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.
2. 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.
5. 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.
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?