I have played an embarrassing amount of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. And I mean that literally: I’m so embarrassed at the amount of time that I’ve spent playing this game, time that would probably have been better put towards improving myself in some way, that I’m not actually going to tell you what that amount is. And even having said that, I’m still finding tiny bits of story, little unexplored bits of the massive Skyrim game map, little twists in technique and strategy, that keep the game fresh… and that’s even without touching the massive and game-changing world of player-created mods for the PC version.
A lot of gamers like me are going to be spending this week engrossed in Fallout 4, and they’ll enjoy it for a lot of the same reasons. However, I’ve never been all that interested in Bethesda’s other sprawling RPG series, because I find the post-apocalyptic world off-putting. The setting just sucks all of the life out of me. I know I’m in the minority here, and that’s OK. Similarly, the MMO structure of Elder Scrolls Online turns me off – aside from the significant amount of money needed to actually play the game when it first launched, the go-anywhere, do-anything, conquer the world feeling I get from the single-player games doesn’t interest me if I need to share it with others, and indeed, rely on them for my own success. I’ve not tried ESO, it may be brilliant, but based on my experiences with MMOs in the past, I’m just not interested.
So here I sit, patiently waiting for the next true entry in the Elder Scrolls series. Since Bethesda is just wrapping up production on the core of Fallout 4 and will likely spend the next year or so on support and DLC, I think it’s the perfect time to throw my wishes for the next fantasy RPG out into the ether. Of course no one at Bethesda is obligated to grant them; hell, they’re rather long-winded and specific, so I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t even read them. But I’ll vainly hope that my requests, gently critical as they may be, could win over some hearts and minds.
A new combat system
As excellent as the Elder Scrolls series is, the combat has been the weakest part of its core experience for some time. If you play as a standard warrior you get basic slash and block techniques and not much else, with the ranged combat of bows thrown in for good measure. If you play as a thief or rogue you get to sneak about and inflict massive damage while hoping to Noctural that no one sees you. Mages get the greatest variety of the three primary systems thanks to expanded options from the various schools of magic, but it still basically boils down to shooting stuff out of your hands in either first- or third-person.
Of course the best way to play is to roll your own class, to mix skills and classes to suit your own style. Skyrim‘s leveling system did a good job of enabling that. But when I put the game down and slipped into games with more elaborate combat systems, it really makes the Elder Scrolls series seem dated. The omni-directional melee combat of Arkham Asylum and its many imitators, the tactical third-person slashing and parrying of Dark Souls, and the new and exciting movement systems of shooters like Titanfall make me yearn to see something more fluid and interesting in Elder Scrolls. The Witcher series, while working with a similar fantasy setting and weapons, manages to have much more engaging and entertaining combat. Even a return to the spell mixing system that was, for some reason, abandoned after Oblivion would be an improvement.
Changing up the entire combat system would be a huge shift in the series, of course. It would make the quick switching between first and third person more difficult for a start, and creating enemies that are dangerous and challenging would be a tall order – the aforementioned Batman-style games tend to simply throw dozens of enemies at you at once if they need a challenging boss fight. Nevertheless, I think it’s the single most effective change the developers could make to create a more engaging experience.
Speaking of challenge…