Skyrim is a great game that was released at a time when the RPG community was ripe for romancing. New consoles provided an advancement in technology, a budget that allowed for some pretty timely advertising, and the promise of an open world fantasy game with fully voiced characters that moved the story along in a ‘natural’ way, and at the players own pace and desires. In terms of wooing, the gaming community had never been so taken.
And now, as Skyrim nears its 10th anniversary (I was 14 when it came out, what the hell?), players’ patience for a new title is running thin. And that’s really a shame because we probably won’t be seeing another Elder Scrolls title for at least a couple years. Given Starfield’s near release, a game that’s taken up a great chunk of Bethesda’s resources, its probably the case that the sixth installment of The Elder Scrolls won’t be out for purchase for at least those couple dreaded years. Maybe more! Wow!
This test of patience being asked of RPG players everywhere is both a blessing and a curse, depending on who you see as the beneficiary of the effects, if there is one. Firstly, the amount of time being set between the two games means that Bethesda is under no significant rush to push anything out. This is doubly so, given lack of release dates put out for TES:6. They could honestly take a look at what would be a finished Skyrim 2 and and say “Nah, let’s give it another year.” Or not. They can do whatever they want, which means they really don’t have much room to fall into the Cyberpunk trap of ‘push back, develop, repeat, release unfinished game anyway.’
On the other side of the coin, we have the built up tension of the playerbase that’s been compounding the expectations of the next Elder Scrolls. Sure, it would be easy to act the distant critic who keeps his or her hopes low for new video games among all the hype when each release is 1-4 years apart. But 10-15 years? Its nearly impossible for the average person to not get their hopes up. And that isn’t to knock the average person, I’m guilty of it, too. Its a natural response our brains are used to practicing to convince us all of our waiting is worthwhile. “I’ve waited 45 minutes for this food, so the chef must be preparing it to the fullest quality.” “I’ve trained at this thing for 20 years of my life, so I must become a successful professional at it.” “I lived my entire life with self-discipline and good will, so there must be a grand afterlife for me.”
These are common examples varying degrees of implications, but all of them apply to this situation we speak of. We’ve waited (and will wait) for a decade for this new game, therefor it must be better than the last game released. It must live up to our expectations.
This brings up a certain philosophy that throws the wrench in this practice:
The Consumer is Not the Genius of the Product
95% of the time, the consumer isn’t even aware of what makes a product genius in the first place. And yet, they put their own wants and desires into the sector they are the very connoisseurs in. We saw this with the release of The Last of Us 2 when players found out that the story had characters that they liked die or commit to actions they didn’t agree with, they complained to no end.
The issue with this complaining (and some of the complaining was completely legitimate, by the way) is that it ignores the essential nature of creation and story telling. Good story telling, aside from the writing quality, comes from a unique perspective that challenges what an audience is expecting to see. The first Last of Us did this through Joel’s world-threatening decision at the end of the game, the second did this through a complete slaughter of everything the player held dear.
The fact that a portion of the playerbase didn’t like that and pointed at the game saying “You shouldn’t do this to characters we like” while also pointing to the latest Star Wars films and rightly calling them out as fantasy bait for the viewer is, I would say, missing the hypocrisy in one way or another. And I see a somewhat similar boat coming to shore with TES:6.
With Morrowind, Bethesda took an old school game design and allowed the player to absolutely break it. Alchemy, magic, and jumping made the challenges in the game trivial, and that was all by design. Then, with Oblivion, Bethesda grounded the game out a bit more, leveled the world around the character’s progression, and introduced more modern gameplay. When it came Skyrim’s time to shine, the tech, game design, world creation, and character depth (if we can still call it that) were all there to be evolved from the previous iterations of the game, and to say that the changes made were what the fans wanted is to ignore the reality of the game entirely. Fans did not want a more shallow questing experience, or a save-scum meta (nothing new, I know), or boring perk trees, or a hand-holding experience. Yet, its these ingredients that made Skyrim the most Cherished single-player RPG of all time. Who would have thought?
And as TES:6 comes closer and closer to this fan-ridden lighthouse we call the present, there are countless drops of suggestions being bucketed into the sea, all coming from the perspective of the consumer, many of who don’t know how or why most games make them feel the way they do.
The sixth Elder Scrolls game isn’t going to be what you want. It might be just as good, or better, or worse. But not predictable. Altogether, the game is going to be something completely different that what you can drum up in your head. Because if it is released with the intention of using its consumer as the designer, then it has failed from the start.