The Altered Scrolls, Part 14: The Last Era

By Rutskarn Posted Saturday Dec 12, 2015

Filed under: Elder Scrolls 82 comments

Why would I write a series about how the Elder Scrolls games change drastically with each iteration, then doubt it will happen again?

Why would I quote Todd Howard, god-daddy and showrunner of the franchise, as saying that each game is a total reinvention–and then guess that it would soon be otherwise?

Why do I think Bethesda’s open-world model is beginning to settle?

It all comes back to one consideration I hadn’t even reckoned on bringing up when I began this series. It’s an inaccurate buzzword trio coined in spite that accidentally almost came true seven years later, and discussing it is going to mean identifying what the underlying spirit–if any–of these games really is.

Oblivion With Guns.”

I’ll summarize what will for most readers be a tiresomely familiar history: between Oblivion and Skyrim, Bethesda creates a successor to a very old in-depth roleplaying game and adapts what used to be top-down, 2D, character-is-the-size-of-a-penny, very numbers-focused and slow-paced gameplay into a fast-paced first-person game rendered in full 3D. Even this change was enough to frustrate many fans of the originals, and long before anything concrete was known about the game’s writing or tone people were claiming the upcoming Fallout 3 was going to be “Oblivion with Guns.”

They were mistaken.

Whatever Fallout 3 is or is not, it bears only very superficial resemblance to Oblivion. Fallout 3 has a variety of dialogue options to suit diverse and specific characterizations. Oblivion has only enough dialogue options to cover functions of exposition and choosing roughly branching paths (“I am going to not accept your quest” or “I am going to accept your quest”). Fallout 3‘s combat is decidedly quick and brutal as compared to Oblivion‘s slow-paced tediously-managed slog. Fallout 3 has a story that starts and finishes (or at least, it was initially supposed to) whereas Oblivion is not constrained to its main narrative, but expanded to a full exploration of all its locations and interests. Small considerations of stats have a drastic effect on how your character in Oblivion moves and interacts with the world and don’t affect Fallout 3‘s motion at all. Fallout 3 is constructed primarily around seamlessly exploring environments laden with visual storytelling while Oblivion condenses all of its points of interests in a narrow range of locations broken up by nothing much. However one feels about Bethesda‘s approach, there’s not much comparison between Fallout 3 and any given TES game.

Then Skyrim came out. It was a smash-hit megasuccess. A few years later, they released Fallout 4.

Fallout 4 is Skyrim with guns.

In this screenshot, I am murdering a bandit. This represents an even 15% of the Skyrim experience. This is not a complaint.
In this screenshot, I am murdering a bandit. This represents an even 15% of the Skyrim experience. This is not a complaint.

That’s a broad statement and not totally fair, but one I’ll stand by. There’s much more design DNA shared between those two titles than almost any other two Bethesda games; the experience of inhabiting either game is strikingly similar. Jumping, sprinting, decisive combat, choices doing more to directly tailor experiences than characterize a player character–the way the world is built around a few factions each vague enough in practice to be generally sympathetic, the way a few heavy and broad aesthetic philosophies are stretched across the entire gameworld, the crafting systems, the perk trees–there are certainly innovations and even differences in philosophy, but it’s far easier to see the connective tissue between these titles than Oblivion and Skyrim. The greatest changes between any given pair of TES games since Daggerfall have been subtractions, removing systems rather than adding them; Fallout 4 is largely a reduction of Fallout 3 but an addition to Skyrim, suggesting that rather than seek their customary reinvention of the core mechanics they’re settling for creating new ones. Why should this be?

A better question, and one it’s about time I got around to, is this: why do these games keep changing around in the first place?

The easiest answer is the one that feels best: the games keep changing because, in the manner of craftsmen everywhere, Bethesda feels like they’re not getting something quite right. Every time they have a finished product there’s some technological innovation, logical next step, or grand opportunity they can pursue next time. If the games keep making money, why not chase the dream? Why not give in to an urge towards constant improvement?

Here we see a stone hallway and approximately 75% of the colors present in this videogame.
Here we see a stone hallway and approximately 75% of the colors present in this videogame.

But the thing about this drive is that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s responsive to how the games are played and how they’re received, and now more than ever, Bethesda is drowning in feedback and almost all of it has been positive. Skyrim‘s reception was a foghorn blast of reverence and joy that carried on for years after release; arguably the only reason you don’t still see dozens of Skyrim posts every time you visit a gaming forum or subreddit is that Fallout 4 is out now. It’s only natural that the drive to improve concern features that weren’t massively popular, and features that are not massively and visibly popular are becoming decreasingly common. Therefore, the tendency is not to remove what’s been part of a smash-hit phenomenon but add more points of interest to it.

What’s more, as the games are growing more popular, the scope and resources required to make them increases commensurately. Sweeping changes to gameplay, tone, and tone are obviously more difficult to coordinate between hundreds of employees than between tens; one change in approach must be communicated to and satisfactorily adapted across the entire team and must lose nothing for the transition. It would be much easier for a company like this to get good at one specific set of objectives than reorient every employee every time.

I say all of this now, and accept the burden of defending it later, because I sincerely believe that an in-depth analysis of Skyrim‘s ethos will reveal much about the franchise’s future. For better or for worse, I think they’re onto something semi-permanent. I don’t know if it’s the kind of game they’d been meaning to make all along, but I know it’s the kind of game they could keep making for a long, long time.


