Varied dungeons
We know you can do this now - Fallout 3 is an object lesson in filling an open world with interestingly different locations. Fantasy equivalent of that, please.
12. A main quest without the padding
The Oblivion gates themselves were the least interesting thing in Oblivion, reducing a freeform game to straight combat. So please don't ask us to fight through six of them in a row - very few players realised that they were even optional. The main quest in TES V should be as long or short as the interestingly different content you can make for it.
13. A villain we hate
It's hard to really get worked up about demons bent on destroying the world. I'd rather they didn't, but I have nothing against them personally. In Mass Effect, no-one really hated the Reapers. The guy we couldn't wait to kill was Saren, because our beef was personal. You don't have to have them kill our father/mother/brother/son/girlfriend - in fact that rarely works. They just have to be a bastard, and one who's getting away with it.
14. Modding tools
Bethesda have always been good with this - The Elder Scrolls Construction Set is a modder's dream, and the 24,000 mods it's led to demonstrates that. Almost every other niggle with Oblivion in this list was eventually addressed by the community. Unless you have a secret formula for making TES V all things to all people, please keep giving people the tools to tinker.
15. Free horse armour
Bethesda Softworks community manager Nick Breckon has confirmed that the next Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim, will use an all new engine. This is contrary to a recent rumour that Bethesda's next game would still use the Gamebryo engine that powered The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout 3.
The controversy around Gamebryo can be summarised as: good at trees, crap at faces. It made Oblivion's landscapes gorgeous, but led to some ugly people and odd behaviour. The way it transitioned between low and high detail scenery as you moved through the world also caused some blurry textures and suddenly appearing objects on some machines.
Since Bethesda's parent company ZeniMax now owns id Software, the second most popular theory was that Skyrim might use id Tech 5, the engine developed for their next game Rage. Apparently not - "all new" suggests this is one developed specifically for Skyrim, or at least not seen in other games yet. Here's Nick's Tweet.
Dec 12, 2010
Nov 23, 2010
It looks as though Bethesda are indeed hard at work on the next Elder Scrolls game, with reports saying that it will be a direct sequel to Oblivion, and that voice recording for the game is already underway.
Eurogamer Denmark spilled the beans on the sequel after speaking to someone involved on the game's development. Eurogamer have translated the Danish news report, and it reads like this:
"This source not only confirmed that the game is in current production, but also spoke briefly about the content - with fantasy-sounding phrases like Dragon Lord, something with The Blades - and that voice acting for the characters in the game is currently happening in the weeks to follow.
The same source confirmed, with official game documents in hand, that this will be the chronological sequel to what happened in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which is the latest game in the now 16-years-old Elder Scrolls saga and by itself one of the better RPGs for PC and consoles."
Oblivion was released all the way back in 2006, and there has since been little word of a sequel, it might finally be time to get excited.
Update: if the information is accurate, the term 'chronological sequel' may simply mean that the game is set later than Oblivion. So far each of the four Elder Scrolls games have been set later than the last, but none have been direct sequels in the ordinary sense: very few characters appear in more than one game, the hero is always a new character, and the plots don't connect. That may still be true of The Elder Scrolls V.