Monday Musings: 10 Ways To A Better Elder Scrolls

Monday Musings: 10 Ways To A Better Elder Scrolls

oblivion-knightIt’s been over three years since Oblivion, so surely work on a follow-up is well under way at Bethesda. Here’s what I’d like to see them do.

I thought I’d do something different for today’s Monday Musings. Inspired by a thread over on NeoGAF, I’ve been thinking about what I would do if I was designing the next Elder Scrolls. I’m a big fan of Bethesda, from Daggerfall right through to Fallout 3. But as much as I love their games, I’m equally aware of their flaws. Here’s my attempt to fix ’em.

1. Reduce World Scaling
In Oblivion, the whole world levelled up with you. It was supposed to provide you with a constant challenge, but in effect it meant you never felt more powerful. Also, those puny bandits you fought at Level-1 would start wearing super-rare glass armour by the time you hit Level-20. Fallout 3 scaled certain quest encounters, but it also had areas that would kick your arse until you were at a high enough level. It makes the world feel dangerous and more varied. And more fun.

oblivion-stealth2. Stealthier Stealth
Two of the Elder Scrolls main guilds are stealth-based. Yet the way stealth works is primitive, with detection based mainly on your Sneak stat and whether the AI is facing your direction. Thief and Assassin players would love to take advantage of a wider range of stealth abilities: snuffing out light sources, breaking into windows, climbing across rooftops, disguises, using thrown objects as bait or as a decoy, etc. Melee combat made huge strides from Morrowind to Oblivion, so this time it should be the stealth system receiving the innovation.

3. No Morality System
No karma, no alignment, no blatant pet-the-puppy/kick-the-puppy choices, thanks. Morality in the Elder Scrolls should be based on the guilds you join and the quests you take.

4. Overhaul Levelling
Levelling in Oblivion was utterly broken. To attain the maximum +5 attribute bonuses, you spent more time worrying about which skills you were grinding and not enough simply enjoying the game. The next Elder Scrolls should either switch to an experience based system (where XP is awarded for completing quests and performing skill based actions, as in Fallout 3) or a system where your skills increases are reflected in attribute bonuses in a more seamless and incremental way.

oblivion-lead5. Revamped Speechcraft
The persuasion minigame in Oblivion was, frankly, stupid. Sure, it was an interesting little puzzle, but it had no place in determining how successful your conversation options would be. There’s a mod out there called Persuasion Overhaul that actually makes those Coerce, Joke, Boast and Admire options meaningful, based on who you are and what type of NPC you’re speaking to. For example, a burly Nord drinking in a tavern is more likely to be persuaded if you begin boasting and joking with him. It lends so much more personality to the people with whom you interact. Bethesda should copy it.

6. Open Cities
Let’s get back to the Morrowind way of having all the cities right there in the world, where you move seamlessly from the wilderness to civilisation with no loading screens masquerading as town gates.

7. Greater Geographical Variety
Sure, there are different regions within Cyrodiil, each with their own climate and type of vegetation. But there aren’t all that many unusual and eye-catching locations. A huge modding effort has seen the creation of dozens of “unique landscapes” available to add to the countryside. It’s paid off, too, creating a far more diverse and interesting world to explore. I’d love to see some startlingly different areas in the next Elder Scrolls, something to give me a reason to venture out in the wild for some sightseeing, rather than just bush-bashing to the next quest marker.

oblivion-character-models8. More Voice Actors
More, as in, more than the three guys who voiced the entire cast last time around.

9. Better Character Models
People in Cyrodiil were hideously ugly. People in the Capital Wasteland weren’t much better, and I’m not just talking about the ghouls. Bethesda must know this has been a weakness of their games for some time. I can’t imagine they’re not working on vastly improving their character models, especially the faces.

10. No Main Quest
Yes. The main quest in Oblivion was bad. (It was bad in Fallout 3, too.) For me, it’s not so much the quality of the writing or the scenarios the quest takes you through. It’s more the incongruity of it. The main quest is supposed to give you direction and impetus; it’s urgent you find the emperor’s heir and close those Oblivion gates. Yet here’s a game where the whole point is: do whatever you want. You can ignore the main quest in Oblivion for years of in-game time, and still that threat from Mehrunes Dagon never appears to get any closer.
What if the next Elder Scrolls didn’t have one? What if your entire adventure was about the guilds you joined, the people you met, the quests you stumbled upon, and the life you create for yourself? Expand the guilds and the factions, make more of them and make your rise through their ranks more meaningful. But don’t ask me to save the world again. Seriously, I’ve got better things to do.

So, Elder Scrolls fans, how do you rate my suggestions? And what do you think Bethesda should do? What would you like to see in the next Elder Scrolls game?