From The Archives:

82 thoughts on “The Altered Scrolls, Part 14: The Last Era

  1. Duoae says:

    I think you’re spot on about the similarities between the design and feel of Skryim and Fallout 4. However, I think I would add that actually it is the other way around: Bethesda Fallout 3-ified Skyrim and thus that is why it is more similar to F4 due to F4 being similar to F3.

    So would imply that it was Fallout 3’s break-out success that informed the design decisions going forward, not Skyrim’s. Skyrim’s success is just a reaffirmation that their choice to double down on the Fallout 3 mechanics and design style was the correct choice.

    “I don't know if it's the kind of game they'd been meaning to make all along, but I know it's the kind of game they could keep making for a long, long time.”

    This scares me. Not because I couldn’t see myself playing these games (although I hope the writing improves with each iteration!) but because there’s around 4 years between each release, right? (Fallout 3 2008, Skyrim 2011, Fallout 4 2015) and that might only increase. So I calculate that there’s only around 6 more games in my lifetime!!

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      So you’re saying, “Skyrim is Fallout 3 with swords”.

    2. Durendal says:

      “So I calculate that there's only around 6 more games in my lifetime!!”
      Don’t mean to ask something too personal, but how did you come to the conclusion that you have 24 years left?

      1. Stu Friedberg says:

        I can’t answer for him, but I’m closer to 60 than 50 years of age. I’ll be lucky to live another 24 years.

        1. Durendal says:

          Ah, I see. I guess this site has more older readers than most? It would certainly explain the respectful atmosphere around this part of the net, haha. Here’s to another 24!

  2. CliveHowlitzer says:

    I got bored of Fallout 4 at about the exact same pace as I did Skyrim. It also has many of the same shortcomings and little things that irritated me. I suppose it isn’t a coincidence! The question is whether mods can save Fallout 4 the way they did with Skyrim(Kind of…)

    1. Andy_Panthro says:

      I would say I’ve become bored with all of Bethesda’s recent games in much the same way, from Oblivion to Fallout 4.

      Once I’ve seen most of the interesting or fun parts, all that’s left is a big map full of stuff, and a much less interesting main story.

      Thankfully the point at which I become bored with it is at the over 30-40 hours mark, so you do get value for money!

      1. Weirdly, these games are more about building my character than exploring for me. I like the exploring, but that’s how I build up my character, ultimately.

        I get bored when I’ve gotten most of the character stuff I wanted and I’ve got it working to the point where I can effortlessly steamroll everything.

        1. Andy_Panthro says:

          I guess I feel like there’s only a limited amount of ways to build a character, and I generally go for a jack-of-all-trades anyway. This is especially true of Fallout 4 though, less so of the Elder Scrolls games.

        2. Aldowyn says:

          Yep. I just hit that point with Fallout 4 – not coincidentally, I just got all of the tier 4 crafting perks. Invincible power armor, godlike guns, more ammo than I know what to do with.. etc etc. Now I’m like “I should probably find the interesting side quests and finish the main story before I quit and never come back”

        3. djw says:

          That basically describes my reaction to every single RPG that I have ever played. I only make it to the end if the story is extra compelling (like Pillars of Eternity) or if the end is already in sight when I have maximum power.

          This may be why I liked Neverwinter Nights 2 even though the story had egregiously bad plot devices (like “the door”). The level scheme capped out right before the end dungeon (or IN the end dungeon if you played a +2 ecl race) and the numbers go up aspect kept me hooked.

    2. If you played around with the Hearthfire DLC and the house-building in Skyrim, the settlement building on Fallout 4 feels very much like “next upgrade of Hearthfire”.

    3. Cilvre says:

      i felt the same way about both, though mods saved skyrim a bit for me. It’s hard to see mods saving fallout 4 since the story is so tied to majority of the quests. I have about 45 hours in and all the achievements now, so I don’t see myself replaying it as much as i did skyrim.

  3. Phantos says:

    “Fallout 4 is Skyrim with guns”

    That’s like calling Mad Max Fury Road: “The Postman with cars”. :P

    1. evileeyore says:

      Except the Postman was good!

      Or do you mean Fallout 4 is mess of contradictions, plot-holes, and stupidity strung together with over-the-top cheesy action and Michal Bayesque explosions?

      1. tmtvl says:

        Which would be entirely correct, come to think of it.

      2. Phantos says:

        “The Postman was good!”

        Reading that is like hearing someone say their favourite video game is “Desert Bus”.

        1. Harold says:

          Well, one of my favourite games is “Flower, Sun and Rain”, which is not quite there, but still has enough walking that people often rag on it.

        2. evileeyore says:

          False. It’s like hearing someone say “I love the Batman rhythm combat game” when you hate that aspect of the game.

          1. MadHiro says:

            The general consensus seems to be that The Postman was pretty awful, and that Mad Max: Fury Road was really rather good. Surprise at liking The Postman seems like a likely reaction, and surprise at thinking The Postman was better than MM:FR is almost certain. This also explains why comparing liking The Postman with Desert Bus (something that essentially no one genuinely likes) makes sense, whereas comparing The Postman to elements of the recent Batman games (critically and commercially successful, in stark contrast to the Postman) does not.

            Addendum: Oh, hey. The Postman won that year’s Golden Raspberry for Worst Picture, joining such luminous films as Showgirls, Battlefield Earth and The Love Guru.

