In all likelihood, we won’t see another main The Elder Scrolls game for a considerable time since there’s been next-to-no information teased yet. The gap between Morrowind and Oblivion was a quaintly tiny four years, the gap between Oblivion and Skyrim a meagre five years and although the gap between Skyrim and now is already standing at nine years this does not mean we should expect the next entry to be much more than a couple of documents on a computer somewhere right now. And while this is annoying, it does at least mean there’s still plenty of time to address the direction the series has gone.
If I were running the project I would be somewhat panicking that the next entry, whenever it comes, will be the first main TES game in a post-The Witcher 3 world which would be making me incredibly nervous about where to take the series and would explain the hesitation to talk about it much. But at the end of the day, and while I obviously don’t speak for the entire market, I don’t need a TES game which rivals The Witcher 3 in terms of graphics fidelity, storytelling, or quest design – after all, whack the ENBseries graphics mods onto Skyrim and it still looks lovely – I want Bethesda to play to their strengths and let CD Projekt Red play to theirs, and Bethesda’s strength in these sorts of games have always traditionally been in role-playing and scope of play options although, bafflingly, in recent years they’ve been chipping away at this seemingly due to wanting to close down the very exploits which make TES games so enjoyable and memorable long-term.
I’ve whinged before about the lack of attributes in Skyrim, and how the perk skill trees are a step down from a full skill system but I do understand how in games of this sort of market size, the more traditional pen and paper class and skill systems are a little incompatible nowadays. I can live with that, so I’ve switched my main gripe over to something which makes no difference to the game’s mainstream accessibility and is purely an issue in terms of world-building and world experience:
De-couple the main quest from guilds / factions
Morrowind and Oblivion did this correctly – in Morrowind, although joining the Blades and Ashlanders were an automatic part of the main quest, all other guilds, factions and houses (which were numerous) were entirely optional. The list includes the Fighters’ Guild, Mages’ Guild, Thieves’ Guild, The Imperial Cult, The Imperial Legion, The Morag Tong, and the great houses Hlaalu, Redoran, and Telvani.
In Oblivion, none of the guilds are mandatory and although the list is vastly cut down from Morrowind, it still offers The Blades, The Fighters’ Guild, Mages’ Guild, Thieves’ Guild, Dark Brotherhood, and a couple exclusive to DLCs. So that’s five entirely optional guilds which offer extensive quest lines.
In Skyrim, there’s The Blades, Companions, College of Winterhold, Thieves’ Guild, and Dark Brotherhood. True, there’s also joining the Stormcloaks / Imperials and the Bards’ College but in terms of quests these are barely factions and more equivalent to some of the factions I’ve omitted from Morrowind’s and Oblivion’s lists above. So in all practicality there are 5 main factions the same as Oblivion. Except, unlike in Oblivion, joining The Blades happens automatically in the main quest. You are also steered into doing the introductory mission to joining the Thieves’ Guild, and joining the College of Winterhold is essential. So of those five main guilds, three of them are forced upon you (and although you’re not forced into it, one of the first things you’ll likely see in the game is the Companions fighting a giant and then telling you that you should join regardless of how ineffective you were against it).
Skyrim appears to be a game designed to be played through once, experiencing everything as a single character. A Dragonborn who is also the Arch-Mage of Winterhold, the leader (sort of) of the Companions, running the Thieves’ Guild and the only pro-active member of The Blades. So as much as Skyrim is a great game to play, running around the world exploring caves and what-not it also feels like there’s nothing really meaty to find since everything big is handed to you on a plate in the main quest. And this in turn makes the world feel a little empty. Another example of this is the extent to which they really want you to do the Daedric shrine quests. Meridia’s Beacon can be found in any of a number of possible chests so you will definitely find it. A courier delivers you a letter to visit the museum in Dawnstar to start the quest for Mehrune’s Razor. The annoying dog beginning Clavicus Vile and the prisoner for Hircine are both thrust upon you in Falkreath. Entering Markarth and doing anything walks you past a prominently located house with some people outside which triggers the Molag Bal quest. YOU WILL EXPERIENCE ALL THESE QUESTS, PLAYER.
Therefore, despite there being countless quibbles I have about the direction The Elder Scrolls games have gone over the years – the streamlining of all those attributes down to just ‘Magic’, ‘Health’, and ‘Stamina’, the streamlining of all those armour parts and the ability to wear cloaks over armour down to hat, body, feet, hands, the erosion of the need to use transport and instead rely on fast travel, and a million other things like this – the primary thing I’d like to see them do is this de-coupling of factions from the main quest and making the Daedric shrine quests something to seek out rather than be handed. Turn The Elder Scrolls back into a game where the decision to join guilds and factions is determined by role-playing rather than necessity, and make it slightly harder to be wielding every Daedric artefact in known existence.