It’s now going on two years since the first announcement of The Elder Scrolls VI and its inconsequential display of mountains. Since that time, Bethesda released Fallout 76, which left many disappointed. They’ve even managed to regularly keep it in the news by finding new ways to make it worse. However, Fallout 76 is only the culmination of a long history of poor choices in design and community management.
Bethesda’s first real dance with very public poor decision-making goes back to 2006. I am of course talking about the ever-memed “Horse Armor” DLC. These days something like this would probably elicit praise for “just being cosmetic,” but in 2006, microtransaction DLC was hardly a reality. The fallout from this was relatively short-lived outside of the jokes, but Bethesda was just getting started.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim released to near-universal acclaim in 2011, but as time went on, critics saw the flaws in the design. The clunky UI had limited functionality for PC users and modders quickly worked to replace it with something that properly facilitated mouse control. Yet what they couldn’t easily fix was the simplistic and repetitive design of the various dungeons in the game. Bethesda’s effort to make an infinitely playable experience lead to copy-pasted looping caves and endlessly repeatable quests. An assembly line approach opting for quantity over quality seemed to be the issue.
This methodology continued into Fallout 4 with calls for aid from settlers to build resources and defend them from attack replacing many story-based side quests. The foundations of narrative-rich RPGs and character-building stopped being the priority of Bethesda’s games. After a setting was established, the cohesive nature that once prevailed in their games was lost to the goal of infinite replayability. Bethesda wants you glued to the game much in the way mobile games keep you coming back for daily rewards.
That came to a head as Elder Scrolls made its way to mobile with Blades. A free to play adaptation that finally allowed the company to fully embrace microtransactions. The game, like many other mobile titles, forces the player into time-dependent activities that enticed them with payment options to complete those activities more quickly. It has been generally unpopular among critics with its monetization and clunky control methods, but it pushes onward with the momentum of this franchise.
So what does this mean for Elder Scrolls VI? Bethesda implemented many of these flawed mechanics into Fallout 76, but like Blades, it is not the mainline of the franchise. If they want another game selling tens of millions of copies like Skyrim and it’s numerous re-releases, they’ve got some work ahead of them. But it remains to be seen whether they will give the game a more hand-crafted design in place of cramming it with as much repetitious content as possible.
Abandoning the assembly line feel of dungeons and caves will take time and effort. Building a strong narrative that exists beyond the main quest thread could be as influential as it was for The Outer Worlds. Creating fluid and engaging combat would set it apart as well. However, the most important thing they can do is avoid trying to over monetize the game. Don’t give paid mods another painful attempt. Don’t try to sell anything but the game and potential expansions. That will already be an improvement over their most recent lineup.
Considering the time it takes Bethesda to develop a game even when using the same rusting engine from nine years ago, 2020 may not be the year we see another Elder Scrolls game. Yet I do believe this year’s E3 they may have a trailer with actual content. That is unless they decide to tell us what Starfield is supposed to be about. Either way, Bethesda is primed for an opportunity to dig their way out of the pit in which they put themselves. Let’s hope that try to do that.
Are you looking forward to Elder Scrolls VI? Do you think Bethesda will learn from their mistakes with recent releases and build a better game?