  4. Ambitious Sloth says:

    The similarities between the two are very apparent and I do expect Bethesda to continue with the current model for any future games. Which makes curious how much in innovation can be put in this type of game. A lot, I suspect. There are hundreds of different variables to mess with in these games, and room for even more.

    It does make me wonder though if the design will always stay fresh. Not that I’m worried it will become as monotonous as the Ubisoft Open World Game(tm), but there is some hint of it in the air even now. As you said, they could make this type of game for a long time.

    Their values of quick fun, and player actions, over the number crunching, and tedium of older role playing games is a choice that I think works out better for their games. I don’t know how Skyrim would have went if you survived a dragon attack and exection. Only to spend the next 15 minutes gently fanning rats with your sword until they died.

    1. Zombie says:

      I mean, look at the settlement building and crafting systems in Fallout 4. Even if it is just Skyrim with Guns, those are really robust systems that got put into the game.

      And I think the reason everyone hates the Ubisoft Open World Game(tm) is because it comes out every year. Every. Single. Year. Without fail. Everything gets stale and boring if you do it every year. The amount of time between Fallout New Vegas and Fallout 4 was five years, and Fallout 4 came four years after Skyrim.

      While I won’t say it won’t ever get stale, Fallout does at least come out in longer intervals, meaning we never just say “Ugh, ANOTHER Fallout? Get some new ideas Bethesda!” instead of “NEW FALLOUT?! AFTER FIVE YEARS! YES PLEASE!”.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Well maybe once they settle for some mechanics Bethesda will actually focus on delivering a satisfactory storyline. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very much a matter of taste but I play these games largely as storytelling devices and while side stories have often been excellent the main quests have been lacking for a long time.

      2. Couscous says:

        It isn’t just because they come out every year. It is because you have one that comes out every year and other similar games that come out every year. Yes, Assassin’s Creed is not a third person shooter/brawler/car combat game like Mad Max, but the underlying systems often become pretty tedious in much the same way.

        Bethesda feels like the only company doing Skyrim/Fallout 4 style games. You have other open world RPGs like the Witcher 3, but those usually still feel massively different in structure to me. With a lot of the Ubisoft open world style games, they don’t feel massively different to me even though I can see what should feel like huge differences.

        1. Joe Leigh says:

          Mad Max isn’t Ubisoft though, it’s WB. The open world stuff feels just a bit more optional and less pointless at the same time.

          1. Couscous says:

            The Ubisoft open world style games include more than just Ubisoft games now.

            The thing that separates them from something like the Witcher 3 or Fallout 3 or Skyrim is what I consider huge filler. It is repeated ad nauseum, and they often have unlock mechanics so you sometimes are required to do a lot of it to just go through the quests when actual thought put into them. Some of the stuff was never fun, but other parts start out fun before the tedium sets in after I run out of any way I can think of to make the stuff interesting. In Skyrim or Fallout 3, the dungeons are usually interesting in some way even if it is just a small bit of environmental storytelling. When playing something Just Cause 2, I had a lot of fun for a few hours, but I was already kind of causing destruction just to fill bars before all the story missions unlocked.

            1. Syal says:

              I wonder whether Rockstar games count as Ubisoft games now.

              1. Couscous says:

                It is called a style because it is not limited to them. It isn’t like developers never copy each other.

                GTAV lacks things like towers or tower-analogues to climb to unlock parts of the map and map icons, pretty copy pasted strongholds as an important part of the game, and core gameplay loop more built around busy work than anything else. The main story is much longer than what a game like Farcry 3 or Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is if you ignore the more copy pasted side stuff so the game is less reliant on side content for content.

                GTAIII had relatively little side stuff outside of the story missions, and those were very much side stuff the game didn’t really focus on. Future games would keep the very meaty story missions and expand on side content without turning it into busy work with some exceptions.

            2. Aldowyn says:

              Ironically, I think Witcher 3 actually had a fair bit of that ‘filler’ in its open-world DNA, with all those map icons for ‘treasures’ and ‘creature nests’ and otherwise TOTALLY inconsequential checklist-type- activities. It’s an amazing game, but I just started ignoring those half way through the second act, except for the ones I naturally came across.

      3. Jarenth says:

        Everything gets stale and boring if you do it every year.”

        Well. If you didn’t like my last birthday party, you could’ve just said so.

  5. Corpital says:

    “Sweeping changes to gameplay, tone, and tone are obviously more difficult to coordinate[…]”

    You should tone this down a bit.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Aye – he needs to watch his tone.

      1. Somniorum says:

        On the contrary, I think he has a well toned argument – although it surely would’ve had more muscle if he’d also listed tone, tone, and tone.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      “‘gameplay, tone, and tone” and tone and tone and tone and tone and tone and gameplay, tone, and tone…”
      Sounds like sweet groove lyrics for some trance techno.

      1. Peter says:

        Spam, Spam, Spam, egg and Spam.

        (aside, checking the ‘not a spammer‘ box is amusing, with this message).

    3. Bubble181 says:

      I think this whole review was completely tone deaf, really.

      1. NotSteve says:

        I wonder how he’ll atone?

    4. Andy_Panthro says:

      Have you got anything without tone?

