What Should be Next: For the Elder Scrolls Franchise

[‘What Should Be Next’ is weekly column where I examine and discuss certain trends, franchises, genres and ideas in the gaming industry, and where they should be headed.]

It seems like every where you look people are talking about The Elder Scrolls Five: Skyrim. There’s really no escaping it. Like Oblivion did 5 years ago, this most recent trip to Tamriel is truly one for the ages. Some are even brave (or foolish) enough as to call it the best video game of all time. Really?

The thing is, and this is something that comes to mind whenever I play an amazing game, where does it go from here. How much better can it get? Besides some annoying bugs (some of which are being addressed this week), Skyrim is pretty much every gamer’s dream come true. A title full of so much content that it can actually live up to it’s $60 price tag; an unfortunate rarity in games, especially as of late.

So where was the biggest room for improvement? While Todd Howard and company put together a campaign that was tight enough to keep even the most impatient player at bay (face it, society and Twitter is spoiling us), it still showed hints and signs of what I felt were one of Oblivion’s biggest flaws, and that’s when the player is granted just a bit too much freedom.

What Should be Next: For the Elder Scrolls Franchise

Linear shouldn’t be considered a four letter word.

So here’s my biggest gripe with Skyrim, and well recent games in general. As I’m getting older, I’m starting to enjoy games for different reasons. Story being at the very top of the list of priorities, especially when I’m spending money on a title.

Story was the biggest reason why Skyrim had the ability to pull me in the way that it did. Right from the start, I wanted to know more about my character and all the other players that the main quest revolves around. Finding out about being Dragon-Born, discovering what it meant, and knowing what I needed to do is what kept me enthralled. Unfortunately it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

As you progress through the main quest you’ll make stops in towns and cities where the NPC inhabitants will have a tendency to want to throw you off track. I get the idea that it’s probably the developers way of introducing things like the different guilds and quests, but to the novice Elder Scrolls player (like myself) it’s just too easy to get overwhelmed and lost in Skyrim’s shuffle. Don’t get me wrong, I love to get lost in a game, but just not in the literal form.

Don’t get it twisted, I think that because of it’s sandbox nature, Skyrim is an amazing game. The ability to do anything and everything you want is awesome. I just personally feel that there should be some kind of bumpers in place. At least in the beginning of the game.

What Should be Next: For the Elder Scrolls Franchise

How to put up walls in a sandbox.

This isn’t mean to stir the pot about linear vs. non-linear or argue about Western and Eastern video game storytelling philosophies and why one is better than the other. No, the site has already covered that. This is just to point out that even an already great franchise can benefit in the storytelling department by making you experience the story that they (the developers) wanted you to play from the start, even if it means keeping you on somewhat of a linear path.

I’m sure that fans of the franchise will read this and cry foul. And I totally get that people play Elder Scrolls franchise because of the freedom that it allows, something that other titles, in or outside of the genre, simply don’t offer. It’s a franchise that pushes boundaries and acts a video game spiritual successor to the “choose your own adventure” books from our childhoods. I get it.

But why don’t the developers have players focus on the story that they worked so hard on? All of the hours of planning, writing, and effort that goes into building a world, its characters, and their conflicts worth caring about, goes straight to the crapper when you take emphasis off of its significance. I can’t be the only one that feels this way.

In interviews leading up to Skyrim’s launch, Todd Howard was quoted saying that the main story isn’t the game’s main quest. Neither are the guild stories. That the world of Skyrim is the game’s story. While that certainly does sound splendid, when you look at it at face value, you quickly realize it’s just the usual PR stuff  that a person who’s trying to sell a game is going to say.

Where do we go from here?

I’m not sure what the right formula would be to pull this off. Todd Howard and his gang of fantastic fantasy would  really have to come together like Voltron to hit a sweet spot that will entice or better yet nicely force (for lack of a better phrase) players to make the main story quest a priority. An adventure that will prepare you for what you will you encounter in the lands of Tamriel. If you were to ask me what should be next for the Elder Scrolls franchise, it would be a focus on a story that doesn’t just starts at a high note, but that keeps the same energy until it’s completed, without coaxing you off the correct path.

What do you think should be next for The Elder Scrolls franchise? I’ve said my part, now it’s time for you to share your own thoughts in the comments section.

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