by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 16th July, 2018
Bethesda is far, very far from releasing The Elder Scrolls VI. The studio has to finish Starfield, its first next-gen game (meaning it won't see the light of day before the PS5 and whatever Microsoft calls the next Xbox arrive) and then they would probably work a bit on the game's DLC. Of course, Bethesda Softworks (the publisher, and parent company of Bethesda Game Studios, the developers of TES VI) could hire someone outside to work on the game but that simply cannot happen. They could, maybe, get a studio like Obsidian to co-develop the game, but that's all. So, with Starfield coming probably during the far end of 2020 TES VI cannot be released before 2022. Yes, that's four looong years but that cannot stop us from making our Christmas list of things we would like to see from The Elder Scrolls VI.
Even though Bethesda claims it used a "completely new, next-gen engine" called Creation Engine for Skyrim and Fallout 4, that's not really the truth. The engine used is the same old wreckage of an engine called Gamebryo, this time facelifted and equipped with a set of new features intended to be used with the current-gen hardware. And while we have better lighting, support for tessellation, nice crafting feature, and much more detailed character models, it is still the mess it has been in the past, only with a new name.
Countless bugs, huge number of graphical glitches, insane loading times, the need to load the game every time you enter a building or a town, or go into elevator, or exit a building in the time where we have games likes The Witcher 3 with its seamless transition between different towns, buildings and settlements. And, btw, CD Projekt RED is way smaller in manpower and budget to Bethesda and those guys created a completely new engine that's perfect when compared to Creation. They even had to degrade graphics a bit before the release of the final version of the game because it prevented it to work on max setting in 60fps on the average setups that were available in 2015.
So, we hope Bethesda is planning to make Fallout 76 the last game created in Gamebryo (oops, Creation Engine). The company bought id Software and they own an excellent id Tech engine, which is used to create a huge open world game, Rage 2. If Rage 2, which looks amazing btw, can use id Tech surely Fallout can use it too. Just please Bethesda, do not create another "new" engine based on that horrendous Gamebryo.
Skyrim had some genuinely cool side quests, but most of them were plain dumb. A huge amount of fetch quests, or quests that didn't make any sense. For instance, you would stroll around the map and then some old woman would stop you, pleading you to go and find her necklace she lost while strolling. Of course, the necklace was inside a damn cave brimming with Draugrs and you couldn't get it until you reached the end of it. Yeah, we all stroll around and suddenly misplace out jewelry and later find it inside some cave filled with monsters...
Those countless quests including collecting some armor or weapon pieces, or just reaching the end of some dungeon where other pieces of misplaced family jewelry lied right next to the god damned Draugr King really killed any sense of immersion and all fun while playing Skyrim. Bethesda needs do look up to CD Projekt Red or the good old BioWare (pre-EA days), or Obsidian, the studio that made the best ever Fallout game (Fallout New Vegas).
Create quests that make sense, that are more than simply going inside a dungeon, or a cave, and then knowing that you would find the quest item at the far end of it after you kill numerous enemies and roam through oh so familiar rooms and corridors. Create quests that branch out and have long-term consequences that will be visible many hours after we decide to kill someone or to spare them. Create quests that can make us cry or smile or hell, make us wonder what kind of genius would make a quest as good as that one we just finished. Create quests that don't feel like they were written in ten minutes before lunch break started. Create quests that look like were written by people who actually cared about delivering players the best possible experience. Make more quests like those featured in the video below.
We just hope Bethesda doesn't decide to include that tedious Fallout 4 settlement mechanics into The Elder Scrolls VI. Or, if they actually do it, please don't force us to save some settlement every half an hour. That would be disastrous but we hope that crafting features are reserved for Fallout games. Or, at least are reserved for smaller things, like custom homes we could create (remember that the first iteration of crafting mechanics in Bethesda games was introduced with the Heartfire DLC for Skyrim).
Okay, when we talk about this we don't mean the pretty good Radiant AI utilized in Skyrim and Fallout 4. We mean writing, voice acting, and facial animations that were always one of the biggest letdowns in any Bethesda games. Aside from a couple of main characters, voiced by Hollywood stars, most characters in Bethesda games sound like they shell out their lines while being held at gunpoint. And okay, most games do feature subpar voice acting.
But, if you already have a game with NPCs who are more bored than a twelve-year-old in a can factory at least breathe some life in them with high-quality facial animations. But no, everyone in Bethesda games is creepy, with extreme mood changes and without any subtle facial animation that would, you know, show how humans react and change moods. At the moment, Skyrim and Fallout 4's NPCs look like some stiff Androids with a broken emotion engine that forgot all about gradual mood shifts. And animation during voice lines is even worse, with characters looking like they chewing some pretty undercooked meat while they talk, or something like that.
Please Bethesda, do something about this huge problem with your RPGs. If the game engine changes we could expect better facial animation, but voice overs could stay as horrendous as they are now no matter the engine used. We hope Bethesda actually do some quality control and don't let voice lines be approved during the first recording sessions, no matter how bad or uninterested actors were.