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:


  6. Wide And Nerdy says:

    It actually gives me some cause for hope. A few of the things they improved in Fallout 4 are things Skyrim could use, the settlement system, the greater sense of physicality (power armor, being thrown around by Deathclaws), the improvements in writing, companions. I mean in Skyrim the only companions I remember are Lydia because you get her first, and Serana because she has a lot more personality than any prior companion in Skyrim and she introduces the radiant AI (remember before Serana, your companions stood around rather than walking around and interacting with stuff. I think they overdid this feature in Fallout 4 and may need to back off a bit. Serana both in terms of AI and quality of voice acting and writing was a precursor to FO4’s companions, and my introduction to Laura Bailey).

    I remember during Spoiler Warning, you guys seemed to be expressing that Skyrim was a good base but it just needed more. The experience felt shallow without more things to do other than kill. Fallout 4’s settlement system is a step towards that (although the game is just as combat laden).

    I for one would be quite happy if they just kept iterating on the Skyrim design in future TES games. Improve the aesthetics, add more systems (stuff to do), make combat feel more physical, make the companions better (and work on the damn AI, because fuck the Bethesda AI).

    EDIT: Ok I guess I remember Mjoll too but thats more an accident. She was created for a quest to purge Riften of crime family that was left on the cutting room floor. So I married her and took her on the road to get her focused on something other than trying to save a doomed city that was truly hopelessly mired in corruption.

    1. Kalil says:

      I married Mjoll mainly ’cause I thought Aerin was cute.
      Two for the price of one (with Hearthstone, he moves in with you too). =^.^=

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Glad it worked out for you. It took me a little while to kill Aerin in a way that didn’t seem to make Mjoll suspicious (I ended up deleting him via the console I think). Yeah I don’t take package deals when it comes to marriage. That game really should have gone ahead and implemented its divorce system (and yes they did have one, there are mods that restore it and tellingly all the marriageable candidates have voiced dialog for it.)

        1. TMC_Sherpa says:

          I remember that being tricky. I wanna say I kept talking to him while they were leaving their house so Mjoll left the zone before the stabby stab?

          The real pig was getting rid of Bassianus. Fastred is programed to stay next to him so even after I “accidentally” hit him during a fight with a thief in Riften (which turned him hostile so I could kill him without the guards and Fastred causing problems) she wouldn’t leave his body. Even after I thew it into the canal. That one wasn’t a marriage deal, he was simply a jackass.

    2. Aldowyn says:

      The companions stuff seems like they’re taking a page out of Bioware’s book, or trying. Piper and Nick are cool, but they’re still no Garrus or Cassandra.

      As for the settlement system, it’s so superficial I can’t engage with it at all except to feed my massive adhesive requirements.

      1. IFS says:

        So you’re saying that it stuck with you?

  7. Infinitron says:

    It’s Todd. Todd Howard.

  8. Andy_Panthro says:

    Maybe it’s because I’m one of those older Fallout fans, and I was a bit annoyed about Fallout 3 (although I did play it quite a bit, and there were things I liked), but I really did feel like Fallout 3 was Oblivion with guns and I still do today. Of course it was intended as a flat criticism, but it’s not really an insult, especially to fans of Oblivion who probably outnumbers fans of Fallout 1/2.

    Even playing Fallout 4, there’s a certain look and feel to the game which is reminiscent of Oblivion, even if they’ve tweaked or added (and sometimes removed) so many things since then. There just feels like a noticeable ancestry between Oblivion, Fallout 3, Skyrim and Fallout 4. Much more so than the bigger changes between Daggerfall, Morrowind and Oblivion.

    1. Raygereio says:

      How much of that similar look and feel is because of similarities in game engines, as opposed to design?
      Skyrim’s Creation Engine shares many quirks with Oblivion’s Gamebryo engine that make them “feel” similar. Morrowind’s NetImmerse certainly has its fair share is similarities to Oblivion’s and even Skyrim’s engine. But with Oblivion Bethesda introduced some important stuff like physics to their codebase that’s intergral to how a game engine plays.

      To give a non-Bethesda example: I played a ton of NWN2. That game uses the Electron Engine which is based of Bioware’s NWN1 Aurora Engine.
      When I first played The Witcher 1 (which uses the Aurora Engine) I immediately had “Wow, this feels like NWN2”-vibe due to for example how similar the movement mechanics felt.

      1. Andy_Panthro says:

        That certainly plays a big part. The way each world has been built from Oblivion to Fallout 4 feels similar though, full of little self-contained areas inside a wider open world. The way the combat feels, although this has been improved in Skyrim/Fallout 4. The way the main story barely interferes with the world around you. The way the NPCs go about their day and interact with the player and each other. Some of this can probably be tied to the engine, but I would also assume that it’s at least partially down to these games being produced by many of the same people and to stick to a winning formula.

        I never felt the same way about The Witcher vs. NWN2 though, but then those are very different RPGs (party based vs. single character, very different combat mechanics, etc.). I didn’t play either of those games for anywhere near the hours I’ve put into the four Bethesda games though, so I don’t have quite the same level of familiarity.

    2. Nidokoenig says:

      There’s definitely a perspective thing. The old school, NMA people who do things like say “Fallout 3 was trash, Elder Scrolls: Wasteland was decent” are quite focused on a different style of game, so to them Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Skyrim look as similar as annual shooters or hidden object games do to people who don’t particularly care, or how pretty much nobody gives enough of a shit to be able to tell Aussie accents from Kiwi.

      To be fair, there’s a basic rhythm to the Bethesda games of run around, kill things, loot things, sell things, pretend to give a shit about what the NPC is saying that isn’t as marked as it is in Fallout 1 and 2, partly because of the fight/sneak/speech rule and partly because the combat is generally built up to(unless the player decides to go in guns blazing), you learn something about the village before you fight for or against it, primarily because the combat can’t really carry the game by itself.

