Bethesda has had a rough year, to put it mildly. Fallout 76 was an absolute disaster that continued to get worse as it rolled downhill. Buggy, critically panned, its Bethesda's lowest selling, lowest scored title ever released, but it didn't stop there. There was the issue with the pre-ordered tote bags (insert link here), and then the absolute joke that was Nuka Cola Dark Rum (insert link here). In six months, Bethesda managed to kill twenty years of goodwill from its loyal fanbase. Furthermore, their insistence on keeping their completely outdated engine (whose issues I discussed at length in this post, insert link), as well as their abysmal E3 performance, hasn't won them any favors. In fact, it's safe to say a lot of us have some serious concerns about the upcoming titles Starfall and The Elder Scrolls VI.
I booted up Skyrim recently, it had been at least a year since the last time I played it, and it's the video game equivalent of comfort food for me. I've spent countless hours traversing the tundra and dungeons of Skyrim. It's a place I feel safe. Ironic I know, considering everything in Skyrim is trying to kill you. But something was different this time, the game felt dated. The controls were clunky, the combat was wobbly, the graphics are showing their age, and I found the bugs significantly more noticeable. That last one may be because of Fallout 76, but it still presents an issue.
When Skyrim came out, it was the absolute peak of RPGs. Bethesda delivered an immersive world that not only had deep customization, it managed to appeal to folks outside the hardcore RPG gamers. For example, my Dad and I are both hardcore RPG guys, it what we play more than anything else. My brother is more into multiplayer games, and while my Dad and I spent hours playing Oblivion, my brother never touched it. But he did play Skyrim, and he liked it. Skyrim received critical acclaim and took its place among the pantheon of greatest RPGs ever, alongside titles like Baldur's Gate, Diablo II, Planescape: Torment, Deus Ex, and Fallout. But here's the thing, Skyrim also came out eight years ago, and RPGs, and the gaming industry, have changed significantly since that time. The cold, hard fact is this: Skyrim has been surpassed by other, more recent, RPGs. Bethesda is not the untouchable top dog anymore, and if they want to repair their reputation, Bethesda needs The Elder Scrolls VI to be something far beyond more of the same. Which brings me to the main point of this post.
After having played Skyrim again for several more hours, I've got a list of suggestions for things that Bethesda absolutely needs to do to stay viable in the gaming market. I want to make it clear that this is not a post meant to bash Bethesda, or claim they suck, or even to mock Todd Howard, something a lot of YouTubers have become fond of. This isn't even about bashing Skyrim, I'm still having fun revisiting Tamriel's northernmost country. What this is, is an acknowledgment that times and games have changed, as all things do. I want Bethesda to succeed, and I want to play The Elder Scrolls VI and love it. If I sound harsh, it's only because I love you. And if by some miracle anyone at Bethesda is reading this, I'm available for hire, but if you don't, I promise I'm not going to try and blackmail you on Twitter like some folks.
I've said this before elsewhere, but I can't reiterate this enough, get a new f***ing engine. Build it from scratch if you have to, just get it done. You've used the same engine for six freaking games now. CD Projekt Red has built a new engine for every game they've made. You've seen the trailer for Cyberpunk 2077 I'm sure. You don't need to hire Keanu Reeves (although it wouldn't hurt), but your games DO need to look that good.
Better looking NPCs. This might be taken care of with a new engine and better graphics, but just to be clear, your notoriously fugly NPCs are simply not acceptable anymore. Especially not when games that are far less complex have much better-looking characters.
Fix the bugs. Polish, polish, polish. And when you're done, polish some more. Like the fugly NPCs, the bugs used to be part of the charm. That ship has sailed and crashed on the coast of the bombed out remains of Appalachia.
Add a lock-on button. Combat in Skyrim is floaty and clunky, it can often be hard to hit an enemy even when you're standing in front of them. Quite frankly, it's both frustrating and obnoxious. The ability to lock onto an enemy has become a standard in action-RPGs, and with good reason, it makes combat better. Tighten up combat so that players aren't flailing their arms around like a hardcore kid in a mosh pit who hasn't realized he's at a metal show. Look at the combat in games like Dark Souls 3, Nioh and The Witcher 3.
Give the lock-on mechanism some flexibility based on player weapon and skill. The games mentioned above all focus on melee combat, but if I'm playing as an Archer and I have a high archery skill, not only should I be able to lock onto the target, I should be able to target specific body parts/organs for higher damage. For example, the higher the skill, the further away the archer should be able to lock onto the target, and this could be added to based on bow-type and perks. There should be a high-level perk called "Heartsbane" which gives you an increased chance of hitting a targets heart. Shots to the heart, head, or other vital organs should be automatic critical hits. Yes, I play as an Archer, why do you ask?
Make playing in third-person viable. If this means literally copying The Witcher 3 or Nioh, go for it.
More spell casting options. Okay, this mostly applies to destruction spells, the other schools generally have a decent variety of spells with different effects. But destruction is almost exclusively a version of fire/frost/shock damage no matter the spell. Mix it up. Let us shoot acid from our fingertips, or crush someone with gravity, or scramble their brains. Fricking something. Anything! Just move beyond the same old fire/frost/shock trilogy of destruction magic.
A better crafting system. So, Skyrim's crafting system isn't bad per se, but it does feel dated. Fallout 4 is something you did right, it has one of the best crafting systems in any game I've ever played. Dragon Age Inquisition also has a pretty good system.
A better inventory system. Finding items in Skyrim can be a hassle, even when you know exactly what you're looking for. Find a way to make it cleaner.
A better map. Skyrim had one of the first game maps to really show terrain, and that was cool, but maps have gotten more detailed now. For all their flaws, check out the maps UbiSoft's open game worlds, particularly Assassin's Creed: Origins and Assassin's Creed: Odyssey. Also, put some damn roads in your map this time.
More dungeon variety. The dungeons in Skyrim all look a little too similar, and they almost always end with either a Dragon Priest or a Draugr Deathlord. Mix it up. Different environments and more enemy variety would go a long way.
Better A.I./companions. Preferably ones that don't run out in front of you, so you can't hit the enemy, or run around making noise when you're trying to sneak through a dungeon.
Better romance quests. Gamers like these, I don't know why, we just do. Dragon Age and Mass Effect did these well, so did The Witcher 3. Make it involve more than a fetch quest and an amulet of Mara.
Choices that matter. A lot of the quests in Skyrim only have one or two outcomes, and they often feel kind of inconsequential in the greater world with a couple of exceptions. Quests should have a variety of outcomes, and for the bigger quests we should see changes and effects in the world. Again, look to The Witcher 3. The main quests and the variety of faction quests don't necessarily have to overlap, but we should see the impact of each.
Those are my suggestions, what do you guys think, is there anything I missed? I'd love to hear your thoughts. See you next week.