This is the second-to-last one of these. This weekend, we’ll polish it off and start bringing the series to its conclusion.
Ruts: you get the lead position and $100 million budget (just for nice round numbers) to remake/upgrade 1 Elder Scrolls game for the current console generation/computer level. Which game do you remake, and how do you spend your money?
My knee-jerk response is Morrowind, but lackluster combat aside, that game’s fine the way it is. The visuals and text aren’t harmed by their presentation. Revamping it would only make it accessible to a generation that a.) could play it anytime they want and b.) probably don’t care all that much.
The most commercially and artistically interesting avenue would be a modern and very selective updating of Daggerfall. The core principles would be preserved: a simulationist rather than theme-parky world, character builds that give a variety of tools the player has to find applications for, endless buffets of quests and dungeons. Most of the budget would be allocated to creating a procedural, appealing, varied, and plausible gameworld; only a few instances (walled cities, specific dungeons) would be individually crafted.
All being well, the end result would be a relaxing game experience rather than an actively engaging one; a tremendous natural wilderness full of peaceful, quiet little towns to stumble over and nooks and crannies to explore. With modern graphics and a budget bigger than Skyrim (hopefully enough to find applications for all the skills), the result would unquestionably surpass the original game and might be a neat understated take on the open world.
Destruction magic â€" or magic in general, some might say â€" was a bit rubbish in Skyrim. What do you think Bethesda could do to improve it in the next installment without having to deviate too far from their design goals?
It’s an old quandary in RPGs, particularly computer RPGs: how do you create meaningful, rewarding differences between combat types without making any of them objectively better? The answer is always the same: figure out who’s picking that build and what they want.
Traditionally magic requires care, planning, and attention while physical combat requires one to be brave and in-the-moment. Someone who uses weapons wants a straightforward test of strength or agility; someone who uses magic wants to approach it academically, a problem to be solved using available resources. This difference was held up in TES games as late as Morrowind; back then a fighter needed only click the attack button and drink the occasional health potion. Mages had to specialize in schools, assemble a vast library of magics, craft their own spells, study strengths and weaknesses of some enemy types, and supply themselves both health and non-regenerating spell-fueling magicka . All this planning had to be done before even entering the same room as an enemy. Once in a fight, combat was less like pulling a lever and more like operating a tank. The trade-off was that magic users were ultimately capable of delivering much more pain, and suffering much less of it, than relatively straightforward and simple fighters.
Since Oblivion, the series’ increasingly complicated melee mechanics, simplification of the mage’s magicka (spells now use a resource that regenerates in combat) and complication of fighter’s fatigue (good attacks now use a resource that regenerates in combat) blurred the line between tactical mages and impetuous fighters. Destruction has gotten easier relative to physical violence and by Skyrim, has gone from “ultimately always better” to “almost always slightly worse.”
To generalize, the people who always play mages don’t just expect Destruction to be as good as using a big hammer. They expect it to be harder and better. They want to spend more time picking out good spells, getting a rhythm down, loading up on the right potions, buffing themselves, and picking out an angle of attack, and when they bring all that preparation together they want to make a tough fight much more easy. It’s an advantage you purchase in time and system mastery. Bethesda wouldn’t want to make all this necessary to play a mage–and that’s fine. But allowing players to maximize magic through clever optimization would do a lot to quell dedicated mages without making the system inaccessible to laymen.
Matt Downie asked:
Stormcloaks or Imperials?
One thing people sometimes get wrong: Bethesda’s TES team hasn’t lost interest in lore, they’ve just lost interest in centering it. Most of Skyrim‘s conflicts are approachable and delivered in sound bites, true, but buried in written documents and aggregated conversation there’s much more for interested players to uncover.
I can’t give an informed thesis on who is more morally justified in Skyrim. I made my character’s decision for emotional rather than intelligent reasons, but the cool thing is, the game gives you obvious emotional reasons to support either side–and intelligent reasons to do so as well.
I’ll say that I supported the Imperials, but like most of the Imperial characters in the game, my heart’s not really in it. The real root problem is that neither the Imperials nor the Nords are strong enough to beat the Thalmor, a faction who are currently a.) objectively evil and b.) the most powerful empire in the world. The Imperials reasonably want to stall direct conflict until they’ve got enough military leverage to make demands; doing so means caving in to some Thalmor requests, which means backing an oppression of Nord worship in a way that’s both unconscionable and probably necessary. As legislature goes, it’s a tactically-minded obscenity that nobody should be proud of. As for Stormcloak racism–the easy emotional reason to hate them–that’s undeniably grotesque, but there’s nothing a half-assed irritated Imperial occupation’s going to do to reverse it either. Whatever long excruciating battles have to be fought there, adding the indignity of Imperial occupation is unlikely to help. The point of backing either side and ending the war isn’t to make sure the good guys win and the bad guys lose, it’s to make sure they don’t both throw away all their young strong warriors and economic capital and make the Thalmor power imbalance ever worse.
Did you like the spellcrafting mechanic? I loved it, it made me feel I was doing actual wizardry, attempting to break the rules of the world using magic. Having to use off-the-shelf magic felt too restrictive â€" all the really cool magic was done by NPCs only.
Spellcrafting is key to making magic feel like a tactically rich and rewarding option, not to mention making mages feel empowered–like more than artillery. The question is not whether the game needs it, but what can be done to expand it and make it even better. I hope features are added rather than subtracted in subsequent entries.
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