      Also, not to bring the tone down or anything, but judging by the comment number in the URL, we’re about a fifth of a Mass Effect post away from the 1 millionth comment. Though I dunno, the number could be nonsense.

      1. MichaelGC says:

        Heh! Unfortunately it doesn’t look like they’re nice and neatly sequential – the very first comment here is 16574, and the second is 23553, so that’s some Mensa-level stuff required to work out the pattern, if there is one. (999966 is a cool number, though.)

        Edit: Oh hold on – those comments are on the first page, but looking at the dates they’re not chronologically the first comments. The plot potentially thickens…

        Edit-edit: I found Comment 2, and along the way saw comments 4, 5 and 7, so whilst I haven’t spotted 1, 3 & 6, it looks like I’m wrong and they do count up somewhat sequentially! So yay! – I wonder if there’s a prize for the millionth? (Perhaps a small plaque in the shape of a garishly flashing misspelled pop-up message?)

        1. Nidokoenig says:

          Huh. I was more noticing it because I spend a fair bit of time on imageboards, and we watch out for gets partly because it’s a milestone and partly because it’ll mean idiots will come and spam the board to “steal” the get. Most of the comments in this post are 9999xx or 9998xx, so maybe the system got changed sometime.

        2. Shamus says:

          Comments are numbered in the order in which they’re posted, but the numbering applies to all comments on all posts. It also applies to comments that are eaten by the spam filters. Statistically, it’s not all that unlikely that the 1M comment will be a spam that vanishes before anyone ever sees it.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            LAME. If not, I’m sure it’s somewhere on this page. My url currently says 999998… not sure which comment it’s referring to. Maybe my last one?

            1. Nidokoenig says:

              Your current post says 999,999, so you got a get by repeating numbers. Maybe this is 1,000,000?

              (Edit) Well, crud, now I look a fool.

          2. Ninety-Three says:

            Hey, speaking of comment architecture, I often run into a problem where I’ll read all the comments on one of your articles, then come back a day later and see that there’s a bunch more comments, but I have no way to read the new comments without just reading through the entire page again.

            Is there any way around that, a “Show newest comments” button I’m missing somewhere?

            1. MichaelGC says:

              The only kludge I’ve found is to CTRL-F (or equivalent) and then search the date. This only works if it really is a day later, of course! But if you e.g. search for ‘December 13’ on this page your browser should let you step through the most recent comments. It’s not a great help, to be sure, but it’s often better than nothing on busy posts.

      2. GloatingSwine says:

        Really though, Fallout 3 and 4 are more similar to Oblivion and Skryim than they are to Fallout 1 and 2.

        From the perspective of “what experience is this game trying to give the player”, they’re all fairly clearly intended to work along the same lines. They’re intended to present a gamespace that the player can largely investigate at their leisure and wherever the player does choose to investigate they don’t need any context from anywhere else in the gamespace to appreciate what they find.

        That’s, I think, why the main quest in these games is so tenuously linked to the world it takes place in, because it means they don’t have to guide the player to certain locations to obtain context about anything before they’re able to process what the narrative is going to be about.

        It’s not just that Fallout 1, 2, and New Vegas provided multiple ways to resolve quests on both a narrative and mechanical level (not just “sneak/speak/shoot” but also “who do I side with and what are the consequences of that for these people”), though that’s a part of it. The fundamental engagement with the world that they were trying to produce is different.

        Other Fallout* games are designed to guide the player around the world in a way that builds up the context that the narrative is going to rest on, New Vegas sends you do Primm first so you can learn that the NCR is stretched thin and hurting for supplies and resources, then Nipton and Mojave Outpost to show that the Legion is expanding its reach and to give you the NCR reaction to that from the people on the ground. It starts building the context of what’s going to be the main conflict for the future of New Vegas before you even know you’re going to be involved in it, you’re still looking for that knobber who shot you in the head.

        They’re technically open in that they don’t force you into that progression by broken bridges, but they heavily encourage it and are better if you follow the thread.

        * Tempted to say Real Fallout games….

  9. Gawain The Blind says:

    I wish there was more skyrim in fallout 4 then there is. I don’t feel like I need to go over all the problems with it since everyone has done that fairly well all over the googles, but most of the issues I have with it I do not have with skyrim. Skyrim was a much better experience.

  10. Bubble181 says:

    I know I’m in the minority, but I, for one, am sad this is the way they’re going. I’ve played Daggerfall and Morrowind for over a thousand hours each; I’ve played Oblivion for maybe a hundred. I put Skyrim aside after an hour or 2, 3, and don’t even think I got that far in Fallout 3. To me, the newer ones are just….dull.

    1. nerdpride says:

      Sometimes I still play Morrowind. Not sure why? There’s hardly anything new left in the game, it just feels familiar. The start is just frustrating enough to make me think about it a little once in a while but not so bad that I want to drop it like in Oblivion. Makes me feel calm, like things are progressing nicely and I can solve all kinds of problems.

      Also there’s something about reading all that text that I really like.

  11. Aldowyn says:

    Modern Bethesda games are the equivalent of potato chips: Sure, they taste good and they’re pretty hard to stop eating, but at the end of the day they’re not nearly as satisfying as a good meal.

    *edit* welcome to comment #1,000,000, everybody. At least, I’m pretty sure.