  • I think it needs a main quest but I don’t think it should try and emphasise time limits when the player is clearly going to do his/her own thing. Maybe more passive quests in that you’re supposed to go to a region and ‘investigate’ something and just doing (any) side quests reveals small but important clues that you can use to piece together a location to explore for the main story. I know you can’t do this for every step of the main story. I’m trying to say that the Main story could be advanced by the player doing what they actually want to do instead of what they have to do.

    That point aside, I second the need for wilder variety of locales (like in Morrowind or Shivering Isles). And quests shouldn’t always end up in a dungeon crawl.. thats.. tedious and annoying. There’s a gorgeous world outside but everything seems to involve you going through some dark windowless underground tomb/cave/ruin/”fortress”. I didn’t think Forts were bunkers but Oblivion seemed to have a different idea -_-

    And second for better cities, but I doubt that’ll happen anytime soon. This seems to be a technological issue with them trying to maintain a certain standard for their graphics 🙁

  • 1. Reduce World Scaling
    You know what’s even more fun than reduced world scaling? No world scaling. It works a treat, and it gives the developers a chance to kind of stretch-out the regions you can explore along with your own character development.
    2. Stealthier Stealth
    Actually Oblivion did a pretty good job with stealth. Light affected your chance of being seen, which includes the light produced by casting spells. Also the speed at which you move, and how much noise you make which is based on the weight of what you’re carrying. Still, more things such as the ability to climb in through windows wouldn’t go astray.
    3. No Morality System
    Karma should be a personal experience, not a stat or figure recorded on paper. Oblivion’s method for ‘goodness’ was determined by how well-known your behavior was. The system makes sense, people react negatively for the negative actions they know you have performed. But if you murder a puppy in the middle of no-where the only person who should feel the pain is you.
    4. Overhaul Levelling
    Levelling in Oblivion was not utterly broken. The problem was the fact that if you didn’t pull of each level perfectly then you would suffer the consequences of the scaling world. IF the world balance is fixed, then the leveling system will still work fine. One forum member had the novel idea of removing the concept of a numeric level and replacing it with only the increasing of skills. I can’t remember the specifics, but it solved all problems in the leveling department.
    6. Open Cities
    The reason for walled-off cities was a technical one; it had to be done. No one sits around the office and goes “let’s put a loading screen around all the cities JUST FOR FUN”. There are reasons for it. The engine can’t handle having so much detail and so many people at the same time as the forest and distant landscape just behind it. Some of Fallout 3’s smaller cities didn’t need walls, but Megaton still did for the same reason.
    7. Greater Geographical Variety
    If they decide to put ES:V in a different province than Generic Fantasy World #2 then you’ll get diverse landscapes. According to lore Cyrodill was meant to be a jungle, but we got Tolkien instead.
    10. No Main Quest
    Just because the main quest was bad doesn’t mean you should remove it. That’s the opposite of a good idea. The solution to a bad main quest is make a better one. It’s not that hard to quantify in words. They just need to look back at other Elder Scrolls MQ’s and remember why they were great.

  • They’re all fair enough. The scaled levelling really made levelling pointless, and being forced into the main quest is also a bit pointless. It’s satisfying to screw the emperor’s last request, but after spending a couple of years being a nasty so and so, it’s kind of disjointing to be able to stroll into it like nothing happened.

  • My biggest request for the elder scrolls is to have the place feel as big as it should.

    1. The King isn’t fooling anyone when he lives in a castle the house with only a handful of guards and servents.

    2. When there is an all out life or death struggle between opposing forces, there should be more than 5-6 people on each side.

    3. Good/Bad Morality choices. Agreed with above comments. where are the Fallout 3 set of the nuke options?

    4. Weapon choices. Farmers with swords? no, no, no. Farmers with scythes, pitchforks and axes. Bows and Arrows should do real damage. An arrow through the brain of a bandit should kill him, not drop him 3 HP (agreed there would have to be balancing).

    5. VENDORS WHO CAN AFFORD TO BUY YOUR LOOT AT FULL VALUE!!! This was my biggest pet peeve in Morrowind, but you could get around it by trading large numbers of smaller value items and waiting a day. Oblivion didn’t even let you sell for ludacris amounts of money. If the blacksmith is the blacksmith to the King, he should have hundreds of thousands of dollars and keep top end stuff. Please Fix!!!

  • Nice article, I still love this game having played it do death a few years ago. But yeah, it had some flaws.

    I agree with all of these, but I think mainly the diversity or lack thereof. It would have added the experience hugely if the region had a variety of different environments. I think that’s why I enjoyed the mage quest where you enter the painting so much, it was a nice new environment to look at.

    I think though, 1 thing they need that isn’t on this list and that’s bigger and better and more DLC. The Shivering Isles expansion was fantastic, but what happened to the other gods? Why couldn’t we go to their worlds?

