Skyrim has built a reputation over the years as the pinnacle of the open world experience. Other games may have features that are situationally better – a more compelling story, greater freedom, a more diverse setting – but arguably no open world game has the perfect storm of design choices that allowed Skyrim to become the legend that it is. The issue with being the best in your class is that it’s difficult to top the record you’ve set for yourself. With an Elder Scrolls VI on the horizon, the question becomes: how do you improve on Skyrim? What about this game could change to make the formula better? Those are the questions I plan to explore today!
From a mechanical perspective, Skyrim took a much simpler road than the Elder Scrolls games that came before. Gone are the various statistics that influence your character’s skills. Instead we simply have the skills themselves along with a health bar, mana bar, and stamina bar. As you use skills, they get better, and each time a skill gets better you get closer to leveling up. Once you level, you get to choose to increase your health, mana, or stamina, and get one point to invest in a skill tree (er, skill constellation, that is) of your choice. Purchasing the bonuses from a skill tree gives you new techniques to try, passive bonuses, or allows you access to more powerful resources. Outside of this basic reward structure, the only thing deciding character power is the quality of gear you manage to scavenge, buy, or craft. It’s a simple but accessible system that makes the game easy to approach for newcomers and streamlined for veterans.
I think there’s not much to be done in terms of mechanical changes outside of adding more options to choose from, and new abilities to learn. I personally would like to see hand-to-hand combat get a dedicated skill tree so that it becomes a truly viable character option. The addition of polearms as a weapon class – spears, staves, halberds, etc. – would be an interesting new tool in a character’s arsenal. Extending your melee range in exchange for shield usage, for example, changes the melee combat options you have available quite a bit. Depending on the technological advancements of the society in Elder Scrolls VI, crossbows could be added as a new ranged weapon class and give a very different set of skill perks compared to the bow and arrow. For existing weapons, new skill perks could add different types of attacks to your arsenal.
Magic, I think, is a bit easier to experiment with. All you really have to do is add a new selection of spells and make some small updates to how existing spells function. One ability we saw for the first time in Skyrim was the power to dual-wield spells, and certain perks allowed you to combine a spell with itself to amplify its power. I think it would be interesting if spells of different types could be combined into new spells with unique effects. In Skyrim, fire deals additional Health damage over time while ice saps Stamina. Perhaps combining them in Elder Scrolls VI could also produce a mana-draining effect so that all three of those foes stats can be attacked at once. Or maybe it produces a different effect entirely, such as trapping the target in a layer of red ice that temporarily stops them from making power attacks. The only issue with this approach that I could see is that there might need to be fewer overall spells in exchange for all the combo possibilities, and some folks might be frustrated with a smaller magic selection.
Speaking of combos, the last mechanical change that I think could be interesting is having some skill perks that require specific ranks in two different skills in order to unlock. As an easy example, a skill that lets you stab an opponent’s limb while sneaking to disable it could require ranks in Stealth and in One-Handed Weapons to unlock. This could justify some brand new perks by combining two skills that are often developed in tandem – such as Archery and Stealth – but it could also put some particularly fun and unique skills into the game using odd combos.
I think it’s a bit easier to talk about how exploration could be upgraded, because this aspect of Skyrim had more obvious criticism. The locations able to be explored in Skyrim were basically limited to snowy mountains and grassy mountains, and the civilized locations were even worse. Any small village looks like any other small village in the game, and even the cities start to blend together before long. Elder Scrolls VI would benefit a lot from having a larger variety of environment types to explore, making the act of moving around the game world a lot more engaging.
There’s more to setting than just the lay of the land, though. Enemy types definitely need to be revitalized for this next entry. Skyrim’s monsters seemed to be based in the lore of Scandinavian countries, so it’d be a nice change of pace to have creatures from a very different mythos. I could do without ever seeing another draugr again, personally, so avoiding any undead would be pretty great. Perhaps in this setting there’s a powerful religious authority and the player frequently comes into conflict with strict angelic beings, or the setting is heavily forested and so all sorts of fairy tale creatures roam the woods.
From a story perspective, I think it’d be interesting to see the various guilds in different roles than they have played in the past. A good example of this is the distinction between the Thieves’ Guild in Oblivion versus Skyrim. In the former, the Thieves’ Guild has a powerful presence whose mysterious leader is a Robin Hood style hero of the poor. In the latter, the Guild is in shambles because of the betrayal of an insider, and the leadership is a quasi-religious organization in service of Nocturnal herself. This makes the Thieves’ Guild questline feel pretty different from game to game, and I’d love to have a similar change for other guilds. Perhaps rather than being a creepy cult, the Dark Brotherhood could be a very legitimate arm of an established power like a monarchy. Maybe instead of being academics shoved into a tower, the Mages’ Guild has been hunted nearly to extinction by zealous witch-hunters and exist in fearful pockets spread throughout the world.
I also think it would be cool to change up the player character’s origin story somewhat. The last two Elder Scrolls games began in shackles, and I understand the purpose – it allows you to work your way up the ladder from nothing in a narratively-justified way. But perhaps this time, instead of having a stranger jailed for no defined reason, the character has a position of authority/power and falls from grace? Or maybe you begin in a small village where you live and work with your parents, a peasant-class character who has to work their way up but with a home to return to should the trials of the road become too taxing.
Overall, I think the majority of the changes to Elder Scrolls need to be aesthetic or thematic rather than focusing on the game mechanics. Skyrim already created a refined and fun open world experience – do that again with fewer bugs and with a totally unfamiliar and exciting world to explore and I’ll be pretty satisfied. But I imagine that others have their own thoughts about how to make Elder Scrolls VI more unique! So what do you think, adventurers? What would you change about the next Elder Scrolls? Let me know in the comments below!