    1. MichaelGC says:


    2. Ambitious Sloth says:

      I, for one, welcome our new potato chip Bethesda overlords.

    3. The Specktre says:

      I can think of no finer Twentysider for this honor. Well. Maybe. Details. Who cares.

  12. Maybe it’s just me, and when I get around to doing a Fallout 4 thingie on my own site, my opinion may have changed, but… I think the game that had the biggest influence on Fallout 4 has been Borderlands 2.

    The missions are nearly all combat-resolved or the mobs in a given location are immediately hostile. Locations are re-used for different missions with doors/keys/whatever to open new areas not available until said missions are accepted, or with foes to be killed not poofing into being until the missions are accepted. Weapons are moddable, and you eventually wind up comparing them to see which one has more numbers than the other. Leveling is now more about filling out skill trees than actually molding your character (though your “classes” seem to be “melee, rifle, automatic guns, or pistols”). Artifacts are replaced with armor pieces. Vehicles are power armor. A previously (bad) attempt at a serious story has been replaced with a (decently) goofier one.

    It’s more of a vibe than a direct mechanical copy, but I can’t help thinking that they tried to bring over B2’s mindless shooty-boom carried along by humor. Maybe this was more to make the level-grind a little more appealing? I dunno.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Someone needs to have a talk with whoever at Bethesda decided those cookie-cutter missions EVERY FACTION has an abundance of (to the detriment of actual missions) were a good idea.

      1. GloatingSwine says:

        Preston Garvey’s thirst for Raider blood can never be satisfied…

        Having the repeated radiant quests is really bad for Fallout 4, because they really show how quickly the world snaps back to status quo after the player has left, and no, shooting the same bunch of raiders in the same dungeon (minus their named leader) does not produce engaging content Bethesda.

        I think it was done to support that “no level cap” thing though, because clearing literally every location in the entire world with an average non-XP-farming build only got me to about level 55-56.

        If they’d just set the cap at 50 it would have been fine.

        (I also think Blands was an influence. The Libertalia location in particular feels super Borderlandsy.)

        1. Gruhunchously says:

          “Preston Garvey’s thirst for Raider blood can never be satisfied…”

          You say that in jest, but wouldn’t it be much more interesting (and much more Fallout) if Garvey presented himself with bland but endearing altruism most of the time, but as you spent more time with him you began to get the impression that he enjoys “defending” his settlements a little too much. Like, maybe just have him act like he already does, but as his quest progresses more and more decapitated Raider heads start appearing as mounts on his office wall, along with an assortment of severed hands lining his bookshelves. Occasionally he’ll make a remark about how the smell takes a little getting used to, but he feels it adds to the atmosphere. Righteousness isn’t always pretty, after all.

          1. I want this mod.

            Also, his voice should never change inflection. He talks in the same slightly “up” sing-song tone, even when his home looks worse than a Super Mutant lair.

            He could become completely unessential either when the last settlement is cleared or when you get Liberty Radio working (so it can be a source of radiant missions). Either you have to kill him as he starts executing people for disloyalty, or if you take too long a few of the settlers take matters into their own hands. and Preston “goes on indefinite leave.”

  13. Kestrellius says:

    Oh, no. No. No no no no no. Please tell me you don’t know what you’re talking about. Please.

    If Skyrim really is a trend, and they’re not going to try to fix everything that went wrong…oh dear. That’s…that’s bad. But it makes sense — I mean, nobody (in general) ever brought Skyrim to task for being a shallow theme park of a game, it’s all just adulation and GOTY awards or whatever. And I don’t understand why; I mean, from what little I’ve seen without playing the game it looks like FO4 is put together much better, and people are coming down hard on it, so why was Skyrim so unambiguously well-received?

    (For the record: Skyrim was my introduction to both TES and Bethesda, about…two years ago, maybe? One and a half?)

    So, uh…before I start ranting, do you guys get what Skyrim’s problem is? I need people to understand this, but it’s really hard to put into words.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Considering they did a whole spoiler warning series on it, and “Fallout 4 is Skyrim with guns” sounds like a death knell to me, I think we (most of us) are well aware.

      Honestly, though, IMO the problem is less that later games might be like Skyrim in particular and more that later games might be like ANY of the earlier ones. The whole point of this series has been that each game does something markedly different and reasonably well.

    2. Will says:

      Yeah, I think we guys (and gals) get what Skyrim’s problem is.

      To be honest, what Skyrim does well (trudging around a big, mountainous countryside killing bandits), it does very well. The problem is that the scope of what it does well is pretty narrow and insufficient to make a particularly good game, and the stuff it doesn’t do well it really doesn’t do well. If they abandoned any pretense at writing and the game consisted entirely of killing bandits and selling their stuff, it would hold together pretty well; but while I enjoy a bandit-killing country trudge as much as anyone, that’s not all I want to do in a game, and the plot writing may charitably be called atrocious.

      As for why the mainstream gaming press doesn’t think this… I’m not sure. There seems to be a very broad tendency for big-budget (highly-hyped, really, but budget is a good proxy for that) games to get a pass on a wide variety of flaws, and for writing in general to be underweighted in judgement of a game. I bought Skyrim at release on the strength of Rock Paper Shotgun’s review (in particular the phrase “reverses at dangerous speed back into Morrowind territory”), which the game itself really didn’t live up to. Maybe it’s possible the writing flaws just weren’t obvious in a fevered pre-release review scramble and reviewers then didn’t want to recant their written statements, but I don’t think that explains the popular adulation, and anyway I was annoyed by the shallowness of the writing a few hours in””when I abruptly finished the Mage’s Guild questline at about the point in Oblivion they would finally have deigned to let me into the Arcane University.