  • The main problem for me in Oblivion was the lack of impact you had on the world.
    All through my rise in rank through the mages guild i kept hearing about how the current guild master had outlawed necromancy, blah blah blah. Then when i finally archived that coveted position i could … get some free herbs. That’s it? No policy change? No political clout as the head of one of the most powerful organisations in the land? I guess i’ll go pick some more flowers and kill some more re-spawning bandits for their expensive glass armour.

    How about permanate death of enemies?
    Where the hell are all these bandits coming from?? There were more bandits in Oblivion then there were residents of the nations capitol.

    And the main quest problem.
    I’d like to see a main quest series of events that happen according to a set time line. If you haven’t found the abbey with sean bean by day 90, have the denizens of oblivion lay siege to the place. By day 110 he’s dead and you’re screwed. Start spawning hundreds of demons all over the world. Burn it to the ground. That would be awesome to play through.
    As long as you can continue playing after the end of the main quest (unlike fallout 3) then I don’t a have any issue with putting some strict timelines in place to do with the main quest line.

    • That’s a weakness of the guild quests that I feel could be addressed through not having a main quest. Spend those development resources on fleshing out the guild politics and extending the quest line and rewards. You’re right, reaching the rank of guild master should be an awesome achievement, it should have a real impact on your experience of the world.

  • @murray: Dead Rising had pretty strict deadlines on the main storyline, and that was generally one of the biggest complaints about the game.

    • I think the Problem with Dead Rising wasn’t so much the time limit, but the fact that it was coupled with the most broken save system known to man.

      The next Elder Scrolls should have a revamped main quest (with some timed aspects) and a narrative that alters in interesting ways, as murray stated above. Coupled with the save-anywhere-anytime system and you could potentially have an awesome multi-branching epic that you’d want to play through numerous times to experience all the possibilities.

      • Personally, I don’t think there was anything wrong with the save system, OR the timed cases.
        Timed cases added a sense of urgency, and I think allowing gamers to save as much and as often as they want makes things way too easy.

        And even if you didn’t make a case in time, you could still keep playing. Several of the endings actually required you to fail cases. And you could restart with all your beefed up stats to make it easier next time anyway.

    • Maybe, but you can’t create a “living, breathing world” where nothing actually happens.
      Ideally I’d love to see quests that are available during set times in the game.
      For example :
      Day 1: Merchant is looking for a caravan guard
      Day 2: Merchant leaves anyway
      Day 3: Merchant gets attacked, is wounded in the forest
      Day 4: Merchant dies.
      Day 5: Bounty posted to kill / capture bandits. Remains open from then on.

      Then at each stage there is something you could have done. That’s a re-playable game.
      Make the main quest have a timeline, but also don’t make the game unfinishable. Let the big bad dude conquer the world. Show you the consequences of your faffing around flower picking, and then give you a quest to get a magic sword and take out the new demon overlord.

      • I understand what you’re saying, and I think it’s a good idea. As I said above, I personally had no problem with the way Dead Rising worked, but many people hated it.

        Particularly with an open world game, people may lament the limitations on exploration that a strict time limit presents. Of course, as long as they can still keep playing once the world is taken over by the ultimate evil, I don’t see the problem.

        The massive amounts of extra work required for all those branches, on top of the already mammoth undertaking of something like Oblivion is also something to consider.

    • I also liked the way the timed cases worked in Dead Rising. If you wanted to get to the bottom of things, you actually had to work for it.

      Implementing something like that into a game like Oblivion could be very interesting, if you could find the right balance.

      The whole reason I never finished the main quest was the fact that I knew there was no urgency to do so. If the game was just gonna wait for me to get around to saving the world, then I *could* go and close *another* Oblivion gate, or I could go see what’s over there…

      Eventually I just lost interest and never felt compelled to finish the quest.

  • I would like to see some dismemberment in the battles.
    So you could lop an arm off a bandit and he\she would keep fighting on Black Knight style.
    Not entirely realistic, but would give me some extra amusement.

  • I’d love to see a roundup (retrospective?) of the latest tech in Oblivion mods. I’ve not fired Oblivion up for over a year and a half, and I remember there being some mod efforts that were bordering on awesome (but not quite there yet) but not quite there yet.

    Any chance? 🙂

  • I agree entirely with 9/10 of those points.

    Except the point about morality. I felt the morality system was a tad… off. I’d like perhaps at the smallest, a changing of our facial expressions. If we join more evil guilds, do more evil quests, our faces become more sour and bitter.

    Also, we should only gain infamy when we are caught doing something evil, or confess, otherwise it makes no sense.

  • I was always bummed that the people you fed on while a vampire didn’t become vampires themselves. I was really looking forward to creating a vampire apocalypse in cyrodil.

  • Is it just me that would like companies to scale back the graphical “prettyness” factor to make the world as “huge” as it deserves to be?

