At Azura, The Elder Scrolls 6 is far away! The sixth main entry has arrived with Starfield, which will arrive towards the end of the year bethesda‘s iconic saga might as well not exist right now. Of course, we’re not short of massive open worlds – especially now that SSDs are taking over and rewriting what can be done when it comes to level design – but you just can’t fill that Skyrim-shaped hole, can you?
What makes The Elder Scrolls so compelling? Is it the crazy but epic fantasy setting? Is it the flawed nature of all games set in this world? Or is it simply the unique blend of flexible RPG systems and immersive sim DNA? Most veterans will argue it’s the latter. But we can’t reduce the series’ success to a perfectly calculated genre amalgamation, as the games themselves are anything but rigid.
Skyrim undeniably set a new bar for open-world gaming in 2011. That’s why everyone is still talking about it today. It became popular primarily because it implemented Radiant AI alongside the series’ basic procedural quests and traditional, hand-crafted story arcs. And it had Bethesda Game Studios’ patented world design, with those unforgettable morsels of bite-sized lore.
Meanwhile, The Elder Scrolls Online has grown bigger than anyone expected, following the philosophy that made Oblivion and Skyrim world-shattering hits, and the marketing for this game constantly emphasizes what every TES fan knows to be true: it is about our individual stories and how we experience each piece of content in radically different ways.
But The Elder Scrolls’ greatest achievement has always been making the world of Tamriel feel like home, rather than just a 50-hour vacation. At least that’s how I felt when I first entered Tamriel with Oblivion – it’s an experience that was (and still is) special, and it’s not just nostalgia either. Bear with me.
I keep coming back to Oblivion because it’s remarkably charming in a really innocent way. Cyrodiil’s (strongly) medieval European setting is vanilla enough to feel bucolic and homey without trying too hard; the magic system is broken as hell; The NPC’s “revolutionary” AI is both feisty and hilariously robotic… the list goes on and on, but it all comes down to Bethesda making the right game at the right time, but without the right technology it takes to make it happen to realize his ambitions.
If we look at Skyrim – or 2008’s Fallout 3 for that matter – it’s clear that Bethesda Game Studios learned a lot from going all-in with Oblivion early in the 360/PS3 generation. One day, in 2004, you’re playing GTA: San Andreas, and less than two years later, Todd Howard and his team come out with a huge sandbox filled with houses and caves that you can visit, NPCs with (some) realistic life and physics you’ve only seen in a handful of shooters before. It was kind of banana-y, but also anything but polished. And this combo rocked.
For all the seriousness Oblivion demonstrates during the first hour – including Sir Patrick Stewart in a limited (but important) role – the experience immediately spirals out of joint as soon as you exit the Imperial sewers. Oversized crabs (disgusting creatures) look for brawls 24/7. Bandits sit around the streets doing nothing but bullying you, and for some reason end up wearing nothing but high-tier gear. A guy who loves his dogs accidentally breaks down and starts hitting the same dogs until he gets knocked out by the city guard. You accidentally kill a pawn standing in the way of a sword slash, and next you’re part of a secret cult of assassins. It is great!
This is just a small sampling of the silly, weird things that will happen in 100 hours of gameplay. And those wacky, Pratchett-like moments wouldn’t be possible without some of the game’s systems being fundamentally broken. However, I also believe that Bethesda deliberately chose this unconventional atmosphere; Morrowind was already pretty weird (and hugely successful despite not being a mainstream hit), so it made sense to keep some of its weirdness.
Among all the super important quests to save the world (or something like that), the third Elder Scrolls dared to ask (and answer) questions like “Can a mage devise a completely unsafe spell to jump ridiculous distances?” You find one Guy splattered on a street and a book next to him. You use said book and jump like the Hulk in Ang Lee’s 2003 film. The point? I don’t know, maybe in fantasy worlds people would do all kinds of weird shit. Thankfully, Oblivion has doubled down on this type of meaningless but memorable content that has made its world more colorful and unpredictable.
It’s hard to write down a list of the best stories and quest lines in the game because there are so many to choose from (“Whodunit?” is the best, by the way). And that’s without even getting into the Shivering Isles expansion, which condenses all the nonsense of Oblivion into one big ball of lore and high-stakes adventure.
Much like its gameplay and systems, Skyrim’s narrative efforts in general attempted to be epic, robust, and all-round reliable – which goes a long way to explaining why it resonated with so many players and still works like a charm. It often allowed itself to be a silly game, but mostly it was darker and more serious. The perfect fit for the Game of Thrones era.
On the other hand, Oblivion fully allowed us to play as impossible abominations:
It may look ugly and clumsy by today’s standards, but Oblivion was a stunning demonstration of what 360 was capable of back then – and a precursor to the highly detailed, sprawling worlds to come. Even with its cartoonish art style, the fourth Elder Scrolls was a head-turner – aside from those unfortunate NPC faces – and brought countless PCs to their knees for years; Graphic mods only made performance and stability more shaky.
Skyrim is the better game, sure. There’s no way around it. But Oblivion remains uniquely magical and strange. It was an odd bridge between two very different eras of The Elder Scrolls and open world gaming in general. ZeniMax seems fully aware of its importance and celebrating the franchise as a whole with The Elder Scrolls Online, so I hope Bethesda Game Studios takes more than a few pages from this book to avoid inadvertently creating a gritty “Skyrim 2” is created. Whenever the heck The Elder Scrolls 6 comes out. Leave all that to The Witcher. Tamriel deserves a lighter heart.
https://www.vg247.com/the-elder-scrolls-6-should-have-the-charm-of-oblivion-not-just-the-scale-of-skyrim The Elder Scrolls 6 is meant to have Oblivion’s charm, not just Skyrim’s scale