      1. Kestrellius says:

        Well, yeah. I watched the SW season (which was btw excellent, of course), but I don’t recall if they ever really hit on what I feel is the central issue, which has less to do with writing, strictly speaking, than how static the world is. Basically the fact that nobody apparently knows anything about you or what’s going on, and you’re not able to tell them. Or at least, that’s a significant part of the central problem. You’re kind of forced to play as someone who keeps everything secret and never tells anyone anything about who he is, and so the whole thing just ends up feeling kind of lonely and depressing if you’re playing it as anything more than, as you said, a bandit-killing simulator.

        Not sure why, but somehow Oblivion handles this much better — I think part of it is how that people greet you like normal people, and only start spouting backstories if you actually talk to them, which along with a disposition stat lends itself to people actually acting like people who know you instead of terrifying dialogue machines* — and, by the way, that’s a lot of why people dumping on Oblivion bothers me. It made plenty of missteps, but when you focus on Oblivion being bad, you’re potentially implicitly praising Skyrim by comparison, and that’s straight-up dangerous for the franchise. This is because it’s virtually impossible to fix this problem in Skyrim — you can’t mod a soul into a world, but you can fix a combat system or character models or world levelling. If Bethesda can’t actually make a whole game that’s good, I wish they’d focus on the stuff that the modders can’t do for them.

        *Which is not to say that Oblivion’s NPCs weren’t terrifying in their own right, but that’s another discussion.

      2. evileeyore says:

        “I bought Skyrim at release on the strength of Rock Paper Shotgun's review…”

        Well your first problem was reading RPS. Your second was failing to realize they’ve been shit for years (previous to Skyrim).

      3. manofsteles says:

        I believe the mainstream gaming press’s standards for writing (and the relative importance that they place on writing) is simply a reflection of what they perceive the mainstream audience to be. While there are plenty of gamers who would love a return to an emphasis on writing like the old Bioware or Interplay RPGs (I include myself as one), it’s likely that the mainstream gaming press simply doesn’t see it as all that important (at least when compared to other things like refined shooter mechanics, high and steady framerate, or high-fidelity graphics).

        There seems to be a sort of dynamic between the AAA development studios and the mainstream gaming press, with the AAA studios wanting to chase the largest and widest audiences possible (partly to pay for ever-expanding budgets), and the gaming press wanting to do the same thing (partly to make up for the amount of competition).

        While I won’t judge or begrudge gamers for their own decisions to spend their own money, I really don’t think it helps that many gamers who want better writing in, say a Fallout game, but is willing to settle for Fallout 4 anyway. While I can’t bring myself to buy Fallout 4, I totally understand the willingness to settle. But games like Fallout 4 are the result; if gamers really doesn’t like the writing in a game, but is willing to settle for it anyway (and preorder the sequel), then the devs have no reason to make better writing. While I may vote with my wallet and not buy Fallout 4, the astronomically high sales of the game will only encourage Bethesda to continue down their path; hence the quote:

        “I don't know if it's the kind of game they'd been meaning to make all along, but I know it's the kind of game they could keep making for a long, long time.”

  14. The assumption that Beth found their stride seems to imply they had a design goal to begin with and I don’t buy that for a second.

    I’ve played every TES numbered game save Arena and while they vastly differ on all the points you mentioned, the one thing they have in common is their complete lack of cohesive design or focus. It is such a glaring and long standing issue with the series that we don’t even think of it as a problem so much as a core characteristic of the series. If it wasn’t a complete morass of unrelated dynamic/procederal systems barely held together by DnD style stat-based glue, it wouldn’t be considered an Elder Scrolls game! And that is a system of game development that does not require a lot of effort. It takes a lot of time to create the physical art assets certainly, but the ‘throw shit at the wall and see what sticks’ school of game design is not particularly cost prohibitive, especially when so much of it is automated.

    I suppose I should also point out that FO4 is Skyrim with guns because Skyrim is FO3 with swords. Just saiyan…

  15. Darren says:

    I found myself terribly disappointed in Fallout 4, and I wouldn’t call it “Skyrim with guns.” It’s not really much like Skyrim at all, frankly, though it does share a fair amount of DNA.

    For one thing, Fallout’s gameplay is extremely build-dependent. Despite playing FO4 for only about 40 hours or so, I felt I used VATS more than I did in FO3 and New Vegas combined. Why? I made a luck build, and you have to use VATS to get any benefit from Luck in FO4. The weapons I used, the upgrades I made, every choice I made I had to take my build into consideration. This is quite unlike Skyrim, where the Perks you select are in response to how you are already playing, rather than vice versa.

    For another, the enormous emphasis on crafting, to the point where it was very nearly mandatory, was quite a big change. Crafting is very powerful in Skyrim, and I think that most players will choose at least one crafting option for their characters. But just to see if I could, I once made a character who would only use what she could find or buy, and I found her to be both perfectly viable and actually somewhat more interesting than I expected. But FO4 has no crafting “skill,” it’s just something you are expected to do. Indeed, you are forced to do it as part of the main quest in order to infiltrate the Institute, and woe be to the player who ignored that element of the game.

