This series could go on forever if it was nothing but gripes and praises.
Whatever else I have to say about the Elder Scrolls series, they are more multifaceted than nearly any release on the market. There are so many features, changes, retcons, experiments, reversions, and outright glitches that assuming I cut this series off before the next presidential election I am guaranteed to leave out that one part you were looking forward to. As it is, I’m sensing the graceful opportunity to conclude is coming up soon.
That’s why I’m taking a moment to talk over a few final Skyrim and Bethesda thoughts before I turn the next few entries over to review and Q&A. After that I’ll offer a few hot (or freezing cold, musty, and ageworn) takes on the games that exist at the outskirts of the franchise: outliers like Redguard, Battlespire, and TES Online, works that bear the branding if nothing else. The three have much in common: they’re technically canonical, they have novel mechanics, and nobody plays them.
So what remains to talk about now?
Crafting is an example of slow mechanical evolution by consensus. You can’t really say a lightbulb went off over game developers (or rather, you can argue heatedly about when and how much it did); instead, a few pieces of well-worn conventional gaming wisdom gradually congealed.
People love getting lots of loot. People love improvements to their core set of equipment. Rather than have any loot that isn’t core equipment turn out to be garbage, why not let players gather little things that are individually worthless and turn them into better things? The collecting and hobbyist aspects of the system inarguably fit well within the paradigms of RPG dungeon crawling–a relatively small amount of extra effort for a very big synergistic bonus.
Alchemy in Morrowind was probably the first step towards appeasing crafters, but it wasn’t until Fallout 3 that gathering raw materials to make or improve gear became an obligation of the franchise rather than a incidental facet. It doesn’t hurt that titles such as The Last of Us, the latter Far Crys, and Tomb Raider proved the systems weren’t only appealing to loot-driven RPG players. We’ll probably see this featured in every Elder Scrolls game until the concept of crafting weapons from raw materials is declared heretical by Our Reptillian Benefactors.
Bethesda and Fan Requests
For as much as diehards complain Bethesda doesn’t listen to them, the company does have a sweet spot–if a fan request is lingering, doesn’t get in the way of their development priorities, and is technologically feasible, it’ll probably make it into the game. Double that chance if fan desire is great enough to make manifest a dozen mods of varying qualities and obscenity. Let’s look at some fan demands throughout history and judge them against Beth’s apparent criteria:
Get Rid of Invulnerable NPCs? (After Oblivion) Lots of mods came out doing this and there’s always people grousing about it somewhere–it does require some technological finagling to distinguish a random death by dragon or glitchy AI from a deliberate player murder, but that’s probably fixable. Unfortunately, the ability to kill off NPCs useful for quests later stymies their development goals of universal accessibility and maximum stability. So probably okay to ignore this one.
Put Spears Back In? (Since Oblivion) Tons of incessant, angry fan requests (leading up to Oblivion, anyway). Technologically doable, if not efficient in terms of resources allocated. Doesn’t directly contradict any design goals. And yet…there aren’t many good mods out there for spears, are there? Plenty of people are willing to complain, but how many people pass the ultimate acid test–actually doing something about it? So again, probably not worth it.
Dragon Riding? Fan requests, mods, fits in fine with dev goals. Only, uh, how the heck are you going to program this? There’s a reason the mods are janky; implementing this requires a lot of changes to how the world is simulated. For now, aerial mounts are a no…but man, that fan intensity. Don’t be surprised if one of the next two titles is a.) designed so that flying is feasible in the overworld, impossible in towns, and b.) features winged birdlike mounts as a major selling point dropped (probably literally from off-camera while bearing the iconic character as rider) in the first trailer.
Hoods? (After Morrowind) Everybody wanted hoods in Morrowind. Tons of mods existed and there’s no good logistical or technical reason to leave them out. So hoods went from “not on the development radar” to “a substantial consideration from Oblivion onward.”
Horses? (After Morrowind) Dropped from Morrowind, but after a certain amount of indignation (which would have doubtless spawned more mod attention if the scene was bigger at the time) they were back in Oblivion, just in time for the technical considerations of 3D mounts to be worked out. Then it was time to work on the fan backlash to that and get mounted combat working.
Two-Weapon Fighting? (Since Fuggin’ Forever) People have demanded this since Morrowind. They’ve been modding this since Morrowind. This clearly isn’t something Bethesda cared about on their own–they haven’t put it in any of the games that came before, haven’t even brought it up–but it seems as though if the crowd’s asking for it, they were willing to sit down and do it right.
There’s one thing I think is important to remember about Bethesda: their fanbase has swollen tremendously with every installment. From Arena through Skyrim, every game they’ve put out has effectively doubled their audience. It is reasonable to ask them to listen to that audience–and I will put it to you that they absolutely do that. What is not reasonable, or at least not practical, is to ask them to listen to their “oldest” and “core” fans, because that’s the one group that’s guaranteed to be the minority.
If everybody who loved Morrowind stopped buying TES games tomorrow–absolutely all of them boycotting in unison, something that routinely fails to happen in videogames–I’m not sure Bethesda would ever notice.
And now: if you’ve got any questions about any game in the franchise, or any topic about the franchise, please post them below. I’ll try to get to all of them in my final posts.
The Best of 2014
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2014.
Why The Christmas Shopping Season is Worse Every Year
Everyone hates Black Friday sales. Even retailers! So why does it exist?
What is Vulkan?
There's a new graphics API in town. What does that mean, and why do we need it?
Batman: Arkham Origins
A breakdown of how this game faltered when the franchise was given to a different studio.
Bethesda NEVER Understood Fallout
Let's count up the ways in which Bethesda has misunderstood and misused the Fallout property.