Towns in Skyrim and Fallout 4, and in Fallout 3, New Vegas and Oblivion before them are just too tiny for huge open world games all of them are. And we can understand that Oblivion and Fallout 3 were limited by the technology and past-gen consoles. The hardware was just too humble to support sprawling cities you can get lost in. But c'mon, cities in Skyrim and Fallout 4 are looking like they were made on a hardware that's ten years old.
They all feature a couple of streets along with a couple of dozens of buildings, maybe a central square or a couple more densely populated spots, and that's it. Time has come for games like The Elder Scrolls VI to include bustling cities brimming with life that feature hundreds of buildings and don't look like they are ghost cities populated by few lucky ones who survived some apocalypse. The Witcher 3 shown just how big cities can be in a modern open-world role-playing game. You don't have to make all towns as big as Novigrad, but make at least one or two of them so big and grand that we stare in awe the first time we saw them.
And yes, no more loading screens when entering a city, please. It looks like your game came from 2006 when we see something like that. Modern gaming PCs feature super-fast SSDs with 8 or more gigs of RAM and next-gen consoles (on which TES VI will run) will also have immensely powerful hardware so loading screens every time you enter a city should become a thing of the past years before the game comes out. This would finally give cities in an Elder Scrolls Game the feeling or continuity with the surrounding world. Unlike now, players will have a feeling they roam through the same interconnecting and seamless world if they don't have to wait for the city to load every time, and not being able to enter it except at predetermined gates that serve as loading triggers.
Okay, both Skyrim and Fallout 4 feature amazing open worlds that are extremely immersive. The sheer number of locations and the fact that you can discover new locations even after you gather dozens of hours of playtime is praiseworthy. And Fallout 4 finally featured a diverse world that didn't look like it was made out of assets that were part of the same, huge pack someone bought from Unreal Store.
But one problem still remains; these worlds don't feel like they are alive. Sure, Radiant AI that equips NPCs with daily routines like eating, sleeping, going to work, etc. But this doesn't add to the overall organic feel of the game, it only makes it look more like an artificial creation. NPCs in The Elder Scrolls game should feature daily routines, but they shouldn't be as limited as in Skyrim of Fallout 4. Characters should have some daily goals, like sleeping and going to work, but their other goals should be completely optional.
For instance, an NPC working at the local store could sleep and work, and then decide where she would eat. It could eat at home, or at the local pub, or maybe she would want to go outside and fish for food at the local lake. And then, she could choose whether to drink a few bears, or visit the local Arena, or maybe even to decide to spend the evening with a loved one next to the lake that's outside the city. And, maybe some other NPC likes to hunt so he would hunt for a couple of times per week, and some other NPC would love to paint, and some other would love agriculture, and so on. You get the idea.
You see, ditching scripted NPC behavior could be great in theory, but if you leave them with just half a dozen of potential behaviors (and then just copy and paste those same behaviors to every single non-playing character in the game) their "dynamic interaction" to the world around them will start to look awfully mechanical and unnatural to the player after just a dozen of hours of playtime. Just write a huge library or potential behaviors and interests and then randomly assign a couple of dozen of them to each NPC. That would make the game more random and thus, more natural looking.
Ok, Fallout 4 features gunplay that's light years ahead Fallout 3 so we hope Bethesda manages to improve both melee and ranged combat in The Elder Scrolls VI. First of all, it was so bland it was ridiculous. Swords didn't have that kick and the sheer blunt force in them and you felt like hitting foes with tin-made swords during melee fights.
And ranged combat was also awful. Bows felt like toys that don't require any strength to fire arrows from them. And stealth mechanics were ridiculously bugged and glitched but we should thank the enemy AI for that. Sure, there are lots of excellent mods out there making the combat much better, more realistic, and visceral but we should get this out of the box and not wait for years for fans to finally transform swords and bows into real weapons, right?
Sadly, almost none of the games made by Bethesda have cool side activities to participate in when not doing quests or not exploring dungeons. One of the main advantages of open world games is the possibility to fill the world with random activities like horse races, fishing spots, hunting grounds, and more. And while some publishers pushed the number of those activities to the max (yes, we talk about open world chore simulators by Ubisoft), they are welcome and can greatly improve the enjoyment of playing a game. It's cool when you are able to just forget about dragons and undead monsters and play a couple of games of some cool card game (Like in the Witcher 3 or Knights of the Old Republic II), or do some horse racing, or enter a fistfight tournament.
We hope The Elder Scrolls VI will come with side activities because simply doing (sometimes all too similar) quests, hunting for loot and roaming through the world can grow tedious after a week or two.
Yes, Bethesda, invest a couple of weeks of work and hire a couple of decent designers (you do have the money after all) capable of creating a custom UI for the PC version of The Elder Scrolls VI. Look, Bethesda Game Studio is a huge developer studio with near limitless resources and they didn't have the decency to build a custom, mouse, and keyboard favorable UI for the PC version of Skyrim. That's just sad and lazy and unacceptable. Again, there is a mod that introduces a great UI for the PC version of Skyrim but things like these should be available out of the box, especially in the case of AAA monsters that spend dozens of millions of $ on marketing and promotion alone.