    More differences: Radiant quests take up much more space in the quest log than in Skyrim, and they tend to be unavoidable (Tinker Tom will give you another MIRA every time you turn the quest in) and repetitious (the only place the Railroad ever asked me to clear of enemies or coursers was University Point, and the only place the Brotherhood ever asked me to explore was a water treatment plant). There are often multiple ways to solve a quest, ranging from explicit choices like faction advancement to subtle ones like alternate entrances.

    Perhaps most importantly, the Commonwealth is much smaller than Skyrim and features far fewer quests. As I said, I felt finished with FO4 after about 40 hours, with my quest log full of little more than Radiant quests I had already gotten sick of completing, whereas I’ve played Skyrim for well over 300 or so hours. Whether the result of this smallness or the cause, FO4 puts much more emphasis on its main quest than Skyrim. It isn’t a story about an adventurer at a pivotal moment in the area’s history, with an emphasis on that area and the unique qualities of its history. It is very much a story about the Commonwealth and the Institute, and everything else is very much off to the side.

    Mechanically and tonally, Skyrim and Fallout 4 are quite different games.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      I have no idea why so many of those radiant-like quests get put in the quest log instead of miscellaneous. But I do agree with most of these points. It feels a lot smaller, less reactive, and I’m not a fan of the new perk/SPECIAL system myself. (Nitpick: There ARE crafting perks, which is what this game has instead of skills. Gun nut, Blacksmith, Armorer, Science)

      In FO3 and NV, your build was primarily determined by stats, and perks were just that – perks, bonuses that often added a lot of color to your build and playstyle without determining it out right.

  16. Decus says:

    I think it might be more accurate to say, “Did they go back to Daggerfall levels of design” when talking about where the series is headed based on Skyrim and Fallout 4. The weird, pattern-breaking games were Morrowind and Oblivion and Arena was just their first attempt. Just, rather than making the trap skills of Daggerfall more worthwhile they trimmed them entirely to make a campaign almost entirely about killing.

    Most of the quests and most of your skills in Skyrim and Fallout4 can be described as “for kill” or “for getting things for kill”. I can think of very few quests that involved talking to people to find out information or obtain an item rather than “kill a bunch of stuff like this was a kill quest only now there’s an item at the end of the dungeon or a bigger boss”. Most of them were in thieves guild–which has its own problems–and ironically maybe the dark brotherhood where, sure, you had to kill a guy at the end but had more interesting quest stuff beforehand. Some of the Daedric Artifact quests too. But, more generally, most quests involved going into a dungeon to kill stuff, similar to Daggerfall (I’m mentally thinking of maybe 20 quests in a game with hundreds?). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, in terms of what suits them as developers.

    Bethesda has also never known how to handle dialogue unlocks. In Oblivion they made you play a dumb mini-game to get people to spill their beans or do stuff and in Fallout 3 they rolled a dice (which usually felt like it was being rolled by an asshole DM) to make people spill their beans or do stuff. In Skyrim they just didn’t and in Fallout 4 they mostly do not–the majority of the asshole DM rolls are just to get more money and are circumvented by asshole players convincing their DM that they can change clothes and take drugs in front of the NPC to get CHA bonuses before the roll. It’s the worst sort of campaign. Ideally, you’d want a combination of NV and FO3–a good DM won’t call for a roll when they think the character has high enough stats to reasonably succeed or low enough to reasonably fail, but will roll on the middle-ground. But in the absence of that? Skyrim is the best way to go with things.

    Even the more interesting quests in skyrim and FO4 (and FO3) tend to be heavily on-rails with very few stand-outs. Sometimes, when they’re not entirely on rails, they’ll pull the asshole DM card in some way, shape or form. If the DM is generally bad–though I guess they had one decent campaign and another that had its moments before–then I’d rather play a murderkillkillmurder campaign than something that tries to have more depth–I can game the system against a bad murderkill DM but have little recourse other than to stop playing with a bad story DM–so in a way this new direction (which is basically a shinier version of their very old direction) is much better for them. I’ll still buy and play their stuff after GOTY and some sales, after all, but nowadays there are plenty of other open world games to scratch an exploration itch and their house-ruled campaigns still have kind of questionable combat balance whenever they try to make challenging encounters since they do so by giving you foam swords and BB guns.

    That’s another point, though, I guess. I feel like in some way their design process has become tainted by the other campaigns they hear their players talking about, now that more and more open world style DMs are running things. “Hmm, so they like that bioware DM’s stuff now do they!” after DA:I and for FO4 and for FO5 or the next ES I expect “Hmm, so they like that polish DM’s stuff now do they! Beat us to an award!” or “Hmm, so they like that japanese robots campaign now do they!”. Basically, I predict that the absolute worst part of FO5 or ES6(?) will come from something cribbed from Witcher 3 or Xenoblade Chronicles X or maybe even FFXV or Dragon’s Dogma. Just, so many open worlds were made after skyrim was such a success and the absolute worst thing they could ever do is try to crib from the people entering their market but they’ll totally do it. In FO5 you’ll be able to customise your own liberty prime that you’ll be given during the tutorial. In ES6 you’ll be able to climb on monsters only the physics engine is still, uh, whatever they’ll want to call gamebyro by then so the monsters frequently clip through the level and bug out when you do so.

  17. Pizza_Boy says:

    I think this Wired article is a good complement to this one.

  18. Derelict says:

    “Tom Howard”

    I believe it’s Todd, unless this is a joke I’m not in on.

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