    I could live with 2004-5 era graphics but with a HUGE world with massive buildings, loads of NPCs and no stupid load screen city walls.

  • How about some more sensible loot tables?
    If I find a hidden cave, battle through loads of beasties, only to get forceps and a pair of beggars shoes, and have this happen over and over again, it kinda puts dampener or the whole exploration thing.

    The player should be adequatly rewarded for being observant and/or fighting through a dungeon.

    They might also like to consider reducing the number of forceps in the world by around 99%.

    • Forceps are required in such quantities to accommodate the sheer number of bandits in glass armour produced in Cyrodiil every day.

  • On the main quest and time limitation thing. I’m sure it would be possible to have only certain parts of the main quest have a time limitation, or completing that part of the quest in different times will cause slightly different outcomes.

    I think it would be kind of cool to have an npc tell me a have to get somewhere quickly, while on the way running into someone who needs help and telling them I’m in a hurry and will get back to them later.

  • Agree with all of these, especially the voice acting, and love the stealth ideas. Some other suggestions:

    1. This one will be controversial – We shouldn’t be able to do everything with one character. That’s not role playing. You shouldn’t be able to join the Fighter’s Guild if you are a member of the Mage’s Guild. You shouldn’t be able to get to 100 in stealth if you’re 100 in strength (or ranged/melee, etc).

    I know this will annoy perfectionists, but the most interesting thing is being forced to make choices – it’s what makes your character.

    2. Better ability to customise my house – give me an option to mount trophies on the walls, install and move display cabinets, etc. Dropping things and then moving them around is really fiddly, especially on a console.

    Could also be made more detailed than going to a shop and buying set decorations. e.g. if you want a rug, you have to kill an animal, take its pelt to a shop and get a rug made.

      • I have to disagree, I want to play as much as I can without having to start from the beginning simply because I want the other guild quests, my choices shouldn’t cut off game time. Perhaps a better way would be to quit your guild and what it offers if you wish to join another guild, but keep the experience you obtained in that guild.

  • Even without these 10 points, the next one will be a great game. But you make BIG points here.

    I actually LOL’d at #8 & #9.

    Undecided on the whole Quest thing. I probably have more valid points on a game without a main quest as opposed to one with.

    Pros & Cons of NOT having a main quest include: Not knowing when the game ends, good & bad. Good mainly because the game never has to end. You play the game as if your playing your life with your character. The world grows with you. You never have to be, oh i saved the day, now i’ll wander around.

    Not having one means you don’t actually worry about doing it. In games like Oblivion, you do side quests and go off living your characters life. Increasing your stats and joining guilds but then you think OH SHAT! THAT QUEST! But without one, you don’t need those moments even if you can ignore the main quest for 3 years.

    Fallout 3 has had so much DLC in such little time. It has made the game have to much playability and RE-playability. Although the storyline can end, you can keep doing the DLC and playing the game. And its so interesting with the setting & the experience.

  • I’d really like an Elder Scrolls or like game to HAVE time limits on the main quest. The player can then decide to follow the quest or not, and there is consequence to it.

    For example, being able to get to Kvatch in time to save it, or if you ignore the gated cities long enough they too will be destroyed.

    Where Oblivion failed over Morrowind was it’s attempt to make all the content available to anyone on the first playthrough. In one sense it was handy, but it destroyed the replayability of the game for me because it was like passing through the digestive system of a goose with your mouth open. There’s no resistance at all and little nutritional reward to got with it.

    Heading off to loot tombs then emerging months later to find Lord Dagon-Howsyourfather tearing up the white tower would have been freaking awesome. Crowds of loser NPCs running up to you and shouting in the same voice “Why didn’t you save us!” with their poorly animated lips providing both the question and the answer should have been a player choice available in Oblivion.

  • I don’t think the writer was asking why something could or could not be done, simply how to make things better. That being said, I think that all the points are awesome with the exception of
    #10. There should be some sort of main quest as it helps people who are new to the series have a start point for understanding the game instead of wandering aimlessly to pick one up from a passing citizen. Furthermore, I can’t stress enough how much I agree with no Karma, in fallout 3 it was just one other thing that I didn’t care about but was constantly worrying about because it did effect the game in an annoying way.

  • I’m in a bit of a rush right now, so I’m just going to comment on your last point, sorry but I’m going to keep this short. I agree that there shouldn’t be a main quest, but I do think that there should be a “save the world” feel. The guild you join, and quests you find should shape the information you get, and effect your path through the story. That is, instead of being given a clear quest to do, you should start the game oblivious to the threat presumably on the horizon, but slowly uncover plots and hidden enemy on your way through the via seemingly unrelated quests, later finding out the links. I could do a better job of explaining it, but as I said, I’m in a rush.

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